Introduction and design
Lenovo’s flexible Yoga line of consumer ultrabooks brought finesse and style to the Windows 8 laptop experience. Frankly, the Yoga series is one of the best displays of what the hybrid laptop is capable of, regardless of popular thoughts on the category. But deftly switching between a notebook and three quasi-tablet devices has been for casual users only—until now.
This is the ThinkPad Yoga, a fusion of Lenovo’s flagship consumer and professional laptops into the sleekest ThinkPad yet at 0.74 – 0.76 inches thin. But with the Yoga 2 Pro already on the scene, which we were quite fond of, what’s the difference?
For one, this ultrabook comes packing a 12.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 FHD, Gorilla Glass panel with 10-point multi-touch control. It’s certainly not the Yoga 2 Pro’s razor sharp 3200 x 1800 QHD+ screen, but what does the professional need that many pixels for?
As for aesthetics, the Yoga 2 Pro sports a soft touch finish throughout (even on its touchpad), whereas the ThinkPad Yoga is completely housed in a magnesium alloy frame that felt almost matte under my fingers. This is also the only Yoga with IBM—er, Lenovo’s—trademark touchpad, red TrackPoint mouse and illuminated logos on the lid and palm rest.
Finally, the ThinkPad Yoga comes installed with Windows 8.1 Pro, giving users access to enterprise features like remote desktop access, native data encryption, virtual hard drive creation and more. However, Lenovo omitted fingerprint security from this notebook, a staple for most business laptops.
But first, an important note: few comparable, professional-level hybrid laptops at this size have passed through the TechRadar staff’s hands. The Yoga 2 Pro, 13-inch MacBook Air (which is gaining traction in the business world) and ThinkPad T440s will have to do.
Business up front, party around the back
There’s another major difference between the ThinkPad Yoga and its cousin: Lenovo’s new "Lift ‘n’ Lock" keyboard. Lenovo wouldn’t dare change up its lauded chiclet keyboard design, but this rendition appears to recede into the chassis as you bend the screen toward the bottom of the ultrabook. In reality, the keyboard frame rises to meet flush with the keyboard deck and palm rest—an "engineering optical illusion," Lenovo touts.
That’s right, Lenovo’s zinc alloy hinge returns, allowing this ultrabook to bend a full 360 degrees. This feature brings the Yoga line’s four use modes to the ThinkPad: the standard notebook mode, a stand mode that rests on the keyboard’s face, a tent mode that stands at a 270-degree angle and a full-blown tablet mode with the keyboard face around back. And with the "Lift ‘n’ Lock" keyboard, these modes are considerably more comfortable than on previous Yoga laptops, especially the tablet mode.
With the Yoga 2 Pro, the keyboard often got in the way of the tablet experience. Regardless of the ThinkPad Yoga’s new and improved keyboard, this hybrid laptop still makes for a hefty tablet at 3.52 pounds. (And we thought the 3.06-pound Yoga 2 Pro made for a heavy slate.) You won’t be holding this hybrid laptop in tablet mode comfortably with one hand for long.
As for the ThinkPad Yoga’s other modes—stand and tent—they turn out to be more useful for consuming content than creating it. While watching TV at home, this ultrabook in tent mode proved to be a fine second screen, mostly to browse the web, order dinner from Grubhub and play Angry Birds. To that end, it works out beautifully, thanks in large part to the hybrid’s snappy and responsive touch screen.
The ThinkPad Yoga sits the middle of two different design ideologies tugging at each other. The result: an IdeaPad-shaped ThinkPad, but with the materials ThinkPads are known for. A smooth magnesium shell causes the screen to slip slightly when in tent mode, despite the rubber strip at the end of keyboard deck. It’s a necessary conceit to achieve as true a ThinkPad look and feel as possible.
Measuring 12.46 x 8.7 x 0.74 0.76 inches (W x D x H) and weighing just over 3.5 pounds, the ThinkPad Yoga is one of the thinnest and lightest pro-grade laptops around. It’s been a breeze to carry in my backpack to and from the office this past week. However, a profile that slim forced Lenovo to cut down on ports considerably.
Where many business-class laptops have at least three USB ports, the ThinkPad Yoga has just two. It also lacks the RJ-45 and VGA ports that many enterprise folks use on a daily basis. Though the addition of mini-HDMI is nice, but it doesn’t make up for having to use a USB Ethernet adapter, or ponying up another $119.99 for Lenovo’s OneLink ThinkPad dock for Ethernet access.
