Artist Review: Lenovo Miix 520 with Active Pen 2

Big thanks to Lenovo Singapore for providing the Miix 520 for this review. I've been wanting to check out the new model and compare it with the Miix 510 which I've reviewed before.

The biggest changes over the Miix 510 are the change of processors from dual cores to quad-core Intel Core i5-8250U (1.6 - 3.4Ghz), and inclusion of Lenovo Active Pen 2 which uses Wacom technology and supports up to 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity.


As usual, my review is from the perspective of a visual content creator. The work I do for my blog and Youtube involves writing, graphic design, photo and video editing.

Here's the specification of the review unit:

  • Processor: Intel Core i5-8250U (1.6 - 3.4Ghz)
  • OS: Windows 10
  • Screen: 12.2-inch
  • Resolution: 1920 x 1200
  • Storage: Up to 1TB SSD
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Graphics: Intel HD Integrated Graphics 520/620
  • Ports: USB Type C, USB 3 Type A, audio Jack, microSD
  • Dimension: 30 x 20.5 x 0.99 cm (or 1.59 cm thick with keyboard)
  • Weight: 900 g or 1.25kg with keyboard
  • Active Stylus: Lenovo Active Pen 2
  • Battery: 38 Wh Lithium-Polymer

Design and build quality


The design looks alright, actually it's similar to the Miix 510. Body is solid and slim. Air vents for the fans run across the top. Be prepare for slight fan noise because the fans are on almost all the time even when not doing anything that stresses the processor.


The glossy 12.2-inch screen has 1920 x 1200 resolution. I've no complaints about the pixel density even though it may not be as high compare to Microsoft Surface Pro 2017. There's slight pixelation in the user interface but it's no big deal to me. I can still get lots of work done on it.


With the Spyder5Pro colour calibrator, I measured 89% sRGB support. Colours look good enough for graphic design work. If you need extreme colour accuracy, you'll need to connect to an external monitor. And to do that, you'll need a USB-C to a graphics port adapter.


Keyboard is included and detachable. Typing experience is alright. Keys have good travel. Since the keyboard is thin, the whole thing shakes slightly while typing. Keyboard size is excellent but the compromise is a rather small trackpad. It's a back-lit keyboard with only one brightness setting.

As someone who uses a lot of keyboard shortcuts, the inclusion of the Ctrl button on the right side is crucial to my workflow and productivity. When I'm using a mouse, pen or right finger, keyboard shortcuts on the right side are still accessible at all times. This is incredibly convenient. Note that Microsoft Surface Pro's keyboard does not have the right Ctrl button.

Closing the keyboard makes the tablet go to sleep. However, opening the keyboard doesn't wake it up. You'll have to press the power button or press the keys. Not sure why they programmed it that way. It should wake up just like typical laptops when their lids are opened.

This is a rather good keyboard overall and the best thing is it's included so you don't have to pay additional money for it.


That's the multi-positional stand behind.


The hinge may be tight but when you're drawing on it with the stand deployed, it will still go down to the lowest position.


It's easy to deploy the stand because the area near the bottom is recessed. Those three holes there are for the speaker.


The three ports on the left are USB type C gen 1, USB 3.0 and power. It would have been great if Lenovo could just do away with the power port and have another USB type C that's capable of charging.


Lenovo has provided a plastic pen holder that can be inserted into the USB 3 port. Unfortunately when it's inserted, it blocks off the charging and USB type C port. So you might want to store the pen on the carrying sleeve instead.


On the right side are the power and volume buttons.

Lenovo Active Pen 2


Lenovo Active Pen 2 uses Wacom technology and supports pressure sensitivity up to 4,096 levels.


Pen 2 is slightly longer than the 1st gen pen. Be careful of it rolling around on the table because it does not have a clip.


Battery life from the AAAA battery should last for months. The Pen 2 is always on and ready to use. No pairing required, although if you want to pair it via Bluetooth, it gives you extra options for customising the back button.


There are two side buttons and a back button. You can customise the buttons for different shortcuts, e.g. launch apps, mouse clicks or assign specific keyboard shortcuts.

Customising the button shortcuts is done through the Wacom pen settings app included. With that app, you can also adjust the pressure sensitivity. If you want to, you can also calibrate the pen to the screen to remove parallax. Calibration is not really necessary parallax is minimal due to the small size of the screen and the glass surface is real close to the screen.


The pen tip has more friction compared to the 1st gen pen. The extra friction provides more control so it's more pleasant to draw with.

