In this post we’re going to talk about the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, Lenovo’s thinnest and lightest 13 inch ultrabook to-date and at the same time, the first Intel Core M device I got my hands-on.
The article is a review, a collection of all my impressions gathered after using the Yoga 3 Pro for a few days. It’s worth noting that this particular unit is one of the samples given to journalists at the launch event earlier this month and it’s not something I’ve bought myself. It’s the base model with the Intel Core M 5Y70 processor (a higher end CPU in the Broadwell Y family), 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD, listed at $1299 at this very moment (will definitely get cheaper in time though).
Last year’s Yoga 2 Pro was, and still is even today, one of the best 2-in-1 ultraportables you could get. The Yoga 3 Pro is its more compact successor, but the new generation is not just a redesigned shell, it’s also one of the first ultrabooks built on Intel’s Core M hardware and probably the first you will be able to buy this Fall. But is it actually any good? Well, stay with me till the end of this review and you’ll find out.
Update: In the meantime Lenovo launched the Yoga 900, a worthy successor fro the Yoga 3 Pro. You can find all about it in this post.
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro video review
The specs sheet for the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro
|Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro|
|Screen||13.3 inch, 3200 x 1800 px resolution, IPS, touchscreen|
|Processor||Intel Broadwell Core M-5Y70 CPU|
|Graphics||integrated Intel 5300 HD|
|Memory||8 GB LPDDR3|
|Storage||256 GB M.2 SSD (Liteon L8T-256L9G)|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC, Bluetooth|
|Ports||2xUSB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0, SD card reader, micro-HDMI, webcam|
|Battery||44 Wh 5900 mAh|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1|
|Size||300 x 228 x 12.7 mm (11.8 x 9 x 0.5 inches)|
|Weight||about 1.2 kg (2.6 pounds)|
|Extras||backlit keyboard, JBL Speakers|
Design and exterior
Let’s talk about the aesthetics first. The Yoga 3 Pro is half an inch thick and weighs 2.6 pounds, which are impressive numbers for a 13 incher. Its outer shell is crafted from aluminum, and that gives it a beautiful allure and the sturdiness you would expect from a computer you’re probably going to carry with you daily. So for the most part, this laptop feels like it’s worth its high price tag, although the metallic case is prone to scratches. In fact, there are already a few of those on the unit I have, despite being only a few days old.
The Yoga 3 Pro is primarily a laptop, but as a convertible, it can play other roles as well
The new Yoga is of course a convertible, just like the previous generations, and its screen flips to 360 degrees, allowing a few different use modes. There’s the standard laptop position, the stand , the tent and the tablet modes, but you’ll probably use it mostly as a regular notebook. A 13 inch screen tablet might occasionally come in handy, but is not imh very comfortable to use on a daily basis. It’s just too large and heavy.
Lenovo did redesign the Yoga 3 Pro’s hinge mechanism though, now a complex system built from 6 steel meshes with aluminum parts in between (roughly 800 parts in total – what could go wrong here… ?). They call it a watchband hinge, and it does look like one. It even rattles like on each time you adjust the screen’s vertical viewing angle, and in fact each time you move the laptop around, something I found annoying at start, but ended up ignoring after a while. At the same time this new hinge feels sturdy and allows basically countless working positions, while the older two hinge system did not give such freedom. Flipping the screen around is also somewhat smoother than before, so in terms of functionality, the new design does the trick. Hopefully it will be reliable as well.
However, I believe Lenovo went a bit too far trying to make the Yoga 3 Pro as thin as possible and somewhat sacrificed the screen frame’s rigidity. That’s visible when adjusting the viewing angle, which causes light ripples on the panel’s lower left and right corners, but also on the entire bottom margin. You might not notice these in everyday use, but you will notice them on a darker background.
The panel stress is even more visible in tablet mode, when the screen flexes a millimeter or two and again pushes ripples into the panel. I can’t say whether that’s going to affect the display on the long term or not, but it certainly got me concerned. If I would end up buying this thing, I’d have to be really careful about how I’d use it and how I’d carry it around. Having something heavy pressing on the hood could damage the panel.
The laptop’s interior is covered in a smooth plastic, with a dimpled pattern, which kind of reminds me of the Samsung Galaxy S5’s back panel. It comes in black on all versions, while the outer shell is available in Light Silver, Golden or Clementine Orange. Overall, I dig the design and the feeling.
