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Lenovo MIIX 520 Review: The Best Affordable Surface Pro Competitor?

The Lenovo MIIX 520 is the first Windows tablet with an 8th generation Intel Core i5 processor. It features a keyboard cover and an active stylus. Read my review to find out how good it really is.

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The Lenovo MIIX 520 is a 12.2-inch tablet with a kickstand, a keyboard cover, and an active pen. You can think of it as a bit cheaper Microsoft Surface clone which, right now, is even a bit more powerful. In fact, it is one of the first Windows tablets to ship with an 8th generation Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor. Other ones are announced but not widely available yet. How good is the Lenovo MIIX 520 during everyday use? That’s what you’ll find out in my review.

Lenovo MIIX 520 on* Amazon

Design & Build Quality

The design of the Lenovo MIIX 520 is very similar to Microsoft’s Surface Pro. On the back, there is a build in kickstand, we get a similar keyboard cover and an active stylus. Because of its full metal body, the tablet feels quite high-end. The hinge for the kickstand is borrowed from Lenovo’s Yoga convertibles and feels solid and smooth. As with the Surface, there is a micro SD card slot right underneath the kickstand.

Like I said, the build quality is very good. However, the design is not as elegant as the Surface. It is a couple of millimeters thicker, which is not too bad. But the fans on the top are not hidden as nicely and stand out immediately. And yes, you can hear those if you’re in a quiet room.

Lenovo MIIX 520 fans

Fingerprint Scanner, Ports, Cameras

On the left side, we get a full-size USB 3.0 connector and a USB Type C 3.0 port. Underneath sits a connector for the charger and there is a speaker as well. On the other side, we get another speaker, a power button, and volume controls. Next to it are a 3.5-millimeter audio jack and a fingerprint reader. Thanks to that scanner you can unlock the tablet fast and easy using Windows Hello.

I really like fingerprint scanners. However, the MIIX 520 does not unlock if the tablet is in standby and the screen is turned off. You must turn on the display first to use your fingerprint which is not the case with Android devices. I believe that’s how Windows handles it. Anyways, it is still better than typing in a password.

Lenovo MIIX 520 USB ports

Sadly, the two speakers are a bit disappointing. The sound quality is acceptable if you want to watch a couple of YouTube videos. But I didn’t enjoy listening to music with them. An iPad Pro has noticeably better speakers.

While there is an 8-megapixel camera on the back, the front-facing webcam offers a resolution of 5-megapixel. Actually, for a Windows tablet, the picture quality is pretty good. Just don’t compare them to your high-end smartphone. The same goes for the main camera on the back. For a Windows device, the quality is very good. But again, most smartphones have better cameras.

Keyboard Cover & Touchpad

Lenovo MIIX 520 test

All the way on the bottom is a magnetic connector for the keyboard cover. The keyboard is very similar to Microsoft’s Type Cover and is made of plastic. On the bottom, there is a kind of fake leather texture. Thanks to a magnetic bar you can angle the keyboard up a bit which makes it more comfortable to type.

I wrote a lot of articles with the Lenovo MIIX 520 and this keyboard. In fact, I really enjoyed typing on it. Sometimes it takes a while to get used to a new keyboard but in this case, I didn’t have any issues. And yes, there is a build in backlight.

While I think the keyboard is great, the touchpad is not as good. It is just too small. In addition to that, it sometimes jumped around a bit. Not always, but I noticed it a couple of times. Lenovo should be able to fix it with an update. Well, it might be a problem with my version only.

12-Inch Full HD Screen

The Lenovo MIIX 520 has a 12.2-inch screen with an aspect ratio of 16:10. It’s an IPS display with good viewing angles and colors look nice. Like most tablets in this price range, the screen is fully laminated. So, there is no gap between the IPS panel and the touchscreen which is great. It offers a full HD resolution of 1920 x 1200. I think that is good enough but a Surface Pro has a much higher resolution.

Overall the MIIX 520 has a solid display. However, it could be a bit brighter. Its bright enough to work outside in the shadow or in brightly lit rooms. But you won’t be able to see much in direct sunlight. Well, except your own reflection.

Lenovo Active Pen 2

Lenovo MIIX 520 with Active Pen 2

In addition to the tablet itself and the keyboard, you also get an active Wacom stylus. It’s called the Lenovo Active Pen 2 and that is the same pen that also works with the Yoga 730 and 530 convertibles. The pen is well built and is comfortable to hold. On the top, you have to insert a battery which is included. There are two buttons on the side and one on the top. You can set those buttons to do whatever you like.

The Lenovo Active Pen 2 supports 4096 pressure points. Most high-end competitors like the Surface Pen from Microsoft and Samsung’s S-Pen offer the same pressure sensitivity. That’s great and the pen works as you would expect from a more premium device.

You can use the stylus for several things. That includes handwriting in OneNote or other notes apps. And the handwriting recognition built into Windows 10 works quite well. You can draw with it and thanks to the pressure sensitivity it kind of feels like a real pen.

Everybody uses a stylus in different ways. I don’t enjoy writing with pens, but I love to edit my travel photos in Photoshop. And in Photoshop the Lenovo Active Pen 2 works exactly like a Wacom graphics tablet that I use with my laptop. My pictures are full of sensor dust because I should clean it more often. With the pen it is very easy and fast to remove those spots in Photoshop.

