What happens when Lenovo decides to let the ThinkPad’s metaphorical hair down? You get the ThinkPad Yoga: all work and business in front, but flip that screen all the way and you’ve got a Windows 8 tablet “party in the rear”. First unveiled to the world last September at IFA 2013, the ThinkPad Yoga merges the 360-degree flipping screen found in the consumer IdeaPad Yoga range with the unrivalled business-class majesty of the ThinkPad.
In the tail-end of 2012, I stated that convertible laptops are not the way forward; They merge the worst parts of a tablet and a laptop instead of the best. I have used several convertibles since then, and found Lenovo’s Yoga solution to be more to my preference. However, I’ll still take a slim Ultrabok any day. Now that I’ve used another – and a ThinkPad at that – is the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga the perfect convertible laptop?
Review continues after the jump.
I think I’ve used enough positive adjectives to show exactly how I feel for the ThinkPad Yoga. I’ve always admired them, and for me the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch was both an engineering marvel and the perfect Ultrabook. While the ThinkPad Yoga isn’t as sleek, it is still a very handsome device. The clean matte black design is understated, yet exudes a level of dignified class few other laptops have.
Picking it up, the ThinkPad Yoga feels extremely sturdy. Naturally, the magnesium chassis makes the Yoga a tad heavier than other convertibles, but there is so much to like about the Yoga when used as a laptop: the 12.5-inch screen does not feel too small for productivity, the hinges never felt flimsy and the screen almost never wobbled, and the Yoga felt just right when being moved about with one hand.
I could go on, but it’s safe to say I’m really digging Lenovo’s modernisation of the ThinkPad.
The ThinkPad Yoga is available in Malaysia in two variants: one with a fourth-generation Intel Core i5 and another with a Core i7 processor. Our review unit is the higher end one, with the following set of hardware:
But, as with all Ultrabooks, being thin means sacrificing some connectivity ports. And here’s where one of the ThinkPad Yoga’s biggest hiccups: there is no Ethernet port built-in. With wired Internet connections a staple in almost every office environment, the lack of an Ethernet port – not to mention VGA-out – is as unreasonable as Apple charging its new MacBook Pro users RM99 for a Thunderbolt to Ethernet adaptor.
What’s worse, while it is possible to purchase a third-party USB to Ethernet adaptor (which costs anywhere between RM30 to over RM100, depending on model), Lenovo would prefer you to purchase the ThinkPad OneLink Dock ($119.99 in the US and RM395 in Malaysia), a dock that connects to a proprietary port on the ThinkPad Yoga that adds, among other connectivity options, four USB ports (2x USB 3.0), one full-sized HDMI and of course, a Gigabit Ethernet port.
Finally, the ThinkPad Yoga also comes with a custom Wacom digitizer stylus, with an integrated slot at the front end of the Ultrabook.
The ThinkPad Yoga ships by default with Windows 8 Pro, but a quick visit to the Store and you’ll be installing Windows 8.1 Pro in no time. Interestingly, pre-installed bloatware is almost non-existent, with only a trial version of Norton Internet Security installed. There are, however, plenty of Lenovo-branded software powering the ThinkPad Yoga behind the scenes, such as the Lenovo Dependency Package, Lenovo QuickControl, Lenovo Transition and the most visually prominent among them, Lenovo Solution Centre.
Envisioned as a one-stop centre for everything pertaining to the device, the Lenovo Solution Centre has a large icon placed on the taskbar by default, and prompts users when something requires their attention, such as alerts for creating a backup, software updates, and even battery health. The Dashboard also helps users check for critical alerts across their hardware, system, security as well as various check-up utilities the Solution Centre provides.
Compared to the 14-inch super-slim touch display on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, the 12.5-inch Full HD 10-point touch display feels chunky. The tapered shape of the 13.3-inch touch display of the Yoga 2 Pro is also slightly thinner compared to the ThinkPad Yoga. Then again, the display on the ThinkPad Yoga is protected by a sheet of smudge-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass, making it more durable than other laptop screens.
Surprisingly, I found myself not very bothered by the smaller 12.5-inch display. Sure, you’ll have some difficulties reading long articles especially with the Full HD resolution, but if you’re upgrading from a previous laptop with a 13.3-inch display, the slight change in screen size is almost unnoticeable.
What is very obvious, though, is in the quality of the IPS display itself. There is a yellowish tint to the screen that seems to only appear when the brightness is set to less than 50%. Upon further research, it appears Lenovo may have shrimped a little on the matte display, which not only attributes to the yellowish hue, but also to issues such as ghosting and backlight flickering.
As with most business-oriented laptops, the audio quality on the built-in speakers are fairly average. The speakers, which are slightly hidden when in laptop mode, are located between the hinges and will work just fine for personal uses as the audio tends to break at higher volume levels.