I don’t appreciate the keyboard’s positioning though, which is placed low towards the laptop’s front and leaves room for only a narrow palm-rest. And that means there’s not enough space for your wrists to lay comfortably on its surface. Luckily, the front lip is blunt and there are no sharp surfaces to worry about (although the contact between the dimpled arm-rest and the plastic front edge isn’t perfect and could cause some scratches), but even so, I would have loved if Lenovo were able to push the keyboard ensemble higher. This aspect is especially annoying for me, as I lay in bed with my laptop leaned on my legs, and there’s just too little space for my hands to fit in for a comfortable typing position on this Yoga.
I should also mention that the keyboard is slightly lowered into the chassis, so the laptop won’t lean on the keys when you’ll have it in stand or tablet modes. That’s smart. Of course, the keys and the trackpads are only active in Laptop Mode, so they won’t register accidental taps or presses. Again, smart, but pretty much common sense for devices built on this particular form factor.
The laptop’s sides are covered in what looks like a black sheet of aluminum and house the ports and buttons. There’s the card-reader on the left (half of the card will remain on the outside), micro-HDMI output, an USB 3.0 slot and Lenovo’s new charging port, which also backups as an USB 2.0 slot when the computer isn’t plugged in. On the left you get another USB 3.0 port, the headphone microphone jack, a volume rocker, a screen-lock button and the Power knob (which also acts as status LED).
And I swear Lenovo couldn’t have put it in a worse position, it’s right in the middle where you’ll usually place your hand when grabbing the laptop, and it’s not very stiff either, that’s why I’ve probably pressed it by mistake at least a few dozen times in this last week and put the computer to sleep. Anyway, to wrap up with the IO, there’s also a tactile Windows Home button just beneath the display, somewhat useful in tablet mode. But it’s not very responsive, you’ll have to touch it in its middle for anything to happen and I mostly found it easier to just call the charms bar from the right edge.
OK, so to wrap up this section, the Yoga 3 Pro is thin and light, but maybe too thin for its own good, as the display ensemble isn’t solid enough and that causes stress on the panel when performing casual actions like lifting up the screen, adjusting the viewing angle or grabbing the device in tablet mode. At the same time, the keyboard’s middle positioning leads to a narrow palm-rest, and the power button’s placement is, well… unfortunate.
Lenovo put a 13.3 inch QHD+ touchscreen on this Yoga 3 Pro, with an IPS panel.
The 3200 x 1800 px resolution leads to very sharp content, and you’ll want to scale fonts to 200% in Windows to be able to distinguish anything on the screen. Don’t scale it to 250%, as this will cause certain interface elements to break. Even so, not all third party apps will scale properly, so you’ll deal with tiny texts and buttons from time to time. But hopefully these will be addressed in time, as more HiDPI devices become available.
I loved the display, and I believe most of you will as well
The panel is made by Samsung and no longer has the colors issues of the Yoga 2 Pro model. In fact, it’s an updated version of that panel, codenamed SDC434A (SDC424A on the Y2pP). It displays accurate colors and seems to be well calibrated, since my Spyder 4 Elite was not able to improve much after calibration. Not sure why that happened, unfortunately this tool can get inaccurate with certain panels.
Anyway, check out the results below:
- Panel HardwareID: Samsung SDC434A;
- Coverage: 98% sRGB, 73% NTSD, 77% AdobeRGB;
- measured gamma: 2.2;
- max brightness in the middle of the screen: 291 cd/m2 on power;
- contrast at max brightness: 310:1;
- white point: 6900 K;
- black on max brightness: 0.95 cd/m2;
- average DeltaE: 1.64 uncalibrated, 1.57 calibrated .
We can also add that the panel isn’t very bright, just shy of 300 nits, which paired with the glossy glass surface, will make it a less ideal choice for strong light environments. At the same time, the contrast is pretty poor, as blacks at max brightness are disappointing. However, dim the screen to about 70-80% (roughly 120 nits) and blacks will get a lot deeper.
Long story short, I’m satisfied with this panel for real-life indoor use and I believe most of you will find it quite good as well.
Keyboard and trackpad
Now, let’s get back to that keyboard. It feels and behaves a lot like the one on the previous Yoga 2 Pro. The keys are smooth and have a slightly oval shape towards their lower side. They don’t travel too much into the frame, but are sturdy and provide good enough feedback, especially once you’ll get use to them.
The keyboard is backlit and you can turn the white illumination On or Off by hitting FN + Space.
On the other hand, Lenovo experimented with the keyboard’s layout and left out the 6th row of F keys (we’ve seen this approach before on the Acer Aspire S7-392 and hated it jut as much). F1 to F12 are obtained by hitting Fn plus the keys on the top row of numbers (0 to +). There are still shortcuts for adjusting the screen’s brightness, the volume or deactivating the trackpad, you’ll just find them on other keys, which is not that big of a problem. The lack of dedicated F-keys will surely break this thing for many users though.
