Lenovo's Yoga design has been copied by many manufacturers over the years, and if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then their industrial designers are geniuses worthy of the highest praise (in fact they are pretty awesome). But that imitation poses a problem for Lenovo since you've now got a host of similarly designed laptops to choose from--the HP Spectre x360, Toshiba Satellite Radius models and Asus Flips to name a few. Can Lenovo fend them off with their 4th generation model, the Yoga 900 Windows 10 convertible Ultrabook? The Yoga 900 replaces the Yoga 3 Pro, a machine whose industrial design was definitely praise-worthy, but whose Core M CPU felt less than Pro. The 900 brings back the power with Intel 6th generation Skylake dual core CPUs, and at launch the Yoga 900 is available only with the more powerful Intel Core i7. The design is very similar to the Yoga 3 Pro, and that's a good thing because it's one of the thinnest and lightest convertibles on the market. The watchband hinge is attractive and unique. Better yet, it's robust and last year's Yoga 3 Pros with the same hinge have held up well.
Design and Build
The Yoga 900 is a premium Lenovo laptop aimed at consumers (ThinkPads target business users). Thus it's more daring and stylish than the unassuming black rectangle that is a ThinkPad. The machine is available in gold and my old favorite Clementine orange as well as the duller and more conventional silver. The sides and keyboard deck are rubbery black that feels great and is grippy. Those rubbery sides are also good for absorbing impacts--if you're like me, and manage to bump door jambs and airline seat backs when toting the laptop, then this is a wonderful thing. They also create more grip and stability when using the Yoga in tent mode. Unlike a ThinkPad, the Yoga won't double as a self-defense weapon, and it will likely dent, rather than the hardwood floor, if you drop it. Again, it's not business rugged, it's consumer chic. It's not delicate, just typical of consumer oriented construction.
This isn't a seriously classy unibody machine carved from a block of aluminum like the 13" MacBook Pro or magnesium alloy like Surface Book. While it's unfair to expect a Yoga to be like a ThinkPad (different model lines, different promises), with a starting price of $1,200 and an as-reviewed price of $1,400, the Mac and Surface Book are fair competition. The Yoga looks great, but it doesn't look like the quality piece that those two do. In fact, the similarly priced HP Spectre x360 looks and feels more high end too. It's not that the Lenovo looks cheesy--anything but! It's just that materials and a high end finish (at least on our silver model) aren't where your money is going. Instead, Lenovo puts the chic into the once lowly hinge. They started with the Yoga 3 Pro that introduced the watchband hinge, and it's back here and better--it's tighter and is now silent when you open and close the laptop. It's interesting that hinges are becoming a thing--first the watchband hinge and now Microsoft's snaky fulcrum hinge. Anything is fair game when trying to jazz up a laptop without compromising ergonomics or sturdiness. The watchband hinge certainly is distinctive and striking, and more important--it works well.
The Yoga 900 feels fairly sturdy and the frame is rigid with no flex, though the removable bottom aluminum panel has some flex and the keyboard deck sounds slightly hollow when typing or thumping on the very pleasant trackpad. Again, it's not a cheaply made machine, but it doesn't exude high end. There's a payoff for the lighter and thinner panels though--this is an insanely light and thin laptop. In fact, since convertibles, aka 2-in-1s weigh even more than laptops due to more complex mechanisms and required extra reinforcement, we're even more impressed with the 2.8 lb. weight (yes it gained a few ounces vs. the 2.6 lb. Yoga 3 Pro, and that's fine with us). The Yoga 900 is so slim you might mistake it for a pure tablet at first glance. The charger is even more compact and light vs. traditional laptop bricks. It's a portable lover's dream.
The two internal fans and airy spaces inside mean the Yoga 900 is a fairly cool laptop. The bottom gets warm but never burning hot, and it's noticeably cooler than the Spectre x360 with Core i7 when both are pushed hard with gaming or video export. The fan is silent when doing productivity work and is audible when gaming, should you push it to the limits with GTA V or Battlefield 4, but it's not vacuum cleaner loud and any slim laptop will run the fan at max speed when gaming.
