(Pocket-lint) - The Lenovo Miix 630 is a Windows laptop that uses the same Qualcomm CPUs seen in top phones. Well, 2017's top phones. This helps it last absolutely ages off a charge. And we really mean ages.
However, there are a few problems. It runs a training wheels version of Windows 10. This runs OK, but take those wheels off and the laptop's ability falls off fairly swiftly. More important for the Miix 630's intended use, the keyboard is flaky (even though, ironically, parts are quite excellent).
- Aluminium casing with plastic cut-out
- 237 x 296 x 7.3mm; 1.395kg
The Lenovo Miix 630 is notable as one of the first hybrids out of the gate to use a Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU. In person, though, it looks and feels similar in style to a Microsoft Surface Pro.
Take off the Lenovo's keyboard case and it's just a large 12.3-inch tablet. Attach it and you have a more convincing laptop replacement than any iPad or Android tablet on the market right now.
Where the kickstand sits is the main difference between the Miix 630 and the Surface. Microsoft builds it into the back of the PC part. Lenovo fits a hinge onto the removable casing. This gulf doesn't feel vast, but it does mean the screen can't stand up by itself without the keyboard flapping about in the way. That's an issue if you want to, for example, watch Netflix or read a recipe off the screen while cooking. The Lenovo Miix 630 simply takes up more room.
Lenovo's venture is almost exactly the same weight as the Surface Pro, though, at 770g. The case weighs an extra 660g, for a total of 1.43kg for the full laptop setup (or 1.395kg according to our Pocket-Lint™ scales). This is heavier than some 13-inch laptops, including the great all-rounder HP Envy 13, but not by much. The faux leather outer of the Miix 630's case also makes it feel more like holding a digital notepad than a laptop.
- Full-size keys
- 2-level LED backlight
- Glass trackpad
The basic engineering of the Lenovo Miix 630's keyboard seems perfectly sound too. Well, initially. It uses magnets to hook up to the screen with ease, and the keys sit at a slight upwards angle for comfortable typing.
It's pretty stiff for a relatively thin sheet of plastic, but the keys have real travel - more than some ultra-trendy traditional laptops these days. There's a two-level backlight - handy for the dim plane cabins, which seem a natural environment for a long-lasting laptop like this.
However, after spending a full day typing on the Lenovo Miix 630, we ended up a little frustrated. Too many of the keys are picky about how and where they are pressed. The bottom of the Enter key? Press that and you'll feel a click, but nothing will happen. Further up the key, it registers fine.
After a thousand or so of words typed, we'd picked up dozens of missed key presses across the keyboard, and not just from the edges of the board where you could blame a slight bend in the substrate. You'll probably learn to live with this after a while, but doing so isn't helped by every tactile indication suggesting you pressed the key just fine.
The trackpad below the keys is glass, with far better feel than the plastic Lenovo has used in other products. But it doesn't block out the irritation of those finicky keys.
You get a stylus in the box too, which slots into a loop on the case. It's a neat metal pen with two buttons along its metal barrel.
However, in both outer hardware and underlying tech it's a step or two below some other laptop or tablet stylii. First, the hard plastic nib feels rough as you glide across the glass screen, and the pressure levels on tap are just OK.
There are 1,024 levels of sensitivity. Dell's Active Pen solutions offer between 2048 and 4069. Of course, this doesn't mean much to those who aren't graphic artists. It's the unrefined screen glide that sticks out more obviously.
Let's not be too hard, though. The keyboard and stylus are both included, which keeps the price fair. Keyboards in particular often aren't with base-level packages, such as the Surface Go.
- 12.3-inch IPS LCD WUXGA+ 1920 x 1280
- Corning Gorilla Glass
- Auto Brightness
The Lenovo Miix 630 has a 12.3-inch IPS LCD screen. It's sharp but not you-can't-see-the-pixels sharp, which is fair enough considering the reasonable price.
Similarly, colours look well saturated without having the depth of colour you'll see in some laptops that sail well beyond the £1000 mark.
The Miix 630's taller screen aspect is fine, but its display borders do look a little thick next to ultra-thin bezel laptops like the Dell XPS 13. It would look sharper if more of the space were filled out, but we'd no doubt end up paying more as a result too.
There's only one lingering issue: in certain lighting conditions (mid-dim indoors in our experience) the screen brightness flutters as if the Auto Brightness can't quite decide what level to select. It manifests as an odd flicker, which is a little distracting and may, at first, may make you think your Lenovo Miix 630 is on the way out. However, it seems to be a harmless bug. Hopefully.
Like every hybrid, the screen is touch-sensitive too. Tablet and laptop use ahoy.
