Achieving efficient handwriting on a smartphone or tablet has been a dream of innovation teams around the world for decades, and Lenovo may have mastered it with its new Yoga Book.
The lightweight and ultra-thin Yoga Book is a 2-in-1 tablet that opens just like a book. On one side, you have the FHD 10.1-inch touch display and on the other side, there’s the virtual keyboard, dubbed the Halo Keyboard by Lenovo. With this super innovative computing machine, Lenovo re-invented the wheel for digital handwriting on a tablet, and here’s why:
The panel that houses the Halo Keyboard switches into the Create Pad, which allows users to take notes directly on its surface using the Real Pen. The tip of the Real Pen can be replaced by a regular ball point tip, to take notes on a regular piece of paper placed on top of the Create Pad! Everything written is recorded digitally (in real time) in the Yoga Book Tablet. You no longer have to choose between digital notes and the feel of writing on paper.
The Yoga Book Android version will be available in gold champagne and gunmetal grey in October 2016 for $499, and the Windows version, only available in black will cost $549.
Let’s have a good look at the specs to have an idea of what’s inside and get these out of the way. This is more or less a mid to high-end tiers CPU with a decent GPU, but neither claims to be “the best” in their category, but the specs are largely enough for the use case Lenovo is pitching.
- 10.1” FHD (1920×1080) IPS Display. 400 NITs touch screen
- Intel Atom X5-Z8550 CPU (2.4 GHz, 2MB cache)
- Intel HD 400 GPU
- 64GB internal storage + MicroSD (128GB max)
- 2MP Front camera + 8 MP main camera
- 8500 mAh battery capacity
- Android 6.0.1 / Windows 10 Home
- Dolby Atmos sound
- Micro HDMI, 3.5mm audio connectors
- Optional 4G LTE broadband (not in the USA), WiFi AC, BT 4.0
- 256.6×170.8×0.96mm, 690g
- $499 Android, $549.99 Windows 10
Made of magnesium-alloy and aluminum, the build quality of the Yoga Book is quite impressive, and the device looks robust despite its super-light and thin body. Weighing only 690g, the 2-in-1 tablet is only 9.6 mm thick when closed and 5.5 mm when open. It measures 4.05 mm at its slimmest edge.
According to Lenovo, the Yoga famous “watchband-style” hinge has been designed to be smaller and features a custom 3-axis hinge with 130 different mechanical pieces made of five different materials. It is the essential feature that allowed Lenovo’s laptops to be very slim and 360-degrees swivel capable at the same time. The same concept is used to great effect here.
In closed form, the Lenovo Yoga Book has the weight, width, and height of a regular 10.1” tablet. However, it is thicker than recent Android tablets because of the folding keyboard. However, it still has a definite (mobile) tablet feel and not a 2-in-1 laptop.
The Power and Volume controls are on the right side of the keyboard. It works, but I think that both would have been better if placed on the right side of the display, because in laptop mode, the table surface gets in the way when you want to use these buttons. No big deal, but it would be extra nice to make those more accessible.
As you can see in the photos, the Yoga Book is slightly bigger than the iPad Air 2. I’m using the Air as a reference because many people have seen one, and know how it feels to hold it. Either half of the Yoga Book is thinner than the Air, and it is the most impressive clamshell lightweight computer that I have seen to date. If you try adding a keyboard to the iPad Air 2, the YOGA Book wins hands downs when it comes to industrial design and price point ($499, Android).
Like every other YOGA devices, the YOGA Book does support “multi-mode,” which means that it can be positioned in different ways to best fit your current usage. MultiMode was created by Lenovo then copied by other OEMs because it works well. Positions range from clamshell laptop to multimedia viewing (no visible keyboard) to tablet mode (keyboard folded 360 degrees).
Ports and extensions
Because it is essentially a mobile tablet design, the Lenovo YOGA Book does not have a lot of ports, but it does have more than most of its peers. First, it’s possible to extend the storage by an additional 128GB for a very low cost, which is great when compared to the iPad and other storage-locked products.
