Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga Review: Hefty, But Packed With Potential
It’s no secret. The world has moved on to 2-in-1s. Tablets that become laptops. Laptops that are tailor-made to transform into fast business-oriented machines. The Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga belongs to the latter category.
Starting at $999, a pre-configured ThinkPad Yoga tries to be everything for the business user and board executive. Simply opening the device turns it into a laptop with a high-definition touch display for navigating Windows and more. Folding the device’s screen backwards turns it into a tablet with a stylus and volume buttons to match.
While the concept of 2-in-1s are catching on with consumers, the reality is that, like most form factors, machines based on the concept come with their own unique set of wins and faults. For a machine like the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga, the faults are sometimes amplified depending on the particular activity.
The ThinkPad line has always been known for its design and versatility. Originally envisioned as the laptop of the professional, the ThinkPad line’s build materials have always remained solid, and its design utilitarian.
The ThinkPad Yoga does nothing to change this. The entire device is covered in basic-looking matte magnesium . Luckily for those who are a little tougher on their devices, that matte plastic-like finish grants the ThinkPad Yoga a rigidity that just isn’t found in most business machines. There’s no flexing to be found here. There aren’t any obvious points where the 2-in-1 notebook/tablet feels vulnerable either.
On the other hand, that matte plastic and the ThinkPad’s Yoga’s sharp lines left me completely unimpressed with the device’s looks. There’s simply too many things coming together to make the ThinkPad Yoga look bad. First, there’s the solid inch thick bezel that surrounds its 12.5-inch display. Then there are the frumpy looking buttons and toggles. There will be folks out there looking for function over form. There’s nothing wrong with that, however I’d argue that at some point having both became an obvious selling point for most buyers.
There was one purely aesthetic flourish that I enjoyed: The “I” in the ThinkPad Yoga’s rear-facing logo glows red when powered on and blinks when the device is in sleep. It’s a nice touch.
The ThinkPad Yoga has four different modes. Tent mode, Stand mode, Tablet mode and Laptop Mode. Of those four buttons, placement and practicality dictate that users should only take Laptop mode, Tablet mode and Stand mode seriously.
The ThinkPad Yoga includes buttons and ports for just about anything a user might need. The power button, volume rocker and screen-orientation lock buttons are all on the device’s right side. There is also an expansion port, USB 3.0, and HDMI port, and a laptop lock port. The left side of the device’s base features a USB-like power port, a USB 3.0 port that can recharge other devices even when the ThinkPad Yoga is turned off and a headphone jack.
Though only the power button’s placement stood out as a strange compromise on placement initially, the more time I spent with the ThinkPad Yoga, the more I realized that the button placement felt awkward no matter what mode you were in. For example, putting the ThinkPad Yoga into tablet mode moved the power button and volume keys to a more comfortable place near my right hand, however it also left the device’s power port exactly where I’d typically hold a tablet with my left hand. Holding the tablet with both hands is important since, well, the ThinkPad Yoga is unwieldy in tablet mode. That’s not the ThinkPad Yoga’s fault entirely, any tablet with a display over 10-inches feels that way. Still, I found myself wishing that button placement was a bit better.
There’s also a Windows key built into the device’s display for when it is being used a tablet. It’s embedded into the device’s hinge ridge and feels absolutely awful to press.
The ThinkPad Yoga’s 12.5-inch IPS display is a marvel to behold. No, it doesn’t have the gloss that’s so prevalent on consumer-oriented machines but that’s just fine. Most of Windows shines with the FHD display’s 1920 x 1080 resolution. That’s important since high-resolution displays make for better HD video watching and clearer on-screen text. It’s only when the ThinkPad Yoga is being used in tablet mode that the display shows any signs of not being perfect.
Because it’s matte, using it for gestures and more feels a bit too tacky. It’s not that my finger had a hard time gliding across the screen, it’s just that it always felt like I was getting some resistance in a way that the iPhone and Surface PCs with a glass display and gloss just don’t give me.
Users of legacy desktop apps on Windows 8 will want to take note. Adjusting to the ThinkPad Yoga’s high-definition display when using desktop apps will take time. Text is readable and crystal clear, it’s also smaller, something I didn’t anticipate and I expect most other users won’t either. As the Start Screen and other new Windows elements scale, it’s only a problem for heavy desktop users. Since the ThinkPad Yoga is geared towards professionals and businesses, that’s likely to be more of a problem for ThinkPad Yoga buyers than casual PC users.
