What's Hot: Super-slim and light yet strong. Wacom AES pen included in silo. Fast performance, versatile 2-in-1 design, superb keyboard. Ample ports with Lenovo's OneLink+ docking connector and WiGig being a reasonable stand-in for USB-C.
What's Not: Expensive! Very good but not great IPS displays.
Even if you're not a "ThinkPad person" who appreciates the unassuming but robust and well-made Lenovo matte black rectangles, you probably thought the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, now in it's third generation, was pretty darned fetching. It's sleek, slim and fits easily in any bag. Lenovo took the goodness that is the X1 Carbon and gave it their popular 360 degree hinges and a digital pen, and the ThinkPad X1 Yoga was born. While it could be daunting to figure out which SKUs of a given pen-enabled ThinkPad model actually had pen support, all X1 Yogas have the pen as well as a touch screen--so there's no confusion here. The 14" ThinkPad X1 Yoga is supremely thin yet rigid, and it has a spill resistant keyboard-- it's ready for the road and isn't in the least bit delicate. It weighs 2.8 pounds (1.27 Kg), and Lenovo claims it's the lightest and thinnest 14" business portable. There are few 2-in-1 Windows laptops this light-- Lenovo's own Yoga 900 and LaVie Z, and the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Spin are the only convertibles we've reviewed so far that are this light, but all have slightly smaller 13.3" displays.
It's hard not like the X1 Yoga, other than the price-- it ranges from $1,440 to $2,000+. ThinkPads aren't cheap, but like the Microsoft Surface Book, the newest Yoga is one the most expensive Ultrabooks. For those on a tighter budget, there's the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14 late 2015/early 2016 model (sold as the ThinkPad Yoga 460 outside the US). It's a pound heavier, is a bit thicker but it has a 14" IPS display, the same Wacom AES pen in a silo and NVIDIA 940M graphics for $999 with a Core i5, 8 gigs of RAM and a 256 gig SSD. It won't turn heads like the X1 Yoga and the components might not be as uniformly high end, but the price is much lower.
Specs at a Glance
The ThinkPad X1 Yoga runs on 6th generation Intel Skylake dual core, 15 watt core i5 and i7 CPUs. At launch it's available with 8 gigs of RAM, and 16 gigs may be an option once build to order models are available in February 2016. It has your choice of SATA or PCIe SSD drives (256 or 512 gig at launch), dual band WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1 and optional WiGig 802.11ad for wireless peripherals. In April it will be available with a Samsung QHD OLED display-- making it one of the first laptops with OLED. Conventional IPS displays are available at launch in your choice of full HD 1920 x 1080 or QHD 2560 x 1440, all with touch and Wacom AES active pen and digitizer. The laptop has an ample selection of ports including full size HDMI, which isn't something we take for granted on a skinny 0.66" machine. A fingerprint scanner that works with Windows Hello is standard, and it's the kind you lay your finger on-- much like the iPhone 6s and the Samsung Galaxy S6.
Design and Ergonomics
If you've seen the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, you'll have a good idea of the ThinkPad X1 Yoga's look and feel: they're nearly identical except for the 360 degree hinges on the Yoga vs. the 180 degree hinges on the X1 Carbon. The notebook has a carbon fiber lid and magnesium-aluminum internal frame. Carbon is significantly lighter than aluminum, yet it's robust enough to allow the X1 Yoga to meet a variety of Mil spec tests for vibration, impact, moisture and dust. It's a thin matte black wedge whose look says "durable" and "cutting edge", but it's clearly not a flashy looking machine. You either dig the ThinkPad look or you don't. It resists fingerprints, is easy to clean up and Lenovo says it will survive healthy a splash of water on the keyboard. Despite its thinness, it's designed to handle drops better than the average laptop, and as our wood floors can attest--when I once dropped a ThinkPad from waist level, the floor dented but the Yoga was unscathed.
There are vents on the bottom and along the back edge. The fan was often on for the first day thanks to software installs and Windows 10 updates, but after that it quieted down and even when drawing in tablet mode in Painter 2016 and Clip Studio Paint, it ran in near silence (Core i7 model). We did hear the fan come on from time to time when working with 24 meg RAW files in Photoshop CC and frequently when working in Adobe Premiere to edit and export 1080p videos, which is normal for an Intel 5th or 6th generation Ultrabook. The bottom never got burning hot, but the back center area gets warm to the touch (but below human body temperature at 95F).
