Lenovo Miix 520: Artist’s review

Lenovo Miix 520 hybrid tablet
The Lenovo Miix 520. The pen has a little clip that slots into the USB port.

I recently bought a Lenovo Miix 520. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now so I thought it was time for in-depth review for all the artists out there who might be considering buying one. This is intended to be an artist/illustrator specific review as there’s plenty of more general reviews out there.

In my opinion the Surface Pro was too expensive for what you get. Another £150 for the keyboard and pen? No thanks, Microsoft. Apple’s much lauded ipad pro and pencil was out of the question for me too, as I wanted to be able to use my current (windows) software.

The Pen

Lenovo active pen 2
Lenovo’s Active Pen 2

The pen (Lenovo Active Pen 2.0) feels OK- though it’s a bit like drawing on glass with a fine marker. It provides very little grip so it’s hard to do fine detail work. The sensitivity is fairly good but you have to press quite hard for the initial register. I’ve noticed other people do this so it’s not just me. Parallax is not an issue, and you can calibrate the pen in the Wacom settings program if you feel like it’s a bit off.

It’s quite uncomfortable for my big hands. I find pressing the bottom button difficult without cramping my hand up a bit. For some people this may not be issue at all. The top button only works if Bluetooth is active, and has it’s own separate battery. Bit daft. I haven’t found myself using it very much.

Part of the reason I chose this tablet over other options is because the pen uses Wacom technology. I hoped this would give it an edge over other pens for actual artwork- not just note-taking. Who are these students in reviews spending nearly £1000 on a device for note-taking!? Anyway I digress…

Lenovo Active pen 2 Wacom settings app

The Wacom pen software is quite limited. There’s no way to set application-specific settings to to the buttons, which I would have found very useful.

This may all seem overwhelmingly negative- but buttons aside the pen itself feels nice and solidly made, and after the initial phase of getting used to it I found it quite pleasant to sketch with. Just don’t expect it to be as natural as a dedicated graphics tablet.

The Screen

Tablet using built in stand.

The quality of the screen is fine. Nothing special. I have noticed it gets quite hot with sustained drawing or any intensive work. The combination of processor waste heat, your own body heat and the screen itself occasionally make for a pretty toasty experience.

The brightness is good but not great. You can’t really see it outside unless you’re in heavy shade, even then the glare from the reflective finish makes it hard to see. I’ve found that polarising sunglasses help – but only when in portrait mode! Otherwise the filters simply block out the screen. This a fairly common situation of course- most tablets have glossy screens- but it does mean you can’t really use it for a spot of digital plein air painting.

Other hardware

Keyboard, Active pen 2 and case. The case is a pretty simple fabric pouch,
but it does the trick and it comes free with the tablet.

The keyboard is very nice. I love how it feels. This is subjective of course. I’ve never cared for those hipstery mechanical keyboards that are really tall and clack like a Victorian typewriter. It can also light up so you can see the keys at night, and because it’s magnetic it snaps easily into position when you need it. I’ve also bought a separate USB wireless keyboard and mouse though, because a mouse is always useful and the vanilla keyboard gets in the way of your drawing hand when it’s on the screen. It also prevents you from using the tablet in portrait mode because it snaps onto the bottom edge.

Battery life is poor. When drawing or painting it can only be described as terrible. Id say about 2-3 hours max. Ive been doing nothing more intensive than writing this review for the past hour and I’ve already drained it by 50%.

It also has a noisy fan. The noise is not intolerable, but it does imply that the CPU would fry itself without the fan. It’s a moving part that uses extra power, and a potential point of failure. Fortunately it doesn’t always need to be on.

It has one USB3 port, one micro USB3 port, and a micro SD card reader. Since I’m focusing on the art sides of things here I’ll let you read more about the other hardware elsewhere.

Remote Desktop

This is something that I’ve wondered about for a while: “Can I use my powerful but location-bound desktop to do all the heavy lifting while I simply stream the output to something more mobile?” In short- “Can I work in the garden instead?”

The answer is “Sort of, yeah, a bit.”

One of the perks of using remote desktop on windows 10 is the ability to stream pen pressure input to the host PC. This works well in theory- but in practice the resulting line quality in Photoshop is so severely compromised and you can’t realistically use it for finished artwork. It doesn’t seem to have the same smoothing compared to when you use it on a local machine. It ends up a wiggly lined mess. There’s a also the additional element of network lag on top of the time the line takes to process- which makes for a rather sluggish experience.

Red arrows point to wiggly lines caused by drawing over remote desktop.

Another issue I’ve had is that certain applications throw errors when you try to start them up through remote desktop. They seem to be confused about the hardware they’re running on and won’t start. Annoyingly, this seems to apply mainly to graphics programs that are dependant on the graphics card. You can in some cases get round this by starting the program and then connecting to the computer with the application already open. However- they may still crash.

Generally speaking, if you have a decent LAN speed you can use remote desktop pretty well for most basic things. It’s sadly not yet quite there for finished artwork.

Performance

Lenovo Miix 520- The back of the tablet and the stand

I opted for the “Miix 520-12IKB ” so that’s an Intel i5 8250u and 8 gigs of RAM- which is a pretty good amount for most 2d graphics work.

Personally I want maximum performance mode for most work. Pen lag irritates me. This obviously drains the batteries faster but so be it! To get the best performance you need to ensure Windows and all drivers are up to date. You’ll also need to tweak the Intel graphics settings and make sure your windows power options are set to performance mode.

The Miix 520 works well with Photoshop out of the box- no need to disable the hated windows ink like I have to with the old intuos pro on my desktop. I’ve used it on files up to about 5000*7000px with a handful of layers. If you keep to the smaller brush sizes it works perfectly. Gestures are a pleasure to use and very responsive.

Overall I’ve been enjoying using it- mainly as a laptop. It’s performance is very good in that respect. I’ve also been doing a bit of sketching in tablet mode- the wireless keyboard works well for that- assuming you’ve got the space to set it up.

Conclusion

Knowing what I know now, I’d probably still buy it simply because I don’t know of any comparable alternatives that do what it does better and at the same price point.

It’s got it’s weaknesses but I’ve produced a few satisfactory sketches on it and used it for client work so I can safely say that it does it’s job. I can sketch in the garden, but I still have to go back to the desktop for the bulk of the work. Ultimately, to me the technology feels like it’s still got such a long way to go. But then I always feel like that.

TL: DR It’s alright. It’s not perfect. If you’ve been stuck at a single desk for years because you need a desktop PC to work then this may give you some other options.

Other reviews: