Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga £999

6th Nov 2012 | 12:29

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga

The 13-inch IdeaPad Yoga mixes the usability of a laptop with tablet swagger

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

Superior quality IPS display; Transforms into a tablet…and more;Top-notch keyboard (for typing); Surprisingly affordable; Snappy performance

Dislike:

No backlit keyboard; Touch response is inconsistent; Average battery life; Not fast enough for gaming; Lacks 1080 screen

Overview

As far as Windows 8 devices go, we're having a hard time seeing any other first-gen Windows 8 system or device being more interesting than Lenovo's 13-inch IdeaPad Yoga. It's attractive, snappy, versatile, and surprisingly affordable.

Microsoft's Surface runs a very-close second in our book. And, just like the Surface, the 13-inch Yoga validates the Windows 8 operating system in a way that the OS itself can't quite accomplish.

More on this in a bit. Let's start from the top.

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga review

Technically speaking, the Yoga is an Ultrabook, primarily because it meets Intel's "Chief River" Ultrabook specification:

  • Intel Ivy Bridge CPU
  • Has dimensions of 13.1" x 8.9" x 0.67"
  • Can resume from hibernation in 7 seconds or under
  • Has USB 3.0 and/or Thunderbolt
  • At least 5 hours of battery life

Even though Lenovo assigns the Yoga to the category of convertible Ultrabook, the manner in which it converts into a tablet and back is unlike any other.

A special patented double hinge allows the keyboard to flip 360 degrees, all the way to beneath the display. The hinge also allows a few other positions. In all, there are four different ways you can set it up: standard laptop mode, tablet mode, tent mode, and stand mode.

These modes aren't just hype; while testing the Yoga, we consistently used three of the four modes throughout the day. Tablet mode while sitting in front of the TV. Stand mode while using it as a second screen. Laptop mode at tables and desks - as well as when inspiration struck while sitting in front of the TV or anywhere else.

The tent mode seems like the least usable, although Lenovo makes the point that this is a perfect position for reading while cooking.

The magic of this convertible is that people who can't live without a keyboard will find the ability to quickly convert the Yoga into a full-fledged, no compromise laptop indispensable - particularly given how great the keyboard it is.

We initially feared that we would dislike how the keyboard felt when folded below the screen in tablet mod, since in this mode, you're essentially gripping the keyboard on the back of the tablet. Aesthetically, it does look a little weird.

However, because of its size, this is not the kind of tablet you'll hold in your hands for long stretches of time. More often than not, it's just resting on your lap. If you really have a problem with this, Lenovo sells a $40 sleeve that you can tuck the bottom half of the Yoga into.

In any case, the keyboard shuts off when it is folded behind the screen - and in the other two non-laptop modes.

All this said, as far as tablet experiences go, the high-quality display makes the Yoga a joy to use in this mode. It's worth noting that, given its screen size, this is not a device that you'll be using much in portrait mode.

(Confession time: it still occasionally blows us away to be holding a screen in our lap that is the same size as our dorm room TV from college in 1992.)

How does the Yoga compare to the non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Air? Pretty favorably. Operating systems notwithstanding, the two systems are virtually identical, except that the Yoga has a 1,600 x 900 display while the MacBook Air has a 1,440 x 900 display. The MacBook Air also has a 512GB solid state storage option, while the Yoga currently only goes to 256GB storage.

The MacBook Air, of course, does not have a hinge that allows you to fold the keyboard behind the screen.

Specifications

The Yoga is aesthetically pleasing, with matte silver trim, and the familiar rubberized coating so many Lenovo laptops have. Size-wise, it's just a little thicker than a MacBook Air's thinnest point. The Ultrabook weighs in at 3.4 pounds, making it about a half-pound heavier than the 13-inch version of the MacBook Air.

Above and beyond the hardware itself, one other innovation bears mentioning: Lenovo's new Motion Control software allows you to input commands Kinect-style into the system via hand gestures the webcam picks up.

Aside from the magic of the dual hinge, the 13-inch Yoga's most outstanding attribute is its remarkable 1600 x 900 IPS display. This screen is everything a laptop screen should be: crisp and bright with accurate color reproduction, and a high-enough resolution that you can't quite make out all the text on the screen from a distance of a couple of feet.

