Windows 8 is an operating system that’s a mix of the old and new: it cobbles together a very forward-facing touchscreen interface with the same old Windows we’ve loved (in its basic form) since before the internet was a thing. And computer manufacturers attempting to reconcile these two computing paradigms, have taken to the new OS in one of two ways: some have installed the new operating system on ultrabooks and other established laptop form factors, while others have gone crazy–two screens! Or, screens with hinges! Or, tablets with very well-designed keyboard cases. Some of these devices may end up being excellent computers that change the way many of us interact with screens on a daily basis. But a lot of them will be mediocre also-rans, and that’s pretty crummy if it ends up being your primary machine.
While the Lenovo Yoga is advertised as being a hybrid machine with four different modes, it is very much a traditional laptop with one major trick: the laptop screen swivels almost 360 degrees to turn into a tablet. Most of the time you’ll be using the Yoga as a laptop–but that’s its biggest strength. The bottom line if you’re wondering about the Lenovo Yoga is that it’s a very good 13” computer. Essentially, it shares a build and the guts of the Ultrabooks (thin and light laptops) we’ve been seeing for the past year, but in a form factor that’s one generation more refined and takes advantage.
I used it for a month as my primary work machine and I found it always acceptable and often excellent–if you’re wondering, my normal computer is a 2011 Macbook Air, so I’m not judging processing power, I’m judging how useful it is as a laptop. The screen on the Yoga is actually superior to the Macbook screen. It has what is an elite trackpad among Windows laptops. It also turns into a somewhat clunky, mediocre, yet completely functional tablet. Using a dedicated tablet is nicer, sure, but when you consider it added functionality over an already solid laptop, the value is undeniable and the Lenovo Yoga becomes an easy recommendation. It’s a computer, with a nice bonus tablet mode. But the devil’s always in the details, isn’t it, so let’s take a look.
The Lenovo Yoga industrial design is really nice. There’s been a lot of care, and a lot of scrapped and improved previous iterations, to produce a computer this nice. The screen is mounted on two burly hinges reminicent of older Thinkpads. The palmrest is textured, which doesn’t seem like it’s that important, but it really makes using the computer feel nicer. And unlike our complaints with the chassis and flex present in Lenovo’s U310, the Yoga’s magnesium-alloy chassis is solid.
Lenovo makes a big deal that the Yoga can go into four different “modes:” laptop, tablet, “tent,” and “stand.” This is pure marketingspeak. What it really can do is swivel the screen almost 360 degrees so it can become a tablet. The “tent” and “stand” modes are merely stops on the way to I can add another mode: pizza. As seen in the photo above, you can flatten the laptop to add a pizza-like mode no other laptop can manage.
When the Yoga is in tablet mode, the underside of the thick, oversized tablet is simply the laptop’s keyboard. When you’re using the Yoga as a tablet, you’re already making size and weight concessions as opposed to traditional tablets, but having your fingers run over they keys is a little weird.
Keyboard (Excellent) The keyboard is matte black, features well-spaced island keys, and it feels pretty great. Like the U310, I’ question the decision to shrink the shift and enter keys to make room for PgUp and PgDn keys, and it’s a common design decision, but the Shift key feels a little extra small to me.
The trackpad is great. The surface is brushed metal, it supports clicks anywhere on the pad, and it’s pretty large. Gestures work great. Also, much of the touch interface for Windows 8 is handled by the Yoga’s tablet mode. It’s clearly an improvement over the previous generation Windows laptop trackpads. If there was one place where you’d expect the gesture support of Windows 8 to improve the physical design of laptops, it’s in the trackpad, and that certainly is true with the Yoga. It’s one of the best Windows trackpads I’ve used.
Display The Lenovo Yoga is sporting an IPS checking in at 1600×900 pixels. The color reproduction is pretty excellent and it’s bright. The display is a clear step above the previous generation’s 1366×766 screens, and really makes the computer feel more like a tablet when it’s being used as a tablet. While there are some laptops sporting 1080p IPS screens–like the Asus Zenbook–the 1600×900 screen is a great laptop screen, and a passable tablet screen.
Display as Tablet
There’s a little bit of a sensation that there’s something between the surface of the screen and the actual screen. It’s probably due to something software, but as a tablet there’s just enough lag that it becomes noticeable. Also, as we mentioned earlier, 13” is probably too big for most tablet uses. But big touchscreens have their pros as well–if you fire up a game like Jetpack Joyride it feels undeniably cool to use such a large tablet.