This is the ThinkPad Yoga configuration Lenovo sent to TechRadar:
- CPU: 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U (dual-core, 3MB cache)
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4400
- RAM: 4GB PC3-12800 DDR3L
- Screen: 12.5-inch 1920 x 1080 FHD with 10-point multi-touch
- Storage: 128GB SSD
- Ports: 2 USB 3.0, mini-HDMI, 4-in-1 card reader, OneLink docking port, headphone/mic jack
- Connectivity: Intel dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
- Webcam: 720p front-facing camera
- Weight: 3.52 pounds
- Size: 12.46 x 8.7 x 0.74 0.76 inches
This setup costs a grand total of $1,329 (starting at £779.99, $1,249 AU), and largely matches what’s on offer from the $999 Yoga 2 Pro configuration we reviewed. The major differences here are the ThinkPad Yoga’s 802.11ac networking, which does not come standard, and the 1080p display. While the Yoga 2 Pro lacks the snappier AC wireless standard, it offers a much sharper 3200 x 1800 IPS touch panel. Specs considered, the ThinkPad Yoga looks even more like an IdeaPad in a ThinkPad’s body.
These specs also meet that of the 13-inch MacBook Air, and even exceed it in some regards, like CPU clock speed and display resolution–though, Apple offers double the storage for about $30 less. If these guts appear underwhelming, a fully-loaded ThinkPad Yoga—replete with 2.1GHz Core i7-4200U chip, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid state drive—will cost you a whopping $1,514.
That said, each core in this Intel Haswell can ramp up to 2.3GHz with both cores active using Intel’s Turbo Boost. Regardless, the user that spends a lot of time knee-deep in multi-sheet Excel projects or in graphics-heavy applications like Photoshop might be better served by the extra RAM and the 2.1GHz, dual-core Core i7-4600U. That chip can be boosted up to 3.3GHz.
For any user upgrading from a third generation Intel chip to the latest, the most noticeable gain will be in endurance, but more on that later. As for graphics options, this is it. All of the available CPU options offer Intel’s integrated HD Graphics 4400, and the ThinkPad Yoga does not offer a dedicated GPU. This might disappoint Photoshop users and/or video pros, but many are already firmly rooted in the Apple camp.
The compromises that Lenovo was forced to make to meet this form factor are laid out. The ThinkPad Yoga will not meet its brethren on the I/O front, though it is currently unmatched as the thinnest, most versatile ultrabook in the ThinkPad lineup.
The ThinkPad Yoga didn’t blow the doors off of any synthetic tests, but certainly met their demands like any laptop with these specs should. Here’s how it fared:
- Cinebench 11.5: Graphics: 16.74 FPS; CPU: 2.49 pts
- 3DMark: Ice Storm: 40,541; Cloud Gate: 4215; Fire Strike: 574
- PCMark 8 Battery life: 3 hours and 6 minutes
Based on those numbers, this is more than a capable hybrid laptop, especially for this being a base configuration (aside from 802.11ac). While these results are on par with other Haswell-equipped ultrabooks, don’t expect to play any serious 3D games on this machine.
As far as multitasking is concerned, I had a hard time slowing the ThinkPad Yoga down, running more than 10 Google Chrome tabs, a PDF viewer, a GIF-ridden chat app and Spotify streaming high bitrate music all at once with no noticeable sluggishness. Now that 4GB of RAM is the accepted minimum and solid state drives are growing more common every year, multitasking hangups are all but disappearing.
The ThinkPad Yoga, like most SSD-packing notebooks, boots up and launches apps almost instantaneously. And while you can leave that round of Battlefield 4 to the gaming PC or Xbox One in your den, casual games like Angry Birds will run without a hitch. Not to mention that they play like a dream on that 1080p multi-touch display.
The ThinkPad Yoga marginally outperformed the Yoga 2 Pro in the graphics department, but is specced almost identically. Expect comparable performance to what you would find on that laptop, as well as the latest MacBook Air. (However, Apple’s laptops come packing Intel HD Graphics 5000.)
The ThinkPad Yoga’s battery life is respectable, but nothing to write home about. The synthetic test PCMark 8 pegged this ultrabook at just 3 hours and 6 minutes, but I squeezed a more respectable 4 hours and 19 minutes of constant use in my own testing. This test involved more than 10 Google Chrome tabs, streaming high bitrate tunes from Spotify, using a chat app with plenty of GIFs flying around and manipulating several PDFs.
