Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro £833
14th Dec 2013 | 00:15
A welcome upgrade to Lenovo's flagship Ultrabook
Lenovo has been breaking ground in the convertible ultrabook world with its Yoga line. In our Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga review we found ourselves surprisingly pleased with this versatile hybrid laptop and its solid performance. Even if we didn't use the Yoga as a tablet, we often flipped the keyboard back to poke through Windows 8 live tiles or watch some Netflix.
What we didn't like were mostly minor complaints. The keyboard, the trackpad, and the screen were all winners. The absence of a backlit keyboard was a mild annoyance, while the lack of a true 1080 display was a read missed opportunity. At the time, we also expressed concerns that the Yoga was actually exposing some of Windows 8's weaknesses.
With the Yoga 2 Pro Lenovo produced a noteworthy refresh to a device that increasingly looks like it will be a mainstay of the PC maker's lineup for the foreseeable future. A 3200 x 1800 display (known as QHD+, or WQXGA for the truly in the know) is the most significant enhancement, but the new hybrids also have a Haswell processor, some subtle enhancements to the chassis, and a few extra touches in the bundled software.
All things considered, these are all welcome enhancements, although once again, Lenovo's forward-thinking design exposes some surprising flaws in Windows 8's ability to handle super HD resolutions on a portable form-factor.
What could possibly be bad about a QHD+ 3200 x 1800 display? We'll get to that in good time. For now, let's start at the top.
One final note before we dive in: there aren't a great number of competitors in the super high-resolution ultrabook category. The Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus is one—it sports near-identical specifications to the Yoga 2—and the 13-inch MacBook Pro is another. Both cost 40% to 50% more than this system.
Sleek, modern…and versatile
As the saying goes, you don't fix what isn't broken. In addition to its unprecedented flexibility, the original Yoga's sleek, rubberized chassis was one of the laptop's most remarked-upon attributes. Thinking clearly, Lenovo has changed barely a thing, aesthetically speaking.
Part of the joy of reviewing this new Yoga Pro 2 was putting it in people's hands. Everyone remarked on its nice it look and feel, thanks to a thin profile, sturdy chassis, and that grippy, rubberized surface that we mentioned, which coats the entire device.
Just like last year, the most striking and still unique aspect of the Yoga 2 Pro is the fact that you can flip the screen back 360 degrees until it rests flat against the backside of the keyboard. This permits four operating modes.
Laptop mode is your standard 90-degree angle, with the advantage that the Yoga 2 Pro's flexible hinge allows you to lay the screen completely flat, which is actually quite handy for situations where you're standing up and need access to the keyboard.
The most useful mode next to laptop mode would be tent mode. By setting the tablet on its top and bottom edges, the devices functions like a tablet in a stand. The new rubberized bevel edges earn their keep in this mode. The old Yoga would sometimes slide a bit on slippery surfaces. Not anymore. It's perfect for glancing at a recipe while cooking or setting the Yoga 2 Pro up on cluttered tablet tops.
Stand mode is essentially tent mode, but with a little more sturdiness and support. The key difference is that it has a bigger footprint, so you'll need to clear off more of your desk before touchdown.
A special hinge on the Yoga 2 allows you to fold the screen all the way back for tablet mode. Unfortunately, just like the original Yoga, the 13-inch Yoga 2 Pro is a little too large to use comfortably in tablet mode. Also a repeat of the original: the presence of the keyboard on the backside of said tablet is obstructive and annoying. This said, the notion of playing full-fledged, touch-optimized PC games like Civilization V in this mode is fairly joyous, even if the device is too heavy to hold in your hands.
Going from the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga to the Yoga 2 Pro, Lenovo did make a few minor adjustments to the chassis, including a new backlit keyboard—an increasingly essential feature of any modern laptop. The new rubberized rim around the top bezel is welcome, since it prevents sliding when in tent mode. Furthermore, the power button is now located on the right side of the device, making it less likely that you'll turn the system on when it's in your bag.
Finally, at 3.06 pounds the Yoga 2 Pro is about a half-pound lighter than last year's 3.4 pound model. And at 13 x 8.7 x 0.61 inches in size (W x D x H), it's a shave thinner—.05 inches to be exact—than last year's model.
This year, in addition to the standard silver color, the Yoga 2 Pro also comes in a lovely electric orange trim. A fairly wide number of different configurations insure that you will be able to find an ideal price-performance ratio.