The ThinkPad Yoga uses the latest versions of Intel’s Core i5 processor. The system will turbo boost from lower speeds to 2.60 GHz when programs demand the extra power. The integrated 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD ensure that performance is always decent.
4GB of RAM is the bare minimum when it comes to high performance PCs these days. I’d have liked to see maybe 8GB, since this is a $1000 business machine. On the other hand, I never ran into a program that I thought would launch faster with just a bit more RAM. Performance was always perky.
Keyboard, Touchpad and Stylus
The ThinkPad isn’t just well-known for its fairly comfortable keyboard; the line is the gold standard by which all laptop keyboards are compared to. Until now, I’d have yet to feel the magic for myself. Rest assured, I now know why people love it. The ThinkPad Yoga’s keyboard isn’t just great, it’s absolutely fantastic. The keys have just the right amount of travel to make them feel comfortable. Each key also feels as if it’s a precision instrument that’s been individually fitted to give the right tactile feedback when typing. Each key feels like it’s in the right place and Lenovo’s decision to program the function keys with search, app switching and settings functionality is downright awesome. The keyboard’s backlighting is evenly distributed and useful too.
The ThinkPad Yoga is a business PC. Business users demand every interaction option that can find and the ThinkPad Yoga delivers. There’s a bright red trackpoint and accompanying left and right buttons that do their job just fine. There’s also a trackpad with built-in buttons too. Both are great on their own, but together they are a bit of a usage headache. I managed to frequently trigger the trackpoint’s dedicated buttons while using the trackpad. I suspected Trackpoint users will want to quickly and immediately disable the trackpad’s touch surface and avoid the issues I initially ran into or vice-versa.
I also frequently managed to accidentally trigger some of Windows 8′s multi-touch gestures, however I’m not willing to leave that at Lenovo’s feet. I suspect it’s just their rudimentary nature that makes them so easily to accidentally initiate.
Tablet mode on the ThinkPad Yoga was genius. Sliding the device’s screen back retracts its keyboard, protecting it from damage. From that point on the entire ThinkPad Yoga experience is available at the user’s fingertips. There’s even a digitizer that makes writing in Microsoft’s OneNote with the included stylus feel natural.
Lenovo says that the ThinkPad Yoga can deliver 8 hours of battery life and I agree. Turning down the device’s screen brightness resulted in about 7 hours of productivity. That’s not as great as Apple’s MacBook Air, which lasts 12 hours. Still, that’s pretty impressive.
The ThinkPad Yoga’s business roots make it a versatile, option-laden PC. Sadly, those some values have led Lenovo to weigh-down the ThinkPad Yoga’s Windows 8.1 installation with all sorts of utilities. Some of them are useful. Some of them aren’t. Every ThinkPad Yoga comes with ten different Lenovo-built utilities designed to extend the user experience. The company also includes copies of Norton Security, Nuance Dragon Assistant and other cloud-based apps. The depth of this free software library would be impressive if half of these apps weren’t terrible.
For example, Lenovo Settings is a Windows Store application that surfaces location and audio settings in the Star Screen. In theory, that’s a great thing. However, in practice the application routinely crashes, and updates for it aren’t deployed through the Windows Store. Instead, the ThinkPad Yoga repeatedly dumped me into a web browser to download software updates.
It’s indicative of the experience I continued to have with the ThinkPad Yoga. Often the included software changed the behavior of Windows in a way that I didn’t expect. I opened a document seven or eight times before I released the machine was actually taking me to a desktop PDF viewer instead of the default tool included in all versions of Windows 8.
I found myself wishing that Lenovo had shown more restraint when it came to including so many superfluous software experiences.
Is it Worth It?
The ThinkPad Yoga is a monster with a decent price. Every single feature that could make business user want to buy a PC is here. It’s a convertible that sports a stylus so that drawing and taking handwritten notes is possible. It’s a laptop with the best keyboard in the computing industry. $999 for a computer is a bit much to ask for any PC these days, but users get a lot. Battery life is decent and ports are aplenty.
Heft is really the only concern here. At 3 pounds, the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga makes a big tablet and laptop. Business minded users won’t be bothered by that weight, but small business owners and those who want the device to do double duty as their personal tablet will be.