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Windows 8.1 and Office Home on an 8-inch touchscreen tablet for under $300
Lenovo’s Miix 2 is an 8-inch tablet with a 1280-by-800 resolution touchscreen that sells for $299. The Miix 2 runs on an Intel Atom Z3740 quad-core processor, and comes with 2GB RAM, 32GB onboard storage, Bluetooth, front and rear cameras (which are, respectively, 2 and 5 megapixels), micro SD slot, and micro USB connector. (The Z3740 has a maximum speed of 1.86 GHz, but has been clocked down to 1.33 GHz in the Miix 2.)
WINDOWS 8.1 OPERATING SYSTEM
The Miix 2 runs a stripped down version of Windows 8.1, but one that still has desktop mode, so you can install and run Windows desktop apps on it.
OFFICE HOME AND STUDENT 2013 PRE-INSTALLED
Office Home & Student 2013, which Microsoft normally sells for $139, is thrown in pre-installed. Office 2013 features a circular menu GUI that was designed for touch use in lieu of tapping on traditional toolbars -- and it does work well here on the Miix 2 -- but this is still Office as originally designed to be used on a desktop PC or notebook with a much larger screen. On a tablet you’ll likely find yourself loading up Office 2013 mainly to view your Office files, and at most do some simple edits to them. Connecting a Bluetooth keyboard expands this usability, of course, but you’re still staring at an 8-inch screen: The Miix 2 lacks a mini HDMI port, which constrains you from using...
ADDITIONAL PRE-INSTALLED APPS
In addition to Office Home & Student 2013, the Miix 2 comes with the McAfee LiveSafe antivirus suite, the Lenovo App Shop, and a user guide program. Otherwise, this tablet features a mostly clean install of Windows 8.1. Nevertheless, the 32GB model we tested only had 9GB of free space remaining for the user. So you won’t be able to install too many Windows 8 apps or desktop applications. And you’ll probably want to insert a micro SD memory card to store your personal files.
The Miix 2’s plastic back is a finely textured but smooth surface except for a raised Lenovo logo. The tablet’s thickness of 0.33 of an inch is even across its back before it curves sharply toward its edges. The device weighs less than a pound (0.77 pounds). When held, this tablet conveys an overall sturdy and tight feel.
MINOR DESIGN ISSUES
While fiddling with the volume, I discovered what could be a slight design flaw -- the tablet’s volume buttons are situated close to the power button. So when you intend to push the volume-up button, your finger could instead press the wrong button.
The micro SD card slot is covered with a small plastic strip that is tightly tethered at one end to the rest of the tablet. To access the slot, you have to pop off this bit of plastic, and it feels like if you don’t learn to do this action carefully, you could snap the cover off.
The touchscreen is glossy, so it’s naturally prone to contracting fingerprints and smudges, as well as reflecting. As for the display itself, under the default right-out-of-the-box settings of Windows 8.1, the lighting is bright and resolution crisp. The lighting of the review model looked evenly spread across the display, whether the tablet was held in a horizontal or vertical manner, and viewed at extreme angles.
Text throughout the Windows desktop environment is tiny -- a consequence of the 1280-by-800 resolution crammed into an 8-inch screen. For regularly using the desktop mode, I found enlarging things 125% or 150% under the Windows 8.1 display settings was necessary for comfortable viewing. Though its screen is 8 inches, I found interacting with the Windows 8 desktop to be surprisingly doable. The targeting of the touch interface was accurate many times when I tapped on icons, window menus and toolbars, and other UI elements that otherwise were originally meant to be clicked on with a mouse or touchpad.
Cameras on a tablet are useful for capturing images of documents, and conducting webcam sessions, and the Miix 2’s are certainly up for these tasks: The rear camera focused in sharply on objects (such as text on paper) held very close to it, but the front one couldn’t manage close-ups as extreme. The Windows 8 app camera automatically adjusted the exposure level to try to make images naturally look brighter in low-light environments.
QUALITY SOUND/VIDEO PLAYBACK
I plugged earbuds into the Miix 2’s combined audio connector, and found that the volume could be cranked up beyond my personal tolerance for loudness. A speaker faces out from the back of the tablet. Audio emanating from it sounds full and gives the impression that it is directed upwards and at you, not away. I played video files of TV show episodes and movies that were at 720p resolution. All played smoothly without skips or stutters, and the back of the tablet didn’t ever feel like it became noticeably warmer.
RECORDING SOUND/VIDEO WAS LESS THAN IDEAL
I recorded audio of myself speaking, using the Windows 8 app Sound Recorder and the Miix 2’s built-in mic. The resulting clips had a low buzzing in the background. I plugged a microphone into the audio connector, tried again, and got the same buzzing. This noise wasn’t terribly distracting, but it was obvious. I recorded a few video clips with the cameras, and found that there was a low fluttering sound in the audio when the clips were played back, whether the clip was recorded using the tablet’s built-in mic or an external microphone. The volume level of this flutter was faint, not as loud as the buzzing from the audio-only recordings.
I casually used the Miix 2 to browse the web using Internet Explorer or Chrome, listen to streaming music, read an ebook, or watch video in streaming or file format. The tablet managed to last between 6 and 7 hours on a full charge, by my estimate, using the tablet at its default Windows 8.1 power settings. I did not use the tablet continuously for that amount of time, and would shut it down completely when I didn’t use it, not put it to sleep.
SHOULD I BUY IT?
The question you might ask is how much you would expect this tablet to take over for the things you may already be doing on a Windows desktop PC or notebook. Its main appeal is you can install Windows desktop applications on it, and yet the lack of a micro HDMI hinders turning it into an ultraportable. The absence of this component may have allowed this tablet to be as thin and weigh as little as it does, though. Despite this and a few quirks in its industrial design, the Miix 2 still stands out as a good example of Windows 8.1, and the Windows desktop, being functional in a small-form factor.