Last year we were nearly smitten by the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14, a 360 degree convertible with a superb backlit keyboard and rare (for an Ultrabook) dedicated graphics. Fast forward to the summer of 2015 and the 14" Yoga has been replaced by the 15" model. Perhaps Lenovo felt the 14" model competed with the 14" ThinkPad X1 Carbon and ThinkPad T450s and thus confused shoppers. The ThinkPad Yoga 15 is indeed a super-sized ThinkPad Yoga 12--it feels more differentiated than did the 14" model.
The ThinkPad Yoga 15 is a big screen Ultrabook that weighs 5 pounds and is 0.84" thick. It has the usual sturdy ThinkPad build and matte black finish with an aluminum lid. The Lift n' Lock keyboard is a dream to type on and it retracts and locks when you swivel the 360 degree display hinge from laptop to the other modes (tablet, tent and presentation). Clearly there must be a market for giant convertibles since Dell also makes a 15" Inspiron 2-in-1 and HP has ventured here as well with the Envy x360. I personally find a 5 pound, 15.6" convertible a bit unwieldy to use as a tablet, but one could make an argument for tent and presentation modes. For those of you thinking that this would be the ultimate big canvas for drawing and digital painting; sorry the fabled pen version of this machine never shipped. It's fingers and imprecise capacitive styli only.
Specs at a Glance
The ThinkPad Yoga 15 runs on Intel Broadwell 5th generation ULV Ultrabook 15 watt CPUs, and our review unit has the Core i5-5200U. It has two RAM slots, a 2.5" drive bay for an HDD or SSD and a 1080p IPS anti-glare touch screen. The laptop has Lenovo's TrackPoint eraser stick pointer and a Synaptics trackpad with three hardware buttons for the TrackPoint. The $849 quick ship model has the Core i5, 4 gigs of RAM and a 500 gig 7200 RPM HDD. Our review unit has 8 gigs of RAM and a 180 gig SSD and sells for around $1,000.
Design and Ergonomics
Like all ThinkPads, the Yoga 15 is rugged and strong without looking like something that pops out of a Hummer in the war theatre. Not too long ago I dropped one and it survived unscathed while leaving a deep dent in my hardwood floor. Ahem. That makes ThinkPads a solid choice for road warriors, students and anyone else who lugs a laptop everywhere and doesn't have the energy or desire to pamper it. The display is clad in Gorilla Glass too. That said, the sheer size and weight of the Yoga 15 makes it potentially more vulnerable to flexing, even with an aluminum lid and a magnesium alloy frame. When picking up the laptop by the palm rest with one hand, we didn't see any deck flex, though the plastic bottom panel can temporarily deform from the torque (plastics do that--they bend). It's nothing alarming, but those who are accustomed to ThinkPads that have absolutely no flex anywhere will notice.
Keyboard, Trackpad and TrackPoint Too
It wouldn't be a ThinkPad without that little red eraser stick pointer embedded in the keyboard. ThinkPad fan though I am, I've never warmed to the TrackPoint, but I know some of you would hate to do without it. There are three hardware buttons at the top of the trackpad dedicated to the TrackPoint, but alas the Trackpad itself gets buttonless controls where the entire trackpad moves and clicks somewhat noisily, which is typical of ThinkPads. It's a good Synaptics trackpad with Lenovo's usual custom software.
The Accutype keyboard with sculpted keys, excellent damping and long travel is a typist's dream. It's one of my favorites, and it's large since Lenovo brought it out to the very edges. They made good use of available real estate by including a number pad, an uncommon feature on 15" laptops. The keyboard is backlit in soft white and it has the ThinkPad Yoga Lift n' Lock mechanism that raises the keyboard frame and locks the keys so they won't wiggle against your fingers in tablet mode. The trackpad and keyboard are disabled when the display is opened beyond 180 degrees.
Lenovo typically focuses on anti-glare displays that are decent but not class leading in terms of resolution and color gamut. Happily, the ThinkPad Yoga 15's full HD 1920 x 1080 IPS display shows improved color gamut over older ThinkPad models, and at 91% of sRGB, it's getting close to the 99% sRGB average for consumer Ultrabooks in this price range. Adobe RGB coverage is 71%, again falling 4% short of the top brands on the market today. Brightness is very good at 302 nits, and we particularly appreciated that brightness since it has to combat glare (this is a glossy display). Still, it remained visible outdoors with brightness set to max. Black levels are OK at 0.49 at max brightness and contrast is good at 610:1.