Performance and Software
- Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 CPU
- 8GB RAM
- 128GB storage
- Windows 10 S
Now we get to the interesting bit: the Lenovo Miix 630 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 CPU, as seen in phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 (well, the US version).
This is what's known as an ARM CPU. And Windows 10 is primarily designed to run on x86 architecture processors like those made by Intel.
You know what? Windows 10 mostly runs fine on a Snapdragon 835. We noticed an occasional delay in the browser that might not be there with an Intel Core i5. Sometimes text input in an address bar takes a half-second to catch up. But for the basics, this phone processor does the job.
It only does as well as a low-end CPU like the Intel Pentium Gold, mind, generally seen in laptops half the price. Or less.
However, the Lenovo Miix 630 also has a special version of Windows to try to hide the app and driver compatibility issues that are still a real issue when the OS is put through the ARM wringer.
What this does is to limit you to app installs from the Microsoft Store. That means you can get Adobe Photoshop Elements, but not full-fat Photoshop. You can play Minecraft, Asphalt 8 and Asphalt 9, and they run reasonably well. But you can't install all the titles you have sitting on your Steam account. You can't install Steam at all.
Microsoft calls this Windows 10 S. It sells this in as an ultra-secure version that will leave your laptop extra-safe. However, it's really about hiding the limitations of laptops like the Lenovo Miix 630. It's the new version of Windows RT, a branch of Windows 8 designed for ARM devices. And pretty much everyone hated Windows RT.
Thankfully, you can switch off these 'S' barriers, which is what we did. The results aren't too pretty, though. Fortnite doesn't work at all, most likely because the graphics driver support isn't in place. Elder Scrolls: Skyrim does work, but not well; it's too stuttery to do justice to the game even at low settings, 1080p, something the last two generations of Intel Core processors have sailed through.
Don't buy the Lenovo Miix 630 if you want gaming beyond mobile ports. And don't buy it if you want to run 'serious' software. That last point is particularly important, because these days even laptops some might consider low-end can still handle pro-level apps like Ableton and Photoshop Pro/CC well. The Lenovo Miix 630 can't.
Connectivity and Battery Life
- 48Wh battery
- USB-C charging
- 3.5mm headphone jack
However, as the Miix 630 uses a mobile phone processor, it creates very little heat and therefore requires no fans or vents. Which is great for battery life.
Streaming an ultra-long YouTube video, using Wi-Fi, and the Lenovo Miix 630 will last 16 hours. No Intel Core laptop this thin could achieve that kind of stamina.
While below the 20 hour claim, the difference is close enough to be attainable if you switched to basic productivity jobs and took the brightness down a bit (our was at around 50 per cent brightness).
The Lenovo Miix 630 is also fairly good at playing movies, despite its squat aspect display. It has dual speakers too, which are less bassy and slightly less smooth than those of the £349 basic iPad, but are at least as loud.
Connections are just like those of a phone. There are barely any. The USB-C port is there to charge the battery or connect to any peripherals that don't need drivers that won't work with an ARM CPU. A Samsung T5 external SSD seems to work fine, though.
You can also plug in a SIM card. A pop-out tray sits on the side. Most laptops with SIM cards are much more expensive than the Miix 630, primarily because they're usually aimed at high-flying business types. Lenovo's own ThinkPad X1 Carbon is perhaps the best example (despite its scary price tag). The Miix 630 could be used by that crowd, sure, but the lower price puts it in reach of normal frequent travellers too. Or anyone who only really needs to use basic apps, but wants the battery to last an age.
If you only need the veneer of a laptop's capabilities, the Lenovo Miix 630 sounds like the perfect solution. It's a lot more affordable than some hybrids that look and feel this high-end, the battery lasts approximately forever, and the display has enough tablet-style gloss to satisfy.
However, there are a few issues too many. The keyboard fails to register keypresses quite regularly, likely because of the design of the underlying sensors and switches, and the processor restricts which apps run well... And which run at all.
Still, for the laptop buyer who mostly needs FaceBook, Office, Netflix and a browser, the keyboard is the only real issue. The second-gen Qualcomm-powered Miix ought to be a cracker, but right now there are obstacles.
Microsoft Surface Go
The Surface Go seems a lot cheaper than the Lenovo, until you add the stylus and keyboard accessory required to bring it in-line with this package. Microsoft has, perhaps sensibly, decided to go the Pentium Gold route rather than Qualcomm Snapdragon. While not more powerful than the 835, it is currently better suited to the Windows ecosystem and its apps. And it runs Windows 10 pretty well, actually.