Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga: The shape of convertibles to come

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga: The shape of convertibles to come

Lenovo’s latest laptop/tablet combo offers an excellent 14-in. display, a pressure-sensitive stylus and the ability to take on a variety of forms.

If you like the look of Lenovo's recently unveiled Yoga 910 and its 13.9-inch screen but need something a bit lighter, you may want to check out the 14-in. ThinkPad X1 Yoga. Both are convertible touch-screen laptops that fold back to become tablets, but the OLED display on the higher-end model (which is the one I reviewed) is one of the richest and most vibrant screens ever to grace a notebook. And unlike the Yoga 910, it's available right now.

I've lived with the X1 Yoga for more than a month and it is one of the best designed and built computers I've ever come across.

There are several models available. The entry-level model, which starts at $1,394 (vendor price), comes with a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage as well as an FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS touchscreen. The test model, which at the time of this writing cost $2,195 (vendor price), comes with a Core i7-6600U processor, an OLED WQHD (2560 x 1440) touchscreen, 16GB of memory and 256GB of storage. (A model with a 512GB drive is also available.) The system has Intel's latest Graphics 520 accelerator along with 128MB of dedicated video memory.

The OLED display is very impressive. In my tests, it registered 240 candelas per square meter (Cd/m²) of brightness, which objectively doesn't compare well to some other OLED displays I've tested, such as the one that comes with HP's EliteBook Folio G1, which rated 411 Cd/m². However, while the HP was brighter, the X1 Yoga had the advantage on color richness and saturation -- it delivered rich and vivid images that made most other displays look dull. (Unfortunately, the display also picks up fingerprints faster than a TV detective; I found that I needed to wipe it clean daily.)

Laptop to tablet

The X1 Yoga's pair of lid hinges allow the display to smoothly rotate 360 degrees. In its "normal" configuration, it's a no-compromises keyboard-centric notebook with a stable screen that doesn't wobble too much when tapped. If you turn the screen around to face the other direction, it becomes a presentation system. You can also fold the screen down in a tent orientation for easy video viewing.

Finally, flip the display all the way down over the keyboard, and the X1 Yoga becomes a very useable tablet (although the keyboard and screen portions remain about an eighth of an inch apart and don't lock together into a single unit).

I used it as a tablet for taking notes, sketching and watching video on the road and was quite comfortable using it as such -- with one caveat: Measuring 0.7 x 13.1 x 9.0 in. and weighing 2.9 lb., the X1 Yoga is a bit large and heavy to hold and use as a tablet for more than about five minutes. It works much better on a lap or a table top.

A top-notch laptop

The X1 Yoga has a magnesium alloy chassis surrounded by a carbon fiber case. Its soft rubbery coating feels supple and the X1 Yoga's backlit keyboard (with two brightness settings) is very comfortable to use, with 19mm keys that provide excellent feedback and 2mm of key depth.

Lenovo still offers its users two ways to direct the cursor: The system has a smooth 4.5-in. touchpad and a pointing stick located between the G, H and B keys. Its speakers are underneath the system so that when used in traditional notebook orientation, the audio is muffled. The full range of its sound comes out when it's in tablet, tent or presentation mode.

It comes with three USB 3.0 ports, a mini DisplayPort, an HDMI port and audio-out port. There's a well-hidden micro-SD card slot next to the left hinge.

The X1 Yoga includes a pressure-sensitive stylus that slides into a slot in the system's side, which also charges the stylus in about five minutes. I prefer the stylus set-up of Microsoft's Surface Pro, which lets you start up an app by clicking its top -- still, this is a useful addition.

The X1 Yoga includes Bluetooth 4.1 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi, but no Ethernet port. One the left side, there is a proprietary OneLink+ connector that works with Lenovo's optional ThinkPad OneLink+ to RJ45 Adapter (which costs about $70 -- Amazon price)  to yield an Ethernet port.

The ThinkPad OneLink+ Dock (which runs about $145 -- Amazon price) takes this a step further with ports for Ethernet and audio, as well as a pair of mini DisplayPort connections for multi-screen external video. It also includes four USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports.

The X1 Yoga has security covered with a fingerprint scanner and a second-generation Trusted Platform Module (TPM) for remote connections. In addition, its processor includes the vPro extensions for manageability and Intel's Trusted Execution Technology (TXT).

Test results

The X1 Yoga scored a reasonable 2,760 on the PCMark 8 benchmark tests, just ahead of the HP EliteBook Folio G1 touchscreen system, which has a slightly slower M7-6Y75 processor and scored 2,532.

While many other recent systems do without a fan, the X1 Yoga does come with one; this is probably why the system never got warmer than 96 degrees Fahrenheit.

Its 3,150mAh battery powered the system for four hours and eight minutes as measured by PCMark 8's battery benchmark, which is in the ballpark for similar systems and indicates it should last a full day with normal on-and-off use. When I timed it while continuously playing videos, it ran for six hours and 21 minutes, which will get you through most intercoastal flights.

In addition to Windows 10 Pro, the X1 Yoga came with Lenovo's Companion app, which can optimize the system and alert you to out-of-date software. Lenovo's one-year warranty can be extended to three years for a reasonable $109; three years of accidental damage protection adds $49.

Bottom line

Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Yoga is more than the sum of its parts. It may not be at the top of the heap if you look at the performance, battery life or display numbers by themselves, but in practice, I found it did everything I needed to do and did it well -- and was, in fact, a joy to use.

The main problem with the ThinkPad X1 Yoga, however, is its price. For example, compare it to a convertible such as the 15.6-in. Samsung Notebook Spin 7. At the time of this writing, the Lenovo site quoted a price of $2,195 (after an online discount) for a Core i7 system with 16GB RAM, a 512GB SSD and an AMOLED display, while the Samsung site gave a discounted price of $1,100 for a Spin 7 with a Core i7 processor, 16GB RAMM, 1TB HD/126GB SSD storage and a Full HD display. Even bearing other factors in mind (for example, the Samsung is larger and heavier, and comes with Windows 10 Home rather than Pro), that's a considerable gap.

However, if you can get somebody to buy it for you -- or if price isn't an issue -- then the ThinkPad X1 Yoga should definitely be on your list.

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