The Lenovo Tab S8 is the Chinese manufacturers’ latest attempt to woo the hearts and minds of consumers with an affordable 200 Euro, 8-inch Android tablet based on the latest Intel Atom platform. Mobile Geeks get close up with the Tab S8 to see if this is a mediocre ‘Me Too’ device, or one of real quality that further enhances Lenovo’s reputation for building top quality gear.
This is the first Android tablet that we have seen from Lenovo that uses an Intel SoC, while this is not huge step it is significant in terms of market shift. Intel are attempting to take a major piece of the affordable, sub-10 inch Android tablet market, a market previously dominated by vendors such as MediaTek, Rockchip and Allwinner.
Launched during IFA just a few weeks ago, the Lenovo Tab S8 will retail for around $200, competing with devices such as the Nexus 7, the ASUS Memo Pad 8 and others, but in an increasingly crowded tablet segment, we are hoping to see more innovative and imaginative designs with higher resolution screens, decent storage and improved performance thanks to new Bay-Trail Intel processing. The Lenovo Tab S8 should be a good example of this new and improved, low-cost Android tablet market.
Don’t forget to watch this full and detailed video review from our buddy Roland:
Lenovo Tab S8: Hardware Overview
So far in this segment we are very much familiar with devices that pack a SoC from Taiwanese manufacturer MediaTek, but Intel has invested a great deal of resources to wedge themselves into this market. The spearhead of that push is the processor we find adorning the Tab S8, the Intel Atom 3745, a chip more commonly found of late on larger Windows 8 tablets. Other specs include 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage which we glad to see can be expanded with a microSD card. The display is 8 inches across the diagonal and uses a 16:10 aspect ratio. It is an LCD IPS display with a resolution of 1920 x 1200 that looks pretty good. More on that later.
Other features on our review model include Bluetooth 4.0 support, GPS, WiFi b/g/n and a 4G LTE modem thanks to an Intel XMM 7160 modem. LTE support means that users can enjoy networking speeds of up to 100 Mbit/s. Lenovo also offer a model without LTE support which will cost you less.
The Tab S8 is equipped with a surprisingly high-resolution 8MP rear camera that includes auto-focus, dual LED Flash and a F/2.2 aperture. The front camera is a typically unexciting 1.6MP. In terms of connectivity, we actually don’t have too many options; there is no micro HDMI port for example. Lenovo clearly consider the Tab S8 to be a media consumption device so the lack of any media output ports is entirely forgivable. When it comes to battery life we will be relying upon the devices 4290mAh battery.
Overall Design and Build
The general design of the Lenovo Tab S8 is surprisingly attractive and at first glance kind of reminds me of the OnePlus One smartphone, at least in terms of the shape and design of the back of the device. The front is completely glass with the exception of the two front facing speakers (hooray!) that we find on the top and bottom. The display appears to almost float atop the body with narrow cusp around the edge of the tablet that keeps the device looking pretty classy.
The pair of stereo speakers are mounted within the device at the top and bottom of the front face, with narrow rows of small sound holes interrupting the glass front. The speakers are centrally placed which is not an issue, but can muffled somewhat when you hold the tablet horizontally, when gaming for example. It may well have been a better idea to slightly offset them, a decision which would have affected the overall symmetry of the design however. The Lenovo logo is adorned in the top center of the device on the front, also on the back with a now obligatory ‘Intel Inside’ logo on the lower portion of the device.
When viewed from the side, the device is actually pretty thin, the tapered back cover adds to that impression, giving you the idea that it is even thinner than the 7.9mm the spec sheet mentions, not far off the iPad Air’s 7.5mm thickness in fact. The edges of the device are also where you will find the ports and bays, including a small flap on the left side behind which the microSD and SIM cards are located. The right side is where you will find the power button and volume rocker, both of which are a little spongy on the review sample that we have – it is important to note that ours is a pre-production sample however, so we won’t be too critical at this juncture.
The back on our review sample is completely white but Lenovo is offering ebony, blue and canary yellow also. Our white version has a unique finish which is metallic and glittery and not at all unattractive. It is also pretty much scratch proof – surviving a very busy week or so during the IFA exhibition without exhibiting any damage at all. To the touch the back cover has a slightly rubberized feel which helps to prevent it slipping out of your hand. The rear camera and its lens is placed in the top right corner and protrudes just a little with the housing thickening just a little to accommodate it.