Ports: USB-C is Here
The Lenovo tapers with a faint hint of a curve toward the front, and the rear needs to be thicker to house the USB ports (it's still slim at the rear). Most ports are on the left: charging (using Lenovo's dual purpose charging + USB 2.0 port), USB 3.0, USB-C 3.1 and a full size SD card slot. The right side has another USB 3.0 port, the power button, 3.5mm combo audio, Novo button (for OneKey Recovery) and screen rotation lock. Note there's no HDMI or mini DisplayPort, so you'll need to source USB-C to HDMI or DisplayPort cables, just like 12" MacBook owners. Happily, unlike that Mac, USB-C isn't your only port!
13.3" QHD Display
There's good news and bad news. First the good news: the Lenovo Yoga 900 has a very high resolution 3200 x 1800 display, as did its predecessor. Windows 10 and many desktop programs now handle hi-DPI displays well, so you'll enjoy sharper images with less zooming out in Photoshop and in video editors. The display is made by Samsung, and from what we can tell it's a PLS (like IPS display but with a Pentile matrix). There are no skewed yellows here as with the Yoga 2 Pro and its older generation Samsung QHD panel, and color gamut is good at 96% of sRGB and 75% of Adobe RGB. Color calibration from the factory favors increasing perceived brightness and blues, as do many laptops in this price category (calibration brings it nicely in line). Brightness is good at 300 nits, and the ambient light sensor isn't too twitchy (you can disable auto-brightness if you like).
The bad news: at first look, particularly after reviewing the very high end display panels used in Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, the Yoga's panel didn't impress. Our usually colorful and sharp desktop backgrounds and test photos lacked a little clarity and pop. Once we ran tests with our Datacolor Spyder colorimeter the culprits were clear: unimpressive contrast and an astronomically high black point. Contrast is just 300:1 and black levels registered at 1.36--I can't remember testing a panel with a black level above 1.0. Lower numbers are better here since it indicates how much light transmits when displaying black. Competing products range from 0.28 to 0.56, with most hovering around 0.39. What does this mean to you? Blacks look gray when brightness is turned up and contrast isn't high because that requires not just high brightness (which we have here) but deep blacks. Text loses a bit of its sharpness when contrast isn't high, but at 50% brightness, it still looks fairly crisp.
Where does that leave you? If you're not a graphics pro, hobby photographer or content producer, then the display is pleasing enough. Photos and videos look colorful and bright. They're simply lacking the contrast and crispiness of the better panels in the $1,000 and up Ultrabook space. Our other complaint? The bezels are large, particularly the bottom bezel. I actually don't like tiny bezels on tablets because they leave no room to hold the machine, but that bottom bezel is simply unattractively large.
The display supports 10 point multi-touch but it does not have an active digitizer for pen use. You can use a capacitive stylus like those made for the iPad and Android tablets, but it's not as precise as a display purpose-built for pen use, and you won't get palm rejection (the ability to rest your hand on the glass while writing and drawing).
Deals and Shopping:
Lenovo Yoga 900 Video Review
Lenovo Yoga 900 vs. HP Spectre x360 Comparison
PCMark 8 (Home, accelerated): 2697
wPrime: 16 sec.
Geekbench 3: 3163 single core, 6778 multi-core
3DMark 11: P1587, X426
Performance and Horsepower
It's all good here: the Lenovo Yoga 900 runs on the new Intel Skylake 6th generation platform. At launch, it's available only with the 2.5 GHz Core i7-6500U with Turbo Boost to 3.1 GHz, and we imagine Core i5 models might come later. This is no underpowered Core M, and the laptop is fast. This is a ULV, 15 watt dual core i7 notebook, like most Ultrabooks. It's not a quad core powerhouse like Lenovo's ThinkPad W541 workstation or the Dell XPS 15. Those are much larger machines so we don't expect a 45 watt quad core here, but I know some of you are still confused about the different flavors of Core i7 on the market. The laptop uses Intel HD 520 integrated graphics that shows a nice performance boost compared to the outgoing 5th gen Broadwell lineup. There is no dedicated graphics option. Lenovo offers ThinkPad Yoga models with NVIDIA 940M graphics if you need that in a convertible.
