|Introduction and Specifications|
|Microsoft's Surface Pro has been out just over a month now, but with its $899 base price, it's at the high-end of what a lot of consumers are willing to fork over for a Windows 8-equipped tablet, and that's not even factoring in the $120+ keyboard option. Thankfully, the market is getting a few more entrants in the field, and Lenovo's IdeaTab Lynx is one of the more interesting ones. It's priced well below the Surface Pro, is compatible with an optional keyboard dock, and runs a full, unabashed version of Windows 8 Pro.
If you've been holding out for the perfect Win8 tablet, you may be interested in finding out how this tab stacks up in our usual gauntlet of tests.
Thanks to its Atom Z2760 SoC, the Lynx is capable of running the full x86 version of Windows 8 -- much like the ATIV Smart PC 500T we reviewed earlier in the year. You’re likely familiar with the distinction between Windows 8 and Windows RT by now, but if not, know this: you’ll want a tablet running Windows 8 if you plan to run Window 8 desktop apps on it. Windows RT doesn’t support X86 apps that are designed to run on your desktop, just apps from the Microsoft Store. That means that the Lynx can run any app that your Windows 8 laptop can run, and that's a pretty major distinction. In fact, this device priced around the same as the Surface RT, which is far more limited from a platform standpoint.
At the hardware level, of note are 2GB of DDR2L (low-power) memory and a 64GB SSD. This is where price and power consumption restrictions make a dent. As we noted in our earlier review, Clover Trail means no DDR3 memory. This is also where the tablet form factor presents a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it's great to have the full Windows 8 on a slate. On the other, you have to be prepared to use Windows 8 with just 64GB of storage -- of which only around 35GB are available to the user.
We'll explore these features, issues and more in the pages ahead -- join us for the full review.
|Design, Software, and User Experience|
|As has become the unofficial norm with Windows 8-based tablets, this one also measures 11.6 inches. But unlike dedicated tablets, an example being the iPad, this Lenovo device has a widescreen format. What's this mean in practical terms? Well, this layout makes the IdeaTab Lynx (and every other widescreen 11.6" slate) occasionally odd to use as a tablet. The iPad is about as large as a slate can get without being awkward to use, while 7" units tend to be far more useable for those with average-sized hands. The Lynx's wide stance means that you can't realistically use this with one hand, and trying to type on it without having it propped up or on your lap could be a lesson in frustration.
The good news, however, is that you aren't likely to use this device so much as a standalone tablet. Moreover, those that do find themselves in situations where using the optional keyboard dock isn't in the cards will appreciate the Metro interface. Those big icons are easy to swipe through, and it works quite well when you're mostly out to consume information and get yourself up to date. When it comes time to be productive, the "desktop" side of Windows 8 is still where it's at, and of course, having a physical keyboard and trackpad comes in handy.
Despite being classed as an IdeaTab (and not a ThinkPad), the unit is still surprisingly sturdy. A lot of these elongated tablets tend to exhibit some amount of flex, but the Lynx is solid and rigid throughout. The rear has a textured gray finish that's actually quite useful in helping the user keep their grip when using it as a tablet. It's also delightfully thin (0.30 - 0.38"), and while the bezel may seem a little thick at a glance, it's actually nice to have. The bezel actually gives you plenty of room to position your thumbs when grasping the tablet.
Along the bottom, there are two latch inputs and a micro-USB port (which doubles as the connector to the optional keyboard dock). On the right edge, there's a micro-HDMI socket and a 3.5mm headphone / microphone combo jack. The microSD card slot and the Power button are along the top, while the left edge is home to a rotation screen lock and a volume rocker.
There's but a single physical button on the front -- that Windows key that takes you back from anywhere onto the Start (Metro) screen. The IPS panel boasts only a 1366x768 resolution, but at least it's vivid, sharp, and the viewing angles are terrific. We occasionally found ourselves longing for a few more pixels, but when you consider the price, it's clear that this device is aimed at a segment that won't be clamoring for full 1080p resolution.
