Lenovo’s versatile ThinkPad X1 Yoga is the ultimate mobile companion, offering an expansive 14-inch screen, superior typing and pointing experiences, and touch-, pen- and tablet usage capabilities in a thin, light, and durable form factor.
The only question is: Why choose an X1 Yoga over, say, an X1 Carbon? Or a Yoga 900 for that matter? Aren’t these PCs all pretty similar?
Well, yes. But it shouldn’t be surprising that PC makers like Lenovo and HP are expanding their premium brands with new, somewhat overlapping models. After all, this is one of the few profitable parts of the PC industry, and if you look at the model explosion happening in the automotive industry—with brands such as BMW and Mercedes, among others—you’ll see a similar strategy unfolding there as well.
But this model expansion also makes your purchasing decisions a bit more complicated. Lenovo products like the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, the ThinkPad T460S, and even the Yoga 900 are each thin, light, powerful, and elegant, and any could serve the needs of almost any business traveler nicely, not to mention any individual who appreciates the firm’s understated and professional designs. But they are differentiated, sometimes subtly, from the X1 Yoga.
Here’s to the tyranny of choice.
At a high level, Lenovo positions the X1 Yoga as an even more versatile version of its flagship ThinkPad X1 Carbon. It achieves this additional versatility most obviously by taking on the transforming capabilities of Lenovo’s Yoga lineup. This means that the screen can flip all the way around, transforming this Ultrabook-sized device into a tablet. The X1 Yoga also supports Windows Ink capabilities in addition to multi-touch, and there’s even a bundled pen—with its own on-device peekaboo storage port—for those who wish to take notes or draw by hand.
Lenovo has done this kind of thing before, of course—that’s the entire point of Yoga—but its never done so in a ThinkPad this thin, light and professional. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the X1 Yoga was in fact a ThinkPad X1 Carbon, as the general designs are so similar. But that is what makes the X1 Yoga so special: It is, for the most part, an X1 Carbon. But it can also do all this other stuff.
And it does so in a form factor that doesn’t cheat, or in any way diminish the X1-ness, if you will, of the device by packing on additional weight or thickness, or by sacrificing its keyboard or pointing prowess. PC makers often use the term “no sacrifices” with a tongue-in-cheek understanding that such a thing is almost impossible. But the X1 Yoga really achieves it.
Which is a long-winded way of saying that the ThinkPad X1 Yoga weighs just 2.8 pounds, compared to 2.6 pounds for the X1 Carbon. And at .66 inches thick, the X1 Yoga is virtually indistinguishable from the X1 Carbon, at .65 inches thick. No sacrifices, indeed.
The X1 Yoga sports a Carbon fiber top cover and Lenovo’s magnesium alloy-based “Super Mag” materials in the palm rest and bottom cover, just like the X1 Carbon. This means its durable, and that it passes the same stringent military-spec tests as its cousin. But the X1 Yoga keyboard, described more below, also retracts into the device’s body when you push the screen back past the 180 degree mark—which is the limit for the less versatile X1 Carbon, by the way—so that the keys will never touch the desk if you use it like a tablet. (The keyboard and pointing devices are also disabled at this time.) That’s genius, of course. But that it was done with no appreciable additional thickness is magic. Mark my words: PC makers everywhere are now racing to copy this feature.
If you’re concerned about the steadiness of the display panel while the X1 Yoga is used in normal notebook mode, fear not: Thanks to a new version of the Yoga dual hinge, the display is rock steady, as evidenced by my usage as I write this on a rocky Amtrak train between Boston and New York. This hinge also lets you set the display angle to your preference with a light touch, and then you can leave it, assured that it will not move. No issues there at all.
Like other Yoga products, the X1 Yoga provides four usage scenarios, which Lenovo now calls Work (normal laptop mode), Present (where the screen is “backwards” and the keys are on the bottom), Connect (tent), and Create (tablet). As a writer, I stuck largely to the Work usage mode, but thanks to the inclusion of a pen, I did test the device in Create mode too. More on that in a moment.
The screen is brilliant: It’s a 14-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS display in the review unit—which is my preference—but you can upgrade to a WQHD (2560 x 1440) IPS display if you prefer. As noted, it supports capacitive touch and active pens, with 10 touch points. (My review unit includes a Core i5 processor and 8 GB of RAM, but if you go the WQHD route, you will also be upgraded to a Core i7. Both versions include integrated graphics only, so this is no portable gaming machine. But then, that’s obvious.)
My only complaint about the screen—and I’m nitpicking here—is that there’s a full inch of bezel on the top and bottom, and about a half inch on the sides. So while the 14-inch acreage is appreciated, I can easily picture this display being even bigger: 14.5 inches, perhaps, or even 15. The mind boggles.
Lenovo has long offered fingerprint readers on its ThinkPads, but the 2016 products pick up a major and wonderful update. Now, instead of a swipe, you can simply touch a fingerprint-sized reader to authenticate yourself. It works with Windows Hello in Windows 10, of course, and is as fast as the best mobile fingerprint readers. It is now my preferred method for signing into Windows 10, and I appreciate its performance, but also the explicit nature of using your fingerprint to sign-in.
OK, let’s get back to the keyboard. Its spill resistant, Lenovo says, and backlit, and it provides (basically) the same top-of-class typing experience we’ve come to expect from ThinkPad over the years, and from the X series more specifically. It is a superior design, though the thinness of the body means a slightly smaller key stroke, and I am sometimes able to “bottom out” the keys if I type too strongly. No matter: This keyboard is amazing.
