Lenovo refines its ThinkPad Yoga for 2016, and the result is a powerful hybrid that’s fit for any office.
Lenovo knows a thing or two about building great business laptops, and the ThinkPad X1 Yoga is no exception. Fusing Intel’s Skylake processors with a 14in WQHD display, this hybrid is designed to flit between laptop and tablet modes with ease – and with a dash of style to boot.
Not that the ThinkPad X1 Yoga draws attention to itself. Encased in sheets of matte-black carbon fiber, bar the small pinprick of red afloat in the centre of the keyboard – yes, there’s still a TrackPoint, this is a ThinkPad after all – the X1 Yoga is relentlessly monochromatic.
There’s still something reassuringly utilitarian in its simplicity. And crucially for a 14in laptop, it’s thin and light. Weighing 1.27kg and measuring a slender 16.8mm thick, it’s lighter than many 13.3in laptops. What’s more, it’s MIL-SPEC rated for toughness. The combination of carbon fiber and a metal skeleton make for a business laptop that’s ready to handle considerable punishment.
By far the X1 Yoga’s greatest talent is that its hybrid trickery doesn’t come at the expense of usability. Unlike the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, say, it’s a great laptop that just happens to turn into a king-sized tablet. Yes, it’s heavy by tablet standards, but even here it has several advantages over some of its peers, not least that the stylus docks invisibly into the X1 Yoga’s right-hand side. When there, it silently charges, but if you happen to exhaust its battery then Lenovo claims a 15-second charge will provide up to 1hr 40mins of use.
In truth, it’s hard to find anything to moan about. The backlit keyboard offers the usual ThinkPad quality and, as the X1 Yoga has a 14in chassis, it’s every bit as spacious and comfortable to type on as a desktop keyboard. Personally, I’d still rather have a touchpad with discrete buttons, but Lenovo’s buttonless touchpad is reliable, and you can always resort to the touchpoint if you prefer.
The ThinkPad X1 Yoga is more than a superb laptop, though. Tilt back the screen and the solid yet flexible hinge allows you to fold it through 360 degrees and use it in stand, tent or tablet modes.
In tablet mode, the X1 Yoga is in its element. Pull the small stylus out of the right-hand edge, and the matte finish across the display gives a lovely feel to everything from writing to sketching or annotating documents. It’s the most responsive tablet I’ve ever used – and that includes the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 – with the Wacom active digitiser and pen technology providing a perfect blend of sensitivity and accuracy.
The most unusual twist in the X1 Yoga’s specifications is perhaps the one you’d least expect in a business laptop: that 14in touchscreen also comes in an optional OLED version. Our review unit had the standard IPS touchscreen, but if the OLED panel is up to these standards then expect pure brilliance. The 2,560 x 1,440 panel is so crisp and vivid that I briefly wondered if I was looking at a fake laptop. Desktop icons are suspended on an inky black and colours look gorgeously vibrant. For a while, I wondered if I actually had the OLED model in front of me.
Run through the numbers and there’s little to complain about. The panel covers 96.9% of the sRGB colour space, hits a maximum brightness of 296cd/m2, and has a solid – if not class-leading – contrast ratio of 916:1. The clincher here, however, is colour accuracy; not only has Lenovo ensured that the X1 Yoga reproduces almost all the colours you could want, it also delivers the correct shades. An average Delta E of 1.37 is good by any standards, and the maximum deviation of 3.55 isn’t bad at all. The only shortfall is the panel’s inability to delve down into the most intense blues, which is barely noticeable.
Here is a business laptop that’s equally at home with colour-critical applications as it is Excel, which is something of a rarity.
Turn of speed
No corners have been cut in the performance department. You get your choice of dual-core Core i5 or Core i7 Skylake processors, stretching up to the 2.6GHz Core i7-6600U in this review unit.
With 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM as standard, you can upgrade that to 16GB on the high-end models for $200. Factor in the choice of everything from bog-standard 128GB SSDs to encrypted Opal 2 drives, right up to blazingly fast 512GB NVMe drives, and you can configure models from $2,299 to almost $4,400.
I didn’t find the X1 Yoga wanting for performance. This isn’t especially surprising. With a top-of-the-range Core i7, 8GB of RAM and a ridiculously fast 512GB Samsung NVMe SSD inside, you wouldn’t expect this laptop to be slow. The SSD produces read and write speeds that are super- impressive, sequential read speeds tickling the 2,000MB/sec mark, while write speeds still nudge just over 1,000MB/sec. Boot Windows 10 Pro from cold and it’s mere seconds before you land on the desktop.
Oddly enough, the Lenovo didn’t perform quite as brilliantly as I expected in our benchmarks. An overall score of 39 puts it a whisker behind the Dell XPS 13 I tested, which contained Intel’s slightly slower 2.5GHz Core i7-6500U processor. I have a sneaking suspicion that Lenovo’s more aggressive power management might be the issue here.
Having used the ThinkPad X1 Yoga in practice, though, I’m confident this laptop will coast through most tasks without blinking. I’d recommend the 16GB of RAM upgrade if you’re a fan of OS virtualisation, but other than that the specification on test here is a match for most people’s needs.
Battery life is respectable, too. With the screen brightness set to 170cd/m2 and Wi-Fi off, the X1 Yoga was able to play a movie constantly for 7hrs 55mins. Use a more aggressive power plan, reduce the screen brightness (even 85cd/m2 is fine for most indoor environments), and you’ll be closing the lid and heading home for the day before having to dig the charger out of your bag.
Connectivity and security
When it comes to connections, it’s probably easier to begin with what’s missing: USB Type-C. While you could argue this isn’t a big loss for a business laptop – and it’s still far from essential on consumer devices – it’s a connector that you may come to miss in time.
But that’s the limit of my criticisms of the X1 Yoga’s connection options. There are three USB 3 ports, a OneLink+ port for adding Lenovo’s various optional docking stations, and you get both HDMI and mini-DisplayPort outputs, too. Factor in the fingerprint reader just beneath the keyboard and the X1 Yoga ticks all the right boxes.
This review unit, which is currently the priciest pre-configured model on Lenovo’s site, also partners an Intel 802.11ac Wi-Fi chipset with a Sierra Wireless EM7455 LTE modem that supports the fastest mobile broadband speeds going (up to 300Mbits/sec to be precise). However, you can swap the mobile broadband for an Intel WiGig module, which opens the door to high-speed wireless docking stations. Or you might prefer to drop down to the $2,899 configuration, which loses the mobile broadband and goes one rung down the CPU ladder: it includes a i7-6500U chip, not the i7-6600U we tested.
Lenovo has produced some amazing devices in recent times, so it’s no surprise to see it waltz in and do what it does best: produce another brilliant business hybrid. It isn’t cheap – even in its most modest specification, the X1 Yoga is a cool $2,299 – but you most certainly get what you pay for.
The screen is large enough to use all day without yearning for an external monitor; everything from the keyboard to the stylus is faultless; there’s a three-year on-site warranty; and the performance is strong enough to please all but the most demanding users.
Factor in the flexibility on offer and it’s nigh-on unbeatable. If you’re in charge of the IT department, order yours now. If not, start begging the person who is.