Oddly, the sole micro-USB port is used for both charging and for peripherals -- things like a USB card carder, USB optical drive, etc. In other words, you can't exactly charge and use the USB port for an accessory unless you buy a split cable that can handle both. On the upside, this is one of the few Windows 8 computers that you can charge over USB. Think about that. A machine running a full copy of Windows 8, but there's no power brick needed. It would be nice if every laptop made could also be charged over a simple USB connection.
There's no rear camera here, but we aren't missing it. Truth told, my opinion is, no one with any dignity should take photos with a tablet. The front-facing camera works fine for Skyping, though.
As for software -- anyone who has used Windows 8 on a tablet will find it all very familiar. Lenovo throws a few special apps on here, but in reality, they aren't all that special. Many of those same pre-installed programs (like Skype, eBay, Kindle, and Merriam-Webster) can also be found on Samsung slates that run Windows 8. The good news is that it's fairly bloat-free as far as a pre-built Windows rig goes. Yes, there's an Atom and Windows 8 sticker on the rear, but they're easy enough to remove.
The Charms tool bar is useful for searching for items that are now buried due to the removal of the conventional Start menu (like Task Manager, Control Panel, etc.), and it all worked very fluidly in practice. Despite having just a dual core Atom chip at the helm, overall snappiness was quite good due to tablet's flash-based storage. It's amazing what flash can do. This device would feel significantly slower with a traditional HDD, and while we would obviously found ourselves wishing for more than 35GB of usable storage, the speed improvements are tough to scoff at.
Speaking of storage limitations, it's obvious that heavy users of the Lynx are going to need to lean heavily on the cloud. There's just no way to store everything you'd typically store on a Windows 8 laptop here. Your images and videos? Those need to be on a cloud. You can stuff a few documents and the like here, but most users are going to run out of space in no time if not looking to the cloud for storage, instead of local storage. Unfortunately, Lenovo nor Microsoft provides bonus cloud storage. You can get 7GB of SkyDrive space, but that's meager. We wish these companies would take a note from Google; the Chromebook Pixel comes with 1TB of Google Drive storage for free for three years. That's a great way to differentiate and compete.
It's also worth noting that the typical Windows 8 hang-ups are still here. For example, it's particularly frustrating that any IE surfing sessions started in Metro don't port over to the IE on the desktop side of Windows; these run independent of one another, which makes little sense. There's also no Start menu (nor an option to recreate it), and in general, Windows 8 just occasionally feels awkwardly less accessible.
We'll close this section with a mention of the $120 keyboard dock. It's well designed, and it brings a pair of USB 2.0 ports to the equation. The tablet easily slides (and locks) into place, and you instantly have access to a mouse cursor courtesy of the built-in trackpad. However, the keyboard dock is a less quality component than the tablet itself. It's very plastic feeling, and the keys themselves are quite mushy. If you're accustomed to a solid ThinkPad keyboard, prepare to be a little disappointed. The keys also feel a little cramped. The trackpad, while a nice extra, is small. Moreover, it doesn't support gestures, so there's no two-finger scrolling up and down Web pages (as an example).
Truth be told, the keyboard dock's biggest benefit is the internal battery. It easily doubles the lifespan of the tablet when the Lynx is docked, giving the entire package a crazy amount of battery life. If you're looking for a mobile machine with outrageous longevity, the Lynx's keyboard dock is a no-brainer option.
|As we noted earlier, we have already put the Lenovo IdeaTab Lynx through our benchmark lineup. By and large, the machine stayed in the top half grouping of systems we compared it to, and it took top honors in SunSpider.
The SunSpider score speaks well for the Lynx’s Atom Z2760, but lest you mistake this tablet for a system that can go toe-to-toe with a full-fledged laptop, consider the tablet’s score of 1438 in PCMark 7. PCMark puts the system through tasks similar to those it will run in a typical workday at the office or casual home use, from video playback and Web browsing to operating office applications.