The trackpad is kind of small, but its glass surface feels nice and behaves properly, with one exception. This is a clickpad and its top half is rather stiff, but the issue here is the occasional lack of response from physical clicks. Sometimes you’ll just press the clickpad, you’ll hear the clicking sound, but nothing happens. Now, I for one use taps most of the time, so normally this wouldn’t bother me too much, if it wasn’t for another minor detail: two finger taps don’t work as right clicks on this thing, although single taps (left clicks) work perfectly fine. Annoying.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
Anyway, with all these out of the way, let’s turn our attention on what the Yoga 3 Pro can do for us. Keep in mind that this is not a final production model, but one of those samples given to journalist at the launch event in October 2014, so a few things might change later down the road. I will update this section with new details as time goes by.
For now, I could summarize I’m not impressed with the Intel Core M hardware implementation on this unit.
Despite packing one of the fastest processors in this line, the Core M 5Y70, with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD, performance is not what I was expecting. And that’s mostly because the hardware throttles way too fast.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting stellar performance from a low-voltage Broadwell Y series with ad advertised TDP of only 4.5 W. This replaces the Haswell Y line, which wasn’t fast either. By default, the CPU runs at 1.1 GHz with Turbo Boost Frequencies of up to 2.6 GHz. The Intel HD 5300 series graphics embedded withing this processor are designed to run between at 100 to 850 Mhz. Of course, the higher these things can run, the better the performance.
This Yoga 3 Pro handles basic activities mostly fine, including light browsing, editing texts and some photos or watching 1080p video content. However, some programs work smoother on this platform than others. For instance, Chrome 38 is awful. Trying to watch Youtube clips or browsing in Chrome lead to an appalling experience, with everything lagging and choking. Internet Explorer on the other hand works far better. It can deal with 1080P and even 4K Youtube streams, as well as medium browsing with 6 to 10 tabs opened. And this is just one of the examples. The same can be said about playing videos with the VLC player (smooth), as opposed to playing them with MediaPlayer Classic (choppy).
Regardless, the hardware throttles aggressively and there’s little one could do about that. For instance, when trying to play games, both the CPU and the GPU drop to very low frequencies. In fact, I wasn’t able to run properly any of the titles I’ve tried on this laptop, not even older ones like Dirt3 on HD resolution with very low details. I did got somewhat better results when playing the game in Window mode, as you can see from the pictures below (look for Average CPU and GPU frequencies), but switching to Fullscreen resulted in an average of 6-8 fps. The same happend when trying Metro Last Light and I just gave up after that.
The benchmarks are also affected. I’ve got some numbers for you below, but that’s mostly the best you could expect from this thing.
- 3DMark 11: P552;
- 3DMark 13: Ice Storm – 28885, Cloud Gate – 2699, Sky Diver – 1195, Fire Strike – 323;
- PCMark 07: 4487;
- PCMark 08: Home Conventional – 1663;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 17.14 fps, CPU 1.88 pts;
- CineBench R15: OpenGL 19.54 fps, CPU 171 pts.
Successively running the same benchmark leads to lower and lower results, as the hardware heats up and throttles. Let it cool, and the scores will jump back. For instance, here’s a quick test with Cinebench R15:
- First run: OpenGL 19.54 fps, CPU 171 cb;
- Second run: OpenGL 18.84 fps, CPU 153 cb;
- Thrid run: OpenGL 13.4 fps, CPU 121 cb.
Trying to monitor the frequencies while running Cinebench 11.5 on a cool computer (after a restart) shows an average CPU frequency of about 1.3 GHz, which shows that the CPU doesn’t fully benefit of that advertised Turbo Boost Frequency.
And then there’s the stress test.
- Stressing the CPU only with Prime 95 makes it drop to the base 1.1 Ghz frequency and reach average temperatures of about 65 C;
- Stressing the GPU only with Furmark leads to an average clock speed of about 270 Mhz;
- Stressing both leads makes the CPU stabilize at around 500 MHz and the graphics at about 150 Mhz, with CPU temperatures of 65 C as well.
So it looks to me that Lenovo are capping down the performance once a certain temperature is met. On top of that, analyzing the HWInfo logs, I notice that Lenovo have set the TDP limit at only 3.5W for this test unit (with occasional spikes at up to 12W – LP3), below the nominal TDP of 4.5 W. If I’m not wrong, manufacturers are allowed to set their own Core Package Power. And if that’s the case, final releases might get faster, and at the same time there’s a fair chance we’ll see more powerful Core M devices in the future. Upping the Core’s allowed wattage should yield significantly better performance.
