I received the new Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga last week, and after spending the entire week using it as my main machine, I’m ready to let you know how it went. In the review, I use T420/T430 generically to denote references to previous generations also including X and W series.
The ThinkPad Yoga is the 12.5″ business-class brother of the Lenovo Yoga 11 and 13 models introduced last year. It fits into the ThinkPad lineup replacing the X220t/X230t series of tablets. The X230t will be Lenovo’s last X series tablet.
This particular model is the i7-4500U, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, FHD 400nit (1920x1080) screen, without the digitizer/pen.
Click on the photos for larger versions!
The first thing you’ll notice about the case is the colour. It is no longer ThinkPad Black, it’s more of a Gunmetal Grey. It is comprised of Magnesium, Aluminum and Polyphenylene Sulfide (a plastic polymer that makes a metallic sound when struck). Overall the case feels metallic (cold to the touch when off), but flexes like plastic. If you like the carbon-fiber reinforced plastic cases of other ThinkPads, you’ll appreciate the feeling of this case as well.
The “ThinkPad” logo on the outside of the LCD is now oriented right-side up when the LCD is open. The dot in the “i” also acts as a status light, noting when the laptop is charging, on, and sleeping. The ThinkPad logo on the palm rest still faces the user and has the same status light functionality.
WiFi, hard drive and bluetooth status indicator lights are no longer on the LCD bezel…they are completely gone! The power button is also on the right side of the case, and does not glow green to denote power as in previous ThinkPad models. The ThinkLight on the bezel and the physical wireless radio switch on the side of the case have also been removed from this generation. Not a case issue, but the Caps Lock key no longer has an indicator light on the key.
The hinges on the case are metal, and, feel just as solid as any other T, X, and W series hinge. They are actually heftier than the other’s hinges, and rightly so, due to the use and abuse they will be taking.
This is all part of Lenovo’s quest to reduce clutter and maximize keyboard, trackpad and bezel area. Many users have already noted their disappointment with Lenovo’s choices…not so affectionately calling the new ThinkPads “ThinkBook Pros”…
Size and Weight
After removing it from the box, my initial reaction was “Wow, this is thin!”. It is the thinnest ThinkPad other than the X1 Carbon. It is 0.74″-0.76″ thin, which is just a touch thinner than the X240 at 0.79″ and T440s at 0.80″. The X230t by comparison is 1.23″ thick.
The Yoga is 3.52 lb, which is heavier than the new X240 series (2.96 lb) and a touch lighter than the T440s without the touchscreen option. The T440s with touch is closer to 4 lb.
Full dimensions are: 12.46″ (l) x 8.70″ (w) x 0.74-0.76″ (h) and 3.52 lb. With the power supply (45W) it is almost 4 lb.
It is almost the exact size and weight as the MacBook Pro Retina 13″. I’ve attached some photos to show.
I’ve also attached some comparison photos to the T430 and W520 (they aren’t in the same class, obviously, but gives an idea as compared to a 14″ and 15.6″ model).
The connectivity options are also quite bare compared to standard ThinkPad models and previous generations.
There is nothing on the front or back of the case.
On the left side we have (back to front): power connector, OneLink Dock connector, always-on USB 3, and headphone jack.
On the right side we have (back to front): Kensington lock, mini-HDMI (can output 2560x1600, whereas OneLink Dock’s (DisplayLink) HDMI can only do 1920x1200), SD Card reader, screen orientation lock button, volume toggle buttons, and power button. Models with a stylus will also have a slot where the stylus can be placed at the very front.
It’s no secret that ThinkPad keyboards are considered the best in the industry. If you type all day on a computer, a keyboard is going to be one of the most important parts of the machine. So what about the Yoga? Here is where it gets tricky.
Before I move on, the keyboard is back-lit, and the brightness is toggled by pressing Fn + Space.
There are three aspects to the keyboard and how it compares to previous models and other machines: layout, key travel, and flex.
The keyboard layout is similar to the T430 and T440 models. It’s the new 6-row keyboard, different from the 7-row keyboard all T420 and previous models had.
Differences from a T420 or similar model
The main difference between the 6-row and 7-row keyboard are that page up, page down, print screen have been moved from the island to the bottom right-hand area near the arrow keys. Pause/Break is gone completely. Delete is above backspace, and the escape key is slightly smaller (no longer double-tall). Home, End, Insert are in the function row.
Differences from a T430 or similar model
The biggest difference between last generation (T430) and this generation (T440) is that the keyboard has swapped function keys. Function keys are now secondary to the volume/brightness, etc, settings. In order to get F1, F2, etc, you need to press Fn + the F-Key. The Thinkvantage button has been removed, and the mute/volume/microphone buttons have been included in the function row as secondary keys.