ThinkPad Yoga vs. Yoga 2 Pro
It's worth comparing the Yoga 2 Pro to Lenovo's new ThinkPad Yoga. Both systems have the same 360-degree hinge, and the same set of CPU, memory, and drive configurations (minus the 512GB option on the ThinkPad Yoga).
The big differences between the two are that the ThinkPad Yoga only has a standard HD 1920 x 1080 IPS display in comparison to the
Ultimately, these distinctions feel like arbitrary lines in the sand. It would be easy to argue that more productivity-minded version of the Yoga would benefit more from the QHD+ display than the more consumer minded Yoga 2 Pro. Similarly, you could also make the case that the fold-away keyboard would be of equal benefit to consumers sitting on the couch than it would be to work-oriented road-warriors.
One final difference: at 12.46 x 8.70 x 0.76 inches (W x D x H), the ThinkPad Yoga is a little trimmer width-wise, but a little thicker. At 3.52 pounds, it also weighs a little under a half pound more than the Yoga 2 Pro.
The system specs of the review unit Lenovo sent us were:
- CPU: 1.6GHz Core i5 4200U
- RAM: 4GB of DDR3
- Screen: 3,200 x 1,800 IPS multi-touch display
- Storage: 128GB SSD
- Ports: 1 USB 3.0, 1 powered USB 2.0, headphone/mic jack, micro HDMI-out, SD/MMC card reader
- Webcam: 720P front-facing camera
- Weight: 3.06 pounds
- Size: 13 x 8.66 x 0.61 inches
The major upgrade here is the inclusion of Intel's new Haswell architecture in the form of the Core i5 4200U processor. A dual-core part built specifically for ultrabooks, the 4200U appears to be an ideal fit for the Yoga 2 Pro given its solid CPU performance. Each core operates at 1.6GHz, but the presence of Turbo Boost means it can throttle up to 2.3GZ with both cores active, and 2.6GHz with a single core active.
The key advantage Haswell provides over the Ivy Bridge Core i5-3317U part from last year's Yoga is power savings. We'll get into that a bit more in the performance section, but without Haswell, we shudder to think what kind of battery life the Yoga 2 Pro would have.
In addition to the 1.6GHz Core i5 4200U we reviewed, Lenovo offers two other CPUs for this system, including an upgrade to the 1.80GHz Core i7 4500U part, and a lesser 1.7GHz Core i3 4010U. Both of these processors are also Haswell-based. The former offers a little more power under the hood with very little additional power consumption. The latter provides a more affordably-priced configuration, but with no CPU throttling Turbo Boost support. If we had our druthers, we'd choose the higher-end Core i7 part for this system.
Intel's integrated HD Graphics 4400 provides the pixel-pushing muscle for the display and 3D graphics. It's par for the course, and is integrated into all three of the CPUs available for this device.
At press time, the price for the configuration above was US$999.00. That's a pretty solid price point, given the blend of modern parts—especially the high-quality QHD display.
In addition to the CPU options noted above, buyers can also choose less memory (2GB vs. 4GB), or double the RAM to 8GB. In addition to the 128GB drive our review unit shipped with, two other hard drive configurations are offered, at 256GB and 512GB. Prices range from $949 to $1,499 fully loaded.
Technophiles who want more future-proof PC computing will be disappointed that the Yoga 2 Pro does not have a built-in 802.11ac network adapter. It currently only supports b/g/n standards. While it is true that the specification yet to be finalized, and probably won't be completely locked until early 2014, there are already a number of pre-802.11ac routers on the market, and a select few laptops—including Apple's newest MacBook Air—have integrated 802.11ac adapters.
High-speed junkies, please note that there is no built-in Ethernet jack on this system; you'll have to buy a separately-sold dongle for that.
It didn't blow us away, but the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro performed quite capably in most of our tests. The tale, as they say, lies in the tape:
- Cinebench - 9,125 (4,016 with 1x CPU)
- 3DMark - Ice Storm: 23,032 // Cloud Gate: 3,397 // Fire Storm: 545
- PC Mark – Home: 2,471 // Work: 3,309
- PC Mark Battery life - 190 minutes
What do the numbers tell us? First, that this is a reasonably configured device, capable of holding its own against other systems in the $1,000 or more ultrabook category. For this category, that's fairly common, and on par with other Haswell-based devices.
Truthfully, unless you play games, an SSD and Windows 8 are a great equalizer for price and performance in today's PC market, so it is no surprise that in real life we were satisfied with the Yoga 2's overall performance. The only thing you don't want with a Windows 8 ultrabook is an experience that is demonstrably slow, and that is definitely not the case here.
