The Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700 comes in a nice enough box which includes the tablet, the keyboard, the charging block and cable, and a small instruction sheet. The first thing I noticed was the oddly shaped plug on the charging cable.
See that little notch there? It fits into the USB 2.0 port on the left/bottom side of the tablet for charging. I suspect that means normal USB 2.0 cables don’t work for charging purposes. Which is a bummer. Proprietary cables are a pain.
I mentioned yesterday that I was in the market for a 2-in-1 to replace the dead Venue 8 Pro. Though I mentioned a lot of options conveniently found at the Microsoft Store, I left a different device off the list: the Lenovo Ideapad Miix 700. This is largely because it debuted in September of 2015, and really didn’t make much of a splash. (Not that any PCs have made much of a splash in recent years…)
A Blessed Surface (Pro) Clone
Microsoft created the Surface line to show OEMs what a 2-in-1 is supposed to be, and has seemingly given its blessing to devices which essentially copy the Surface look and feel. Obviously, there is only so much an OEM can do to differentiate its devices–at the end of the day, you’re basically looking at a rectangle with a keyboard. Corners may or may not be rounded, and the devices will vary by a few millimeters and grams here and there. But, for the most part, a rectangle is a rectangle is a rectangle.
When it debuted, the Miix 700–which looks and acts almost exactly like Microsoft’s Surface offerings–fell somewhere in between the Surface 3 and the Surface Pro 3 in terms of price and features.
Integrated “continuous” kickstand with 0-150° of rotation.
(These were the best specs and prices I could determine based on the respective manufacturer’s websites. If they’re inaccurate, I apologize. Things in RED are an advantage, and things in GREEN are a slight advantage.)
I Found a Bargain on the Miix 700
Brand new, the Ideapad Miix 700 is a strong competitor, price-wise, but ends up being on my but-I-really-don’t-want-to-spend-that-much-on-this-thing list. For a lot less, I could get HP’s Pavilion x2, accepting its slower processor and taking a gamble on the stylus. Or, honestly, just leaving the whole thing alone until a new generation of devices comes out.
But last weekend, I decided to finally go visit Houston’s new Microcenter store. (It used to be on the West Loop, which was a traffic nightmare. Now it’s moved to South Rice Avenue, which is slightly less of a traffic nightmare.) I needed to get some toner and photo paper, but ended up discovering that there was an Open-Box special on a Miix 700, which put the price at roughly 40% off. In other words, it was less expensive than the Pavilion x2, including the Active Pen (only $34 on Amazon).
I had a decision to make. I’m wary of deals that are too good to be true (which this seemed to be). And Open-Box specials can be concerning–was there a specific reason this came back to the store? (The sales associate said that it was returned because it was unwanted, not because it was malfunctioning.) Why was there another Open-Box special for a couple hundred bucks more? (Sales associate did not know.) The manufacturer’s warranty (1 year) still applied, and there was a fifteen-day Microcenter return policy on all open-box items. So I bit the bullet, bought it, and ordered the active pen after I got home.
With the official demise of the Venue 8 Pro, I have been keeping my eyes peeled for an intriguing detachable 2-in-1 device with a good stylus. Also, it needs to be larger than the Venue 8 Pro. For my purposes, eight inches is too small for note taking.
Obviously, Microsoft’s Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 are the market definers. Even the Surface Pro 3, though it’s over a year old, has compelling features. The Surface 3 is an interesting option, too, being slightly smaller. From HP, there is the Pavilion x2 Detachable 12-b096ms. Huawei and Samsung have also recently released 2-in-1 devices, the Matebook and Galaxy TabPro S respectively.
From my perspective, though, apart from the Pavilion x2, these things get pretty expensive really quickly. For example, the Surface Book, which thoughtfully includes a keyboard and stylus, starts at $1,349 for a Core i5 with a 128GB SSD and 8GB of RAM. To be honest, that’s probably all the computing power I anticipate needing, for now, but $1,349 is far more than I want to spend. Especially for a device that’s had a spotty reliability record. (If you really want to, you can go hog wild and max the thing out with a Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD, resulting in a ……. $3,199 price tag. Still cheaper than the gold Apple Watch, though, so…)
2-in-1 Accessories Add Up
The rest of the devices, though? They’re all missing some key accessories. And they aren’t cheap to acquire.
