In this post we’re going to take a detailed look at the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga.
This one is Lenovo’s first attempt at merging the versatility of the Yoga form-factor, with its 360 flippable screen, and the business-grade characteristics of the iconic ThinkPad line.
And for a first try, they actually did a phenomenal job with it. Well-suited for business users, artist or students, the ThinkPad Yoga is for sure a laptop to reckon and a fairly good tablet as well, especially if you’re going for one of the top versions, bundled with a pen and a digitizer. But more about those in a sec.
For now, I must tell you that this tested ThinkPad Yoga was sent-over by Lenovo, and I got to use it for about a week before giving it back. It’s a shelf unit (can be bought in stores over here) and one of the base models available, as you can see from the detailed spec sheet below, starting at a little over $1000 / 1000 euros. As a result, it lacks some features available on the more expensive versions, but most of the aspects we’re going to discuss in this review apply to the entire ThinkPad Yoga series.
So, without any further ado, let’s get started with this Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga review.
Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga full specs sheet
||Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga
||12.5 inch, 1366 x 768 px resolution, IPS, touchscreen
||Intel Haswell Core i5-4200U CPU
||Intel 4400 HD
||4 GB DDR3
||1 TB 5400 rpm HDD + 16 GB cache SSD
||Wireless N, Bluetooth 4.0
||2 x USB 3.0, SD card reader, mini HDMI, volume rocker
||12.46″ x 8.70″ x 0.76″ / 316 x 220 mm x 19.5 mm
||about 1.59 kg (3.52 pounds)
||backlit keyboard, screen flips 360 degrees on the back, MIL-SPECS compliant
Design and exterior
To some of you, the ThinkPad Yoga might appear to be dull. To others, it might well be the perfect looking ultrabook. And that’s because this is a simple, classy looking device, with a completely black shell. Magnesium is used for the entire case, while the two rather-large hinges are made from a zync alloy.
Simple, black exterior
They are actually strong enough to hold the screen properly in place, and that’s an important aspect, as the display folds around the back, a characteristic feature of the Yoga lines. That’s why the ThinkPad Yoga is a versatile machine. You can use it a standard laptop (and you can lean the screen as much as you need to, on the back), or flip the screen pass 180 degrees, all the way till it lies completely flat of the laptop’s belly. In this case, the TPY is more-or-less a Windows running tablet. More, because it actually is a fully-fledged tablet, less because at 3.5 pounds, the Yoga is not as comfortable to use as the tablets you might be already familiar with. Even so, watching movies, browsing or reading entire documents are just some situations where a large-screen slate comes in handy.
Last but not least, there are the Stand and the Tent modes, useful as well in certain situations.
Now, all these modes are not revolutionary, Lenovo first introduced them with their original IdeaPad Yoga almost two years ago. However, there is one particular aspect that was changed on the ThinkPad Yoga. On all previous Yogas, the keyboard remained exposed when flipping the screen. On this one, there’s this so called “Lift’n Lock” system. When the screen is folded back in tablet mode, the keyboard’s tray rises and mechanically locks the keys in place, so they are not only deactivated, but cannot be pressed either. That might sound like a gimmick, but it actually makes using the laptop in tablet mode more comfortable.
But enough about the Yoga part of this ultrabook. Let’s get to the ThinkPad side. The TPY is feels incredibly durable. It has to pass of course those MIL-SPECS for pressure, dust, temperatures, etc. But you’ll feel the roughness in everyday use as well. For instance, the lid cover does not bend at all and actually pressing the lid cover as much as I could resulted in zero ripples on the panel, which is extremely rare for a thin-and-light laptop these days.
You can use the ThinkPad Yoga as a large tablet as well
Besides that, the entire body is practically built. Both the outer case and the palm-rest are covered in soft materials, there are no sharp edges or corners whatsoever, the cooling system pushes the hot air towards the back, away from the user, and the ports are smartly lined on the sides, towards the rear.