Performance

The quad-core processor is huge step up in performance compared to the dual-core processors in the Miix 510.


Here are the timings for exporting 100 RAW files with different systems that I've tested, from fastest to slowest:

  • Mac Pro 2013 Xeon quad 3.7Ghz - 3 min 17s
  • Macbook Pro 2015 quad 2.5Ghz - 3 min 19s
  • Surface Book 2 quad core i7-8650U (1.9 to 4.2 GHz) - 3 min 49s
  • Lenovo Miix 520 quad core i5-8250U (1.6 to 3.4Ghz) - 4 min 19s
  • Surface Laptop dual core i5-7200U (2.5-3.1Ghz) - 8 min 26s
  • Surface Book 2 dual core i5-7300U (2.6 to 3.5 GHz) - 8min 57s
  • Surface Pro 2017 dual core i5-7300U (2.6 to 3.5 GHz) - 9 min 33s

Photo export times are almost two times that of dual-core processors so it goes without saying that this is faster than the Surface Pro 2017 for processor intensive tasks. That's significant time savings. The performance is not far from the much more expensive Surface Book 2 with the i7-8650U (1.9 to 4.2 GHz). So this is really respectable performance.

You can edit video but be prepared for the fans to go full speed and it's going to be too hot for drawing with your palm on the screen. 1080P video editing is an alright experience. Editing and exporting 4K video requires lots of patience.

Drawing experience

Drawing experience is more than satisfactory with the graphic apps I've tested.

Pressure sensitivity and palm rejection work well without any driver installation. Strokes come out just the way I want them to be. After you have adjusted the pressure settings, you can apply really light pressure to get thin lines. The initiation activation force is minimal. As long as the tip touches the surface, no matter how light the pressure, it can draw. It's that sensitive.

Lenovo Active Pen 2 is very accurate. There's none of the slow diagonal line jitter.

Below are examples of strokes in various apps


Affinity Photo 1.6.4


Krita 4.1


Medibang Paint Pro 16


Sketchable


Squid
It's also great at taking notes. It's able to capture my handwriting very accurately.

All the problems I have with Miix 510 and its pen have been resolved. This is now a much better product for drawing and creating digital art.

Conclusion

Lenovo Miix 520 is a nice improvement over the Miix 510. Performance is significantly better because of the jump from dual to quad core processors. Power users who require processing power should find significant time savings.

Another nice improvement is the Lenovo Active Pen 2. The pen is now more sensitive, and with the new tip that provides more friction, it's also more satisfying to draw with on the glass surface.

One area I think Lenovo should improve next is the battery life. My other quibble is the fans are almost always on. Fans are not loud but they are definitely still audible.

Compared to the Microsoft Surface Pro
At the time of this review, the Miix 520 (8GB RAM 256GB storage) is currently priced around US $900 while the Surface Pro 2017 of rather similar specs is around US $1050.

For the price you're paying, you get much better performance because of the quad-core processors, and not only that, you also get the stylus and keyboard included. Overall, the Miix 520 is clearly the better deal.

I can't say whether the Surface Pen or Lenovo Active Pen 2 provide better drawing experience. The drawing experience is different, one is not necessarily better than the other.

The advantages Surface Pro 2 has over the Miix would be longer battery life and design. The Surface Pro looks sleeker to me, but it's not hundreds of dollars more sleeker though.

So to conclude, if you're looking for a 2-in-1, the Lenovo Miix 520 is a solid and good performer you can consider if you have the budget for it.

Pros
+ Sturdy build quality
+ Has USB 3 Type C and Type A ports
+ microSD slot included
+ Nice weight for its size but too heavy for handheld drawing
+ Built in stand that you can adjust to any position
+ Pressure sensitivity of the stylus is on par or better than Surface Pen.
+ Stylus feels good to draw on the screen
+ 1920 by 1200 resolution means user interface of all apps are at comfortable sizes
+ Screen has good viewing angles and colours
+ Good stereo speakers
+ Able to install desktop and tablet apps
+ Snappy performance generally
+ Stylus and keyboard cover are included
+ Stylus is accurate, pressure sensitivity works well
+ Keyboard is relatively good to type on
+ Keyboard has backlight

Cons
- Fans are almost always on and audible
- Battery life could be better
- No display port included
- Goes to sleep when keyboard covers the screen, but doesn't wake automatically when screen is uncovered
- USB Type C port cannot be used for charging
- 900g tablet weight is heavier than Surface Pro

Availability

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