Boot times and all app launches are pretty much instantaneous thanks to the SSD. And while the integrated HD graphics aren't going to allow you to play Call of Duty Ghosts at any level of respectability, you can play most of the mid-tier Steam games—including new releases like The Wolf Among Us—at moderate settings.
As we noted at the top, there aren't very many ultrabooks with QHD+ displays. The Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus is one such system, and it put up superior numbers across the board by 20% to 30%.
In the Yoga 2's defense, it does cost $400 less than the ATIV Book 9 Plus, and $500 less than Apple's newest, and quite awesome MacBook Pro.
Battery performance is a concern
The biggest weakness of the Yoga 2 Pro is its mediocre battery life. In PC Mark's built-in battery benchmark, we realized just over three hours of performance. That's actually not a bad result for a conventional laptop's synthetic test. But for a Haswell-equipped ultrabook? We expected, or at least hoped for more.
When you consider the 5.8 million pixels the system is pushing around, the middling battery life becomes a bit more understandable. In real life, what do these synthetic results mean? In real-work mode, you'll likely get just around five hours of battery life—if you keep the screen fairly dim. And in a more work-and-sleep mode, you'll get maybe six hours, depending on your battery settings. While writing this very review, we watched with dismay as the Yoga 2 Pro's battery drained to zero in about five and a half hours at full screen brightness.
Mouse and keyboard
The Yoga's keyboard hasn't changed since last year's model except that now the keyboard is backlit. The first Yoga sorely lacked this feature, which always comes in handy when working on a plane or late into the night. As far as key presses go it's fine, and offers decent response.
The trackpad has something of a learning curve. Out of the box, it had what felt like a slightly gritty, film over the pad itself, and the end result was that we struggled to throw the mouse around the screen. After about 10 days, we broke through whatever barrier was slowing us down, and it began to feel like we expect a touchpad to feel like: smooth, sleek, and responsive.
The display has it—mostly
Without a doubt, the Yoga 2 Pro's 13-inch screen is a remarkable feat of engineering. At 3200 x 1800 pixels, it out Retina Displays the MacBook Pro series. We know this much: QHD+ is a whole lot of pixels; it literally doubles the 1600 x 900 screen density of last year's Yogas like Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga.
Resolution is only part of the win here. Lenovo's use of a high-quality IPS panel also makes for a very crisp, viewable screen. The Yoga 2 is bright (350 nits) and offers excellent viewing angles. For a portable like this that will often be used in kitchens and living rooms, both of these attributes are important. At just $1,000 USD, it's a sure sign that in 2014 we'll be entering a laptop display war. By January 2015, we bet that more than half of all laptops in the $1,000+ range have hyper-HD screens.
Unfortunately, not all is perfect with the Yoga 2 Pro's screen. Last November, in our Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga review, we felt that it because it was such a forward thinking laptop, it actually exposed some of the flaws of Windows 8. Unfortunately, the same can be said here.
Time after time, we found that Windows 8 struggled with the super high resolution, which created some odd inconsistencies and unpredictable behaviors in day-to-day operations. Most of these frustrations occurred in desktop mode, but some oddities did crop up in Metro as well.
The short version of our difficulties boiled down to a conflict between such a high resolution display on such a relatively small screen. As an example, in Outlook, the main inbox/calendar window used an oversized cursor, but when we switched to the composition window, the cursor would shrink in size. Similarly in Chrome, the browser tabs suddenly became microscopic in size, even though there was plenty of real estate to display web site names in each one. (This occurred in both desktop and Metro modes.)
Over and over again, we experienced these frustrations, until we finally figured out a solution that addressed most of these issues. In Windows 8, navigate to Display > Screen Resolution, and then click "Make text and other items larger or smaller". From here, you can simply set the "Change the size of all items" field to scale the resolution in an appropriate manner. Large (150%) felt like the best fit—it did result in some fairly small fonts, but it also resulted in an abnormally large amount of real estate.
For what it's worth, TechRadar experienced the same display frustrations with Windows 8 on theSamsung ATIV Book 9 Plus. It's probably no surprise that we experienced no such frustrations with Apple's new MacBooks.
We know this much: Microsoft needs to address this kind of inconsistency with hyper-HD resolutions immediately. Running a 3200 x 1800 display in 1080p mode may be okay with most people—it does look quite nice—but it's squandering so much potential for the power user.
Interesting bundled software and camera
Lenovo bundles some interesting first-party utilities with the Yoga 2 Pro. Power users probably won't use them, but we can imagine less nerdy owners experimenting with some or all of these built-in apps. Here is a short breakdown of each:
- Smart Voice: This utility allows you to perform some basic, Kinect-like voice controls with your laptop.
