P owerful; light; long-lasting: pick two. That’s the kind of choice that faces an R&D department every time it puts pen to drawing board. With the Yoga 3 Pro, however, Lenovo decided it didn’t want to compromise: this £1,300 hybrid harvests the first crop of Intel’s long-awaited Core M processors to form the thinnest, lightest 13.3in hybrid money can buy.
Lenovo has pared its hybrid to a mere sliver: it measures 13.8mm thick, and even the small rubber feet on its underside only swell that measurement to a slender 15.2mm.
It’s light, too, the metal and plastic construction tipping the scales at a mere 1.19kg. This isn’t a record-breaking figure – although Sony has since departed the laptop market, its featherweight VAIO Pro 13 weighed a mere 1.05kg – but Lenovo hasn’t compromised on build quality. The Yoga 3 Pro feels surprisingly resilient given its dainty build, and it’s only once you make a concerted effort to twist it out of shape that the taut chassis flexes and springs back into place.
It isn’t unpleasant to look at, either: sandwiched between panels of metal that curl delicately towards the edges, the chassis tapers gently from the rear to the front edge, and a pronounced lip of grippy rubber echoes the book-like styling of the previous Yoga generations. By far the most ostentatious feature of the Yoga 3 Pro is the “watchband”-style hinge at the rear. This combines strips of solid metal links with six intertwined, multilayered chains, which join the display and keyboard together – Lenovo says it’s formed from more than 800 separate parts.
Amazingly, Lenovo hasn’t had to throw out all of the connectivity in the name of slimness. There are three USB 3 ports (ingeniously, one doubles as the mains charging port), a mini-HDMI output, a 4-in-1 memory card reader (full-sized SD, MMC, SDXC and SDHX are supported) and a 3.5mm audio jack. There are also physical volume buttons and an orientation lock along the right-hand edge. 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4 also make the grade.
In everyday use, the Yoga 3 Pro’s trim figure makes all the difference. Its predecessor the Yoga 2 Pro weighed only 200g more, but that hybrid’s thicker, heavier chassis made for a device that was palpably less wieldy in tablet mode. By comparison, we found ourselves using the Yoga 3 Pro far more regularly as a giant-sized tablet. It’s large but not unpleasantly so, and the combination of the grippy rubber keyboard surround, light weight and thinness make it far less of a handful.
Crucially, the Yoga 3 Pro still makes for a pretty good laptop too. The watchband hinge holds the display firmly through every one of its 360 degrees of movement; the rubberised keyboard surround and chassis’ soft, rounded edges are a perfect pairing with the responsive, crisp-feeling Scrabble-tile keyboard; and the compact touchpad below works without fuss. Meanwhile, the touchscreen above responds to every pinch, flick and edge-swipe – this is a luxurious-feeling, high-quality hybrid.
It’s not all great news, however. For instance, we can easily pick fault with other aspects of the keyboard: the loss of dedicated function keys seems an odd choice on a “pro” laptop, and the decision to push the Page Up, Page Down and Delete buttons along a row on the right-hand edge (and right next to the Enter and Backspace keys) means the layout takes some getting used to. Until you acclimatise to those eccentricities, you can expect to spend your first hour with the Yoga 3 Pro regularly hitting the wrong keys.
The Yoga 3 Pro’s stick-thin chassis owes much to Intel’s Core M processor. As the first production model we’ve seen from Intel’s 14nm CPU family, the Core M-5Y70 has a weight of expectation resting on it.
It’s the fastest of the three-strong family of current Core M processors, with two cores running at a base clock frequency of 1.1GHz, which doesn’t sound all that impressive. During single-threaded applications, however, Turbo Boost takes the CPU up to a far quicker 2.6GHz – which is doubly impressive given that the Core M is capable of working within a TDP of only 6W, which is not much more than a humble Bay Trail Atom CPU.
However, the Yoga 3 Pro doesn’t take advantage of the Core M’s fanless potential: there’s a tiny 25mm low-profile fan hidden inside. It’s very quiet - push the Yoga 3 Pro flat out and only the slightest rush of air is audible - but the downside is that it simply doesn’t do a good job of keeping the CPU cool. We saw the clock speed throttle down to 1GHz under load, and raw performance suffers compared to Haswell-based Core i5 and Core i7 Ultrabooks.
In our Real World Benchmarks, the Yoga 3 Pro scored an unremarkable 0.45, 35% less than the 1.6GHz Core i5-4200U in the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro.
It’s 28% off the pace in the Media encoding part of those tests and 40% slower in the Multitasking tests. It doesn’t feel slow subjectively – the 256GB Lite-On SSD and 8GB of RAM make sure of that – and the component scores in our benchmarks bear out that experience. Indeed, the Core M drops only 8% behind the Yoga 2 Pro’s Haswell Core i5 in the Responsiveness portion of our benchmarks, but once you really pick up the pace and start hammering the CPU with multithreaded applications, performance really starts to suffer.
The appearance of a new graphics chipset, the Intel HD Graphics 5300, does little to spice up gaming performance. In our Crysis benchmark, run at 1,366 x 768 resolution and Low quality settings, the Yoga 3 Pro limped to an average frame rate of just 26fps – it should come as no surprise to discover this isn’t machine a lightweight gaming laptop.
Battery life and display quality
Given the Core M’s low power demands, battery life should be a highlight. Alas, it isn’t. Lenovo claims up to nine hours and, disappointingly, it proves to be in the right ballpark. With Wi-Fi off and the screen dimmed to 75cd/m2, the Yoga lasted 8hrs 2mins in our light-use test. Dial up the screen brightness, and even light web browsing sends the battery meter plummeting.
We suspect the 3,200 x 1,800 IPS touchscreen is the major culprit here – the LED backlighting is by far the most power-hungry component in the Yoga 3 Pro. Sadly, it isn’t even a particularly good display. At first glance, it delivers eye-pamperingly rich colours, and the maximum brightness of 322cd/m2 makes for really punchy onscreen images. However, closer inspection reveals a number of flaws. Greyish blacks swallow detail in darker scenes and leave the display’s contrast ratio languishing at around 438:1 – significantly worse than we’d expect for the money – and while the panel covers a reasonable 89% of the sRGB colour gamut, colour accuracy is middling, with the brightest tones looking slightly dull and washed out.
We had high hopes for the Yoga 3 Pro, but it’s safe to say that these were dashed during testing. While it’s light and easy on the eye, it underachieves in almost every other area. Average performance and unremarkable battery life mark an undistinguished debut for Intel’s Core M architecture, and a subpar display and iffy keyboard layout leave ample room for improvement.
If it were less than $1800 or so, we may have been able to see past some of these flaws; at $2099, they’re simply unforgiveable. It will easily have the edge on the showroom floor, but with its own stablemate the Yoga 2 Pro offering superior performance and a similar specification for $600 less, the Yoga 3 Pro is a rather expensive luxury.