Update: I recently tested another Core M device, the Asus T300FA, and you can read my detailed impressions here. Based on my experience with this unit, I can conclude the Core M platform is theoretically far more capable than this Lenovo implementation delivers. The lower-end Core M-5Y10 CPU on the Asus performed smoother and was able to maintain higher frequencies throughout all everyday activities, unlike the Core M-5Y70 processor on the Yoga 3 Pro, which is on paper a faster solution. I can’t say for sure if the final version of the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro will suffer from the same issues as this test model, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled for further reviews and update the post when needed.
Anyway, whether Lenovo’s temp/W caps are too aggressive or not cannot be confirmed for now, I’ll have to get my hands on other Broadwell Y implementations, confront results and then draw conclusions. In the meantime, check out the pictures and this sections and draw your owns. Would love to hear what you think about this platform in the comments section at the end of the post.
Now, I should also tell you a couple of words about the hefty collection of preinstalled software features Lenovo put on this laptop. There’s for instance this thing called Onekey Optimizer, meant to keep the system in perfect shape. It can clean-up junk files, accelerate certain processes and even some apps (although that will require a lot of memory and personally, I haven’t seen any gains with it active), show a status of your battery and a few other things.
There’s also Harmony, which, and I quote “gives YOGA owners a new way to discover applications and customize how they behave when used. For example, when reading an e-book, Harmony will automatically change the brightness and color temperature according to the environment lighting. When using presentation software, Harmony can enable motion control or touch depending on the mode, or when watching video it can optimize the audio settings.“, and things like the MaxxAudio app (let’s you tweak the sound) or the Photo Master image viewer.
I’m not a big fan of these preinstalled programs and would probably wipe them out hoping I could make the laptop faster, since there would be less stuff running in the background, but that’s just me. You on the other hand might want to give them a chance.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers and others
The Yoga 3 Pro runs mostly cool and quiet.
There is a fan inside though, placed in the laptop’s upper right corner and pushing hot air through the very narrow cooling grill hidden behind the metallic hinge. And this fan is active pretty much all the time, but even at high speed it’s not very noisy. In fact, the Yoga 3 Pro is for sure quieter under load than its predecessor.
You can check out the fan in the picture below, taken from the disassemble guide available here. You’ll also find out from the guide that the storage is upgradeable on this Yoga (There’s a Liteon L8T-256L9G NGFF SSD on our test unit which can be replaced with a larger compatible stick) and so is the mSATA Broadcom wireless chip.
If you’ll leave the laptop idle, the fan will eventually turn off. But even in this case, there’s a faint buzzing coming from the laptop’s same top-right area, which you’ll hear in a completely quiet room. The moment you launch anything on the computer, a browser page or even a text doc, the fan kicks in, which I find a bit too rushed. Lenovo should have left a headroom in order to make light daily use quieter.
When it comes to temperatures, the inner hardware reaches values of 75-77 C (the CPU and GPU) in certain cases, while the outer body goes to between 35 to 38C in its hottest areas. Check out the numbers below. Load temperatures are measured under stress (Prime 95 + Furmark), but the hardware actually gets hotter in everyday use than in this scenarios (when it throttles badly, as mentioned above), which actually translates in 0.5 to 1 degrees C higher body temperatures as well, for instance when running 1080p high bitrate video or heavily browsing.
As a bottom point, I had absolutely no problem using this on my lap, not even when running more intense things on it, as long as it’s not in direct contact with the skin.
Next, the speakers… I can’t say for sure how loud they are because on this unit, the left one wasn’t working at all. The SINGLE right speaker that was working pushed decent quality audio, quite good I might even say for an ultrabook, with very few vibrations and no distortions, even at max volume.
I took some time to test the Wi-Fi performance because, one, that was a problem on the early Y2P versions, and two, Lenovo aren’t using the “recommended” Intel wireless chip on their device, but opted for a Broadcom 802.11ac adapter. Luckily, I couldn’t find anything wrong with this approach; the laptop was able to maximize my Internet connection and the signal remained strong (4 bars) at 30 feet with 3 walls in between, without significant speed drops.
Last I should mention the webcam. It sits on top of the screen, while the two microphones are placed beneath the glass, and to put it in a few words, it’s one of the worst I’ve seen in the last years, as it captures incredibly noisy pictures even when there’s a fair amount of light around. It will probably do for occasional Skype talks, but don’t expect the person at the other end of the line to be too happy with the images coming through.