The LTE version of the Tab S8 is slightly heavier than the WiFi only version at 307 grams (WiFi only version is 299 grams). This makes it a good 30 grams lighter than the iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 3 which clock in at around 331 grams. In general the Tab S8 feels like a higher quality device than its 200 Euro price would suggest. It feels good in the hand with impressive weight distribution – a good and comfortable shape in the hand.
Our prototype model was produced during the ‘Product Verification Testing’ (PVT) stage of production, so as I mentioned earlier we should perhaps be a little forgiving when it comes to production and physical details – being a non mass-produced version. The device does in fact creak a little when twisted or placed under pressure (no it does not bend…), an issue related to the back cover not quite fitting as well as it should. As soon as we encounter a final retail unit, we will of course put these issues under the microscope again.
Intel Bay-Trail Performance
One major aspect of the Lenovo Tab S8 that is worthy of our attention is the Intel Bay-trail SoC, a new breed of processor that constitutes Intel’s latest push into the current tablet space. We have seen Bay-Trail chips aplenty in the Windows Tablet space but now we are starting to see Android powered by the same low-power solution. The chip in question of course is the Intel Atom Z3745, a quad-core processor that clocks between 1.33GHz and 1.86Ghz depending on work load.
As the benchmark results confirm, the Atom Z3745 has plenty of horse-power, hitting scores that are not too far off what we see on high-end tablet devices from Samsung that use more expensive ARM chips like the Exynos 5420. If we make comparisons with the current top crop from Qualcomm however, we do see the Snapdragon 801 pull ahead in benchmarks, especially where graphics performance is concerned. The Z3745 and its Intel HD Graphics are still some way off what we see from Qualcomm’s Adreno GPUs. Regardless of benchmarks however, the Intel SoC is more than capable of powering the HD display of the Tab S8.
In everyday use we encountered virtually no stuttering, although it is very possible that the Android build on the device is far from final. There are some quirks and oddities however, but I would not necessarily describe them as actual performance issues and we can deal with these later in the software section. The raw performance we see here on the Tab S8 is more than sufficient to power Android Kit Kat on a HD 8 inch screen. The back of the device does get warm when the system is under full load, but not unacceptably so. I would estimate that it reaches an ambient temperature of around 40 degrees, which is far from unpleasant but certainly noticeable.
Full HD Display
The display we find on the Lenovo Tab S8 has been a really pleasant surprise. At this price point we don’t expect to find a top quality screen, and in some cases in the past, we have seen plenty of disappointments. Firstly however, I must say that the display we have here is not one of the brightest screen we have seen, in terms of luminosity, it does not stand up too well compared to the high-end panels we have come to enjoy from Samsung and Sony for example. The brightness resides in the region of around 350 lumens, which is actually pretty far off the level you are getting on Apple’s iPad devices. The display and glass cover are in direct contact with each other which helps the panel deal with reflections and there are good contrast ratio levels too. Reading text on this screen is a pleasure.
Regarding the issue of brightness, the Tab S, like most tablets, is intended predominantly for indoor use and it really excels in this area with strong colors and really dark, black, blacks. Despite being an IPS LCD, the device really does do well with the darker colors where we find that black is actually black. Sitting in your living room looking at the device it is in fact hard to discern the black of the screen and the physical black areas of the devices bezels. There are no irregularities in terms of evenness when it comes to the back-light either. This is all very impressive on a $200 device.
Likewise viewing angles are also very impressive which should be expected from an IPS panel at this stage. The colors are unchanged and consistent from all angles and fonts and other content remain crisp, clear and sharply defined. The 1920 x 1200 pixels screen has a pixel density of 283 ppi which is not exceptional by any means, but individual pixels are not obviously apparent thanks to the regular, non diamond RGB stripe array used.
Memory and Storage
The Lenovo Tab S8 is equipped with 2GB of RAM which of course is plenty and should offer plenty of potential when it comes multi-tasking performance. This is refreshing to see as many of the more affordable tablets we have encountered have to live with just 1GB, in fact I am sure you can still find devices with 512MB in China. The 16GB of internal storage is sufficient for device that will predominantly use streamed media, but I really like the idea that it has a microSD slot so that you instantly load up a few GBs of content when you travel for example. The Android OS that Lenovo has installed itself takes up 4.9GB of your 16GB, so you should still have plenty of space to install apps.
