A Look at the New Lenovo Ideapad Yoga Hybrid Tablet

Taking advantage of the fanfare surrounding the general availability of Windows 8, Lenovo have released a new hybrid ultrabook aimed at those who need a thin and light notebook with the touch capabilities of a tablet.  In the past, convertible tablet PC’s, which have a small but strong following in the enterprise, have been hindered by bulky form factors and awkward screen conversion mechanisms.  Lenovo has a strong pedigree in the tablet segment, having produced some of the most popular tablet PC’s on the market for many years, so it would be natural to assume that their latest offering would just extend the venerable X-series line without breaking any new ground.  Thankfully, that is not the case – instead of simply borrowing from the past the Lenovo engineers have come up with an entirely new offering that breaks the tablet PC mold.

 

To begin with, the Ideapad Yoga is simply a great looking laptop.  Borrowing from the design aesthetic of the U-series ultralights, it has a uniform thickness of just over half an inch with an exterior covering of burnished aluminum and an black interior, giving it the appearance of a high-tech textbook when closed.  The palmrest is covered in a matte coating that isn’t quite leathery but is far more comfortable during long type sessions than all metal or glossy plastic.  The large multitouch trackpad is centered in the middle of the palmrest and has dedicated right and left click zones.  It is delightfully responsive and handles all the pinch, zoom, scroll and twist gestures with ease.  As would be expected from a Lenovo product, the island-style keyboard is excellent, with a good layout and plenty of room between the keys but, strangely, is not backlit.  This is a severe limitation in low-light situations and is a major design flaw in an otherwise excellent machine.

 

As with most thin and light notebooks, the Yoga has limited port selection.  There is an HDMI connector, one USB 3.0 port, one USB 2.0 port, a combination headphone/microphone jack, an SD card slot and a flat USB-style power connector.  It also includes a dedicated rocker switch for volume control and a screen orientation lock button.  Inside, it can be configured up to a Core i7 processor, a maximum of 8GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD.  The retail model in the US ships with 4GB RAM, a Core i5 CPU and a 128GB SSD.  The memory can easily be upgraded with an aftermarket DIMM but the hard drive isn’t quite so simple to replace – it uses an mSATA/mini-PCIe card instead of a traditional 2.5″ or 1.8″ form factor, which is harder to find and there are very few options above 256GB.

 

The display runs at a native resolution of 1600×900 on a dedicated Intel 4000 chip.  The color saturation is excellent with almost unlimited viewing angles.  The screen surface is glossy but surprisingly resistant to fingerprints – it’s on par with the iPad and other small form factor tablets.  The multitouch surface works just as well in notebook mode as it does when converted to a tablet, making it almost irresistible  to swipe through the Windows 8 screens and menus using the screen instead of the trackpad.

 

Unlike tablet PC’s of the past, the conversion mechanism on the Yoga doesn’t twist around and lay flat.  Instead, the hinge simply opens like a book – to use the device in slate mode, just flip the screen all the way backwards.  Once it passes 180 degrees, the keyboard is deactivated and the screen can be angled for comfortable viewing on a flat surface without the need for a kickstand or jointed cover.   Alternatively, just stand the machine up in an inverted “V” (what Lenovo calls “Tent Mode”).  The screen automatically adjusts orientation when rotated and can be locked into position using a hardware button on the side of the device.  A dedicated Windows button is located between the hinges to exit out of apps while in tablet mode.

 

For better or worse, Windows 8 is really designed for touch input and the Ideapad Yoga excels in this area.  The screen is smooth and responsive – even in notebook mode, the screen has very little wobble despite being exceptionally thin.  Although rather large for a true tablet, the 13″ screen does provide a lot of real estate for displaying tiles and lends itself to docking one app while using another.  The ability to adjust the screen tilt by bending the unit backwards with the keyboard portion touching a flat surface is very useful but it does take some getting used to.

 

The machine runs quietly without much fan noise.  Heat dissipation is excellent and even when running at full speed it only becomes slightly warm on the bottom.  Although battery life is rated at 8 hours, real-world usage is more like 6 – 7 hours.  Not an impressive showing but not too bad for a device of this size with a full Core i-Series CPU (as opposed to the Tegra processor in the 11″ model or the various ARM WinRT models).

 

The Yoga boots up from a cold start to the Windows 8 start screen in under 15 seconds, making it a nearly “instant on” device.  Lenovo includes a handful of specialty apps, including a support center, a transition manager to control screen orientation in the various modes, a motion control program and trackpad manager.  There’s also a “Companion” app, which is mostly advertisements, and a recovery utility.

 

Overall, the Ideapad Yoga is an excellent device.  It brings together a quality high-end notebook with a true tablet experience.  The fold-over hinge design is well-thought out and very practical.  Although a bit large to be a true ultrabook or stand-alone tablet, as a hybrid device it excels in delivering the best of both worlds – portability, acceptable battery life, and touch capabilities.  The one  major flaw in the Yoga’s design is the lack of a backlit keyboard, which Lenovo will have to rectify if they want this device to be taken seriously.  While it may not satisfy tablet purists or those looking for the most features in the smallest notebook, the Ideapad Yoga strikes a good balance and is surprisingly fun to use.

 

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