Surface Pro 4 Base Model (Core m3, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM, 12.3″ screen)
$899 starting price (oddly enough, the Core i5 model is currently on sale at the Microsoft Store for $849)
Stylus (Surface Pen) Included
+$130 — Surface Pro 4 Type Cover
Real World Total: $1,030
Surface Pro 3 Remaining New Model (Core i7, 512 GB, 8 GB RAM, 12″ screen)
$1,949 starting price (all other models are out of stock)
Surface Pen included
+$130 — Surface Type Cover
Real World Total: $2,080(!!!)
Surface Pro 3 Refurbished Model (Core i7, 512GB, 8GB RAM, 12″ screen)
$1,599 starting price (all other models are out of stock)
By the time I’ve made the device usable for my wants, I will have spent more than I think is warranted. Except for the HP Pavilion x2. I think $500 plus change for a detachable 2-in-1 with a good-enough processor (more on that later, but I’m wary of the Atom processors given how sluggish the Venue 8 Pro became once I updated to Windows 10.)
Stylus Technology Matters
But I can’t bring myself to pull the trigger on the Pavilion. It isn’t because it isn’t a really compelling piece of hardware. Yes, maybe it’s slightly heavier and thicker than the other offerings. And yes, perhaps the speakers on the sides might look a little…wonky. Those factors don’t matter as much to me, though. What I’m most concerned about is the stylus’s digitizing technology. From what I could gather, it was either home-grown by HP, or used Synaptics technology, which is what Dell used on the V8P. Given how incredibly unreliable the V8P’s stylus was, I can’t justify spending $500 on something to have it become essentially worthless out of the gate.
Instead, I really wanted something that used N-Trig’s or Wacom’s technology. They have solid reputations, and aren’t likely to conk out on me while trying to take notes during a client meeting.
Where Are All the 2-in-1 Devices with Stylus Support?
Until this past weekend, which I’ll get to later, a 2-in-1 didn’t seem like something I was going to include in my work routine any time soon. The utter lack of easily findable information on whether a particular device supports stylus input is another barrier.
The Microsoft Store’s website does a great job of aggregating a nice collection of 2-in-1s which are part of the Signature Edition program. That is, the machines purchased through that program do not have any junk (other than the stuff included as part of Windows 10) preinstalled. What the site utterly fails to do, other than for the Surface line of machines, is tell you whether a given device supports stylus input. Even Amazon, which has a fine dedicated 2-in-1 section, does not include stylus support as a filter. There are options for operating system (including Windows XP), activity (Gaming, Business, Personal), display size, processor type, RAM size, number of CPU Cores, hard drive size and type, weight, number of USB 3.0 ports, WLAN standard, battery life, graphics type, graphics processor, optical storage, flash storage size, wireless internet connectivity, display technology, brand, display resolution, power consumption, and CPU speed. But stylus support? Not an option.
It would be nice if there was a repository of which machines have active stylus support, but there really doesn’t seem to be one. Not easily findable at least. For that, you need to run a Google or Bing search on each individual machine, and hope that the manufacturer’s website tells you the answer. Even then, though, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to learn what digitizer technology is being used. In the end, you have to make do the best you can.
Microsoft unveiled some very attractive hardware this morning in New York City, but that very attractive hardware comes with very premium pricing.
(Though Microsoft discussed it first, I’ll leave off discussing the XBoxOne, since I’m not terribly interested in it, and it doesn’t really fit into the whole how-does-this-piece-of-technology-integrate-into-the-law-office thing I have going here. And the Hololens was mentioned and demoed, with a dev kit being offered next year for $3,000…..)
Microsoft Band (2.0)
Microsoft then moved on to the new Microsoft Band. A few weeks ago, some renders leaked which showed a very sleek and rounded band that looks like a glowing bangle. The screen is rounded, but generally looks like a shiny version of the current Microsoft Band. Microsoft is still calling it the Band (but I’m differentiating it by calling it “2.0”), and it still, unfortunately, looks like a shackle.
