The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 may well be recognized as the best Windows-based slate on the market, but when it comes to actual hybrid devices, we think Lenovo's ThinkPad Yoga is the one to beat.
The ThinkPad Yoga is basically a regular laptop first and foremost and it doesn't have the bulk or awkwardness that are usually associated with other Windows 2-in-1 hybrid devices. There is no separation between the screen and the body, and the only hint that this thing is a hybrid comes from its hinges, which are more heavy duty than usual. They have to be, because they allow the screen to travel all the way around to facilitate tablet mode.
By now you're saying to yourself that this thing will feel heavier and be too thick to hold. At 12.5 inches, with a thickness of just over 19mm and a weight pushing 1.6kg you would be right to say that.
However this product is not for those of you who want a tablet device exclusively. Instead, it's for those of you who want a laptop, but also the ability to use a tablet device every now and then. Or, perhaps you're an artist and want a product with a Wacom digitizer that you can pull out every now and then. The ThinkPad Yoga will indulge you. A pen is included in a slot on the right side of the chassis.
More than that though, the hinges give the ThinkPad Yoga the ability to not only be used as a tablet, but only to be stood up in 'tent mode' or with the screen facing outwards in 'stand mode'. These modes allow it to be used easier as a display device, either for watching videos, or for giving presentations in intimate meeting environments.
With the hinge action designed to expose the keyboard tablet mode, the feel of the keys could be annoying, and perhaps dangerous as they could get caught somewhere if you drag the base. For this reason, Lenovo has put in a mechanism that allows the keyboard to ride low when the unit is in tablet mode. The backlight switches off the keys retreat into the body like an aircraft's undercarriage immediately after take off. They become flush with the base and can't be pressed.
It's a great solution that makes you appreciate Lenovo's engineering prowess, but at the same time it's a moving part that could cause problems down the line. In notebook mode, the keys feel almost as good as every other ThinkPad we've tested, but we reckon they are bit less crisp in their downstroke than they could be. Don't get us wrong; this is still a typist's keyboard, and very much so.
The screen has a Full HD resolution, it's based on IPS (in-plane switching) technology, and even though it's a touchscreen, it doesn't have a noticeable glossiness. In fact, its coating doesn't reflect too much light and, combined with a decent brightness level, it's relatively easy to see in brighter than usual environments — though perhaps not midday sunshine. Make sure you clean off finger marks regularly, because over time they can get quite noticeable.
We've read reports on the Yoga screen having ghosting or lingering image problems, but this didn't show up on our unit. Instead, we noticed some slight flickering when we initially started using the unit, but that seemed to sort itself -- probably right after the glut of system updates that we undertook early on in our review -- or maybe our eyes just adjusted to it.
The overall build quality is strong, and it has a body that looks and feels good. However, the right palm rest of our unit is creaky. It's the side where the stylus fits into the body, so there is a hollowness there that isn't present on the left side (though we haven't unscrewed the bottom panel to double check yet). The creaking isn't too much of an annoyance unless you tend to get caught up in such things.
As for features, the Yoga is killer, especially if you get the Intel Core i7-4500U model. You'll be blessed with a 128GB solid state drive (SSD), 8GB of DDR3 SDRAM, and you'll be able to take advantage of 802.11ac Wi-Fi. The SSD isn't the quickest out there. CrystalDiskMark's sequential read rate for it was 484 megabytes per second (MBps), while the write rate was 123.6MBps.
On a Linksys WRT AC1900 flagship router, Wi-Fi transfers peaked at just over 42MBps when transferring data from our network attached storage (NAS) device to the Yoga. Note that Lenovo's specification listing for Wi-Fi isn't always correct on its Web site -- it wasn't for the initial Core i5 model that we saw, which was listed with 802.11ac, yet shipped with 802.11n. Double check prior to purchasing.
Other good things about this laptop are a PCI Express-based SD card reader in which cards sit all the way in, and transfers over 70MBps were observed from our Strontium microSD card (in a microSD to full SD adapter card, of course). This is a good way to carry around large files that you don't want to burden the SSD with.
A full charge of the 47 Watt-hour battery doesn't take much longer than 90min, and the Energy Saver power profile with a low brightness lasted us well over six hours for tasks that included Web browsing, one hour of streaming online music while connected to a Bluetooth Hi-Fi, and another two hours of playing locally stored music over Bluetooth.
We did notice that the base gets noticeably warm if the Core i7 has been doing some hard work, and this could be uncomfortable while using it on your lap or holding it as a tablet. More likely, you'll want to rest the Yoga on a desk while using it for CPU-intensive work.
The touchpad is silky smooth and great overall, but it's one of those 'clickpads', which essentially means the whole pad is a button. If you put too much pressure on it while dragging your finger over it, you'll end up pressing it, which can be annoying. There are soft button zones along the top, which are used by the TrackPoint device. We never had a reason to use the TrackPoint during this review, but could see it being useful when using the laptop on your lap in cramped circumstances.
The bottom line is this: if you're after a great laptop that's small and portable, which has a great keyboard and good overall features, and which can also be used effectively as a tablet, then the ThinkPad Yoga is definitely the one to go for. The Core i7 this review is based on cost $1699 at the time of writing.
Related review: Lenovo's Yoga 3 Pro is the consumer version of its hybrid Ultrabook. It's thinner and lighter and features an innovative watchband hinge.