Lenovo’s latest rendition of the Yoga Pro is its best yet and is arguably the superior transforming Ultrabook currently on the market. It offers a stunning, rock-solid and new hinge design, a thin and light form factor, a gorgeous screen, ample expansion, decent performance and battery life, and very little in the way of compromise.
But given Lenovo’s vaunted ThinkPad lineup, the Yoga 3 Pro presents a bit of a quandary. Previous Yoga Pros have been excellent, and pushed non-discretely into ThinkPad quality, like a high-end Toyota that somehow manages to feel as luxurious as the nicest Lexus. The previous generation Yoga Pro, the Yoga 2 Pro, was particularly good. So the Yoga 3 Pro has big shoes to fill.
And fill them it does, though one might make the argument that this device isn’t a linear step up from its predecessor. The culprit, or at least cause, of this strategy shift is the device’s Intel Core M processor, which was designed to enable the thinnest and lightest possible PC form factors. But the Core M was also supposed to jumpstart a new era of silent—i.e. fanless—PCs as well.
Looking just at this one change from a traditional Core processor to a Core M, we see some hits and some misses. The Yoga 3 Pro is indeed incredibly thin and light. It’s just 2.6 pounds, and is half an inch thin, with a less tapered look than the MacBook Air.
But the Yoga 3 Pro does include a fan, and it comes on more frequently than I’d like—just as with the Surface Pro 3, actually, though that device includes an ostensibly more powerful Core i5 processor. The good news: the face is quiet. And I’ve never once found the performance of this device to be anything less than satisfactory. Indeed, I can’t really see any day-to-day performance differences between this and Surface Pro 3, assuming one sticks to standard productivity work as I typically do.
Would a fanless Yoga 3 Pro be “better”? Of course it would, assuming the processor didn’t have to be throttled too much to reduce internal temperatures to an acceptable level. Perhaps that’s the Yoga 4 Pro, circa late 2015.
My only semi-serious issue with this device, frankly, is the screen. Don’t get me wrong, it’s gorgeous. But there is so much bezel around the screen, especially on the bottom, that I’m curious why Lenovo didn’t simply supply it with a 14-inch unit, as the form factor could clearly accommodate it. Here, I’ll assume battery life is the issue, but as with my imagined silent Yoga Pro, I can only hope for such an improvement in a future model. I very much prefer a 14-inch screen to a 13-inch screen, and such a change could transform this device to an even higher level.
(Update: Since first writing this review, Dell has announced its new XPS 13 Ultrabook, which provides what I imagined above: A large 13-inch screen surrounded by a tiny bezel in a smaller 11-inch form factor. This type of device will become more common, I bet.)
Since I’m complaining, let me highlight my other two issues, both minor: A flat and merely good keyboard—Lenovo makes the best portable keyboards in the world, period—and the lack of a ThinkPad-style TrackPoint pointing stick. The Yoga 3 Pro includes a decent and small trackpad—which I prefer—which offers great performance, but trackpads just aren’t as accurate as a TrackPoint. So I’d need to keep carrying a mouse if I traveled with this device.
Beyond this, virtually everything about the Yoga 3 Pro is perfection.
That watchband hinge I immediately loathed when it was first announced has really grown on me. And part of the reason is that it works so well: It securely and stably grasps both the screen and the base of the Yoga 3 Pro, and while there is some screen flop on bumpy plane or train rides, the screen stays where you put it and can be exactly positioned very easily. This hinge is a keeper.
The power plug is a welcome bit of engineering genius: It’s designed to look and work like a USB port, so if you have a lot of peripherals to plug in for some reason, you can do so: Just unplug the power cable and use its port as a third USB port. (The power plug and its port have a little divot on the side so that you can’t plug the cable into an actual USB port.)
The keyboard may be average, but the deck on which you rest your palms is made of a grippy, dimpled material that I find to be ideal. I love resting my hands on this surface, and wish this material was used on other devices.
The versatile Yoga design remains as useful as ever. As a transforming PC, you can use it like a normal laptop if you’d like, and use or ignore its multi-touch capabilities as you see fit. Or, you can transform the device into different form factors courtesy of that incredible hinge.
I do use it in a standard clam shell-type laptop mode most of the time, of course. But you can also use it as a very large tablet, by flipping the screen all the way back. This exposes the keys on the outside of the device, as the screen hinge doesn’t twist in any way, but you get used to that.
You can also use it in a tent mode, where the screen and base are positioned in a reverse “V,” or in stand mode, both of which are nice for presentations or other hands-free uses.
Stand mode also works well on planes, when space is constrained, and if you’re really hurting for space, that amazing hinge lets you lay the screen and base perfectly flat; you can then stand it up on your knees a watch a movie, no tray table required.
I didn’t spend a lot of time testing this feature, but the Yoga 3 Pro even comes with a software application called Harmony Settings that adjusts two system settings—full screen mode and Lenovo motion control—based on the mode in which you’re using the device. The goal here is similar to a feature coming in Windows 10: Let the system do the work of adjusting to your work style on the fly.
There are small niceties, like hardware volume up/down buttons on the side of the device, which is a standard feature on Windows tablets, but not laptops or Ultrabooks.
Battery life is acceptable, but not as much as one might expect given the Core M processor. I routinely get about 6 hours of battery life in normal usage, which is a bit less than Surface Pro 3, and a bit more than Apple’s MacBook Air 13 running Windows 8.1. (You can blame Apple’s terrible drivers for the latter; this device apparently gets 12 hours of battery life running Mac OS X.)
Overall, the Yoga 3 Pro is a wonderful transforming Ultrabook, but you do pay for the privilege: Pricing ranges from $1200 to $1400, depending on the model—and the only difference is a choice of 256 GB and 512 GB SSDs, plus of course the light silver and clementine orange color choices—and you can’t customize one. There are just a few set configurations. The review unit I was loaned is the$1400 version with 512 GB SSD in light silver, but if I were paying my own money, I’d drop down to 256 GB and save $200.
And on that note, this is one PC I’m not happy about sending back to Lenovo. The thin and light form factor would make this device a near ideal travel companion for 2015, even though the typing experience and plain trackpad are a bit downmarket for me. But my quest for my next Ultrabook continues, and I’ve got my eye on another Lenovo, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon that was just announced at CES.
In the meantime, the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro comes highly recommended.
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