Read: The Best Tablets with a Stylus in 2018

Hardware & Performance

Lenovo MIIX 520 Geekbench

Let’s take a closer look at the hardware. The internal hardware is one of the highlights of the Lenovo MIIX 520. It is one of the first tablets to ship with an Intel Core i5-8250U 8th generation processor. If you like, you can also get it with an 8th generation Core i7. Or with a 7th generation Core i3 which is older and not as interesting. But the new Core i5 and Core i7 chips are noticeably faster as previous ones.

As I said, as of now the Lenovo MIIX 520 is the only Windows tablet with an 8th generation Core I chipset. Others are announced and I’m sure that Microsoft is going to release an updated version of the Surface Pro this year. But again, right now the MIIX 520 is the only one available with the latest processors.

Other specs include 4GB, 8GB or 16GB of RAM and a 128GB, 256GB or 1TB SSD. Another option is built-in 4G LTE.

I bought the version with an 8th generation Core i5, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. And yes, the performance is really good. Benchmark results from Geekbench 4 and Cinebench are much better than competitors with 7th generation chips.

As you’ve seen already, Photoshop runs quite nicely on the Lenovo MIIX 520. That is the case for Adobe Premiere Pro as well. I edited a couple of full HD videos with it and didn’t encounter any problems. But like all Windows tablets, the hardware is too weak for major movie productions. Well, besides that the performance is great and similar to notebooks with the same chipset.

Lenovo MIIX 520 Gaming Test

Lenovo MIIX 520 Cinebench

Like most Ultrabook’s and Windows tablets like the Surface Pro, the Lenovo MIIX 520 is more of an office tablet. That means a tablet to work on which also runs demanding programs like Photoshop. But I wouldn’t recommend it as a gaming tablet because it has no dedicated graphics card. However, I did try Fortnite on here.

Fortnite is a new and quite demanding game and I tried it after closing all other apps. Using the lowest graphics settings, I got between 40 and 50 frames per second while playing it. If you are fine with a bit lower framerate, you can set some settings to medium. But if you set everything to medium, the framerate will be between 14 and 20 frames per second only.

So, if you really want to play games like Fortnite, you can. Well, at least if you don’t have very high expectations. But again. I wouldn’t recommend it as a gaming tablet. There is no dedicated graphics card and at the same time, the tablet gets hot under heavy load. Not just a bit, but uncomfortably hot on the back. And as I mentioned earlier, you will hear those fans.

Now, it is normal that a tablet like this gets hot. There is a powerful processor inside and the heat must go somewhere. I monitored the temperature of the CPU while playing Fortnite and the chip itself never got too hot. It’s like with a slim notebook.

Battery Life

Lenovo MIIX 520 Battery Life

Let’s take a look at the battery life. According to Lenovo, it offers a runtime of up to 8 hours. However, in my standard battery test, I got a runtime of 7 hours only. For my battery test, I’m always looping an HD video and 50 percent brightness and activated Wi-Fi.

For a Windows tablet, those 7 hours are not too bad. But during everyday use, the battery did not last that long. In fact, it will last you a whole working day only if you turn down the brightness a lot. When I was working with Microsoft Word and Google Chrome the battery lasted just 4 hours at maximum brightness.

If you set it at around 50 percent brightness, the MIIX 520 might last you between 6 and 7 hours while working. But it really depends on what you are doing. Under heavy load, the battery life is much shorter at around 2 to 3 hours.

Lenovo MIIX 520 Review: Final Verdict

Lenovo MIIX 520 review
So, can I recommend the Lenovo MIIX 520? Well, in almost all aspects the tablet is almost as good as a Surface Pro, but never really beats it. But it is a lot cheaper and the performance even is a bit better.

The design is not as premium feeling as the Surface Pro but it is well built. And the full HD screen does not offer as a high resolution and is not as bright, but good enough. The same goes for the keyboard cover. While the keyboard itself is great, the touchpad needs some improvements. And the battery life should be a lot better. On the other hand, the Lenovo Active Pen 2 is as good as the Surface Pen.

Lenovo offers us a great performance thanks to the 8th generation Intel Core i5 processor. As I said, I’m sure Microsoft will release an updated Surface Pro this year. But right now, the MIIX 520 is the fasted Windows tablet of this kind out there.

I can recommend the Lenovo MIIX 520 if you are looking for a tablet like the Surface Pro, but don’t want to spend as much. While it is not perfect, you can save a lot of money with the Lenovo. In the US, the Core i5 version costs around 1000 US Dollars including the keyboard and the pen. For a similar version of the Surface Pro including the pen and keyboard, you have to pay 300 to 400 Dollars more.

So overall, I think the Lenovo MIIX 520 is a good value for its price. Especially if it drops a bit over the next couple of month. But if you want a real premium tablet and are willing to spend a lot more money, in my opinion, the Surface Pro is still the best one overall.

Read: The Best Windows Tablets in 2018

Lenovo MIIX 520 metal body


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Lenovo MIIX 520
Lenovo MIIX 520 Review:The Lenovo MIIX 520 offers a premium design and an outstanding performance thanks to the 8th generation Intel Core i5 processor. However, the battery life is quite disappointing and the display could be a bit brighter. Because of its affordable price, included keyboard cover and included pen, I think it is a good value.
Positive
  • Great performance
  • Full metal body
  • Good keyboard
  • High-end stylus
Negative
  • Screen could be brighter
  • Touchpad is too small
  • Bad battery life
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