And since it’s coupled with the standard ThinkPad dual-pointing solution—a TrackPoint “nubbin,” which is the most accurate pointer available on any portable PC, and a large glass trackpad—the X1 Yoga ticks all the right boxes from a usability perspective. It is a delight to use this device for day-to-day work.
Here’s how I test the efficacy of a portable PCs pointless solution(s): I travel with a mouse, the same mouse, in fact, that I use at home. With most computers, I inevitably need to take the mouse out of the bag because I’m doing some detail work, typically in Photoshop, or because that pointing device (usually a trackpad) is simply too frustrating to use. The X1 Yoga is one of a small number of devices in which I’ve spent entire trips—multiple trips in this case—where I’ve never needed that mouse. TrackPoint is the best pointing device ever created, and the version in the X1 Yoga is just as perfect as we see elsewhere in the ThinkPad lineup.
The ThinkPad X1 Yoga further expands on the X1 Carbon from a ports perspective, with three USB 3.0 ports (up from two on Carbon), a microSD port, full-sized HDMI and miniDisplayPort for video out, and Lenovo’s OneLink+ connector for docks and other accessories. Internally, you’ll find Intel dual-band Wireless-AC and Bluetooth, as expected, but note that the thinness of this device precludes an Ethernet port.
OK, the active pen, or what Lenovo calls the ThinkPad Pen Pro. Which is really a stylus given its short and thin barrel, a concession to its dockability: Unlike the Surface Pen and other similar pens, you don’t have to worry about losing this one.
The pen is a bit too insubstantial in my humongous hands, and of course I’ve made no secret of how little I need or would use such an accessory. But I know this is an important consideration for some readers, so I took one for the team. Meaning that I actually gave it a go for a short time, for both note-taking and drawing/painting.
For note-taking, I of course turned to OneNote, and here the pen worked as expected, for printing and handwriting, for highlighting, and for light sketching. In this mode, one of the two barrel buttons on the pen acted as an eraser, while the other was used for selection.
To test the pen’s drawing and painting capabilities, I fired up Fresh Paint and tested it with various pencil, pen, and paint brush options. Lenovo claims 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity, but I found no discernible difference with the supposedly less capable Surface Pen, save of course that Microsoft’s option feels more natural (i.e. pen-like) in my hand. But the performance was generally excellent—meaning that the on-screen results matched what I was intending without any noticeable lag. (The barrel buttons were utilized as eraser and “grab,” respectively.)
Aside from its dockability, the most impressive thing about Lenovo’s pen is how—and how fast—it charges. When you insert it into its dock, it charges to 80 percent capacity in just 15 seconds, according to Lenovo, and then to full capacity within 5 minutes. That’s crazy. But then you wonder: What’s a full charge? (Lenovo claims 19 hours, but it’s not clear if that’s full usage or just while undocked.)
Battery life has been impressive, especially given the device’s thin and light form factor. I’ve been averaging roughly 7 hours in normal usage, and while that is (well) below the 11 hours Lenovo claims, that’s because normal usage for me involves two known battery hogs: Photoshop and a tethered smart phone. Remove them from the equation and battery life jumps by about an hour and a half. (I may need to make some permanent changes to the way I test battery life, for a variety of reasons, but more on that at a later time.)
A few other notes.
Because the X1 Yoga is a 2-in-1 PC, the power button—and two volume toggles—are found in an odd location on the right side of the bottom deck. This didn’t lead to any unintentional “hot bag” incidents, but thanks to my Surface Book issues I pay attention to this kind of thing and make sure the device is always power-button-up in a bag.
If you can’t figure out why the keyboard backlight isn’t coming on—ThinkPads used to provide a dedicated key for this—remember that newer ThinkPads use the Fn + Space keyboard shortcut.
Also, the keyboard layout has the Fn key in the lower left of the keyboard, with the Ctrl key to its right. I prefer the opposite layout for these keys, but when you use only a single PC—which I do not—you obviously get used to whatever the layout is.
ThinkPads have less crapware than consumer-focused Lenovo PCs, but don’t be alarmed by the bundled apps regardless, as some are very useful. The Lenovo Settings app, for example, lets you dive into many useful customizations, and the X1 Yoga won’t turn on extraneous taskbar buttons—like a custom battery gauge—unless you OK them first. That’s a smart change from the past.
OK, the big bugaboo: Price. Remember that the X1 Yoga is a premium PC.
Overall, pricing runs about $200 more than comparable ThinkPad X1 Carbon models, and you can get the review unit model—Core i5, 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD, Full HD IPS display—for a bit under $1200 at the time of this writing. A high-end model with Core i7, 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB SSD, and WQHD display will set you back a whopping $1750. But that’s far less than a comparable Surface Book, and this device is thinner, lighter, and more reliable.
Indeed, this device is superior to Surface Book in virtually every way, unless for some reason you were looking for a laptop with a really thick but removable screen. I have trouble imagining such an audience.
More to the point, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a nearly ideal business-class 2-in-1, a thin and light beauty that won’t weigh down your bag and offers terrific performance and battery life, unmatched versatility, and all of the elegance we’ve come to expect from the ThinkPad X series. It is, of course, highly recommended.