Trying to shoehorn hardware that can run full Windows 8 into a thin tablet often requires significant performance compromises’especially in brute processing prowess. As a tablet maker, to create a slim, attractive device that’s easy to operate with one hand while you hold it in the other, you have to settle for a tablet-grade processor. By far the most common of these to date in Windows tablets have been Intel’s Atoms, which can run on much less power than the average laptop chip. But, until recently, they put out performance that matched their power-conservative habits.
The chips typically do a decent job stretching battery life, though. Tablets built around Atom processors tend to last longer between charges than slates powered by Intel’s more powerful Core CPUs’often as much as three to four hours longer. And constructing a slate around a lower-power Atom processor also allows manufacturers to make less-expensive devices, like the subject of this review: Lenovo’s $479-list Miix 10, a tablet that comes in at a price point closer to those of Android-based devices.
The trade-off, though’and there’s always a trade-off, isn’t there?’is speed. The Miix 10 turned in a score of 0.53 on our CPU-centric Cinebench benchmark test, whereas full-Windows tablets and hybrid laptop/tablets built around Intel’s laptop-grade Core CPUs, including Lenovo’s own ThinkPad Twist, typically turn in scores four or five times faster. While it doesn’t feel particularly slow for basic tablet tasks, demanding Windows programs do lag, and some won’t run at all.
The thing is, though, because of some recent moves by Intel, it’s more complicated than that: Atom itself is evolving. Most of the Atom-based Windows tablets and hybrid laptops on the market when we wrote this (in late October 2013) were based on Intel’s “Clover Trail” generation of Atom chips. (Indeed, the Atom Z2760 in the Mixx 10 is the same Clover Trail chip powering most of the lowest-cost Windows tablets and hybrids we saw through much of 2013.) That CPU is much slower than a laptop-grade Core i5 or i7 processor, and it supports only Windows x86, 32-bit architecture, as opposed to the 64-bit architecture supported by the higher-end Core CPUs.
Where it gets complicated is with Intel’s recently debuted next generation of Atom chips, code-named “Bay Trail.” Hybrid laptops and tablets based on Bay Trail Atom processors are just now starting to hit the street, and if the first we saw is any indication, Clover Trail machines will need to head toward the discount rack, and fast. The vanguard model we tested, the Asus Transformer Book T100 is an 10.1-inch Bay Trail Atom-based Windows 8 hybrid, and it’s a killer value at $349 to $399, depending on its internal storage. As you’ll see in our test results, it delivered roughly twice the performance of the Miix 10 and its Atom Z2760 cohorts, and it blew them all away on battery life. The T100T isn’t perfect (for one thing, the touch pad is balky), but it rewrites the price and performance equation for low-end Windows 8 tablets and hybrids, and more models like it are imminent. The divide within the Atom ranks will get even greater in early 2014, when a version of Windows 8.1 will roll out that should allow Bay Trail Atom devices to support 64-bit processing.
Bay Trail or Clover Trail, there’s still a sizable performance difference between Atom tablets and Intel Core-powered ones, but the early Bay Trail models appear to reduce that delta by quite a bit. They are looking robust enough and price-aggressive enough to make the Clover Trails look like yesterday’s news.
This brings us back to the Miix 10, which doesn’t differ much from several other Clover Trail Atom-based slates we’ve looked at over the past few months, in terms of configuration and performance. As you’ll see in our Performance section, the Miix 10’s numbers were quite similar to the other Clover Trail slates we’ve tested. Its price, at least within the Clover Trail world, is also aggressive: At $479 list, it was a few hundred dollars cheaper, at this writing, than several competing Clover Trail Atom/Windows 8 models. HP’s business-oriented ElitePad 900, for instance, listed in early November 2013 for $699. But the 10.1-inch elephant in the room (the Asus Transformer Book T100T) seems poised to upend all of the furniture in Clover Trail’s den and crush it underfoot.
It’s not just the chip difference that’s shaking things up, either. Sometimes, a competing tablet costs more because it comes bundled with attachable keyboard cover or a docking station. In the case of the Miix 10, the combination keyboard dock/cover will cost you an additional $99 (list), bringing the total price up to about $580, which was on the low side for a Windows 8 tablet-plus-keyboard until not very long ago. But the clincher for the Transformer Book T100T is that the $350-to-$400 priceincludes a pretty good keyboard base that turns the tablet into a quasi-laptop.
Taken against its Clover Trail competition, the Miix 10 is a capable entry, but nothing much about it’appearance, battery life, or performance’sets it apart. We’d like it better with the optional keyboard case, but our bottom line is that this Lenovo is as middle-of-the-road as current Clover Trail-based Windows tablets come. It’s a decent tablet at a fair price, in the moment in time we write this. But similar Bay Trail models are poised to invade the Windows tablet and hybrid market, and if the first we’ve seen is any indication, they’ll be well worth holding out for.
Read full review at Computer Shopper.