Speaking of ports though, Lenovo had to sacrifice those on the Yoga, which only offers two USB 3.0 slots (one on each side), a card-reader (which can fit an entire SD card), the charger port, a Kensington Lock and a mini-DisplayPort connector. No VGA, no DP, no Ethernet. However, theirs is one connector right next to the power-pin that let’s you stick in one of those Lenovo OneLink docking units, which add a whole bunch of extra ports. But those will cost around $120, and having the ports on an external accessory is not the same as having them on the unit itself.
Anyway, long story short, the ThinkPad Yoga is a practical and incredibly solid built ultrabook. It lacks the fuss or the fancy materials found on other devices (brushed metal, glass, etc) and it is bulkier and heavier than most other ultrabooks in it class. But I’d trade those anytime for the convertible screen and the build quality.
But let’s get back to that screen. All ThinkPad Yogas offer a 12.5 touchscreen, covered by a limited-glare lair of Gorilla Glass. However, there’s only a 1366 x 768 px IPS panel on this base version, while others pack 1080p panels with digitizer support. This version lacks the digitizer and the matching Wacom Pen as well, so I can’t tell you anything about those in this review.
But I can tell you that the screen, despite it’s lower pixel density, is quite good. Can’t complain about the brightness, colors, contrast and viewing angles, although this is only a budget display and there are clearly better alternatives out there. However, adding the Full HD panel with the digitizer and pen will cost around $250 extra, so if you’re on a tighter budget, this entry-level panel will probably do just fine.
Fairly good screen, even on this entry-level configuration
Keyboard and trackpad
Now, let’s turn our attention on the keyboard and trackpad. There’s a AcuType style chiclet keyboard on this device, like on all the ThinkPads launched lately. The rubber coated keys with a slightly curved surface offer perhaps the best feedback you’re going to get in this class, despite the fact that the travel distance is still fairly limited.
There’s little to complain about the layout either, as we do get large arrow keys on this ThinkPad, plus properly sized Shift, Enter, etc keys. Besides that, the FN and CTRL keys on the left side can be switched in BIOS, and the functional keys can toggle certain aspects or work as regular F keys, and you can jump from one mode to the other by hitting FN+ESC.
As for the clickpad, it’s spacious and smooth, performs fairly well and supports all sorts of gestures. The entire surface is click-able, and while it’s not always performing exactly how you’d want, it’s again better than what’s available on most other Windows laptops. And of course, if the click-pad is not your thing, you do get a TrackPoint as well on this machine.
A proper keyboard
Hardware, performances and upgrade options
OK, so you do know quite a lot about this laptop by now. But how about how it fairs with the everyday hassle?
We only have the base configuration for this review
Before we get to talk about performances though, I once again have to mention that we have the base-model here. It comes with an Intel Core i5-4200U processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 1 TB 5400 rpm HDD with a 16 GB caching SSD. You can however spec this up to a Core i7-4600U processor, 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD. All options share the same Intel HD 4400 graphics chip.
You should know that both the CPUs and the RAM are soldered onto the motherboard, so you’ll have to get the ones you want from starters, as there’s no way to upgrade those. However, for storage, the ThinkPad Yoga uses a 2.5 inch 7 mm drive and M.2 SSDs as well. In fact, the caching SSD on this unit is a 42 mm M.2 Sandisck U110. Or in other words, it is replaceable.
I haven’t tested this myself, but it looks like it is possible to get a larger compatible SSD on that M.2 port and use it as a boot drive. However, there aren’t any options larger than 128 GBs right now, but those should do OK for the OS and the main programs. You can then keep a HDD for main storage, or if the budget allows, replace it with a 2.5 inch SSD as well.
Long story short, the ThinkPad Yoga leaves room for some upgrades and supports dual-storage solutions. So you can buy it with a cheaper HDD and then upgrade it by yourself, saving some money in the process.