When Lenovo first announced the ThinkPad Yoga 15, they mentioned a digital pen option that would have used a new Wacom technology. So far that active digitizer option hasn't actually appeared, so this is a pen-less model. Sorry artists and CAD designers who were hoping for a big digital canvas.
Deals and Shopping:
Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 15 Video Review
PCMark 8 Home: 2944
Geekbench 3: 2482, multi-core 5028
wPrime: 19.6 sec.
3DMark 11: P2459 / X782
Performance and Horsepower
The Yoga 15, like its smaller siblings the Yoga 12 and 14, is an Ultrabook with the usual 15 watt ULV dual core Ultrabook CPUs. We have the 2.2 GHz Intel Core i5-5200U processor in ours, and that's a 5th generation Broadwell CPU (Skylake 6th gen ULV CPUs aren't out yet). The machine has two RAM slots for a maximum of 16 gigs of RAM, which should be more than adequate for an Ultrabook--this isn't a quad core desktop replacement meant to do insane amounts of processing while juggling several heavy hitter programs. The laptop is perfectly fast for everyday productivity work in MS Office, coding, editing RAW files in Photoshop and even a bit of 1080p video editing. Thanks to the NVIDIA 840M 2GB DDR3 switchable dedicated graphics, you get a little extra punch for video editing and gaming. In fact, the graphics boost from the lower end of midrange GPU is sufficient to make games like Bioshock Infinite and Skyrim playable at 1080p resolution on medium settings. In comparison, using integrated Intel HD 5500 graphics, I drop to 720p and low settings to maintain playable frame rates.
The laptop has a 2.5" drive bay and you can get it with an HDD or an SSD. There's an mSATA slot for a caching SSD to boost Windows boot and application load times on HDD models, and Lenovo says it's not meant to be used for anything else. If you can afford it, go with the SSD or upgrade the machine later yourself--the speed increase is very noticeable and you won't have to worry about movement crashing an HDD's head on the disc platters. It's fairly easy to open the ThinkPad Yoga 15 for upgrades: remove all the Phillips head screws from the bottom cover, remove the front three rubber plugs that hide three more screws, then work the cover off (the plastic clips are tenacious). Now you'll have access to the RAM slots, drive bay, mSATA slot and socketed wireless card as well as the battery.
Lenovo claims up to 8 hour runtimes for the ThinkPad Yoga 15, and that's actually pretty close to correct according to our tests. With the machine running Windows 10 Pro, brightness set to 50% and WiFi on, we averaged 7 hours when doing productivity work and streaming an hour episode of Under the Dome. With lowered brightness, you could conceivably reach 8 hours.
The 66 Whr, 4 cell battery is nominally sealed inside but is easy enough to access for service if you remove the base cover. The notebook ships with Lenovo's compact and light power adapter with the rectangular connector.
My personal take? A 15.6", 5 pound convertible is just too big for frequent use as a convertible. The 14" ThinkPad Yoga 14 is my cut off. You of course, may be different, and Lenovo seems to have removed the 14" model from their website, so if you want a ThinkPad Yoga bigger than the 12.5" model, it's the 15.6" model for you. Even if you never use it as a 2-in-1, there are big benefits like the roomy keyboard and addition of the number pad, plus a larger display that's easier on the eyes (I can comfortably use it without any Windows scaling). Given the extra space, I do wish Lenovo had added a few more ports like Ethernet and a mini DisplayPort. I welcome the NVIDIA 840M graphics, which offers just the right balance of performance boost and heat management (the Yoga 14 has the same GPU) and is likely a nod to consumers who game and play with graphics apps more than business users.
Display:15.6", 1920 x 1080 IPS display with 10 point multi-touch. Intel HD 5500 integrated graphics and NVIDIA GeForce 840M 2 GB DDR3 dedicated graphics (switchable). HDMI port.
Battery:66 WHr, 4 cell Lithium
Performance:2.2 GHz Intel
5th generation Core i5-5200U processor. 4, 8 gigs or 16 DDR3L 1600MHz, 1.35v RAM in one RAM slot. 16 gig caching SSD in M.2 slot and 500 gig 7200 rpm HDD in 2.5" drive bay in base model, also available with a 2.5" SSD.
x 10.07 x 0.84 inches. Weight: 5.01 pounds.
Audio:Built-in JBL stereo speakers with Dolby Home Theater audio, dual array mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone/mic
Networking:Integrated Intel AC 7265 dual band
WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0. Available with 4G LTE modem and SIM card slot.
Software:Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 64 bit.
Expansion and Ports:OneLink Port, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 1 USB 2.0 charging port, SIM card slot, full size HDMI, 3.5mm combo audio and
SD card slot.