"SEE HOW POWERFUL THIS DEVICE COULD BE FOR POWERPOINT"There’s also a mini-HDMI port in case you want to connect the YOGA Book to a projector, or display. I haven’t done this myself, but when used in conjunction with PowerPoint for Android, you can see how powerful this device could be for PowerPoint.
Finally, the micro-USB port is there for charging and data transfers. Of course, it would have been nice to get a USB-C which can also handle monitor and other types of connectivity (a dock?), but the current setup works very well and doesn’t get in the way. Also, micro-USB is a little thinner than USB-C, so I wonder if this has something to do with the design and how Lenovo will handle this in 2017.
The 10.1-inch IPS LCD Lenovo YOGA Book display is nice, with good black levels and well-saturated colors. It has a glossy finish, so it tends to be reflective, but that allows colors to “pop” more. It’s a good choice since this is mostly an indoor device (your usage may be different) and for the outdoors, Lenovo has made the brightness go up to 400 NITs (xyz measured)
Normally, my eyes are around 14 to 15 inches away from the screen in laptop mode (vs. almost half of that with a phone), so the full HD resolution is fine. When using the YOGA Book in tablet mode, I get closer than that, and a higher PPI pixel density could be a nice to have, but at the current price point, and for this level of functionality, it’s hard to complain.
Lenovo Halo Keyboard
Let’s jump right away to the killer-feature of the YOGA Book: the physical keyboard. It’s only half the killer feature, but we’ll get the the Create Pad and Real Pen in the next section. When people hear about the keyboard, there are two immediate questions that come to mind: how does it feel and how fast can I type?
For this to be a successful review, we need to give you a good feel for this and set your expectations right.
Halo Keyboard look and feel
From the photo, you have been able to see that the Halo Keyboard is a zero-travel keyboard. There are no moving keys and of course, it will feel very different from a regular keyboard. There’s a backlight which is critical to type in low-light environments (plane, keynotes…) and the size of the keyboard is smaller than on a regular 13” laptop, but it’s quite manageable.
Lenovo has included both sound and vibration tactile response to guide you as you type. This is very similar to what you can experience on a smartphone, and both can be disabled if you want to.
Halo Keyboard typing performance
In terms of “typing speed”, I was pleasantly surprised with it. Obviously, it’s not as fast as a full-size keyboard, but it is significantly faster and more comfortable than the on-screen keyboard. The Halo Keyboard makes a significant contribution to productivity if you type a lot (text chat, emails, writing).
"THE HALO KEYBOARD MAKES A SIGNIFICANT CONTRIBUTION TO PRODUCTIVITY"Additionally, the keyboard occupies zero-space on the screen, which in itself leads to further productivity gains because you never have the virtual keyboard appear on top of your app or data.
There are some aspects of the keyboard that could be improved. Sometimes, it goes to sleep to save power, but the user ends up missing one character by the time it wakes up.
Halo keyboard personal tips: I found the vibration and sound feedback to add some lag to the typing experience, so I disabled both. This is a personal preference, but if you happen to try one and do experience the lag, you should know that it can be dealt with.
Lenovo Create Pad and Real Pen
The lack of physical keys is what makes the ultra-thin form factor possible, one of the key benefits (no pun intended) of the Yoga Book. The Halo Keyboard appears as a backlit virtual keyboard on the panel facing the display. The typing experience is very good, better than on the Surface’s thinnest keyboard – yes it’s surprising. Before you ask: the keyboard isn’t programmable, and it’s not a touchscreen.
Clearly, the huge novelty here is the pen usage which is made possible by the Lenovo Create Pad and the Lenovo Real Pen. This digitizer combo can sense 2048 levels of pressure, and the Real Pen doesn’t have a battery, so you never have to charge it.
