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Sunday, July 1, 2018

Lenovo Yoga Book Review

Lenovo Yoga Book Review
PRICE WHEN REVIEWED
  • $499.99
Hats off, Lenovo. In a time where most smartphone are black slabs that look like iPhones and laptops are silver ones aping MacBooks, the company has created a product like no other. The Yoga Book is a svelte, light, futuristic 2-in-1 laptop/tablet that can do an awful lot while looking like it’s from the set of Minority Report.

It is this desire to break away from a decade of design stagnation that drives the unique look of the Yoga Book. It’s like nothing we've seen before, but with the functionality of several devices including Apple’s iPad Pro and the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. Yet the Yoga Book is more compact and debatably even more useful than that device, though it depends on the use cases. Either way, this is an outstanding product from a company that has stagnated in recent years. Here is our Lenovo Yoga Book review.

PRICE AND WHERE TO BUY
The Lenovo Yoga Book is available with Windows 10 in the UK from £549.99. However there is also an Android version, which we reviewed here and at the time of writing is not available in the UK.

In the US, the Android Yoga Book retails for $499.99, and we expect the UK price to be the same amount in pounds.

DESIGN AND BUILD
While the Yoga Book is to our mind one of the most interesting tablet designs ever, it’s still a device that is an acquired taste. Once you’ve taken in its space age looks and the light-on light-off keyboard, you’ll probably think, “what is it for?”. Lenovo has decided to leave it open. It’s not for work or play; it can do both.

Because the device has a hinge and open like a laptop to display a keyboard in landscape mode, we used it more often this way round than folding it back completely to use as a normal tablet. Our Android review unit was Gunmetal Grey, though a Champagne Gold version will also be available. If you prefer a Windows 10 setup, you’ll have to get one in Carbon Black.

The metal Yoga Book folds open at a hinge that wouldn’t look out of place on the arm of the Terminator to reveal a generous 10.1in screen. The bottom panel springs to life with what Lenovo calls a Halo keyboard, a touch sensitive panel with a QWERTY keyboard lit up underneath. You have to see it to fully appreciate that there are few products on the market to invoke this level of initial disbelief, such is its sci-fi vibe. It’s a bold design choice and one that we have to congratulate Lenovo on before investigating if it’s actually practical to use. One expects not, but that isn’t always the case with this beguiling machine.

The dimensions when closed are 256 x 170.8 x 9.6mm and it weighs just 690g. The Lenovo logo is subtle, and suggests the device be held like a book (as does the name Yoga Book, of course). Yet when you open it, it naturally becomes a laptop.

For comparison, a 9.7in Apple iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard attached weighs 662g - so essentially, you won’t notice a difference between the two set ups. The design of the Yoga Book stands out also in comparison to a device like the iPad Pro because it is a unibody design, with no need for the extra expense of a fiddly keyboard accessory. Having said that, the keyboard here does take some getting used to.

The design is surprisingly featureless when closed, though this is how Lenovo achieved such a remarkably thin design. There’s a micro-USB port for charging and data transfer, a mini HDMI port to hook up to displays, as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack. Aside from that, our version had a SIM slot for a 4G data SIM, a speaker grill on each top and bottom edge (when held vertically with the hinge on the left). That same top edge also has the power/lock button and a volume rocker. The two cameras are safely hidden when the devices is closed - you open the unit completely into tablet mode to use the then rear-facing lens.
What we like so much about the Yoga Book is that it not only includes a full keyboard in a 2-in-1 design, but that this keyboard area doubles as a pressure sensitive canvas for use with the included ‘Real Pen’. At the touch of a button, the lit keys dim to give a black slate that you draw or write onto digitally, but there’s also a physical paper pad that has a clever trick up its sleeve. With the biro refill for the Pen, you can draw directly onto the included Book Pad thanks to a conductive magnetic back, and the Yoga Book digitally recreates and stores your work onto the device.

This will be preferable for some people, because although with the iPad Pro you can draw directly onto the screen, some will miss the tactility of using an actual pen. The Yoga Book allows you write or draw as normal but effectively creates an automatic digital library of all your work with the Note Saver app. Just be aware that you can only use the included Real Pen with the ink refills to do this, so you won’t be getting out the charcoals unfortunately.

We’ll come on to how it works in practise, but the first time you use it, it’s hard not to get excited. It will bring out the purest love of tech in you, such is its uniqueness compared to anything else on the market. It’s easiest to achieve what you want from the note taking app when using the biro and paper, as if you use the digital pen you are not drawing directly onto the screen (like you would on iPad Pro) and the image is replicated on the screen opposite. The pen however has a sensor that relays a white circled dot onto the screen when you hover over the Create Pad, as a guide to where the nib will land.