These times may seem short, but keep in mind that both tests were conducted at maximum brightness and on the "High performance" setting. PCMark 8 runs the notebook through a series of tasks, one at a time, including web browsing, image editing, video chatting and more with the volume muted and keyboard backlight off. My anecdotal test had the keyboard lit and the speakers set at a medium volume.
The ThinkPad Yoga should last for at least another hour or two with its screen dimmer, the keyboard backlight turned off and on a more battery-friendly power setting. Still, that’s not quite up to snuff with the Yoga 2 Pro and MacBook Air, which lasted for 5 hours and 9 hours, respectively.
ThinkPad’s classic mouse and keyboard
Lenovo’s signature, "Lift ‘n’ Lock" backlit keyboard houses smooth plastic keys that offer snappy travel and zero flex. I had no issue adapting to the ThinkPad Yoga keyboard and using it for a whole day’s work, which involves an obscene amount of typing. However, the backlighting was somewhat uneven on my model, especially toward the Esc key.
I’ve never fully appreciated the ThinkPad touchpad. Like all ThinkPad laptops, the classic amount of give is too much give for my liking, often moving the cursor as the touchpad pops back from a click. That said, the tracking on this touchpad is so smooth and accurate that it’s tough to see need for that TrackPoint mouse outside of pleasing ThinkPad veterans. In comparison, the TrackPoint is clunky and inelegant.
A gorgeous, glaring display
An FHD resolution seems to be the sweet spot for Windows 8.1. Anything sharper and you start to run into problems, the Yoga 2 Pro can tell you. The 1080p panel shines at 400 nits and offers terrific viewing angles, with zero distortion even at 180 degrees. And thanks in part to font smoothing, reading text on the ThinkPad Yoga is a delight.
Unfortunately, this display doesn’t do much for glare, and it’s tough to look past on any kind of content that isn’t on a white or yellow background. This issue is especially rough under fluorescent lighting, found in most office environments.
To the ThinkPad Yoga’s benefit is how responsive and quick its display is to touch input. It was a breeze to summon the Charms menu and scrolling through web pages suffered only a few hiccups when navigating web pages, which was likely due to those pages lacking touch optimization.
Lenovo’s software offering on the ThinkPad Yoga is thankfully light, but also confusing, with just a few business-focused apps and the rest seemingly aimed at consumers. (The laptop comes with a few extra third-party apps, like Kindle, AccuWeather, eBay, Skitch Touch, trials for Norton Internet Security and Nitro Pro 8, and more.) Here’s a quick look at each:
- Lenovo Companion: This is a collection of suggested apps and guides either created or curated by Lenovo to get you started on your new Windows 8 laptop. It’s clearly a consumer-focused experience, but on a professional laptop–odd.
- Solution Center: This desktop Windows 8 app has all sorts of diagnostic and management tools, or provides easy access to existing ones, to keep your system in good shape.
- Lenovo Settings: Here you can find access to settings for your laptop’s battery, location access, camera and audio.
- QuickCast: You can broadcast the content on your device’s screen to other machines running QuickCast with this app. Also, it supports file transfers, messaging and a whiteboard utility, though I see few use cases here.
- QuickControl: This beta app allows users to control their ThinkPad Yoga’s cursor, projection settings and applications using a free companion Android app. Now, this definitely interesting, like feature-rich presentation pointer.
- ActiveProtection System: Always on unless you disable it, this app offers shock detection and can protect your hard drive against sudden falls. The app also detects when the device is in tablet mode, allowing for easy interaction without stopping the hard drive. A welcome feature for sure, but its utility is suspect with a largely motionless SSD.
- Lenovo Reach: This is a cloud storage service (5GB free) and file manager, password handler and app recommendation engine all in one. It could come in handy for the password handler alone.
Is it all just party around back?
Returning to the ThinkPad Yoga’s three tablet-like modes, it’s hard not to question their utility in the professional world. Watching videos, playing touch-controlled games, video chatting and casual web surfing all make sense in a home setting. But this is supposed to be a hybrid laptop for enterprise users. What about professional-level interactions?
With a stylus neatly tucked into the chassis, the ThinkPad Yoga seems as if it were meant for the creative professional seeking freedom from the Wacom tablet at the desk. While the stylus is accurate, it feels too light and lacks the features such a user might want, like an eraser or more inputs. More importantly, the device doesn’t come with much in way of art creation or editing software, nor does it offer a dedicated GPU for such tasks.