Other key specs in the model we tested include:

  • CPU: 1.70GHz dual-core Core i5-3317U (you can upgrade to a 1.9GHz Core i7-3517U)
  • RAM: 4GB DDR3 (upgradable to 8GB)
  • Storage: 128GB SSD (upgrade to 256GB coming soon)
  • Ports: 1 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, 1 combo jack, 1 HDMI, 1 SD/MMC reader
  • Webcam: 1.0MP 720P front camera
  • Weight: 3.4 pounds (about 0.5 pounds more than a 13-inch MacBook Air

The system comes loaded with Windows 8 by default, but you can also upgrade to Windows 8 Plus.

At press time, the above configuration cost USD $1,000/GBP £999. With the Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM, it costs $1,099, and with the Core i7 configuration and 8GB of RAM, you're looking at $1,299 (we only have the UK price for the base configuration at present).

It's worth noting that the key difference between this 13-inch version and the 11-inch model is that the smaller Yoga (which has not yet been released) is more of a tablet experience versus a full on computing experience. It packs a Tegra 3 processor, 2GB of system memory, 32/64GB storage, and runs Windows RT.

Upgrade options for the Yoga 13 are the CPU, which can be upgraded to a 1.90GHz Core i7-3517 (or downgraded to a Core i3-321); memory (4GB to 8GB), and the SSD (128GB to 256GB in the near future).

Top-notch keyboard

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga review

Lenovo has moved on to Chiclet-style keys on its keyboards, but the company's tradition of delivering world-class typing surfaces continues. The Yoga's six-row keyboard is responsive and a joy to clack away on.

One thing night-time typists will eventually find frustrating is the absence of a backlit keyboard here. This is becoming a standard feature on many laptops, and you'll find yourself wishing for this feature on more than one occasion. (To be fair, the screen is bright enough at the highest setting that you can see the keys with no other light source.)

Yoga's Trackpad looks and feels very similar to Apple's MacBook line, and that's a good thing. You can even swipe left and right on the trackpad to Alt-Tab between open applications. And a special app allows you even more gesture-based controls.

Performance

Benchmarks

  • 3DMark 06: 3,517
  • Cinbench 10: 8,093
  • Battery Eater 05: 177

Okay, so the Yoga is certainly not a gaming beast. But Intel's 1.70 GHz Core i5-3317U, which has two cores capable of delivering four processing threads with bursts up to 2.6GHz, outputs a surprising amount of giddy-up.

Upgrading to the faster Core i7-3517U, which runs at 1.90GHz with bursts of up to 3.0GHz and has a 4MB cache vs. the Core i5-3317's 3MB cache, will give you even more CPU kick.

The presence of the solid state drive, in conjunction with Windows 8's renewed emphasis on fast boot times pretty much results in an instant-on effect when coming out of sleep mode. And booting up the system - something you probably won't do all that much - is equally gratifying, taking less than 10 seconds.

One of the nice things about the Ultrabook specification is that it creates a consistent graphics platform. This should help negate many of the driver-oriented problems that create problems for Windows systems coming out of sleep mode.

Our only real concern is that the battery life is squarely average. In our Battery Eater test, which maxes out the system until the battery dies, we only clocked 177 minutes, which is short of the 200-minute gold standard. This said, in normal day-to-day usage, we experienced closer to six to eight hours of life, depending on the screen brightness and CPU saturation.

In real world terms, the Yoga's performance bodes well for the tablet- and mobile-inspired emphasis Windows 8 brings to bear.

In all instances across all normal and hyper-normal usage (lots of apps open, multiple browser windows, large PPT decks, multiple videos), Windows 8 felt snappy and immediate, with no lags, stutters, or delays whatsoever.

The only real exception (of course) is gaming. While the Core i5's integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 chip makes for fast OS operations, you won't be playing anything but retro-style games (hello, FTL!) and basic MMOs and MOBAs here. This said, for a low-powered system, a 3D Mark score of 8,100 isn't too shabby.

For a consumer laptop, there's refreshingly little bloatware installed. Also refreshing: Lenovo provides some truly helpful first-party software as well, like the presentations app named Lenovo Transition. It allows you to pre-determine which applications automatically launch in full-screen and which do not when you tilt the device.