The X1 Yoga has a healthy port selection for a thin and light laptop, and it's an improvement over older generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon models that were skimpy on ports. It has 3 USB 3.0 ports, mini DisplayPort, full size HDMI, 3.5mm combo audio and a microSD card slot that's hidden under a small plastic cover on the rear spine. There's a SIM card slot for the optional LTE-A 4G modem (even if the machine doesn't have the modem option, it will still have the card carrier and slot). The included Wacom AES pen lives in a silo on the right side. The machine has down-firing stereo speakers and a basic sound control panel that's geared more toward business communications than multimedia. It's fairly loud but sound is thin with little bass.
Sorry, there's no USB-C port--Lenovo says that since this is a business laptop they wanted to offer as many currently in demand ports as possible rather than foregoing those in favor of USB-C. Given the dearth of USB-C dongle adapters and peripherals, I can't complain. Two years from now, USB-C may be the future of modular computing with external graphics cards and multifunction adapters that add USB 3.0, Ethernet and HDMI in one (particularly with the Thunderbolt 3 standard). Instead, Lenovo offers a selection of OneLink and OneLink + docks using the docking connector on the laptop's side. The OneLink+ is compact and adds USB ports, mini DisplayPort, Gigabit Ethernet and audio ports. Then there's the optional (and still not shipping at the time of this writing) WiGig 802.11ad for wireless peripherals.
The 360 degree hinges allow you to use the ThinkPad X1 Yoga in laptop, tent, presentation and tablet modes. The hinges are firm and display bounce isn't bad for a 2-in-1 convertible-- the display didn't bounce more than a standard laptop's when riding on a train. Unlike Microsoft Surface Book, the X1 Yoga isn't top heavy and it stays balanced in a variety of display angles in laptop mode. If you find Windows 10's versatility perfect for convertibles or if you wish to use the pen for notes or art, then the ThinkPad X1 Yoga makes perfect sense. If you simply want a laptop, consider the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
The ThinkPad X1 Yoga has a good display by Lenovo standards. That's not a backhanded compliment; rather Lenovo's business laptops and more affordable consumer laptops have decent but not awesome displays. They're improving here and the ThinkPad X1 Yoga's IPS full HD and QHD displays are brighter and have wider color gamut than many of the ThinkPads we've reviewed, including previous generation X1 Carbons. Lenovo claims 300 nits of brightness and our anti-glare 1920 x 1080 panel managed better: 319 nits. It has decent but not stellar 0.44 black levels at max brightness and a 700:1 contrast ratio. First impressions are good--it looks saturated and colorful with sharp text. The anti-glare coating isn't grainy but it dulls blacks, so dark scenes in movies look a bit muddy compared to the Surface Book, HP Spectre x360, Samsung ATIV Book 9 Spin, Dell XPS 13 and other machines with top notch displays. Lenovo tells us that the full HD and QHD IPS models have the same color gamut, which is 92% of sRGB and 72% of Adobe RGB. That's 3 percent below the competition, which isn't a significant number.
For those who really want a display that wows, Lenovo will offer the ThinkPad X1 Yoga with a Samsung OLED display. In fact, it will be one of the first laptops with an OLED display, and that means very deep blacks and strong color saturation. I'm surprised that Lenovo selected a business laptop for a feature that would have strong appeal to home users, but the ThinkPad X1 Yoga is clearly a halo product. The OLED display will cost a few hundred dollars more, and it won't be available until April. For content consumption (watching videos and viewing photos), it should be lovely. If you've seen Samsung Galaxy S series phones, you have an idea of what OLED looks like. For graphics professionals, the appeal may be limited depending on how good calibration is and how oversaturated colors are--OLED tends to look much better than life, and that can be misleading when creating content for others to consume on standard LCDs. OLED is also prone to burn in, and PCs have static elements like task bars, so Lenovo has software that can moderate taskbar intensity to avoid burn in. OLED uses almost no power when displaying blacks, but when displaying white web pages or Word documents, it's less power efficient than IPS and IGZO, so Lenovo quotes 2 hour shorter runtimes with OLED.