Lenovo’s Real Pen knows where it is on the pad thanks to the Electromagnetic Resonance (EMR) technology that’s integrated into the Create Pad. In practical terms, this means that any location on the pad has precise (x,y) coordinates.
The Real Pen can be used in two ways: 1/ with a plastic tip and no paper 2/ with a ballpoint pen tip and real paper. It is really up to you to choose which one you prefer. I personally use the plastic tip and no paper because I don’t want to carry paper around. When I do that, I mostly write/draw while looking at the screen. The downside is that the writing isn’t as nice and precise and only works for rough schemas and large words.
"IF YOU’RE USING PAPER, WRITING NOTES IS COMPLETELY NATURAL"If you’re using paper, writing notes is completely natural, and it just feels like the real thing — because it is. You’re writing with a ballpoint pen on paper… everything just happens to be digitized as you do it. You can write minute notes, and it will be perfectly reproduced electronically.
Also, it’s important to note that you can use any paper you want. Although Lenovo does sell paper that fits the Create Pad exactly, nothing prevents you from using paper from another source, or paper that simply doesn’t fit exactly (who cares?).
Also, you need to understand that although the display is a touch-screen, the Real Pen doesn’t work in the display, even with the rubber tip. You could use any capacitive pen which emulates your finger, but that would be an additional purchase and would not support pressure sensitiveness. A nice solution would be to have a second capacitive tip in the back of the pen… just an idea.
In my wildest dreams, I could connect the YOGA Book to my PC over USB and use it as a digitizer for Photoshop. At the moment, this is not supported, maybe because of the lag induced by doing this with an Android device, but in the future, that’s an amazing feature if Lenovo could pull it off.
Note taking and typing
As I mentioned earlier in the keyboard paragraph, text typing and note writing are two things the YOGA Book is really good at. I’d like to quickly give you a lay of the land when it comes to notes.
The YOGA Book comes pre-loaded with Lenovo Note, a hand-writing application that lets you take notes with the pen (of with the regular touchscreen interface). It’s pretty decent and lets you take multi-pages notes in a straightforward way. It is possible to add text blocks, images, etc. That’s a great baseline.
I have also tried OneNote since it’s multi-platform and quite popular. It works, but only in portrait more, so this is something that you might want to know. It’s not a real problem, but if you prefer the landscape mode, that could be an inconvenience.
Obviously, for text typing, things work with all text-based application, and the only difference is that you type faster (for longer) than with the virtual keyboard.
YouTube and Google Play movies
Because of the YOGA multimode functionality, watching movies is great. Whether it is in bed, on a plane or simply on a table, the YOGA Book always has an ideal way to be placed and tweaked for an optimal angle. This is one thing that I often struggle with when using regular tablets because I have to either hold them for the duration of the movie or use a bulky and ugly case that I really don’t want.
For Youtube streaming, it works with the browser or the app, but I recommend using the app because the experience is so much better. Keep in mind that this is not a PC and as a mobile smart device, apps tend to bring the best user experience.
A quick note about email: I’m using Microsoft Exchange for work, and the only pre-loaded email app was Gmail. Most Android phones do have an Email app that is Exchange Friendly with a real Exchange mode, and not IMAP.
To make things work the way I want, I downloaded Outlook for Android (which is not tablet optimized but works well enough). I get a very nice Exchange support, but I also have to use the Outlook Calendar now. It would be nice to get a better Exchange integration going forward.
Android: Custom Android UI
The Lenovo YOGA Book runs on Android 6.0.1, but it has a customized user interface to accommodate the pen and some multi-window capabilities. Because it is a productivity device, Lenovo wanted to allow users to go outside of the multi-monotask paradigm that smart devices users know too well.
However, the classic split-screen on Android didn’t completely satisfy Lenovo either. Their solution for this device is to run most apps in a portrait format similar to a phone usage. That way, users can have about three apps running and visible at the same time.