RAM is soldered on board and you can get it with 8 or 16 gigs (you can't upgrade it yourself since RAM is permanently attached to the motherboard). The SSD is upgradeable and it lives in an M.2 slot. Lenovo went with SATA interface SSDs rather than the faster PCIe, which surprises us given the price. Of course, most users won't notice the speed difference between the two in daily use. Lenovo sent us their high end model for review with 16 gigs of RAM and a 512 gig Samsung SSD (Lenovo also uses Hynix and Liteon SSDs). The Intel 8260 dual band WiFi AC card with Bluetooth 4.0 card lives in another M.2 slot on the motherboard. Speaking of upgrades, if you remove 10 Torx T-5 screws on the bottom panel, you can remove the base cover to access the 66 Whr battery, SSD and wireless card. That's typical of Ultrabooks and Yoga style convertibles and clearly much better than most pure tablets like the Surface Pro 4.
The Yoga 900 feels fast and responsive and it benchmarks similarly to the few other dual core 15 watt Skylake laptops currently on the market. It's a bit faster than the last gen Broadwell Intel CPUs, but by a small margin. Intel has focused instead on reducing heat and battery consumption in their last few generations, and on boosting integrated graphics performance. The HD 520 does benchmark appreciably faster than the outgoing HD 5000 graphics in Broadwell, and that means a more enjoyable experience when playing cutting edge 3D games, driving a high resolution external monitor and playing high bitrate video. You'll have to stick with 720p and very low settings for 2014 and 2015's demanding games, but older games and casual games will play fluently. If gaming with today's hot titles iis a requirement, I'd look at something with dedicated graphics. The laptop performs very well in Adobe Photoshop CC and it can handle RAW files from dSLRs and TIFFs with 10 to 20 layers easily. It's fast enough for Visual Studio, SQL server and light CAD work for school.
Keyboard and Trackpad
If you've tried the Yoga 3 Pro, then you already know what the Yoga 900 keyboard feels like. One important change is that Lenovo added a 6th row up top for dedicated multimedia control keys. Lenovo makes some of the best keyboards in the business in their ThinkPad models, but the Yoga, formerly a member of the IdeaPad consumer line before Lenovo dropped that moniker, gets a different keyboard. It still has the island design and ergonomic smile-shaped keys, but there's less travel, a bit more noise and less crispness. It's not a bad keyboard by any means, but it's not among my favorites. The keys have short travel, necessitated by the extremely thin chassis, and they feel a tad mushy compared to the best keyboards on the market like the ThinkPads, some HPs, Dell XPS, MacBook Pro and Surface Book. The keyboard is backlit and you can turn it on by hitting the Fn and spacebar keys, just like ThinkPads.
The glass trackpad is smooth and responsive. It handles two-finger gestures like scrolling nicely and shows little lag. Like the keyboard, it's not at the top of the heap, but it's better than many Windows 8 laptop trackpads. Microsoft's new focus on trackpad quality might not have eliminated the gap between Mac and Windows trackpads, but it is narrowing in fits and spurts.
Lenovo increased battery capacity by 50% in the Yoga 900 compared to the Yoga 3 Pro, in part due to reviews that complained about thoroughly average battery life and also because the Yoga 900 is using more powerful CPUs. The 66 Wh battery is sealed inside, though it's easy to access and replace if you remove the bottom cover. The charger is a big wall wart model rather than the usual small laptop brick with two cord sections. It's light, fairly small and easy to throw in a bag. As with most PC makers, Lenovo is optimistic in their battery life claims. They say it can run up to 9 hours on a charge, and perhaps it could if you set brightness to 20% and set the power management and processor state to extreme energy saver. In more typical real world use with brightness set to 50%, WiFi on and keyboard backlighting off, we averaged 7 hours on a charge. This is in mixed productivity work--email, web, MS Office, some photo editing in Photoshop and streaming an episode of House of Cards via the Netflix Live Tile app.
It's hard to not love the Lenovo Yoga 900's style--it's impossibly thin and light and that watchband hinge literally shines. This is a tablet, laptop and presentation/movie watching PC in a single package, with the usual caveat that 13.3", 2.8 lb. tablets are best used resting on a table rather than your arm. It's stylish, reasonably well built and it has a high resolution display. It's not one of the better high res displays on the market however, though it will suit non-graphics oriented users. The Yoga is fast, and the internals are reasonably within reach for upgraders. The laptop keeps its cool and never got hot to the touch or noisy. Given the price tag, we wouldn't mind more rigid body panels and more contrast in the display--the Asus Zenbooks, HP Spectre, Surface Book and MacBook Pro look and feel classier, though none are as light and portable as the Yoga 900.