Deals and Shopping:
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Video Review
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Wacom AES Pen Demo
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga vs. Microsoft Surface Book Comparison
Trackpad and Keyboard
Oh my, it's a wonderful keyboard! ThinkPads generally have some of the best keyboards on the market, but the X1 Carbon went through a few dubious iterations with less than ideal key travel and weird keyboard layouts. That's a thing of the past and the X1 Yoga has impressive key travel for a skinny Ultrabook, and tactile feel is wonderful thanks to Lenovo's sculpted keys and damping. The keyboard is backlit in white (two stages, controlled via the FN + spacebar) and the layout is standard for a ThinkPad (the Fn key is located to the left of the Control key).
The large Synaptics trackpad works very well and it rivals the Surface Book and Dell XPS 13. Unlike those two, this isn't a bare bones software implementation--- you get the usual excellent Lenovo control panel to control the TrackPoint, gestures, scrolling and more. The ThinkPad has the legacy red TrackPoint eraser stick pointer and 3 dedicated hardware buttons above the trackpad. Alas, as with nearly all laptops, the trackpad is buttonless, but clicking is quiet and precise.
Horsepower and Performance
This is an Intel 6th generation Skylake Ultrabook with dual core ULV 15 watt CPUs and Intel HD 520 integrated graphics. It's simply too thin for dedicated graphics, and Lenovo offers larger Yoga models with NVIDIA 940M graphics for those who need a little boost for gaming and video editing. The X1 Yoga is available with Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs and 8 gigs of RAM that's soldered on board (not upgradeable). Other RAM capacities may be available in Feb. 2016 when more build to order options are due to hit Lenovo's website. It has a single M.2 SSD slot and the laptop is available with your choice of SATA or PCIe NVMe SSD drives. Our $1,800 configuration has the 2.5 GHz Intel Core i7-6500U, 8 gigs of DDR3 RAM and a 256 gig SATA SSD OPAL drive and a 1080p display. It feels quick and benchmarks at the head of the pack among Skylake laptops with the same CPU and HD 520 graphics. There's no bloatware (3rd party junk software) on ThinkPad models; only Lenovo's many drivers and utilities. Thus it's a fairly clean build with nothing to slow down the laptop.
- 2.5 GHz Core i7-6500U, 8 gigs RAM, 256 gig SATA SSD used for tests.
Lenovo has switched from Wacom EMR digitizers and pens to the new Wacom AES technology that has much in common with N-Trig on Microsoft Surface Pro 4, Surface Book and some Vaio models. Both N-Trig and Wacom AES use electrostatic pens where the pen is active (it supplies power rather than the display digitizer providing power). The included small pen lives in a silo so you won't lose it when transporting the laptop. It charges in the silo--15 seconds in the silo is enough for 2 hours of pen use. If you prefer a larger pen, there's the $40 Lenovo ThinkPad Pen Pro, which uses a AAAA battery just like N-Trig pens. The anti-glare layer adds tooth for writing and drawing, making for a more pleasant experience than on the ThinkPad Yoga 14 (ThinkPad Yoga 460) glossy and slippery display. The pen supports 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity, but I honestly couldn't feel the difference in terms of pressure levels compared to N-Trig's 1024 levels.
Edge detection and parallax (pen tip offset) are excellent, again like N-Trig and better than Wacom EMR in that respect. Wacom says EMR is still their most precise and premium technology, but it does cost more, adds weight and thickness due to the digitizer on the display. I actually feel that lack of parallax and good edge detection are more important than absolute accuracy, so I'm content with Wacom AES and the latest N-Trig for my writing and art needs.
Palm rejection works very well (you can rest your hand on the display when writing and drawing), and the Wacom control panel allows you to adjust the pressure curve to a limited degree. It supports WinTab for those who use older art programs that require WinTab for pressure sensitivity and it worked well in OneNote and a variety of art programs like Corel Painter 2016, ArtRage 4, Adobe Photoshop CC and Clip Studio Paint.