So, outside of the occasional video meeting and presentation, what enterprise-level tasks do these modes allow for that standard laptops can’t? Besides, standard ultrabooks handle these jobs just fine. Is the ThinkPad Yoga is to be a professional’s sole machine, as if s/he doesn’t already own a personal laptop?
The ThinkPad Yoga is an impressive, attractive and perplexing work machine all at once. It brings the style of consumer-grade hybrid laptops while attempting to pull off the sincerity of business-class ultrabooks.
It some ways, it shines, offering the snappy performance enterprise users need in a striking form factor that won’t break their back or die on them midway through cross-country flights. In others, the ThinkPad Yoga falls short, with use modes that, frankly, seem superfluous for business folk. And that’s despite a welcome (and arguably innovative) improvement to its keyboard.
This is the most stylish ThinkPad I’ve ever seen. I was proud to pull the ThinkPad Yoga out of my bag at the airport and thought nothing of carrying it to and fro. Lenovo kept all of the design elements that built the iconic ThinkPad brand since the IBM days, while cramming them into a super sharp package. While I’m not a fan of the touchpad’s signature give and the TrackPoint mouse, ThinkPad veterans will feel right at home on this machine.
Thanks to a 128GB SSD, Haswell chip and 4GB of RAM (all standard), the ThinkPad Yoga had no trouble keeping up with my web-heavy workload. While I don’t run VLOOKUPs on immense spreadsheets or do intense graphics tasks in my day-to-day, this machine should handle at least the former with gusto. For the general enterprise user, the ThinkPad Yoga will run like a dream.
While it doesn’t inspire many compelling use cases for the working crowd, the 360-degree hinge–and the modes it allows–is nevertheless impressive and elegant. It was a delight to have a second screen propped up on the coffee table while half-watching The Daily Show on TV and half-ordering dinner online. But again, it’s tough to see these features wowing the business set anytime soon.
Finally, it’s the smaller niceties that round out this ultrabook for a truly premium computing experience. It’s good to know that the stylus, while not essential, is expertly tucked into the keyboard deck. And the backlit keyboard (also standard) is a must at this point for any type of user. The ThinkPad Yoga also produced respectable sound through its tiny stereo speaker grills, offering punchy bass and crystal clear vocals.
While this ultrabook is no slouch when it comes to battery life, it would be even better if it met the MacBook Air’s 9-plus hours of endurance. With Haswell and an SSD on board, we would have expected similar lasting power, but alas. Of course, the ThinkPad Yoga is pushing an FHD resolution, whereas the MacBook Air still languishes at 1440 x 900. This buys it some leeway in our evaluation, but a few more hours of battery life would have been nice for the enterprise customer ThinkPads are designed for.
For the business crowd, 128GB to start–speedy SSD performance regardless–might be too small. While many businesses are adopting cloud storage solutions, users still want local copies of files for that extra peace of mind, and 128GB will fill up mighty quick. While a 256GB version is on offer, that adds a whopping $150 to the asking price, something companies might not be willing to pony up for a whole fleet.
Lastly, the ThinkPad Yoga’s three tablet-esque use modes would be much more compelling for business users if Lenovo created apps that took better advantage. The whiteboard function of QuickCast is interesting, but not even close to a system seller, and the same goes for the included Skitch Touch. How about some design-focused apps for Wacom tablet crowd?
Again, the ThinkPad Yoga is one of slickest business ultrabooks I’ve seen yet. Not once did I feel ashamed to draw this sharp system out of my bag amid an army of MacBook Airs. IBM devotees might scoff at such a thin and light ThinkPad, but it will no doubt keep up with the lot and look better doing it.
If you already question the utility of a hybrid laptop at home, then this changes nothing. After over a week with the ThinkPad Yoga, I still can’t think of many work-related uses for those modes that make them a must-have. At the very least, it’s impressive to see an enterprise laptop be so flexible–literally and figuratively.
The ThinkPad Yoga offers the features and performance that business users need, thanks to Windows 8.1 Pro standard and optional 802.11ac. But despite it all, this is not a focused business-class product. No-nonsense workers might be better served by a souped up ThinkPad T440s for the extra ports, or even a 13-inch MacBook Air for the added battery endurance, plus double the storage and an even lighter load for $30 less. At any rate, the ThinkPad Yoga is a Windows business ultrabook that you’ll be glad to whip out on your commute, even if you don’t flip it over or tent it up.