There’s a 44 Wh 5900 Mah battery inside this Y3P, smaller than on its predecessor, and although paired with this supposedly highly efficient Core M platform, it only translates in about 5, maybe 6 hours of daily use and 4 to 5 hours or playing video content, on Balanced mode, with Wi-Fi ON and the screen’s brightness manually set to 70%, which is roughly 120 nits. Check out the pictures and details below for more details:
- 5.4 W (~8 h of use) – idle, Power Saving Mode, screen at 0%, Wi-Fi ON, keyboard’s back-lightning OFF;
- 7 W (~6 h of use) – very light browsing and text editing in Google Drive, Balanced Mode, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON, keyboard’s back-lightning ON;
- 8.2 W (~5 h 20 min of use) – 1080p video on Youtube in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON, keyboard’s back-lightning OFF;
- 9 W (~5 h of use) – 1080p .mkv video on VLC Player, Balanced Mode, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON, keyboard’s back-lightning OFF;
- 9 W (~5 h of use) – medium browsing in Internet Explorer, Balanced Mode, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON, keyboard’s back-lightning ON;
- 12 W (~4 h 40 min of use) – 1080p video on Youtube in Chrome, Balanced Mode, screen at 70%, Wi-Fi ON, keyboard’s back-lightning OFF.
On the other hand, Lenovo’s power management is historically bad. And that should give us hope for other Core M implementations. We’ll see. Too bad Sony quit their laptop business, they were perhaps the best in this field. Remember the Vaio Duo 13, one of the first 13 inch Haswell ultrabooks ever launched and even today towards the top of the list when it comes to battery life.
That aside, I should tell you a few things about the power adapter on this unit. Charging the laptop takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes. Charging to 90% takes around 2 hours, as the laptop charges at a rate of around 22 Wh till it reaches 80-90% and then slows down. The power brick is compact and has an USB output, so it can charge this laptop, but also other devices if needed. The power cable is a 6 feet long USB-USB, as the charging pin on the laptop is also an USB (remember that I mentioned it acts as an USB 2.0 slot when the laptop is not plugged in). An interesting approach, although I would have preferred a longer cable, this included one feels somewhat restrictive.
Price and availability
The Yoga 3 Pro was initially announced at $1349 for the Intel Core M 5Y70 / 8 GB DDR3 / 256 GB RAM configuration and it’s at the time of this post already “discounted” and selling for $1299 (the Golden and Clementine Orange models, while the Light Silver version is still listed for $1349). Adding an extra 256 GB of storage space would bump the price to $1549.
You should follow this link for the latest discounts and up to date prices.
It’s hard to justify paying $1300 for the Yoga 3 Pro
On the outside, the Yoga 3 Pro looks and feels like a nice upgrade. It’s very thin, light and mostly sturdy built, except for the screen’s hinge. On top of these, the metallic case and fancy hinge mechanism give it a premium allure. Once you’ll open it up you’ll notice the nice screen, the comfortable keyboard and the accurate trackpad, although the non standard keyboard layout will surely steer some of you away, as well as the stubborn click buttons.
On the inside though, the Yoga 3 Pro is less of a success, at least based on this unit I got for tests here. The Core M implementation felt slow, which was not exactly a major surprise, but this laptop wasn’t as energy efficient as advertised and not even fanless (here’s a list of fanless alternatives, if you’re interested), as I was hoping. So the truth is you’ll get significantly better performance and superior battery life with something like the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro or the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 if you really desire the a sleek form-factor, for a fraction of the price.
Thus, unless Lenovo manages to change that on the final release units and deal with the aggressive throttling that simply brings this laptop to its knees in anything but low-level activities, I can’t recommend buying this Yoga 3 Pro. And especially not when it sells for $1300, or more for the beefier configurations. But nevertheless, if you like the design and don’t care about the issues I’ve listed in this review, then this Lenovo 2-in-1 could be the right device for you.
On a first look, the Yoga 3 Pro is stunning, but once you dig a bit deeper, you’ll find out you can get better performance and longer battery life in much cheaper devices
Otherwise, hold your horses and don’t despair, we’ll have plenty of other Broadwell Y ultrabooks available in stores in the next few weeks, and I’ll gather them all in this post. And then we’ll get the Broadwell U entries, early in 2015, for those of you that require snappy performance. And then the Broadwell Ms.
Or in other words, if you’re in the market for a new thin and light laptop with top end features and long battery life, the future looks great. And I believe this Yoga 3 Pro is not representative for these next gen ultrabooks, and not even for the Core M hardware platform. Time will tell.