A few years back, 2-in-1 devices were all the craze. These tablets with attachable keyboards were at every Best Buy in the country. Microsoft now has the hero device with the Surface line, but many other manufacturers also make similar hybrids. One consistent one in this market has been Lenovo. They’ve never been bashful to experiment with form factors and the Surface was just too cool looking to not put their own spin on it. We’ve spent the last few weeks with it, so we have something to say about it. Say hello to the Miix 520 from Lenovo.
The design of the Miix 520 is somewhat of an amalgamation. It’s full of Lenovo DNA and build quality. There’s a general heftiness that makes the aluminum chassis feel premium without being overweight. You’ll also quickly recognize the “watch band” hinges that will be familiar to anyone who has used the recent Yoga devices. This hinge design doesn’t just look good, but also provides a nice stiff movement to the stand that makes the device feel really secure while in use. I haven’t used a Surface since the first two generations, but I always struggled with the feeling that it was going to close and fall over.
Behind the stand you’ll find a hidden microSD slot for storage expansion. And that’s where Miix really excels… connectivity devices. There are many to go around here. The right side houses a combo 3.5mm audio/mic jack, USB 3.0, and a generation 1 USB type C port. Sadly, this C port is data only and doesn’t support charging the tablet. I’d like to pause here and reprimand any OEM that allows this in the current landscape. USB-C is the new standard going forward and a huge advantage is that it can do things like replace numerous ports and POWER! Let it provide power and stop offering consumers this handicapped port with data only.
To the left side you’ll find a power button, volume rockers, and AC charging port. These are all pretty normal, but again, Lenovo could have put another standard USB 3.0 on this side had the USB-C supported power input. Rounding out the connections, is the most important on this device: the pogo pins for the keyboard on the bottom of the tablet.
Internal Specs, Screen and Cameras
Lenovo was not shy in cramming some real power inside this slim package. Our review unit has 8GB of RAM paired with the latest Intel Core i5-8250U CPU. When you combine all this with the latest build of Windows 10, you have a truly powerful setup in a small form factor that is dying to get tossed in your daily bag. Lenovo also didn’t skimp on the display. You’ll be greeted with a FHD 12.2 inch screen set at 1920×1200 every time you fire this bad boy up. Just above the screen on the front of the tablet, there’s an 5-megapixel webcam, while around the back of device you’ll find an 8MP rear camera. Both perform decent, as long as you don’t expect Pixel or iPhone type results.
The keyboard is another win for Lenovo here over the Surface in my opinion. Keyboards are subjective to the user, but I love Lenovo’s renditions. The Miix 520 keyboard is reminiscent of the IdeaPad line and offers really nice travel and keystrokes. The slightly rounded keys are just a joy to use. The magnets for the pogo pins are strong as well, and I never felt the keyboard was going to disconnect. I did however notice that it allows for more rock of the keyboard due to the design of it docking to the tablet. It’s not a deal breaker but did take some getting used to during my time with the 520.
Trackpads might be the most inconsistent input device on Windows machines. You rarely get the same experience from model to model. I am glad to report that the trackpad behaved very well on the Miix 520. It was responsive and didn’t offer any lag in general use. Even advanced multi-finger gestures worked in Windows 10 and clicking was satisfying and worked as designed. It is worth mentioning that it’s a little on the smaller side. Those coming from larger laptops may feel the trackpad is a little cramped.
Touchscreen and Stylus
Neither of these features is one that I look for in a laptop. To me, a laptop is something that I should be able to use in it’s entirety with minimal need to leave the keyboard and trackpad. However, I found that both additions performed admirably. The touchscreen was responsive to both skin-to-screen interaction, as well as the stylus when I wanted to get rather detailed. Much like my previous review of the Yoga 320, the touchscreen and stylus is a great option to those who love to create digital art and other content on a laptop format. While I personally don’t see the need, I could easily see my sister in law finding the Miix appealing doing graphic design projects.
General Use and Battery Life
That philosophy brings me to my general thoughts while using the Miix 520. They are mixed, really. I have always struggled with the form factor that Lenovo has chosen. They are super sleak and portable, but once you get down to actually trying to use them, it gets murky. If you are generally using your laptop on tabletops only, then you might be alright. The Miix 520 really needs a level flat surface to perform at its best. Once you get used to balancing the unit, it’s not terrible, but you will never be able to use it as effortlessly as a traditional clamshell laptop.
Battery life was just okay. I saw an average of around 6 hours in mixed use with the tablet hybrid. While this isn’t great, it’s still pretty comparable to other 2-in-1 tablets in the space. Honestly, it’s just a design trade-off for using this type of form factor. You simply can’t cram as big a battery behind the screen with the rest of the internals. I would be interested to see if Lenovo could innovate here and use the keyboard as a sleeve battery like they did in their ThinkPad X series laptops. It could make the accessory more compelling and add a unique function other OEMs are not offering.
The Lenovo Miix 520 offers a really nice feature set for those that want a detachable keyboard laptop that can also be a tablet. It seems directed towards creators with an art or studio background and functions nicely for that niche. The pricetag is fairly steep though, starting around $1,000, but most of the specs add up to a great device worthy of the price. You get a hi-res touchscreen, Window Hello support, and an core i5 processor. Wrap it all up with the portability, and Lenovo has a compelling Surface competitor that begs to be considered.