The clasp is huge and looks cumbersome, and interestingly, the woman discussing the Band on stage had it on with the screen on the inside of her wrist. (The models on the product page are also wearing the screen on the inside of the wrist.) It looks far more capable than the first generation Band, and certainly less awkward with that weird flat wedge of a screen, but still quite large. Much larger, for example than the FitBit Charge I currently have on my wrist, which I think is already somewhat large and noticeably…dorky.
Nonetheless, I like the commitment to fitness that Microsoft is going for with the Band, with built-in GPS, partnerships already lined up with all sorts of health apps, and guided workouts. One of the limitations I found when considering the original Band, in addition to the clunky screen, was its inability–apparently–to track steps all day long; it isn’t clear to me that the new Band has constant monitoring. It would make sense to have it, but then again, this thing is trying to do more than just track steps.
Such as being a productivity smart-watch-ish device, too. Apparently, it will work with iPhones (no surprise considering Microsoft’s best mobile apps appear on iOS first), Androids, and yes, Windows Mobile phones. You can get emails, text messages, other notifications, and even use Cortana. Cortana, however, requires a Windows Phone 8.1 or later device. *sad trombone*
At $249, it is $50 more than the previous model, but $100 less than the entry-level Apple Watch. It’s an interesting pricing strategy because there is some legitimately interesting stuff in the device, but it’s probably appropriately priced (as far as these things go) as a second-tier device. Not that I think the Apple Watch is any great shakes, to be honest. I’m not interested in that device in the slightest, as I already have a non-smart watch I like very much thank you. I am interested in the Band, but not at $249, regardless of the fact they made a curved display. That helps a lot, but I already found $199 too steep for my interests, and again, it really looks quite bulky.
Lumia 950 and 950XL
Anyway, on to the phones. Not much to say here. The Lumia 950 and 950XL appear to be flagship devices, and the Continuum features look legitimately impressive. Being able to hook the phone up to a dock and have it work as a desktop-esque machine is really intriguing. And the technical specifications are nothing to sneeze at. Either 5.2″ or 5.7″ AMOLED screens, 20 MP cameras with triple LED flashes and ZEISS lenses (which by all accounts are fantastic), a standard 32GB of storage with a microSD slot, and either a 6-core or 8-core Snapdragon processor, they’re pretty stout phones. (Shoot, they even have liquid cooling, which…what?) Then there’s the afore-mentioned ability to plug it into a dock and have a functioning desktop experience. It’s creative and progressive, and I genuinely would love to use one.
The apps. Or more accurately, the dearth of apps. And the fact that Windows 10 Mobile is not ready for prime time. There is no way this phone will pass the wife test, and in this BYOD environment, that’s more important to me at this point than the technology. It’s a pity, since they are pretty devices. And they’re lower-tier priced at $549 and $649 respectively (though, with Google’s release of the Nexus devices last week at lower price points, perhaps Microsoft should knock another hundred bucks or so off each if they actually want anyone to buy them).
Surface Pro 4
Anyway, onto the device that I was most interested in, the Surface Pro 4. I have made no bones about the fact that I have fallen out of love with my Venue 8 Pro as a productivity device. I find it too small, and far too unreliable to use it for anything but general leisure-time consumption. And that makes me somewhat sad because the idea of a tablet running a full operating system with pen input is precisely my perfect law office productivity device. That’s where the Surface Pro 3, the Surface 3, and now the Surface Pro 4 resonate with me, and Microsoft has really delivered improvements to the Surface Pro line.
The new Surface Pro 4 is thinner, lighter, and purportedly more powerful. The pen has been updated, has an eraser, comes standard, and magnetically attaches to the edge of the device. Microsoft also updated the Type Cover, to include spaces between the keys, a glass trackpad, and a fingerprint scanner. The screen is very nice, and has a ton of pixels. It’s got Intel’s latest Core processors in it. All around, it’s a sleek machine, and I want one.
But the price.
It starts at $899, which is $100 more than the Surface Pro 3 started at (and you can currently get one for $699.00). That *only* gets you a Core M3, 4 GB of RAM, and a decent 128GB SSD. Opting for a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD increases the price to $1,299.00. Another 8GB of RAM pumps it to $1,499.00 and maxing the thing out with a Core i7 with 16GB of RAM and 1TB of SSD storage results in a $2,699.00 device. Add in a $199 dock, and a $129 keyboard… well, it’s not a cheap device. Which is fine; it’s the standard-bearer for office productivity tablets. But it’s also a lot of money to pay for a device which will be last year’s model in a year’s time.
