If you’re looking for a way to spend your tax refund wisely, Lenovo has two products that might offer the best price-performance ratio in the industry.

You don’t have to be a US resident to purchase either device (or at least a close approximation), but you won’t likely find as good a deal as you will at Best Buy for the $900 Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 14 or at Costco.com for the Miix 700 tablet, currently discounted $200 through the end of April.

THINKPAD YOGA 14

I first reviewed the original Best Buy exclusive Thinkpad Yoga 14 in the middle of 2015 and the convertible laptop has been updated several times since then while the price has remained constant. The current version, model 20FY0002US, features a 2.3 GHz 6th Gen Intel Core i5-6200U processor, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD and NVidia GeForce 940M graphics. An integrated, rechargeable Thinkpad Pen Pro (Wacom ActiveES stylus) is included.

The TPY14 is not sold online at Lenovo.com. Instead, the closest equivalent is known as the Thinkpad Yoga 460 (Black). Configuring that model to match the Best Buy version will cost at least $1449 (currently discounted 10%) but does not include the discrete gpu. For reasons known only to Lenovo, none of its online offerings seems to offer an NVidia option.

The TPY14 is the nearly perfect desktop replacement convertible. You might quibble about the FHD (1920x1080) display which doesn’t boast the widest color gamut or brightest output, but I find the roomy 14-inch screen perfectly acceptable.

The keyboard is typical of Thinkpads: with comfortable spacing and nice key travel. The trackpad is improved over the earlier versions.

The laptop is equipped with 3 x USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, HDMI, OneLink+ and 4-in-1 media card slot. Wireless-AC, Bluetooth 4.0, microphone and 720p HD webcam round out the package.

Top to bottom: the integrated rechargeable Lenovo Thinkpad Pen Pro stylus, the Thinkpad Pen Pro active capacitive pen and the recommended Toshiba dynaPad TruPen. Note the very short exposed nib on the middle pen. 

Top to bottom: the integrated rechargeable Lenovo Thinkpad Pen Pro stylus, the Thinkpad Pen Pro active capacitive pen and the recommended Toshiba dynaPad TruPen. Note the very short exposed nib on the middle pen. 

While the integrated stylus is nice in a pinch, serious users will want to purchase a full size pen. The Lenovo Thinkpad Pen Pro active capacitive pen is available for about $40, but I recommend the more expensive Toshiba DynaPad TruPen, which is now available for separate purchase from a variety of online outlets including Amazon and Toshiba.com, whose sales are fulfilled by CDW.

The DynaPad TruPen offers a much better drawing experience, with longer, softer nibs and a much greater hover distance. The nibs seem to deteriorate quickly, but fortunately Toshiba is the first Wacom AES OEM to also offer packs of 5 replacement tips.

The soft TruPen nibs offer significantly more resistance than the standard Pen Pro, but the display is still a little slippery. I haven’t tried one yet, but a screen protector would be advisable if you intend to draw on the TPY14 full time.

Drawing performance is as good as any Wacom ActiveES device, with great accuracy and 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity. The TPY14 is also compatible with the Wacom Feel driver, so you’ll be able to configure the pen buttons and create a radial menu if you like.

System performance is excellent, with the laptop ranking just above last year’s models in various benchmarks.

For its price class, the Best Buy exclusive Thinkpad Yoga 14 is an absolute winner. Highly recommended.

IDEAPAD MIIX 700

Even at its regular retail price of $800, the Ideapad Miix 700 is a lower end Surface Pro 4 clone that is hard to pass up. But at $600 through April 30 for Costco members, it’s an absolute steal.

For $100 less than the regular retail price of the 4GB entry level m3 SP4, the Miix 700 boasts an Intel Core m5-6Y54 and 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB SSD. The onboard Intel HD Graphics 515 powers a 12-inch 2160 x 1440 display, equal to the SP4. A folio keyboard cover is also included but the Wacom Active ES pen is sold separately.

At its sale price, the Miix is about $400 cheaper than the less powerful Surface Pro with keyboard! There’s got to be a catch, right? Fortunately for bargain hunters, there are only a few items of concern.

It would be impossible to tell the Miix 700 apart from the Microsoft tablet except for the gold finish back and watchband hinges. The folio keyboard cover has a faux leather cover. These fashion miscues can easily be overlooked.

Unfortunately, there is one hideous marketing decision that will require significant elbow grease to rectify. The geniuses at Lenovo decided to apply a sticker to the top right and side of the tablet with a strong adhesive that leaves behind a sticky, difficult to remove residue. Prepare to spend a lot of wasted time cleaning up this mess. (Lenovo states on its forum that future Miix tablets won’t have the appliques).