Back to those performances, this tested unit only comes with a HDD. So it’s no surprise that it’s not that zippy. Booting from cold takes 30+ seconds, launching apps takes longer than you might expect from an ultrabook and so on. But this bottleneck called HDD can be addressed. Anyway, here’s what to expect in terms of benchmark results from this unit, in case this aspect matters for you:
- 3DMark 13: IceStrom – 40440, Cloud Gate – 4281, Fire Strike – 578;
- PCMark 07: 3788;
- CineBench 11.5: OpenGL 18.52 fps, CPU 2.49 pts;
Bottom point, the base version of the ThinkPad Yoga is not lightning fast, but if you’re budget allows, this laptop can become quite a powerful beast.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity and others
What matters even more , at least in my book, is how cool and quiet this ThinkPad runs. With light use, you’ll barely hear the fan spinning (although it is ON most of the time), while the HDD cranks from time to time. Under load, you’ll heard the fan in a quiet room, but the noise is never going to get annoying. Nor will the temperatures, as the TPY will only get somewhat warm on the back when pushing it.
One thing to add though, this laptop draws fresh air from the belly, so it’s advisable not to have that grill covered, especially when performing heavier tasks on it.
Now, before we get to draw conclusions, there are a few small, but important aspects to consider.
The 720p webcam for instance, which is rather mediocre. And so are are the speakers, built inside the screen’s hinge: loud enough, but tiny and lacking any kind of bass.
As for the connectivity options, the ThinkPad Yoga offer both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. However, there are a few different Wireless modules available: single-band (2.4 Ghz only) Intel N 7260, dual-band Intel N 7260 and dual-band Intel AC 7260. This unit comes with the first and also the poorest option. But it performed well in my tests, so I can’t really complain here. However, if you need the extra speed or need to use the 5 GHz band for whatever reason, I’d advice going for the Intel Wireless 7260 AC version, it’s only about $30 over the base option.
And there’s also the battery life. Lenovo put a fair-sized 47 Wh battery inside this laptop, which is however smaller than what’s on the Yoga 2 Pro. There’s also a spinning HDD on the test unit, which is not as efficient as an SSD, but despite all these, the ThinkPad Yoga lasted for between 6 to 7 hours on a charge, while performing various everyday tasks ( browsing, writing texts, watching some clips, listening to some music – screen at 60%, Balanced mode, Wi-Fi ON). And while you can get better from other Haswell laptops, it’s still a fairly good result.
Expect about 6 hours of daily use from the 47 Wh Battery
Prices and availability
Time to talk numbers.
The ThinkPad Yoga starts these days at $999 in the US. An Intel Core i5-4200U / 4 GB / 128 GB SSD configuration, with the same HD screen, sells for around $1050 on Lenovo’s website, and is the closest we can get to our tested configuration. With a HDD, the same config should go for closer to $1000, or about 1000 euros over here in Europe.
That’s a fair price, for what you’re getting.
But I’m pretty sure many of you will be more interested in higher end configurations, that’s why you should know that the Core i7-4500U / 8 GB / 128 GB version with the Full HD screen and digitizer/pen has a list price of around $1600. And that’s not cheap anymore, especially if you’ll consider the extra money required to upgrade the storage.
So at the end of the day, if you want a beefy ThinkPad Yoga, prepare to break the bank for it. Even so, the TPY is properly overpriced. In fact, you’ll have a hard time finding other convertible ultrabooks with powerful specs and digitizer-enabled screens for the same kind of money. Not to mention the solid and practical body, the good keyboard and trackpad and last, but for sure not least, the flippable screen. Plus all its other positive aspects.
In fact, there’s little not to like about this laptop. Things like the webcam or the speakers, the limited selection of ports and the average battery life are a few of those, but most of you will probably live with those just fine. That’s why the ThinkPad Yoga , just like the Yoga 2 Pro I’ve tested a while ago, is one of the best ultrabooks money can buy these days.
But it might well not be the one for you. You might want something lighter and more compact, something more affordable or something able to last longer a on a charge, in which case, my selection of the best ultrabooks of 2014 is the perfect place to start your search, or my list of affordable ultrabooks or convertibles. Have a look.
All these being said, we’re drawing the line on this Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga review. Thanks for sticking by and if you have any questions or things to add, just post your comments below, I’ll be around to reply.
The Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga is one of the best ultrabooks money can buy right now
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