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ThinkPad Yoga: Serious work laptop, decent work tablet (hands on)

Lenovo brings its twisted talent to this ThinkPad laptop, including a keyboard that sinks on demand.
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1 of 11 James Kendrick/ZDNet

ThinkPad Yoga: Serious work laptop, serious work tablet (hands on)

ThinkPad has come to mean work laptop, and with the new ThinkPad Yoga it also means work tablet. Lenovo built a good laptop and put a swivel screen on it that turns it into a reasonable tablet for work. It does that with a flare, as the keys recede into the unit in tablet mode.

Hardware specifications as reviewed:

  • Processor: Intel Core i5 1.6 GHz (Haswell)
  • Memory: 4 GB
  • Display: 12.5-inch IPS, 1920x1080, touch screen, pen support
  • OS: Windows 8.1 Pro
  • Storage: 128GB SSD
  • Camera: 720p webcam
  • Keyboard: Lift ‘n’ Lock in tablet mode, backlit
  • Ports: 2-USB 3.0, audio combo, miniHDMI, VGA, 4-in-1 SD/MMC card reader, proprietary dock connector
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Battery: Up to 8 hours
  • Dimensions: 12.46" x 8.70" x 0.74"
  • Weight: 3.52 lbs 
  • Price as configured: $1,299

Flexible laptop

Lenovo jumped on board with the flexibility of Windows 8 early on with its unique Yoga laptops. These have a screen that can be rotated all the way back until the keyboard is facing out under the flat display. This turns the Yoga laptop into a tablet, taking full advantage of Windows 8.

The screen can be stopped midway in the rotation, allowing both a stand mode (screen facing backwards, keyboard down) and a tent mode (unit forming an upside-down “V” for viewing). The four modes — laptop, tent, stand, and tablet — are the source of the Yoga name brand.

The chiclet keys on the Yoga have key travel that feels like traditional keys. The keyboard is comfortable and feels just right.

The ThinkPad Yoga is a true business-class laptop, and the first ThinkPad from Lenovo carrying the Yoga brand. It is well-constructed and should stand up to the rigors of the mobile professional.

The 12.5-inch screen is bright (400 nits) and has 10-finger touch control. In addition to standard touch, it also supports pen control via the included stylus. The stylus is stored in a convenient silo in the unit when not being used, a nice touch.

No review of a ThinkPad would be complete without addressing the keyboard. As a fan of ThinkPad keyboards, I can attest that the one on the Yoga is superb. It has chiclet keys, but similar to those of the ThinkPad X240 (). The keys on the Yoga have key travel that feels like traditional keys. The keyboard is comfortable, feels just right, and supports rapid touch typing handily.

As similar as the Yoga keyboard is to that of the X240, it has one feature that is unique that comes into play when pressed into tablet duty. That will be explained in the tablet section.

Speaking of the ThinkPad X240, the Yoga has a similar trackpad, too. It is not overly large but operates smoothly and is a buttonless model. Pressing down on the trackpad gives a distinct mouse click. It is a good trackpad for a Windows laptop.

Fans of the red ThinkPad Trackstick will not be disappointed as the Yoga has one in the middle of the keyboard. In lieu of the standard three mouse buttons, the top edge of the trackpad serves as the buttons which are clearly marked.

The Core i5 in the review unit has great performance and handles even a heavy system load with ease. Apps load quickly and run very fast. The graphics scroll smoothly and without lag in most Windows Metro apps.

Lenovo quotes a battery life of up to 8 hours and that seems accurate in testing. The Haswell processor is doing its job in extending the battery life while not requiring a huge heavy power brick inside the ThinkPad Yoga. The battery is sealed and Lenovo did not use the two battery Power Bridge technology as it did on the X240.

Reasonable tablet

The ThinkPad Yoga can step in and perform as a tablet when desired and it’s a pretty decent one. I’m not a big fan of Windows tablets that are always attached to the keyboard due to the extra weight. The Yoga is definitely heavy at 3.5 pounds when used as a tablet but resting on a conference table, that disadvantage is mitigated somewhat.

The 12.5-inch screen works well as a tablet and touch operation is very nicely implemented. It works well in both portrait and landscape orientations.

As well as touch operation works on the Yoga, pen support works just as nicely. The included stylus can be slipped out of the silo on the device and in use in seconds. Writing on the screen in either Windows Journal or OneNote is as smooth as can be and feels natural. Fans of inking know how important that is, and not all tablets have pen support this nice.

Like other Yoga tablets, the ThinkPad Yoga has the keyboard exposed on the bottom of the display when in tablet mode. This is not optimal and it can be hard to get used to feeling the keys when using the tablet. To minimize this, Lenovo has applied some unique engineering to the Yoga.

As the screen is pushed back into tablet mode, the keys recede into the device. They are level with the “back” when the display is fully rotated into tablet mode. It’s not the perfect solution but far preferable to other tablets that leave the keys fully extended.

Conclusion

The ThinkPad Yoga is a great work laptop that can be pressed into tablet duty when desired. Its heavy-duty ThinkPad construction will stand up to the rigors of a road warrior. The battery life is reasonable and the beautiful screen works well in both laptop and tablet modes.

The laptop is available from Lenovo for $1,299 as reviewed, and as is typical for Lenovo products is configurable to meet the exact needs of the buyer.

Pros:

  • Not expensive for a ThinkPad
  • Great keyboard
  • Good performance
  • Battery life is acceptable

Cons:

  • Heavy in tablet mode
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2 of 11 James Kendrick/ZDNet

ThinkPad Yoga laptop mode

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ThinkPad Yoga tent mode

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ThinkPad Yoga stand mode

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ThinkPad Yoga tablet mode with pen

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ThinkPad Yoga keyboard

Great ThinkPad keyboard.

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ThinkPad Yoga flush keys in tablet mode

Since the keys are exposed on the back when in tablet mode, they sink when the screen is rotated until they are flush with the back in tablet mode.

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8 of 11 James Kendrick/ZDNet

ThinkPad Yoga left side

Left-Right: Power jack, USB 3.0, audio in/out

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ThinkPad Yoga right side

Left-Right: Pen in silo (red), power button, volume rocker, screen rotation lock, SD card slot, USB 3.0, microHDMI, Kensington lock

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ThinkPad Yoga closed

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ThinkPad Yoga bottom

Notice the sealed battery that is not replaceable by the user.

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