Aesthetics and self-inflicted issues aside, the only real item of concern is the keyboard cover, which is a little flaky despite a firmware fix. Without the patch, the cursor regularly jumps around randomly, making it nearly impossible to type a sentence without multiple errors. After the patch, the keyboard is more accurate, although the touchpad is hyper-sensitive. Throughout a week of use, I’ve accidentally opened or closed multiple items due to errant taps on the trackpad. Clicking and selecting is also challenging. Lastly, the keyboard is not backlit, which is a major limitation if you need to use your tablet in low-lit situations. Consequently, if word processing is your primary activity, you may be out of luck when it comes to the Miix 700.

Unlike the Spartan plain cardboard packaging of Thinkpad products, the Ideapad line is consumer oriented and the Miix 700 ships in the nicest package I’ve seen from Lenovo.

Available ports are a little skimpy: one USB 2.0 that doubles as the power input, one USB 3.0, a microHDMI output and a microSD slot tucked under the kickstand, borrowing again from the Surface Pro design.

A major selling point of the Miix is its user upgradeability. Swapping out the m2 SSD should be very straight forward and Lenovo even has a complete list of how-to videos on its site: https://www.lenovoservicetraining.com/showcase?sid=1114&key=TGVuZw==

Marketed as a relatively low cost retail device, the Ideapad also features a lot of pre-installed crapware like McAfee Internet Security that you will want to wipe off right away. I do appreciate when OEMs provide utilities that phone home and let you know when driver updates are available. The Lenovo Companion app purports to do this, but I still had to visit Lenovo.com support to find the keyboard firmware.

Pen support is also not enabled by default and required installation of another firmware fix. Unfortunately, although the Miix 700 works with a variety of Wacom Active ES pens, it is not supported by the Feel driver, so you won’t be able to configure any pen buttons or run Wintab applications.

As I wrote above, the Lenovo Thinkpad Pen Pro is sold separately for $40. It's not the best Wacom Active ES pen option on the market due to its very short nib and small hover distance. If you decide to stick with the Lenovo brand, packs of pen clips are also available that attach the pen via the USB 3.0 connector (a pretty big waste of a port on an already limited device).

Like the Thinkpad Yoga 14, the Miix’s screen is a little slick and could benefit from a screen protector, but using it with a Toshiba DynaPad TruPen is otherwise very pleasant.

Until Wacom releases its Bamboo Smart pen and we determine its compatibility, the Toshiba DynaPad TruPen is the best choice for Miix users.

The Miix 700’s Core m5 processor offers negligible performance improvements over the Surface Pro 4’s m3, so benchmark results are very close.  But in real world use, you’re likely to see more benefit from the extra 4 GB of RAM.

The Miix runs absolutely silently and battery life is very good. Lenovo claims it will provide 9 hours of video playback, but I got about six hours or typing, browsing and drawing.

If you are looking for a bargain and can overlook the sticker and temperamental folio keyboard, the Miix 700 is the real deal.

Perhaps it's due to the overwhelming volume of gadgets I've got clattering around the SurfaceProArtist labs or just my advancing old age, but it's getting increasingly difficult to remember all the gear that I've reviewed and exactly when I reviewed it. Fortunately, despite the somewhat awkward design of the Squarespace template behind this site, everything I've ever posted here is only a keyword search away.

So as the year draws to a close, I thought it would be fun to revisit my last twelve months of reviews and see if my conclusions then have withstood the test of time.

In many cases, the time I invested while writing the review was about as much as I ended up spending with the device for the entire year, so I'll try to distinguish between the gear that I've really put through its paces and the stuff I only ever skimmed.

January
N-Trig DuoSensePen2
http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/1/3/n-trig-now-selling-replacement-pens- The first of a couple of products on this list that disappeared shortly after their release, these replacement pens were N-Trig's first foray into standalone consumer products. It was nice to see an option in case your Surface Pro 3 or Sony VAIO pen went missing, but I didn't care for the short body. When Microsoft bought N-Trig's pen technology later in 2015, the pens vanished.

Monoprice 22" HD SmartTouch Drawing Display http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/1/10/review-new-monoprice-pen-display-puts-multi-touch-within-reach - This touch capable drawing display was Monoprice's second attempt to entire the Wacom - Huion - Yiynova fray, but it also disappeared unceremoniously shortly after release. I still use it occasionally, as its attached to my second desktop. It's really not a bad value and I hope that Monoprice and its anonymous Chinese suppliers take another stab at it in 2016. UPDATE 12/24/15: In the comments section below, reader Vachel Shannon informed me that the Smarttouch pen display has resurfaced on Monoprice's website. You can find it here: http://www.monoprice.com/product?p_id=12077

TE2W8.jpg

Toshiba 8" Encore 2 Write http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/1/31/massive-guest-post-8-toshiba-encore-2-write-impressions - TabletPCReview member Precurve did a great job capturing the virtues of the 8-inch version of what was the best pen computing value of the year.