I usually work with my earphones on, and listen to the same set of songs on my Spotify playlist when I’m in the zone. That was why I noticed that audio output on headphones is pretty different than on other laptops. Bass output is surprisingly strong, and even at lower volumes the bass can be overwhelming for those who prefer a more natural sound.
Keyboard and Trackpad
How can one talk about a ThinkPad and not comment on its keyboard? Long recognized as having one of the best keyboards on a laptop, Lenovo is continually evolving the ThinkPad keyboard. With the ThinkPad Yoga, the company learnt from the mistakes made in original IdeaPad Yoga and introduced the Lift n’ Lock feature on the ThinkPad Yoga keyboard.
Essentially, the keyboard panel (or tray) surrounding the keys are mechanically raised to the same level as the keys when the ThinkPad Yoga is flipped into Tablet mode. The keys themselves are also then locked, while the trackpad is disabled. As a result, users will then have an entirely flat surface to grip with their fingers when using the Yoga as a tablet, fixing one of the biggest flaws found in the IdeaPad Yoga. And it actually works as advertised. The keyboard keys were locked in place, and while it is still pretty bumpy for my fingers, at least the pillowy keys weren’t making it difficult to grip what is a pretty heavy tablet.
As for the keyboard itself, it is naturally one of the best I’ve ever typed on. The chiclet-style keyboard has great travel, is very comfortable (if a little cramped) and feels great for a touch typist. One gripe I had with the keyboard is the lack of a Caps Lock indicator anywhere on the keyboard. If you missed the on-screen display, it can be pretty annoying.
Oddly enough, there is an indicator on the keyboard for something else: Fn+Esc toggles the Function Lock, which converts the F1-F12 keys into media controls and vice versa. By default, the Fn keys all act as media controls, such as volume, brightness, and other shortcuts, but pressing the Fn+Esc combination, an LED indicator on the Fn key will show that Function Lock is enabled.
The ThinkPad Yoga also sports the new glass trackpad called the ClickPad. First seen on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, the ClickPad has an oleophobic spray coating that gives it a matte finish and also prevents fingerprint smudges. While the trackpad feels really accurate most of the time, it does sometimes become too slippery, and the cursor would jump from one end to the other.
With an Intel Haswell processor onboard, you know the ThinkPad Yoga will deliver fantastic battery life for a Windows laptop. As an experiment, I used the ThinkPad on a full charge on a regular work day, and went about the regular tasks: a Chrome browser with about 15 tabs constantly open, and various apps used when necessary such as Word, Notepad and of course, Calculator. When away for longer periods (such as for lunch), I put the laptop to sleep. The result? All in, I managed about seven hours of use in Balanced power plan (idle/sleep times not included). All told, the Ultrabook was not shut down for more than 12 hours.
To make things more interesting, I unplugged the charger with the ThinkPad Yoga at full charge, switched the battery profile to “High Performance”, and played “Counter Strike: Global Offensive” to see how long the laptop will last while gaming without being plugged in. Amazingly, after exactly sixty minutes, I still had 50% battery left to either continue playing or have several hours of work done.
And, with the RapidCharge technology, I can plug a ThinkPad Yoga with a fully depleted battery and charge it for just one hour and I’ll have 80% of juice to power the rest of the day with.
Being an Ultrabook that can be used in four distinct modes, I decided to try all four with the ThinkPad Yoga. Having aced Laptop mode, I decided to play a tablet game on the Yoga. It quickly became clear that the 1.58kg device is not meant to be used as a light, portable tablet.
Undeterred, I flipped the display into Stand Mode, played a video and leaned back. It works, but the hinges are not stiff enough for you to tap the display without the screen wobbling. Then again, Stand Mode isn’t really meant for anything other than watching videos and similar activities that does not require user input. Finally, I tried out Tent Mode, and it helped a lot with using this device as a tablet in this mode. I didn’t have to carry the heavy device, and still enjoy surfing the Internet with both the Yoga on the table and on my lap in Tent mode.
With retail prices starting from RM4999, there are other Ultrabooks with touch displays which cost less. None, however, can boast meeting eight military-grade specifications for durability. Few, too, offer three years onsite warranty as standard. I’m very particular about the laptops that I use, but this ThinkPad has somehow not given me enough things to nitpick on. The build quality is fantastic, the display does not feel like it compromises on its “laptop-ness”, and the keyboard is sensationally comfortable.
I’ve been wracking my head for something to knock back my first impressions of the ThinkPad Yoga, and all I could come out with so far is having to get used to the different Fn and Left Control button layout, which is reverse that of newer keyboard layouts – and that’s it. The Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga may not be the perfect Ultrabook in my eyes, but damn, it comes pretty close.