Our comparison data will improve as we test more tablets, but for now, our take is that the score is strong among tablets but obviously a little weak in comparison to laptops and ultrabooks. That makes sense, given that even low-end laptops are generally running Core i3 processors and above. Of course, they’re much thicker and heavier, too. Compared to a rival unit, Samsung's ATIV Smart PC 500T -- which notched a 1275 -- the Lynx performed slightly better.
To test Clover Trail's video decode performance we watched a number of 1080p HD video file formats and played them back on the Windows 8 desktop. The screenshot below shows the Windows 8 Task Manager above a 1080p movie trailer playing in Media Player.
1080p Video Playback CPU Utilization with Intel Atom Z2760Here we can see that Clover Trail and the Lynx as a whole are barely breaking a sweat, playing back HD video with only about 17% CPU utilization. And if you're curious, 1080p playback on YouTube was equally smooth in both IE within Metro and IE on the Windows 8 desktop.
You can use a tablet while it's charging, but it's inconvenient, to say the least. Put your notebook on a desk and you can forget that the power adapter is plugged in, but when you're holding a tablet, a power cord really feels like a leash. So, battery life is a big deal and it can be a make-or-break factor in the buying decision.
BatteryEater Pro gives the tablet a heavy workload, putting more strain on the battery, exercising graphics, memory, storage and its processor. Because everything you do with your tablet impacts its battery life, your experience will be different from our benchmarks, but they provide good, consistent data points for comparison with other tablets and ultrabooks on the market.
We set out to test the Lynx with two battery benchmarks. The first is our own light-duty web browsing test, which refreshes a webpage at regular intervals. It's meant to give you a feel for battery performance under light use.
Before running these tests, we set the display brightness to 50% and disabled the screensaver, hibernate, and similar power-conserving settings so we could see how the tablet performs under constant use. Wi-Fi was on so the tablet could connect to the Internet.
The Lynx lasted surprisingly long in our battery benchmark, providing more than 10 hours of web surfing time. Beyond that, the slate lasted over 5 hours in Battery Eater Pro, which is a very respectable result from a tablet for this worst-case test. In fact, it's comparable to Ultrabook performance in this area. When popped into the optional $120 keyboard dock, these figures roughly doubled due to the dock's built-in battery pack.
|Summary and Conclusion|
|Windows 8 and the highly efficient, low-power processors available today have made it possible to integrate a fully-functional Windows PC in the form factor of a traditional tablet, that's also manages to be touch-friendly and offer great battery life. And perhaps best of all, products like these are accessible to anyone with a few hundred dollars to spare. That's no small feat, and it's important to remember that while it's our job to pore over products and nitpick, we're impressed by how fluidly full-blown Windows 8 runs on the Lenovo IdeaTab Lynx.
Performance was well above average given the lower price point, and the build quality of the tablet is impressive. The keyboard dock is a little on the flimsy side, but it serves its purpose. The 11.6" display, while limited to a 1366x768 screen resolution, is quite vivid. Viewing angles are exceptional and touch sensitivity is top-notch. Of course, trying to mash tiny icons on the desktop side of Windows 8 is tough on any touchscreen machine, but the trackpad works well enough in that situation -- we only wish it were a bit larger and supported multi-finger gestures.
The Lynx offers a nice proposition. For $670, you can have a Windows 8 machine with over 11 hours of real battery life (incorporating the keyboard dock, of course), a highly portable form factor, and the option of separating the slate from the dock in order to use the tablet by itself. It runs circles around netbooks that were all the rage just a couple of years ago and while it can't step up as a gaming machine, it's ideal for working professionals and home users who are on the hunt for something that lasts longer untethered from an electrical outlet and weighs less than a conventional notebook or ultrabook.