February
Lenovo Thinkpad Helix 2
http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2014/11/28/keyboard-hinders-helix-2 -
I expected to love the Helix 2, but I didn't, thanks to its high pricetag and crappy keyboard. Had it been discounted a couple hundred bucks, I might feel otherwise. When the Ultrabook Pro keyboard was ultimately released, it cost a ridiculous $400.

March
HP Pro x2 612 G1
http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/3/1/hp-pro-x2-612-g1-review - Because I reviewed it so closely to the pricey Helix 2, I probably ended up inflating my rating of this tablet. I admit I grade on a curve for lower cost devices, but there's something about this ugly duckling tablet that reminds me of the Surface Pro 1 that got this blog started. UPDATE 12/24/15 : Vachel Shannon also let me know that refurbished i5/8/256 HP Pro x2 612 G1s are on sale over at Woot! for only $399 until supplies last. This is an exceptional value. http://computers.woot.com/offers/hp-pro-x2-612-12-5-intel-i5-tablet-7?ref=cp_cnt_wp_2_9

Toshiba 10" Encore 2 Write http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/3/1/guest-post-10-toshiba-encore-2-write-review- I never got around to writing my own review of the TE2W, but Eric Merced did the honors here. The TE2W is the first Wacom ActiveES tablet I owned and it's an exceptional value.

Wacom Cintiq Companion 2 http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/2/20/wacom-companion-2 - I'll admit I haven't gotten as much use out of the CC2 has I had imagined/hoped when I first purchased it. I'm spoiled by having so many other options at my disposal and I consider the CC2 too large and loud to use outside of the office. But performance is fantastic and it's still the one to buy if art is your foremost concern.

June
Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 14
http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/6/26/thinkpad-yoga-14-sneaks-into-best-buy- My credit cards were able to take a break during April and May, and they were taxed a little more lightly by this Best Buy-exclusive offer. The laptop is my daily driver at the office. I've changed out the slow 1TB HDD for a much more responsive 512 GB SSD. You won't need to make that additional expense if you purchase the latest model, which has been updated several times since I purchased it. The TPY14 offers the best price-performance ratio on the market. It's not a style champion, but the Skylake version is essentially an i5 dGPU Surface Book for half the price.

July
Lenovo Thinkpad Active Capacitive Pen
http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/7/7/lenovos-elusive-thinkpad-active-capacitive-pen-arrives - The pen that accompanies Lenovo's Wacom ActiveES devices has since been rebranded as the Lenovo Thinkpad Pen Pro. But it remains a must-have for anyone buying one of the new penabled devices, as the bundled rechargeable pen is too small for serious artists.

October
VAIO Z Canvas
http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/10/26/vaio-z-canvas-is-windows-tablet-performance-champ - I was a reluctant buyer but the performance of the VAIO Z Canvas really won me over. It's been discounted $500 in recent weeks and is really hard to pass up at that price.

November
Microsoft Surface Pen
http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/11/5/man-sets-out-to-review-surface-book-settles-for-pen-instead - A must-have for any Surface Pro 3 or 4 owner. The new pen and softer nibs are a huge improvement over their predecessors.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/11/7/entry-level-surface-pro-4-is-the-only-ipad-pro-youll-ever-need - I purposely decided to review the low end m3 SP4 because I was looking for a fanless option. I love it and find I'm using my i5 SP3 less and less often. This is the perfect digital sketchbook Sorry Apple.

Miscrosoft Surface Book http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2015/12/5/surface-book-is-great-but-artists-should-stay-with-the-surface-pro - Early growing pains have almost been resolved. This is a beautiful prestige device, but I think it's a less than ideal form factor for digital artists.

December
Apple iPad Pro & Apple Pencil - Coming soon. Trying to take my time so I don't come off like an Apple hater or Microsoft fanboy.

So that's it. Funny doesn't seem like so many gadgets when you put them all on one page. I don't know how many I'll get to review in 2016. You guys were great the first couple of days I began my appeal for donations, but that's all died down now and revenue is no where near where it needs to be to pay for this site. So if you haven't yet, please consider a small contribution or click on as many ads as you can. Also, remember to begin your Amazon shopping sessions with a click on one of our Amazon links and we'll receive a small kickback.

So what was your favorite gadget of 2015? What are you most looking forward to in 2016? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Because I never saw a big screen I didn't like, I've been anxiously awaiting the arrival of Lenovo's first two Wacom Active ES 2-in-1 convertible laptops, the Thinkpad Yoga 14 and 15. 

Determining whether Windows devices support pen input is rarely easy, but in the case of these new Yogas, it's been downright ridiculous. I first ordered the Thinkpad Yoga 15 in March when it appeared on the Lenovo website. Buried in the specs was a claim of pen support. But I quickly returned it when it arrived with no Wacom digitizer. By the time I submitted my RMA request, Lenovo had updated its site and erased all mention of pen support on the new Thinkpads. Mysteriously though, Lenovo began listing an Active Capacitive Pen for $40 that its specs say is compatible with "all ThinkPad capacitive touch screen enabled devices."