- Phone companion: If you have an Android phone, you can pair it with your Yoga 2 Pro, and sync contacts, photos, and more. You can also send and receive text messages and even make phone calls using the laptop's mic and speakers. It's actually pretty great. In the world of iOS and MacOS, this is rapidly becoming a given. Microsoft should be embracing this kind of functionality with Android. Sadly, it is not.
- Camera Man: Allows you to take pictures of yourself using the Lenovo's 720p webcam, and enhance those pictures with a variety of special effects.
- Chef: This app, which contains thousands of free recipes and allows you to navigate and interact with the recipes using voice and hands-free gesture controls, is one of the most useful pieces of software we've seen bundled into a laptop. Very cool.
- Photo Touch: This add-on allows you to enhance photographs with a touch-optimized user interface. It's actually surprisingly useful if you don't already have a preferred app for basic photo editing.
- Yoga Picks: This software detects what mode you're operating in—laptop, tent, stand, or tablet—and pops up a message in the top right-hand corner of the device that allows you to click in order to get some mode-specific app recommendations. Lame for the power user, but we bet it's the kind of feature that will make casual users happy.
With the Yoga 2 Pro, Lenovo has built an attractive, fun to hold and easy to carry ultrabook. It's not a knockout in the performance department, but it's no slouch either, and its reasonable asking price serves as a nice counterbalance.
Battery life could be better though, since that's the kind of thing the ultrabook crowd covets. We also struggled to find reasons to flip the machine out of laptop mode, and it's simply too chunky and key-covered to use for very long in tablet mode.
There is a lot to like here, starting with the laudable Yoga 2 Pro's screen. We can now confirm that 3,200 x 1,800 pixels is delicious indeed. If configured properly, it delivers what we consider the holy grail of productivity computing: the ability to have two full-sized applications open side-by-side on the same screen.
Better yet, non-action gamers will love the ability to run their games at such high resolution. Civilization V in particular is spectacular on this screen. We say "non-action" because at this high a resolution without discrete graphics, 3D intensive performance is out of the question. Is it too much to ask for a discrete GPU in next year's model? We think not.
We've always liked the Yoga's form-factor, flexibility, and design, and we still like it with the 2 Pro. Lenovo has crafted a mainstay laptop model here—one of those rare systems that will appeal to both tech nerds and tech nerds' parents alike. It's easier said than done.
Finally, we liked the little things the Yoga 2 gets right: the solid performance, the backlit six-row keyboard, and the all-important presence of an SSD, which creates mobile device response times. We were also pleasantly surprised by the Yoga 2 Pro's speakers, which provided a surprising amount of kick and mid/high response for such a thin and light laptop.
The biggest concern with the Yoga 2 Pro is battery life. In our opinion and experience, a Haswell-based ultrabook this thin should run twice as long as the Yoga 2 Pro does on a full charge; we got about five hours in our testing. The awesome, over-powered display is almost certainly to blame here—pushing 3.7 million more pixels around than a traditional HD screen is going to leave a mark on battery performance. This is an unfortunate trade-off, and it's too bad Lenovo couldn't have found a way to include a bigger battery.
Given the configuration options above, our concerns about hard drive space aren't really a dislike, but more of a growing concern that could be applied to most ultrabooks. Even with the proliferation of cloud services like Google Drive, Skydrive and Dropbox, the large number of songs and photos we all carry with us from device to device make it hard to recommend a 128GB for anyone—even your grandparents.
Finally, we saw one weird glitch in the Yoga 2 Pro. Whenever the system came out of sleep mode, the audio settings would reset. If we had the laptop on mute, and closed the lid, when we turned it back on, the audio would no longer be muted. We expect that this will be resolved at some point through some kind of update.
This is a great laptop. If you were to take the Yoga 2 Pro back in time 3 years and show it to anyone—including a TechRadar editor—they would have been ecstatic. This kind of performance and a 3200 x 1800 screen with over three hours of battery life was literally impossible on a Windows-based portable in 2010.
Some of Lenovo's pre-loaded software borders on bloat, and we struggled to find more than handful of uses for half of the Yoga's operating modes. It's also a shame that the battery life is so low, for Haswell as least, but you are getting that gorgeous display as a trade off. For what you're paying, you're getting your money's worth.
The Yoga 2 Pro is a winner of a laptop, pure and simple. At the $1,000 price point, you could put the Yoga 2 Pro in just about anyone's hands and make them feel quite pleased.