It’s not a bad idea at all because most of these apps are first and foremost optimized for phones. In some ways, that’s the best version. That said, users can opt to run them “full screen” if they want to see more data at once.
I like the idea, and it worked well in nearly all situations. Some apps, like Facebook, had some display issues from time to time, but resetting the Window fixed it, so I’m guessing this is just some early firmware issues (I’ve been using it for a few weeks now). I would suggest that Lenovo adds “Close” and “Full screen” buttons to the windows because that would save some taps.
Finally, there’s a Taskbar of sorts at the bottom so that you can quickly switch between apps, and close them from there. Again, this is a simple idea, but one that same time when compared to the usual Android mechanism.
Note that when you are browsing the web, your YOGA Book is seen as an Android tablet and will get served “mobile” content. It’s easy to think of this device as a small PC, but it’s really an Android tablet (except in its Windows version).
This keyboard utility from Lenovo is a software keyboard, but it also has functions to make the Halo hardware keyboard better. The main feature is the Word Suggestions when you are typing with the Halo Keyboard. Like virtual keyboards, this brings a few suggestions as you type and that can save you a bunch of keyboard taps (and typos) if you use it well.
This is something that Apple just brought to its Macbook line of product as well, thanks to the touch strip which is included on some models.
Hardware and Performance
The Yoga Book is offered both in Android and Windows 10 versions (+$50 for Windows) — there’s no multiboot option for now, so you have to pick at purchase time. For the Android model, Lenovo developed Book UI, a custom version of Android 6.0, to optimize for the Yoga Book unique form factor in the Android world.
Powered by a quad-core Atom X5-Z8550 (Intel), the Lenovo Yoga Book is a powerful Android device. In the Windows world, this hardware is considered to be a “light computing” one, but we think that most people would use such a device for basic productivity tasks, therefore performance should be acceptable.
Lenovo developed its Note taking application, Note Saver, that allows recording notes in the background while multitasking on other applications, such as watching videos.
With an 8500 mAh battery capacity, the YOGA Book has enough juice to make battery anxiety almost go away. I used the tablet on a 13-hours flight to Korea, and although I didn’t use it “all the time”, using it casually to watch ~7 episodes of TV shows and a couple of movies, I ended up with enough battery life that I didn’t worry about it at all (~40%-~50%?).
Obviously, your luck may vary depending on your usage, but think of it as being 2X to 3X the capacity of a smartphone, and there’s no 4G radio (on mine) to further deplete the battery.
Lenovo has talked about a fast-charging capability, and I measured it at 57 mAh/mn, which is excellent, given that most of the best phones charge at around 50 mAh/mn — except the Huawei Mate 9, which outpaces everyone else at around 70 mAh/mn, which is just extraordinary. That said, the charging speed of the Lenovo YOGA Book is excellent.
Conclusion: highly innovative and productive
At $499.99 in its Android version, the Lenovo YOGA Book is amazingly innovative, productive and affordable. It’s no secret that Android tablets often come short of a direct comparison with the iPad because Android Tablet OEMs never push the envelope enough.
Instead of pushing “specs” for the sake of technicality, Lenovo has brought real value to the end-user in the form of a device that can propel the productivity and comfort to the next level.
"A DEVICE THAT CAN PROPEL PRODUCTIVITY AND COMFORT TO THE NEXT LEVEL"From that perspective, the Lenovo YOGA Book outperformed my iPad Air 2 for my real-world use, and I suspect that it could do that for many other people as well. Adding a keyboard on most tablets becomes a ridiculous proposition because of the added weight and bulk. Having to charge a keyboard is a chore as well.
With the YOGA Book, you get a sleek device in a tablet form-factor that comes with a comfortably integrated keyboard which is connected by wire. When pushing the boundaries of Industrial design also pushes usability and productivity, we can only approve. I find it to be the best 10-inch tablet for someone who types a lot or watches movies frequently.
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