And then there’s the Surface Book (they really should have called it something other than “Book”), which was quite unexpected (apart from whimsical musings about what Microsoft could do if it made laptop), and is very innovative. It’s also got to have all of Microsoft’s OEM partners peeved, because now Microsoft is definitely tromping in the devices category. It’s a 2-in-1 device, where the screen detaches from the keyboard, and the two halves are connected by a really strange looking articulated hinge.
The thing is pretty compelling, packing a 13.3″ (3000 x 2000) touch screen that also accepts pen input. In fact, it comes with the Surface Pen. It also, in its base configuration, sports a Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 128GB of SSD storage. It also starts at $1,499.00, which is firmly high-end territory. Yes, it detaches and becomes a “clipboard,” which is very cool, but that, again, is a lot of money to spend on a first-gen device. (Oh, maxing it out with a Core i7, 512 GB of SSD storage, 16GB or RAM, and discrete graphics will run you $2,699.)
Wrap it Up
So, all in all, some pretty interesting devices were debuted by Microsoft today, and it will be absolutely exciting to see if Microsoft’s OEM partners can address the build quality and technological specs with slightly more affordable gear. Nonetheless, it’s nice to see a lot of innovation coming out in the wake of Windows 10.
I’ve said it a lot, and I’ll maintain it here, that waiting until this fall is probably a better time to buy a new computer, when Windows 10 is supposed to be released (though the pace of TP releases admittedly causes a little concern) and when even newer, more efficient processors are available. That being said, it makes sense to start thinking about things right now to get a feel for what you’re really comparing.
The past couple of posts in this series have focused on the “Apple tax” and this post continues the trend. For this exercise’s purpose, I’m going to look at machines in the so-called Ultrabook class, which are light-weight, decently powerful laptops with 11-13″ screens. Full disclosure, I’m using a table to do this, and I fully expect it to wreck formatting for people on smaller screens. I’m sorry, but I don’t really know how else to organize a comparison of 6 different devices. I’m also going to limit myself to off-the-shelf configurations. As I showed in the last post in this series, configuring something as limited as a MacBook Air leads to a lot of expensive variance.
To make sure the comparisons are accurate, I will only choose Core i5 configurations with SSDs, and the computers I am going to compare are: the Microsoft Surface Pro 3; Dell XPS 13; HP Spectre x360; Acer s7; MacBook; MacBook Air 11″; and MacBook Pro 13″.
MS Surface Pro 3
HP Spectre x360
MacBook Air 11″
MacBook Pro 13″
$999 / $1130 with Type Cover
Core i5 (4th Gen) 1.9GHz
Core i5 (4th Gen) 1.7GHz
Core i5 (5th Gen) 2.2GHz
Core i5 (4th Gen) 1.7GHz
Core i5 (5th Gen) 1.6GHz
Core i5 (5th Gen) 2.7GHz
12″ (2160 x 1440) (touch)
13.3″ (1920 x 1080) (touch)
13.3″ (1920 x 1080) (touch)
13.3″ (1920 x 1080) (touch)
11.6″ (1366 x 768)
13.3″ (2560 x 1600)
1 USB 3.0, microSD reader, Mini DisplayPort
2 USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort
3 USB 3.0, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, SD reader
2 USB 3.0, SD reader, HDMI
2 USD 3.0, Thunderbolt 2
2 Thunderbolt 2, 2 USB 3.0, HDMI, SDXC reader
Up to 9 hours
Up to 11 hours
Up to 12.5 hours
Up to 7.5 hours
Up to 10 hours
Up to 12 hours
1.76 lbs (without cover), 2.42 lbs(with cover)
Clearly, the price that Apple charges for its products is largely in line with the prices charged by other PC manufacturers, if perhaps a tad more expensive. This means that when it comes down to the technology you are going to purchase, it really comes down more to the OS environment you want to work in, more so than the price of the hardware. That will be subject of the next entry in this series.
1This is based on reports I have read; I can’t see anything on HP’s website that confirms this.