The latest addition to the vaunted ThinkPad X1 lineup is basically Lenovo’s version of the Peanut Butter Cup. And in this case, the two great tastes that go together are the flexibility and versatility of its Yoga products and the reliability and design sense of the X1 series.
It is, in other words, a potential match made in tech heaven.
The ThinkPad X1 Yoga was a long time coming: For years now, Lenovo has offered its unique “Yoga” capabilities—these devices transform between laptop, presentation, tent and tablet modes—on a lineup of high-quality but consumer-focused products that are now simply branded as Yoga. On the flipside, Lenovo has also long offered the ultimate in business-class mobile productivity via its ThinkPad X series.
Both products offered unique benefits, and while some features were common or similar to both, there were gaps in both. For example, the Yoga series devices never offered the excellent TrackPoint pointing device that is unique to ThinkPad. And while the X1 picked up multi-touch as an almost begrudging option, Lenovo never really offered true transforming capabilities in its flagship Ultrabook.
So now we can see what a cross-section of these devices looks like. The prognosis is very good.
For example, you might expect—if you’re familiar with similar devices, like the excellent HP Spectre x360—that there must be some compromises tied to that usage flexibility, the key one being thickness. But the X1 Yoga isn’t much thicker than the X1 Carbon or the wafer-thin Yoga 900 Pro. And it’s noticeably thinner—and much lighter–than the x360, I think because of the build materials.
Lenovo also exceeds HP with some wizardry that lets the spill-resistant keyboard sink inside the machine when it’s used in presentation, tent and tablet modes. This isn’t just cosmetic: When unprotected keys are exposed and on the bottom of a transforming PC like this, they can be damaged.
And of course, as an X1, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga also includes the TrackPoint, which I prefer to even the best touchpads. (It has one of those too.) It even has a Windows Hello-compatible fingerprint reader, another feature the x360 lacks.
I also like that Lenovo splits the difference on the form factor size: Where HP offers both 13- and 15-inch versions of the x360, Lenovo arrives at the same 14-inch form factor used by the Carbon. And it’s super-light at just 2.8 pounds, thanks to a new design magnesium alloy composite that Lenovo says doesn’t sacrifice durability, a key X-series benefit. This is a wonderful middle ground from a size/weight/portability perspective.
Aside from its transforming capabilities, the Yoga brings another first to ThinkPad X: It includes the new ThinkPad Pen Pro, which can work with any active capacitive screen, eliminating the need for a digitizer layer on the screen. It has 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity, double that of the Surface Pen, which is widely regarded as the best stylus in personal computing. Oh, and get this: It can be docked inside the device. Take that, Surface Pen. (Or Apple Pencil, for that matter.) But then that’s because it’s so small and thin: It remains to be seen whether the Pen Pro is actually any good.
The specs on the review unit neatly encapsulate the new normal when it comes to modern, Skylake-based PC mobility: This particular system is powered by a 6th generation Intel Core i5-6200, 8 GB of RAM, and a 250 GB M.2 SSD drive, and its 14-inch IPS/anti-glare screen is configured with a gorgeous 1080p (1920 x 1080) resolution that’s scaled to 150 percent in Windows 10 Pro by default (a bit too high, in my opinion).
I’ve only just started setting it up, but I do have a few more observations.
Expansion. The X1 Yoga supplies a full complement of expansion ports, with three (!) USB 3.0 ports (only one of which is always-on for device charging), a microSD card slot, full-sized HDMI and miniDisplayPort for video-out, and ThinkPad’s excellent OneLink+ docking port. Because this is a transforming PC, there are (very small) power and volume buttons on the side of the device, which will confuse users new to this form factor.
Versatility. Like the X1 Carbon, the X1 Yoga lays perfectly flat, which is surprisingly useful. And the ability of the keys to sink into the keyboard base as you move the device into presentation, tent or tablet mode is akin to a parlor trick: It’s hard not to call people over to check it out.
Keyboard. While I was initially disdainful of the island-style keys that are common today (and, no, were not invented or used first by Apple), I’ve come to like them quite a bit, and most of the PCs I’ve used at length over the past year—Surface Book, HP Spectre x360—use this keyboard type. Not the Lenovo: The X1 Yoga features a standard ThinkPad keyboard with slightly curved keys, and they take some getting used to (unless you’re a ThinkPad devotee, of course.) Also, a few keys—notably PrtSc—are in odd locations.
Dual-pointing. The X1 Yoga includes both that TrackPoint nubbin I love so much and a glass touchpad which is smallish for these times—its about half the size of the touchpad on the x360—but seems to work quite well. But transitioning back to TrackPoint will be the best part of reviewing this device, in some ways.
Portability. It is almost goofy how light this thing is. It’s like Lenovo sent me an empty shell instead of the real computer. Traveling with this thing will be a dream, assuming of course the battery life claims bear out. (And they never do. Lenovo claims up to 11 hours, and I have a hard time believing that figure.)
Wonderful, right? Yep. But the X1 Yoga will of course cost you: Pricing starts at about $1400 and quickly exceeds $2100 and you pile on processor, RAM and storage upgrades. Given the heady pricing of other ThinkPad X devices, this isn’t surprising, but it gives HP some breathing space with its much less expensive (if bigger and heavier) Spectre x360 lineup. And for whatever it’s worth, Microsoft’s Surface Book is even more expensive.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga is a truly impressive portable PC. I’m looking forward to putting it through its paces.