Tablet/Hinge Mechanism Unbelievably solid. Lenovo bought IBM’s legendary Thinkpad hinge design when they bought IBM’s computer division back in 2005 and the Yoga’s hinge design looks and feels like a direct descendant. In fact, I spent a good 20 minutes (while watching TV) opening the Yoga, snapping the screen back to tablet mode, then back into closed clamshell mode. After repeating about 20 times, I only had more confidence in the Yoga’s hinge. There’s plenty of pleasant resistance, and the computer snaps shut with a appealing thud.
As a tablet, the Lenovo Yoga leaves some things to be desired. First of all, 13” is absolutely not the optimum tablet size. It’s a little big and a little unwieldy. Second, there’s a little bit of lagginess in the touch interface. I suspect that it has to do with the space between the touch surface and the actual display panel. Third, the hinge mechanism requires a pretty huge bezel. It’s nothing comical, but I suspect that computers of this style in a few years are going to have such signficantly smaller bezels that the Yoga could look like a dinosaur.
However–the important thing is that it is a useable tablet. Personally, I didn’t use it excessively because I’ve got an iPad , but for someone looking for both a tablet and a laptop in one device, the functionality is certainly a bonus. The best use case scenario for this laptop is as a traveler’s companion
Test settings: connected to power source, display 100%, “maximum performance” OS setting.
Let’s be clear–the reason that the Yoga is an excellent laptop is not because of its components. Save for the IPS screen, it’s the guts are the same guts that have been powering many laptops available for the last year, led by one of Intel’s Ivy Bridge dual core processors. You see that in the Geekbench score, which is good, but still very much in line with anything you can buy labeled “Ultrabook.” It uses the increasingly adequate Intel integrated graphics, which is good enough for anything except for gaming. It has an SSD–you can’t really fit a spinning disk into a chassis this svelte. Generally the Dell XPS 13 provides a level of performance very much on-par with other high profile Ultrabooks, which it means it can handle anything except for gaming.
On the PCMark Vantage Productivity test, which simulates typical laptop daily use scenarios, the Lenovo Yoga keeps up with similar Ultrabooks released in the last year.
The Lenovo Yoga performs adequately in the PCMark Vantage Productivity test because of its SSD, but it’s not a world-beater.
You thought you were going to game on the Yoga? Think again. Although Intel’s integrated HD Graphics 4000 that’s built into Ivy Bridge processors is fine for almost all video use, you’re not going to be able to play graphically intense games at satisfactory framerates. So don’t even try.
Battery depletion (7:11): in a standard battery depletion test (display 50%, WiFi on) the Lenovo Yoga reached 7h11mn before going to sleep.
This test isn’t very intensive, and doesn’t reflect actual usage like opening 15 tabs in Chrome or running apps like Spotify in the background. However, this score establishes a baseline for what you can expect from low-intensity usage. The Yoga has a pretty good battery, beating out several laptops with similar processors. Some of this may be due to software updates from Windows 8, but generaly the Lenovo Yoga is in the top quartile of Windows laptops in terms of battery life.
1080p video (4:15): The Lenovo Yoga can play a 1080p MP4 video (50% brightness, WiFi on) for about four hours, which should get you through two movies. Feel confident bringing this laptop onto planes and buses to watch video. These good battery scores also help because it means the Yoga is at least sniffing the battery life that we see from high end tablets like the Surface and iPad.
Lenovo’s always had a well-designed charger, going back to old Thinkpads, so it’s great to see that they’ve continued to refine what may be the most important piece of industrial design besides the laptop itself. The Lenovo charger is small, attractively designed, and has a great connection to the machine. As an accessory you handle almost as much as the computer, the improved charger makes a big difference in day-to-day use.
Touchscreen in Tablet Mode
I didn’t anticipate this, but I love touch scrolling when it’s in laptop form on the couch. Putting your finger on a laptop screen to scroll through text feels really natural, despite what Steve Jobs once said. It’s another little perk that you get with the Lenovo Yoga even if you never use it in tablet mode.
The Lenovo Yoga is an excellent laptop, a mediocre tablet, and a computer that is thoroughly modern and made for Windows 8. Its form factor and excellent screen make it a competitor at its price range against last generation’s top laptops and ultrabooks, such as the Asus Zenbook or Thinkpad X1. If you never flip the Yoga into tablet mode, it’s a great laptop, and if you do, it’s a little bit of bonus functionality that doesn’t hurt the form factor that much. At $1000, which is its MSRP price, it’s certainly a competitor, but as this form factor and set of guts starts to edge down price-wise after the holiday season, the Yoga becomes an easy laptop to recommend.