The introduction of the tablet into the marketplace has been a game changer for a lot of people. The screen real estate of a laptop makes tasks that are cumbersome on your phone a delight, and without the bulk of a laptop so you can still do those tasks lying on the couch. Still, most implementations have their limitations. For example, the software keyboard is no good for anything longer than a tweet, and the lack of sophisticated input devices like mouse or joystick limit gaming mostly to “casual games” that require merely swiping and tilting. It also fragments your ecosystem; trying to sync files and settings across phones, tablets, laptops and desktops is a huge pain, particularly if they cross vendor lines. Thus it is a logical next step to try and combine two or even three of those devices into one and simplify your life. The Lenovo Miix is Lenovo’s latest attempt to do just that, and this time does so admirably. The Miix has the physical footprint to act like a tablet, the keyboard to act like a laptop when convenient, and the power and inputs to even replace your desktop if that’s what you’re after. It does all this at a low price point, providing tremendous value.
Lenovo Miix 510
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Visually the Miix doesn’t really stand out, and carrying around is even a bit on the heavy side. Functionally, on the other hand, there’s a lot to like. First there’s a kick stand on the back with distinct hinges allow the Miix to be stood up sturdily at almost any angle. When not flipped out, the stand and hinges are inset so that the back is completely flat, and snaps in place magnetically with a slot on either side that make it easy flip out. The detachable keyboard doubles as a screen protector when not in use, and give the Miix a class look with its textured matte finish. In fact the keyboard really is the perfect detachable device; when you don’t want the extra bulk it fairly easily breaks away, and you’ll barely notice the tablet was missing something. When deployed on a hard surface like a desk in full laptop mode, pressing the keys reminds me of my Macbook Pro, and it even folds slightly at the top to give itself a natural incline to comfort your fingers. And when attached but not in use, it either folds snug against the back of the tablet or provides a platform for the kick stand to set itself on. Open, closed, or detached, the keyboard proves its worth in any setting.
And yet while the keyboard is one of the most praiseworthy aspects of the Miix, it is also its biggest downfall in my opinion. The problem is the tiny Shift key, made smaller to give the Up Arrow/Page Up button more space. But really, why does it need more space? Count the number of times you’ve used Page Up in your life…do you even know what it does? If you’ve trained yourself to hunt and peck for each letter, this won’t be a deal breaker for you. But if you’re a master typist, you’ll pull your hair out as every capital letter forces the cursor to the top of the page as your pinkie mistakes the Page Up key for the Shift key. It would have been better to imitate Apple, who squishes the Up and Down Arrows into a single key space to make room for a full size shift key.
An aspect of the Miix design that seriously puts it into a position to take over your laptop and desktop is the inputs. With a USB 3.0 and a USB-C input, your options for use seriously open up. Attaching a real mouse to your tablet is a game changer- especially if that tablet comes with Windows 10 (which the Miix does). Even further is the ability to connect to an external display through the USB-C input. With a USB 3.0 hub and a USB-C-to-HDMI adapter, you could easily dock your Miix to an HD monitor with a full size mouse and keyboard, and even Ethernet. The lack of an expansion storage slot is a surprising omission (the 510 model comes with merely 128 GB of storage), but can be added through a USB 3.0 hub.
Lenovo offers the Miix in a few different performance/price points. My particular model is the 510, which is in the middle of the product line and still offers great performance. Inside the tablet is an Intel i3 processor with 4GB of memory, and the Miix makes the most of it. Of course regular web browsing and movie streaming work without a sweat, but the specifications and USB inputs even offer great gaming options. I put this idea to the test in my favorite games, Counterstrike Source and Counterstrike Global Offensive, with surprisingly positive results. I tried the coffee-shop scenario with the regular tablet display, attached keyboard, and a full size gaming mouse. The Miix was able to keep the frame rate solid (more so in Source, but still acceptable in Global Offensive), and the high resolution display looked great (though a little small for an intense gaming session). All this performance comes at a cost, though. As soon you start to put the pressure on that i3, you’ll hear the fans start whizzing through the top of the Miix (and you’ll definitely hear them, they’re loud). That’s your first indication that you might not want to get too comfortable where you are unless you’re plugged in. While the more expensive models boast a bigger battery, the 510 can start to drain pretty quickly depending on what you’re doing.
The Miix really does deliver on the promise of being a convenient couch tablet, a useful coffee shop laptop, and a capable home desktop all in one. If you’re only interested in one of these scenarios, you’re still better off with a purer device- the operating system puts it at a disadvantage compared to a pure tablet, the small keyboard and trackpad put it at a disadvantage compared to a pure laptop, and the storage and integrated graphics put it at a disadvantage compared to a pure desktop. But if the idea of simplifying your device rotation and you can live with these tradeoffs, the Miix should be at the top of your list. And while it doesn’t necessarily improve on the Microsoft Surface, which is was pretty obviously modeled after, the Miix imitates it very closely in all categories except price, where the Miix wins big. A few criticisms aside, the Miix provides incredible value to a wide audience.