Dual Stereo Speakers
As media consumption devices, the in-built speakers of a tablet are of course worthy of particular scrutiny. Under powered single speaker systems that are ill placed and tinny as hell, can render a tablet useless for content consumption without headphones. The Tab S8 thankfully suffers from non of these issues and offers a pair of reasonably loud stereo speakers that also contain a little bass. The overall audio experience is therefore pretty good.
A glance at the specification sheet may make you curb your expectations when it comes to the cameras on the Lenovo Tab S8. A 2MP on the front and a 8MP plus BMI sensor on the rear would seem to be pretty paltry compared to what we are seeing in the smartphone space where 16MP- 20MP sensors are becoming more common place. The rear camera is actually capable of providing some pretty impressive photos in the right conditions. Low light will prove to be a challenge, as with most tablets and smartphones, so no big surprise there, but if you get the light right, excellent photos are possible.
Hardware optical image stabilization is not present (that would be asking for too much surely) and you do have to wait a moment after pressing the record button to actually start recording. Auto-focus can take a moment to kick in but its actually quite fast and creates sharp well focused shots. The camera app itself is surprisingly fast and at least at first glance appears to be pretty minimalistic with only two basic modes present on the front. This is because a lot of the features and functions are hidden away, nested inside several menu layers. There are plenty of functions and options including White Balance, Exposure, HDR mode, Flash and Self-timer settings, it’s just that they are somewhat hidden.
Picture quality overall is okay, although I did notice that the panoramic images from the Tab S8 is only available in a very limited resolution of 1536 x 456 height. This is somewhat disappointing because the results of the other modes are actually OK.
Lenovo Android 4.4.2
Lenovo right now has on their hands a relatively heavily customized version of Android Kit Kat. Lenovo uses Android 4.4.2 as its base, which is almost the latest version unless of course we talk about the very latest Android 5 Lollipop. Visually speaking, the OS looks quite similar to that which we have seen from a certain Cupertino based company in the US, something that I don’t personally have a problem with. There is no direct copying, but there is plenty of ‘influence’ and ‘inspiration’ from Apple in here. One issue that we did find was that the OS does not seem to scale as well as we would like on a Full HD screen. The fonts in the UI in particular seem to be a little smaller than we would like for example.
As with iOS there is no app draw, something that is fast becoming the norm from Chinese vendors it seems; Xioami and Huawei have also made this design decision. There are however a number special features that help make the UI stand out. You can access the notifications bar by simply swiping down on any area of the screen, which means you don’t have to change the position of your hand to reach the top of the display. There are some good app additions too including some a File Manager app (surely this should be standard by now…) and other helpful apps to help you manage your tablet.
Overall the design of the UI looks good. It’s modern and classy looking and actually brings out the best of the HD display. However, our prototype device was not loaded with the final, retail version of the OS and indeed we did see some crashing and other instability issues, particularly with Google Play. We have every confidence that Lenovo will iron-out these issues on the full and final retail version.
The Lenovo Tab S8 has a 4290mAh battery which the company suggests will last about seven hours. In our testing using the LaptopMag Battery Test, WiFi turned on, the device lasted 7 hours 10 minutes. For once the manufacturer nailed a very honest and accurate assessment – kudos to you Lenovo. Note: this was with the 4G modem turned off. With the 4G access you are looking at something closer to 6 hours 30 minutes due to the energy requirements of the modem, which it turns out is probably somewhat higher due to my living room situation with poor reception. In everyday life with heavy use and brightness on full, you may in fact get only 4 hours which is not actually so great. Left idle, the device retained its charge for almost two weeks.
The Lenovo Tab S8 is priced at 200 Euros in Europe and will be available for around $200 USD in the states, (note the 4G version is 250 Euros) which makes it a pretty affordable. Having said that, there is plenty of competition in this segment right now, with plenty of options arriving droves including very affordable, yet attractive Windows tablets. It has a great display for the price however, the performance is more than sufficient with its Intel quad-core Bay-Trail Atom SoC. The storage and memory configuration is solid too. The only compliant really is that a Micro HDMI port would have been useful.
The design also is pretty good; a good classy finish that doesn’t attract fingerprints. The audio too is great too for this size and price with nice Dolby supported stereo speakers. You may also note that the Tab S8 is no battery life champion. Right now, I would only hesitate to offer a full recommendation because of the quirks and issues we noted on this early pre-production model. We look forward to confirming Lenovo’s good work in ironing out the creases on an otherwise great Android tablet.
Written by Roland Quandt, translated and edited by Stewart Haston