Differences from a T440 or similar model
But the Yoga changes the layout slightly from even the T440 due to the smaller form factor. The main keys are just a touch smaller (about 1.5mm in width) and the Insert key has been removed and is now the Fn key of the End key.
As far as the layout goes, it’s a small change from the T430/T440 keyboard, and if you are used to a MacBook or any other laptop keyboard, the Yoga’s layout will be just fine.
Because of the function of the Yoga keyboard and the lift and lock mechanism, key travel has been reduced compared to the T430/T440 series. It is roughly half the amount of travel (1.5mm to 3mm). The actuation bump and clack are still there though. It’s the actuation bump that provides feedback of a successful key-press to many typists. If you dislike the “mushy” or no-feedback key travel of the MacBook Pro and other laptops and ultrabooks, any ThinkPad keyboard will be a dream to type on.
For the ThinkPad purists out there, I’ve attached a photo comparing the T430 vs Yoga key height, as well as a video showing the key travel.
Keyboard flex is another one of sticking points for ThinkPad users. Back when Lenovo took over from IBM, people noticed the keyboard back-plates on the T series weren’t as stiff as older models – one of the reasons why many people are hanging onto their T43 or the oldest ThinkPad they can. The Yoga isn’t going to impress anyone with the keyboard flex. Because of the lift and lock mechanism, there isn’t much support underneath the keyboard. It still has less flex than a Samsung Series 5, for example, but cannot match any other ThinkPad. If you are a light typist you won’t notice. If you type with purpose, or are used to the force needed to type on a mechanical keyboard, lighten up!
In the video below I am press fairly hard. The beeps are because I am pressing 3 keys (yes, the Yoga still has the classic ThinkPad 2-key rollover).
Lift and Lock Mechanism
When moving the screen into presentation mode (~270 degrees) or tablet mode, the keyboard tray lifts up to match the surface of the keys, and the keys themselves lock so they cannot be pressed. There are also two plastic bumpers near the escape and delete keys that lift and work together with the two rubber bumpers on the palm rest to ensure the palm rest and keyboard do not touch the surface of wherever the yoga is sitting. This way the palm rest and keyboard won’t get dirty or scraped. The lift and lock mechanism is controlled by two springs within the case on either side of the keyboard. At the end of the review there is a photo showing the springs.
Final Thoughts on the Keyboard
As harsh as I may have been on the keyboard, it still is better than any non-ThinkPad to type on. It takes about an hour of typing before you get used to the short key travel. I use a W520 as my main machine, and found moving between the two to be trivial. My own bias towards keyboard usefulness has always been the actuation mechanism rather than layout.
TouchPad and TrackPoint
The most notable difference from the T430 to T440 generation is the removal of the physical 5-buttons for the trackpoint and touchpad. You have two options:
- For the touchpad, you can single-tap for left-click or two-finger tap for right click. You can also single-tap in the lower right area for a right-click. The drivers allow you to change the size of the section as well as other behaviour of the touchpad. For the Trackpoint, you can single-tap the area outlined on the touchpad where the old trackpoint buttons used to be.
- For both the touchpad and trackpoint, you can physically push the entire pad down in the correct area to signal a left-click, right-click, or trackpoint button press.
The TrackPoint nub is still there, and the behaviour remains unchanged. The touchpad itself is larger than previous touchpads and provides a smooth surface for your fingers to glide on. I find the touchpad glide and responsiveness to be far better than the older models. It’s just as smooth as the touchpad on the MacBook Pro.
Here’s a video to show the touchpad movement.
The display on the Yoga is a 400-nit 1920x1080 IPS screen. It’s the best ThinkPad screen to date (along with the T440s FHD). Be careful as some specification listings are indicating it is matte, when really it has an anti-glare coating on it. Because the Yoga (and T440s touch) has a touchscreen, the traditional matte screen has a glass covering over top, making it semi-reflective. Lenovo then adds an anti-glare coating on top of that.
Most people should be comfortable with text scaling set to 125% in Windows 8.1 as 1920x1080 on a 12.5″ screen is very small.
Note: The consumer oriented Lenovo Yoga 13 uses a display panel that has been showing yellow as slightly grey. The ThinkPad Yoga does not use the same panel, and is not subject to the same colour problems.
While the ThinkPad Yoga does not have the 95% gamut of the W520 FHD, the viewing angles are superior to any other ThinkPad display. Here are some photos as well as a comparison to the awful 1600x900 TN panel in the T430 and other series.