In the three months since my first abortive encounter, I've been visiting the Lenovo site daily waiting for the new convertible to be listed for sale. And I'm not alone, because over on the TabletPCReview forums, the Thinkpad Yoga 15 thread is 65 pages long as I write this! Recently, international posters began reporting having purchased the penabled TPY14, but a 14-inch model has never even been listed in the US.

Thursday night, TabletPCReview regular @soh5 discovered that the Lenovo Thinkpad 14 is now available in the US as a Best Buy exclusive for $999. I followed this link and quickly placed my order and picked it up Friday morning. Although I would have preferred to test a 15-inch model, recent posts lead me to think that the TPY 15 may have been cancelled or is still a long way out.

Unfortunately, Best Buy doesn't offer the Active Capacitive Pen for sale (what a surprise) so I had to order that from Lenovo directly. It will take at least a week to arrive.

Unlike prior Wacom EMR tablet PC pens, it appears that Wacom Active ES pens are OEM specific. My Toshiba Encore 2 Write pen is not recognized on the TPY14, although the convertible laptop definitely lists a digitizer and even includes the Wacom Feel driver pre-installed.

Testing of the pen will have to wait until the pen shows up, but below are some quick first impressions and a size comparison with the first generation Thinkpad Yoga 12.

image.jpg

Despite its relatively low price, the Thinkpad Yoga 14 is a solid, quality business laptop. It features a 2.2 GHz 5th Gen Intel® Core™ i5-5200U processor with a 3MB cache and a Turbo Boost speed up to 2.7GHz, 8GB DDR3L memory, 1 TB hybrid hard drive (5400 rpm) with a 16GB solid state drive as a cache, NVIDIA GeForce GT 940M graphics with 2 GB dedicated video RAM and a 14" LED-backlit high-definition 10-point multitouch display with IPS technology and 1920 x 1080 resolution. 

The TPY14 includes 2 USB 3.0 ports and 1 USB 2.0 port, built-in high-speed wireless LAN (802.11ac), and Bluetooth 4.0.

It weighs 4.18 lbs. and measures just 0.82" thick.

The new Thinkpad Yoga 14 makes an excellent first impression. The display is sharp and bright, unlike the first generation Thinkpad Yoga 12 that has a milky screen protector that makes all images look dull. The keyboard is roomy and the best in class. The touchpad is also vastly improved over the TPY12 which felt slightly wobbly and cheap. The touchpad also features true left and right mouse buttons that  is appreciated. 

image.jpg

Lenovo has eked out another 1.5 diagonal inches out of the display by reducing the side bezels dramatically. You can't really make them any smaller without sacrificing side swiping capability. The TPY14 is just over 13" wide and 9" tall in landscape mode. The first gen TPY 12 approximately 12.25"x 8.5."

image.jpg

It's still a little odd to use the Yoga in tablet mode as the retracted keyboard keys will rest against your hands or knees as you hold it. I much prefer older compatibles like the Sony VAIO Flip and Acer Aspire R7-572 that allowed you to lift the display slightly to access the keyboard. To use the Yoga as a drawing device, you will definitely want to keep a Bluetooth keyboard nearby.

Lenovo packs a lot of crapware into its products lately and many of them are redundant to Microsoft services. I removed the McAfee Internet Security, a cloud storage solution and several other so-called Lenovo DOit applications. My advice to all PC manufacturers: DON'T DOit.

I haven't really put the laptop through its paces yet, but benchmark performance is very good. For some reason PCMark 8 won't run, but the TPY14 3DMark results were far better than either the original Thinkpad Yoga, the Wacom Cintiq Companion 2 or the Surface Pro 3 thanks to the latest gen i5 and the NVidia 940M GPU. I suspect the Ice Storm benchmark is the only one that is reliant on the CPU speed, which might explain the Core i7 TPY12's win in that category, although that doesn't explain the CC2 coming in second.

                         TPY14      CC2         SP3            TPY12(1st Gen)

Fire Strike      1492        649          409             565

Sky Diver        5558        3096       1628           2454    

Cloud Gate     6397        4658       3653          4297

Ice Storm        38725     40038     27450       44865

Battery life also appears to be good, claiming to last 8 hours.     

I have to reserve my final judgement on the Thinkpad Yoga 14 until I've put the Active Capacitive pen through its paces, but at the moment, I think it's a very solid contender if you're looking for a convertible device. Considering that I paid over $1700 for the original Thinkpad Yoga in November, 2013, the $999 TPY 14 is an absolute bargain. Stay tuned!



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AuthorRick Rodriguez
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