The laptop has a 4 cell, 52 Whr battery that's sealed inside. You could replace it if you remove the bottom cover affixed with several Phillips head screws. Lenovo claims 11 hour runtimes (9 for the OLED display model), and as ever that's optimistic. We did however average 7-8 hours of productivity and streaming video use with brightness set to 40% (a bit dim for my taste) and WiFi on with our full HD model. That's good for a very slim and light laptop with a 14" full HD display and the Core i7 CPU. It supports Lenovo's quick charge, so a half hour layover at the airport can significantly top up the battery. Our machine shipped with a 65 watt charger, which is a bit higher than the 45 watt average for ULV dual core Ultrabooks with integrated graphics (it helps speed up charging).
The OLED display model has shorter battery life since OLED is very power effecient when displaying black (it actually uses no power) but less efficient when displaying white web pages or light colored things of any sort (windows, photos, desktops). That's why Lenovo ships the OLED model with a predominantly black desktop background. Our OLED model ran for an hour less on a charge, and it averaged 6 hours of light use.
Lenovo's own ThinkPad Yoga 14/ThinkPad Yoga 460 competes with a much more affordable price tag but higher weight and thickness. It has the same pen, Skylake generation processors (so far only Core i5 and no PCIe SSD option) and full HD and QHD IPS display options (sorry, no OLED) for considerably less money. It's not sexy, it's not super-light but it has practical amenities like a RAM slot.
The Microsoft Surface Book is a direct competitor with a groundbreaking and more eye-catching design (see our comparison video above). Some love its fulcrum hinge and radical look, while others worry about its portability and how that hinge will survive. It has a better display, not considering Lenovo's OLED model that's not shipping yet. My money would be on the Surface Book's PixelSense display for its higher resolution, excellent color accuracy and battery-friendliness compared to OLED. The Surface Book has fuller and louder stereo speakers that face you rather than the desk, and a pen we like a little bit better for art (both are fine for notes). The Surface Book's tablet detaches so you're holding 1.6 lbs. vs. the Yoga's 2.8 lbs., but the Surface Book's total weight is noticeably heavier at 3.34- 3.5 lbs. (varies by GPU option). The Book has optional dedicated graphics, while the Yoga offers only integrated graphics. They're both quite expensive.
The HP Spectre x360 continues to be the thorn in the side of every competitor. It has a sleek unibody design, very good displays, long battery life for the 1080p model, pen support (pen sold separately) and a crazy low price tag starting around $999. It's a consumer facing product rather than a business laptop like the Lenovo, so it's not designed to withstand the abuse the ThinkPad X1 Yoga can handle, and there's no on-site warranty option.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga is not only everything we wished the generation 1 through 3 ThinkPad X1 Carbon models would have been (better screen, more ports, better specs for the price), it's more. It has the 360 degree hinge for versatility--look ma, it's a tablet, it's a laptop and a presentation device. It has a very good digital pen with a place to store that easy to lose pen. It's incredibly slim and light, yet durable. The keyboard--those keys are like Recaro seats for your fingers. The trackpad is excellent with useful software that's not to be found on MS Precision trackpads, and for those who love the TrackPoint with buttons, it's here. Performance is excellent for this class of machine and the display's color gamut is finally competitive, even if the anti-glare coating makes colors pop a tiny bit less. The only challenge? The price. The base price is steep enough; add on those options you know you really want and you're looking at one very expensive Ultrabook.
Display:14" IPS touch screen with Wacom AES digitizer and pen. OLED display optional. 1920 x 1080 and 2560 x 1440 display options (OLED is QHD only). Intel HD 520 integrated graphics. HDMI and mini DisplayPort.
Battery:4 cell, 52 Whr Lithium
Performance:Intel 6th generation Skylake Core i5-6200U and Core i7-6500U dual core 15 watt CPU options. 8 gigs DDR3 RAM (soldered on, 16 gig option coming). 128, 256 and 512 gig SSD drives in M.2 slot (SATA and PCIe available).
Size:13.11 x 9.01 x 0.66 inches. Weight: 2.8 pounds.
Security and Biometrics:TPM and fingerprint scanner that works with Windows Hello.
Audio:Built-in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
Networking:Intel 8260 2x2 dual band
WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.1. WiGig 802.11ad will be optional when available.
Software:Windows 10 Home and Professional available.
Expansion and Ports:3 USB 3.0 ports, OneLink+ docking connector, HDMI, mini DisplayPort, 3.5mm audio WWAN SIM card slot (even if not purcahsed with 4G LTE-A radio option, the card slot is there) and
microSD card slot.