One of our only real significant problems with the Yoga is that the touch display feels inconsistently accurate. Pinpoint touches on web pages, menus, navigation, and windows felt precise and accurate. But swipe gestures within the Windows OS - particularly those origination off-screen - felt less precise. Most of the time, OS swipes work fine, but every now and then you'll have to repeat one.

Sound quality delivered from the stereo speakers is solid - particularly at lower volume levels - but not great. No surprise there, as very few mobile PCs can boast top-notch sound.

Lenovo's Motion Control is a simplified version of Kinect that uses the Yoga's webcam to detect simple gestures to cycle through music tracks, pages of text, and more. With it activated, all you have to do is slowly swipe your hand in the air left-to-right or right-to-left to make it happen. It's pretty cool, although having the webcam on all the time will make some people nervous.

How does Windows 8 do?

Because it's a new OS, any distillation of a Windows 8 system has to include some observations about the inner workings of the operating system, particularly in regards to how it works with, enhances, or impairs the hardware side of the equation.

Because of its versatility, the Yoga is a great way to show off the powers and capabilities of Windows 8. It is essentially capable of taking on the profile of an All-in-One PC; you can just swivel the lower half of the device into stand mode, for easy listening or viewing.

In a similar manner, when you're on the couch in front of the TV, the tablet form-factor allows you to take advantage of the redesigned Internet Explorer browsing experience as well as quickly navigating between apps in the Metro UI (aforementioned touch inconsistencies notwithstanding).

Also: This is a perfect second-screen device for Xbox 360 gaming, thanks to Microsoft's SmartGlass app.

However, this same versatility also accentuates a few of the operating system's flaws. The most obvious examples are the constant transitioning between the Metro shell and the Windows 8 desktop, or the inability to quickly access the Control Panel from the desktop. The lack of the Start button on the desktop really stands out here, as does the inability to quickly access the file manager.

At a deeper level, the Yoga's flexibility makes me want the ability to easily throw what's on it onto a bigger screen, like MacBooks and iPads can via Apple TV. Unfortunately, the OS isn't there yet, but it could be very soon.

We'll stop pining away because ultimately, Windows 8 makes the Yoga better, not worse. Once more apps starting coming through, it will function even better. Honestly, this device wouldn't even exist without it.

Verdict

Wrapping up our review of Lenovo's Yoga 13, the best thing we can say about it is that the flexibility its unique hinge permits is no gimmick. Quite the opposite, in fact. Of the four positions you can set the Yoga up in, we used three of them all the time.

As far as tablet experiences go, a 13-inch screen may seem like overkill, until you're holding it on your lap. And, practically speaking, we love that if you see something in the tablet or other non-laptop modes that merits a deeper dive, you can pull the keyboard out and get busy.

We liked

It's easy to look at our benchmark numbers and see a system that isn't very fast. But after using the Yoga full-time for a week, there's nothing to complain about performance-wise…unless you want to play high-end games.

We also like the laptop's aesthetics, which is all too often under-rated in the rough-and-tumble world of mobile PCs. The $1,000.00 base price feels like a good deal, given the Yoga's unique nature and the components inside.

Aside from Microsoft's own-brand Surface tablet, this is an ideal flagship device for Microsoft and Windows 8. As much as possible, it takes complete advantage of the Windows 8 environment, particularly the Metro UI.

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga review

We disliked

When one of the biggest complaints about a product is that it doesn't have a backlit keyboard, you know you're onto something good. Even our concerns around the touch screen are mitigated by the fact that more than nine times out of ten, it works just fine.

Our concerns about the battery life were alleviated when the Yoga averaged six to eight hours per charge. While the it didn't perform anywhere above average with the Battery Eater 05 test, it proved itself capable during real world usage.

Finally, in an ideal world, we'd see finer 3D performance out of Intel's integrated graphics part. This said, the fact that Ivy Bridge can put up a score of 3,500 in 3D Mark 06 merits praise, and we're sure to see improvement with Intel's release of Haswell in mid-2013.

Final verdict

Because all Windows 8 Ultrabooks share the same specification - at press time, every Ultrabook featured the same base processor - hardware and design will be the differentiating factor for the next half year, and possibly longer. That means aesthetics, batteries, input device, and other intangibles will matter more than anything else.

With the hyper-flexible Yoga, Lenovo has the most, or at least the first, meaningful intangible. For now, it's hard to imagine anyone topping a device that can be favorably compared to other laptops as well as tablet convertibles.

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