Tablets have been predictably rectangular since Grid launched the GRiDpad in 1989, though they've certainly got thinner. Lenovo's Yoga tablet -- available in 8-inch and 10-inch versions -- has a rectangular front as well, but the back is dramatically different. There's a thick silver tube down one side of the screen, which makes a big difference to the handling. It feels extremely odd, in fact, though it does have some benefits.
Where most tablets can be held horizontally or vertically, the Yoga pad has two extra positions. First, there's "tilt mode": if you put it on a flat table, the screen is at an angle that makes typing easier. (Yes, it does look like Apple's Magic Trackpad.) Second, there's "stand mode", with the screen more upright, for watching movies. In this mode, a kickstand is flipped out to support the screen. Each of the modes has a different edge at the top, so beware OCD sufferers: the Lenovo logo is sometimes upside down.
The kickstand also gives you a steeper tilt if you use it in tilt mode, and it doubles as a cover for the microSD card slot.
Another benefit of the design is that the tube contains a hefty 6000mAh battery, providing about 18 hours of battery life. It's more like 12 hours of web surfing, with Wi-Fi as the major power drain, but turn that off and you get roughly twice as long for book reading. The battery should last most people a couple of days. In casual use, it could last a week, because the battery doesn't seem to drain when the Yoga 8 is not in use. I found this a marked contrast with my original Google Nexus 7, which I'd often pick up only to find the battery was flat. It eventually bricked itself when left uncharged.
The somewhat slow 1.2GHz Mediatek Quad Core 8125 processor and limited 1280 x 800-pixel resolution of the IPS screen also help extend battery life. It's obviously not a gaming tablet, but Android feels snappy in use, and the 8-inch screen is fine for normal purposes such as surfing news sites and reading email. It also works reasonably well as a movie player, but I found the maximum sound level a bit too low for watching videos in anything but quiet conditions. Headphones are probably the best option.
The only other hardware features of note are the front and rear-facing cameras -- 1.6 and 5 megapixels respectively -- a volume rocker switch, and a microUSB port. For more details, see James Kendrick's Lenovo Yoga Tablet 8 and 10: Unique design on a budget
The operating system is a modified Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean with a selection of apps, including Skype, AccuWeather, Kingsoft Office, ES File Explorer, Norton Mobile Security, Dolby Digital Plus, and the usual Google utilities. The main oddity is that there's no app drawer. On my loan machine, Kingston Office needed an update, and after the Yoga had downloaded it, it blocked the installation of software from "unknown sources".
Android's selection of tablet-specific apps is still a long way behind the iPad ecosystem, but there's plenty of choice.
All round, the Yoga tablet is a bit of a mixed bag. It's definitely one you have to try before you buy, not order from some online source. The battery tube makes it feel very different to conventional tablets, and you will need to decide whether you like it or not. The tilt and stand modes are also unique to the Yoga. (Remember to check the sound levels while you're at it.)
The Yoga 8-inch tablet feels well made and its aluminium finish gives it a quality look and feel that puts it well above the usual plastic tablets. On the other hand, the screen resolution is the same as the cheaper Kindle Fire HD, and well below rivals such as this year's Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HDX, and iPad Mini. Given the quality of construction, the Yoga is reasonably priced at £199.99 in the UK ($249 in the US), with 1GB of memory and 16GB of storage. However, it would need a better screen to compete with the new Nexus 7.