With its virtual keyboard and fantastic writing surface, the Yoga Book could be the blueprint for future laptops.
When Lenovo first announced its fancy new 2-in-1 Yoga Book at IFA in September 2016, I got a little caught up in the mad rush of excitement. “Hybrid of the future” claims were bandied about the office, and I was in full agreement. After all, this is a device that looks truly different to everything else. Now that it’s here in my hands, I’m pleased to say Lenovo has created a unique hybrid worthy of the hype.
For starters, there’s no physical keyboard. Instead, there’s a virtual one with illuminated, futuristic-looking keys that appear as though they’ve been pulled straight from an episode of Black Mirror. They vibrate when you tap them, giving a reassuring sense of haptic feedback as you type.
This isn’t a mere aesthetic touch, as the Yoga Book’s real party trick is its ability to turn that virtual keyboard into an electromagnetic resonance (EMR) writing surface, allowing you to draw or scribble down notes with its bundled stylus. Simply press the small stylus button in the top-right corner and the illuminated keys disappear, leaving plenty of room to play.
It’s incredibly versatile, and the lack of physical keys helped Lenovo to pare back the Yoga Book’s aluminium-magnesium-alloy chassis to a mere 9.6mm when closed, making it the world’s thinnest hybrid (or so Lenovo claims). At only 690g, the Yoga Book won’t weigh down your bag during travel either.
A new way of typing
Admittedly, typing is a little awkward to start: it feels like you’re learning to type for the first time. I wrote this review using the Yoga Book’s keyboard, and while the first draft was riddled with typos and mistakes, I soon wrestled it into submission. Just don’t expect to type very fast, as I found it couldn’t keep up the pace when I began to increase my overall typing speed.
Theoretically, typing on the Yoga Book should improve over time, as Lenovo says it has artificial-learning software built in. I didn’t see much evidence of this taking effect during my testing period, but it should learn exactly where your fingers land when you hit certain keys and adjust its active key area accordingly. For instance, if you always hit the spacebar below the defined area on the keyboard, the Yoga Book should remember that and still register the keypress.
Turn off the keyboard, though, and the Yoga Book excels as a proper note-taking device. Using the supplied “Real Pen” stylus to draw and take notes feels perfectly natural, with near-perfect precision thanks to the pen’s 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity. I much prefer it to writing directly onto glass, and the keyboard’s built-in palm rejection means you can naturally rest your hand on it without making any random marks on the page.
It’s strikingly similar to Wacom’s Bamboo Spark notepad, which also uses an EMR surface to track individual pen strokes on a pad of paper before turning them into digital notes to view on your phone or tablet. Here, you get the added benefit of seeing exactly what you’re writing on the screen above.
Another really attractive feature of the Yoga Book is its bundled magnetic clip. This allows you to clip any old A5 notebook to the surface and still take notes using the supplied pen, giving you both a physical version and a digital copy to share with friends or colleagues. In the Android model I was sent for review, all my notes were instantly saved into Lenovo’s proprietary Custom note-saving app, but the Windows version automatically saves everything into OneNote, allowing you to access it instantly from any Windows device via the cloud. This is by far the best way to use the Yoga Book, and is perfect for the frequent minute-takers who need both physical and digital copies of important notes.
Lenovo hasn’t done quite so well with its display. Despite the 10.1in, 1,920 x 1,200 panel’s surprisingly high maximum brightness of 422cd/m2, its overall colour accuracy was lacking, covering only 81.2% of the sRGB colour gamut. This makes it a poor fit for serious graphics work, but considering this hybrid’s price of $799, it’s churlish to be too harsh.
Both the Android and Windows 10 Pro version of the Yoga Book come with the same specs. This includes a quad-core 1.44GHz Intel Atom x5-Z8550 processor, able to boost up to 2.4GHz when necessary, with 4GB of RAM. It isn’t a fast combination, but it’s more than enough for light computing tasks on the move.
In Geekbench 4, for instance, the Yoga Book scored 3,222 in the multicore test and 1,162 in the single-core test. This is on the low side for a laptop, but should serve you well for general use. In practice, I didn’t have any noticeable issues when zipping around multiple applications; only with the keyboard struggling to recognise fast key presses on occasion.
Graphics performance is good rather than great, with an average of 19fps in the GFXBench Manhattan 3 onscreen test – that’s on a par with last year’s flagship smartphones. In practice, running Sky Force Reloaded was a little problematic, with the occasional drastic FPS dip when the action became a little too frenetic, but simpler games such as Threes ran perfectly.
Battery life is pretty good. With the screen brightness set to our standard measurement of 170cd/m2, the Yoga Book lasted 7hrs 22mins in our continuous video playback test, giving a decent day’s use away from the mains.
A natural downside of having such a thin device is its sheer lack of ports. Still, the Yoga Book squeezes in a micro-USB port, a micro-HDMI output and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Naturally, Lenovo also includes 802.11ac wireless and Bluetooth 4.
A final note
Despite a couple of niggles, the Yoga Book is an exceptional note-taking device that, for $799, does an excellent job of bridging the gap between laptop, tablet and notebook. Lenovo should be applauded for pushing the boundaries here, and it feels like a step forward over the torrents of Surface and Surface Pro-alikes I’ve seen stream into the labs over the past 18 months.
You also get more for your money than the now rather elderly Surface 3, as you’ll need to spend more to get the keyboard and stylus – both of which come as standard with the Yoga Book. I’d be more inclined to spend an extra $200 for the Windows version of the Yoga Book over the Android model on test here, but the Android version is a great fit for those who regularly use Google Docs.
My only note of caution is that, from past experience with this combination of Atom processor and 4GB of RAM, Windows 10 will on occasion seem sluggish. Still, if you’re willing to make speed and keyboard sacrifices for all the benefits that come in return, then the Yoga Book is the device for you.