Docking (OneLink Dock)
The ThinkPad Yoga uses Lenovo’s OneLink Dock, which is very similar to the previous USB 3 dock. It is not a mechanical dock like the X, T and W series, and requires drivers installed on the Yoga to operate.
It’s a fairly limited Dock, having 2x USB3 ports, 2x USB2 ports, headphone jack, Gigabit Ethernet (which maxes out at ~300 Mbps or 38 MBps), 1x HDMI limited to 1920x1200 @ 60Hz.
Although not announced yet, the OneLink Pro Dock will have 2 driver-less video outputs (DisplayPort and DVI), 4x USB3 ports, 2x USB2 ports, headphone jack and Gigabit Ethernet.
The ThinkPad Yoga has a built-in (non user-replaceable) 47 Wh battery. Lenovo states up to 8 hours battery life.
The test machine had an i7-4500u CPU, 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD, with brightness set to one-step below maximum.
In real-life tests, medium Internet browsing with some music and video watching, battery life averaged around 6 hours and 10 minutes.
Watching 1080p videos in a loop, the Yoga lasted 4 hours and 50 minutes.
In my own highly unscientific “development” test, I loaded 2 virtual machines on VMware workstation (one Windows 7 with Visual Studio, and one CentOS running a database/web server), with music playing on the main operating system (Windows 8.1 Pro). This represents a typical development day while using my W520. The battery lasted 4 hours and 20 minutes.
Standby time lasted a little over 7 days.
Noise and Heat
The ThinkPad Yoga uses Intel’s 4th generation Haswell low voltage processors, with a TDP of 15 watts, compared to 37W for the regular voltage dual-core, 47W for the quad-core and 57W for the extreme quad-core. Because of this, the Yoga is very cool to the touch. Running CPU and GPU intensive tests, the case got warm (~32 degrees Celsius, ~90 Fahrenheit), but never hot.
During normal use, the fan was never audible except for when my ear was close to the rear vent.
Performance and Options
Opening The Case
The ThinkPad Yoga isn’t as service-friendly as the other ThinkPad models. The bottom of the case is one piece and removed with 10 Philips-head screws and a bit of struggling. Lift the bottom panel from the back hinge and you’ll need to be careful when prying it off as there are clips at the front of the case. I broke a clip in the middle near the proximity sensor by accident. That’s OK though, the screws keep the case tight and breaking one clip will not affect the fit or look of the case…just don’t break them all.
The hard drive or solid state drive that is installed is 2.5″ and 7mm tall. Most SSDs are 7mm tall, however many mechanical notebook drives are still 9mm. If you plan to replace it, make sure you get a slim model if buying a mechanical drive.
I have been a ThinkPad user for the last 14 years. I use a W520 daily, and also use a MacBook Pro Retina for all my Mac-related work. I enjoy using well-built devices, and the ThinkPad Yoga is one of them. Although the build-quality may feel less adequate than the T, X and W series, I have no doubt it is just as reliable. The build-quality is still ahead of any plastic Acer, Asus, Dell or Samsung. It doesn’t feel as solid as an aluminum laptop, but neither does a T series. The carbon-fibre reinforced plastic is designed to give some flex to the case, as well as enabling better WiFi reception over aluminum.
The main concerns for current ThinkPad users will be the keyboard layout, key travel, trackpoint and touchpad changes. If you use the trackpoint, it will take a while to get used to, and you still may find you aren’t as efficient as you were on an older machine.
If you’re coming from anything other than a ThinkPad, the ThinkPad Yoga will beat your expectations. I enjoy typing on it far better than a MacBook Pro, and the screen, although not quite “retina” PPI, is still very crisp at normal viewing distances.
If you’re trying to decide between the consumer Yoga 11s or 13, think about whether you need a digitizer, and if you need the 12.5″ form factor and build quality. The QHD on the Yoga 13, while impressive, is not a big enough improvement over the ThinkPad Yoga to justify its purchase. The Yoga 11s and 13 feel cheap in comparison.
If you’re trying to decide between an X240 with a full HD touchscreen and the Yoga, the choice will be more difficult. If you need a mechanical dock with multiple monitor support, or need the lightest machine around (2.96 lb) get the X240. If you need a tablet mode laptop, get the Yoga. If you need a digitizer and stylus, you have no choice but the Yoga, X230t, Fujitsu LifeBook, or perhaps a Surface Pro.
The more I use the ThinkPad Yoga, the more I like it. It’s now my “short trip” and “living room” laptop when I don’t wish to lug the W520 around and don’t need the quad-core or Quadro graphics.