(Pocket-lint) - Most tablets are black rectangles. Looking at them for too long is a sure recipe for a good night's sleep. Front-on the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 seems like just another among that crowd. But it's totally different.
The Yoga is a tablet with a built-in stand and battery life that destroys all the competition. At £149 for the 8-inch model it doesn't cost too much either, and is cheaper than its Yoga Tab 2 predecessor.
But at this price point the Tab 3 is let down by its screen and general performance. And, well, those factors are both pretty important in tablet town. Is it worth a look in, or should you look to the larger 10-inch Pro solution?
Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 review: Design
What makes the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 so special, so unusual, is its stand. Rather than trying to get as slim and light as possible, this tablet balloons out into a slightly bulbous scroll at the end. One side is the sort of column you might make by folding the pages of a magazine right back over its spine.
This design tells you instantly: this isn't meant to be an ultra-portable tablet that slips into hand or man bag, to be taken anywhere and everywhere. While the smooth rounded side is handy to grip onto, the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 is heavier (467g) and much thicker than your average 8-inch tablet. This is a home tablet for reading, more or less.
Lenovo sees it as quite a different beast from the sort of tablet hybrids the Yoga 3 seems to be genetically related to. It's out to be a bit of a domestic demigod.
The stand can sit in three positions. The simplest is when it's just stowed away, sitting flush with the body. Open it up and it'll function as a stand, with the display just slightly tilted backwards, or about 20 degrees away from flat if you flip it around. You might think this makes it good for the kitchen, as a digital recipe book. But let's not put it in such a restrictive box.
It also angles the speakers towards you if, say, you want to use it to listen to a podcast while working. Or maybe to watch a bit of Netflix in bed. It'll probably come in handier than you at first imagine.
The Lenovo Yoga Tab 3's third stand position is the one we imagine the fewest people using. It can flip out even further, to almost 180 degrees. Like this, the hole in the stand that's part of its release mechanism can loop into a hook or a nail on your wall. It'll require a bit of DIY, but you could kit out your house so that virtually every room has a little spot for the Tab.
Bit of iPlayer in the bath? Some Spotify while you're on the exercise bike? The stand makes the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 ready for these situations where standard tablets might need an accessory or two.
The Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 is impressively built for a £150 device too. The metal stand feels like it could do some serious damage to your nice wood flooring should you drop it from a decent height (we didn't try), and the rear has a sandstone-style finish. This is a rougher-than-usual soft-touch finish that feels far, far better than the glossy plastic of the Amazon Fire HD 8.
There are some signs that this is a cheap slate, mind, such as the way a bit of finger pressure on the display causes a fairly severe oil-slick effect. That's the sign of different screen layers squishing up against each other. Still, before turning the thing on it's easy to be impressed by the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3.
Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 review: Screen
It's when we switch the thing on that we encounter one of the main issues with the tablet. Its screen just isn't that good, which is arguably befitting of the price, but you have been warned.
The Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 does have an IPS LCD screen, so reaches a certain base level of quality to ensure viewing angles are ample from steeper angles. Its colours don't go haywire when the display is tilted the wrong way, as you'll see in older budget tablets with TN panel screens. That's about it, though.
Resolution is at 1280 x 800 pixels. When spread across the 8-inch display, the pixillation is pretty obvious - but perhaps that's just us getting so used to HD resolution on yet smaller devices.
If you're going to be watching a film, it'll still look good, but the granularity of the small text of the interface is hard to ignore. For those who think we should ignore this because the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 is affordable, check out the QHD-grade £170 Asus ZenPad S 8.0. Its display is far better.
You'd know about the Yoga's poor pixel density from the spec list, but there are other elements of the screen that mark it out as flat-out dated too. It doesn't use any advanced screen lamination techniques, meaning the image appears slightly recessed below the surface, and that in daylight the extra reflections causes blacks to look a bit grey. So the otherwise-similar Amazon Fire HD 8 is actually ahead in this department.
The screen isn't great at handling motion either, with clear trails streaming out of icons as you flick through the apps menu.
When there's a lot of clear thought in plenty of design areas, it's a shame such a key element is less hot. But you can pay more further up the range, so that's something to consider.
Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 review: Performance
The Yoga Tab 3 has been really pared down to the basics on the inside too. It uses a Snapdragon 212 processor, one of the lowest-end SoCs you'll find in a new tablet. It uses four Cortex-A7 cores clocked at 1.3GHz and, unlike its current Snapdragon brothers, is a 32-bit chipset rather than a 64-bit one.
What really matters is actual performance, though, and unfortunately this bottom-rung brain bleeds through. The Yoga Tab 3 doesn't run like a dog, but every little action seems to take that fraction of a second longer than we'd like.
Is this down to the custom user interface? That the tablet only has 1GB RAM, which can cause problems with the underlying Android 5.1 software, but we'd tend to blame the hardware, as the interface is very light.
The interface looks a lot like vanilla Android, with only the bunch of preinstalled (and fairly dull) apps and some slight interface tweaks to tell you it's not a Lollipop-era Google Now interface. It's actually not made by Lenovo, but is a version of the CyanogenMod Trebuchet launcher. Such a light-touch interface means switching over to using the Google Now Launcher app (available from Google Play) and it more-or-less feels like you're running Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
Back to performance, though, and we found that while the Adreno 304 can handle Android's top games without just resigning on the spot, there will be some frame-rate sacrifices. For example, in Dead Effect 2 there's often a frame rate-related glitch when you're about to blow some zombie's head off, acting a bit like a distracting full stop in the mid.dle of a sentence. Thanks to the low screen resolution, we've not found anything that was rendered flat-out unplayable, or even unenjoyable, though.
Lenovo Yoga Tab 3: Battery life & speakers
The reasonable stereo speakers help out here too. They live on either side of the hinge, and pump out fairly loud sound that has a bit of power behind it, especially if you use the scale-increasing Dolby DSP mode.
It's not thin and weak-sounding like the Asus ZenPad S 8.0's. There's a bit of harshness in the treble when you increase the volume a bit, but keep it relatively low and the stereo effect can really add to the enjoyment of mobile gaming. These are among the better speakers in a £150 tablet.
Battery life is excellent too. Part of the idea behind the bulkier frame is that it lets the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 fit a 6,200mAh unit in. While not a mind-bendingly capacious battery, it is very large indeed for something with a 1280 x 800 8-inch screen.
It'll last for around 14 hours of video playback. And even when tackling one of Android's more intense games it doesn't drop like a stone. It's one of the longest-lasting budget tablets in existence.
Not only is this good if you're going to use it quite intensively, that it doesn't drain too quickly in standby means you can leave it lying around unused for days, only to return and find it's still almost full.
Before we pat it on the back too much, let's remember that part of this is down to the fairly low screen resolution.
Lenovo Yoga Tab 3: Camera & extras
There are a few other neat bits too. For example, the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 has a reasonably generous 16GB storage, and under the hinge is a little flap where you can insert a microSD card. That's good news for a media tablet.
Then there's the camera. You only get one, but it doubles as front and back camera because it swivels around on the hinge, with its own separate mechanism that lets it sit at a whole bunch of angles.
It's an 8-megapixel camera, capable of cranking out selfies about 300x better than the VGA front cameras you get in some low-cost tablets. Used as a “proper” camera, though, and it's much less notable.
Image quality is passable, with again better results than some budget rivals. However, shooting feels quite slow. Just making the camera focus feels like you're asking it to do some unreasonable task, making a big old display of its contrast detection seeking. And HDR shots take an age to shoot too.
Like the rest of the system, it feels as though you're left waiting for it to catch up a lot of the time. But let's not forget: it's only £150.
The Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 is a tablet that seems designed to showcase a hinge style. No, it's not a new concept, but the construction of the body and hinge doesn't half show it off in a good light.
It's just a pity that much of the meat inside the 8-inch Yoga Tab 3 seems a little stale - weaker than its pricier predecessor. Note we didn't say rotten, though. It's no outright stinker, so long as you can accept screen quality and general performance limitations then the Tab 3 has its target audience. Display and performance certainly aren't its strong point.
So unless you're really going to make full use of the hinged design, or want an ultra-long lasting tablet, make sure you also check out the Asus ZenPad S 8.0 and (if you can afford the extra) iPad mini 2 as alternatives.