The digitiser inside is supplied by Wacom, the company famous for its stylus and tablet technology.

We won’t use the tired Marmite cliche here; whether or not you want to buy the Yoga Book is dependent on your potential use for it. With such a focus on the pen, if you write or sketch and want a device that will digitally store it all automatically for you, bingo. Yet even more than the iPad Pro it’s a device that we fell for simply because you just want to get your hands on it and play.

DISPLAY
The display is a 10.1in full HD IPS with a resolution of 1920 x 1200. It is a capacitive touchscreen, but this is only for finger input when in tablet mode or tapping icons in tandem with keyboard use. The screen displays the standard Android tablet setup, with the taskbar housing the three icons (menu, back and open apps), as well as the currently open apps on the bar. The Windows 10 version will obviously differ, but we have not yet tested it.

The screen is as responsive as you’d expect from a high-end tablet in 2016, and it’s a good things, as you’ll find yourself using it a lot. Although the keyboard houses a trackpad when turned on, it’s a frustrating experience on the Android platform. We would imagine it’d be very useful on a full OS like Windows, but on Android it’s just easier, quicker and more reliable to tap on screen. This doesn’t detract from the day to day use of the machine, thankfully.

Screen brightness did tend to need to be quite high, particularly when viewing darker colours (Netflix viewing definitely needs to be at a high brightness) but editing documents in Google Docs is no problem. The display is also excellent in tablet mode, with good viewing angles and barely a trace of pixelation.

With 64GB of onboard storage and 4GB RAM, the Android Yoga Book can take a surprising beating when it comes to multitasking. The processor is an Intel Atom z5-Z8550, which is quad-core and can run up to 2.4GHz. We think Lenovo opted to include this lower powered processor rather than the increasingly popular, also fanless Core M series simply to keep the price down - necessary when an odd product like the Yoga Book is new to market.

While we feel the Atom is sufficient processing power for an Android tablet, we suspect that the Windows 10 version will struggle - it uses the same one. Android on tablet is essentially the smartphone OS with some minor tweaks, but an Atom processor will likely creak under the load when running full Windows 10. So be warned.

We used the Yoga Book for two weeks as a main device, installing many personal and work-focussed apps, using it to write copy, read the news, read Kindle books and play about with the Real Pen (disregarding our amateur drawing abilities) to write extensive notes.

When not trying to draw, our attentions were on the keyboard. When the keys light up on the completely flat surface you have a full size QWERTY with function buttons and more besides. There is, undoubtedly, a learning curve here. It doesn’t feel like typing on glass, such is the matte finish of the surface and the zero feedback from the material.

You can have vibrating haptic feedback at two levels of intensity should you wish to emulate keystrokes, but we found it easier to get to grips with when it was switched off. You’ll make mistakes, and the Android autocorrect and predictive mode are quite fiddly, but it is a much more pleasant experience to type on than we had expected. It is no substitute for a laptop and keyboard, but the Yoga Book isn’t trying to replace one. iPad Pro and Microsoft Surface are, but the Yoga Book is out there in a category of its own, and that is actually nearly enough to recommend it.

With a press of a virtual button, the lights of the keyboard disappear and the black Create Pad remains. This is the surface onto which you can draw directly with the digital Real Pen. There is no haptic feedback for this, but Lenovo claims the pen can detect 2,048 levels of pressure. That’s more than enough for anyone but the most needy of digital illustrators. The Real Pen itself needs no batteries, and the digital pen nib can be removed to insert a biro for using with the Book Pad.

The way the Yoga Book transitions physical notes straight into a digital file is great, and you can either watch them appear on the opposite screen as you write, with the device open like a book, or fold it the whole way round. If the latter, then it still records the notes, you just have to press a button when you reach the end of a page to let the device know. It all works seamlessly once you know the score.

Aside from the Yoga Book’s creative leanings, you don’t have to be a pro illustrator to appreciate it. It was great for us as journalists to record handwritten notes quickly, but even the most casual user will be able to find a use for storing digital writing, from shopping lists to drawings by the grandchildren.

There’s also a big battery on board. At 8,500 mAh, Lenovo claims 15 hours of standard usage with Wi-Fi, which we can confirm as accurate, though we feel its estimate of ‘over 70 days’ standby time is incredibly over estimated. The Yoga Book easily lasted us two to three days when using it, though bear in mind it wasn’t our sole device during that time. Unfortunately we found that the device took forever to recharge even when connected to mains power, so it’s essential to charge overnight from our experience - otherwise you’ll be sitting by a plug all day and the included cable is frustratingly short. For a device that you can use as a laptop, we expected the cable to be much longer.

Benchmarks
Our usual benchmark testing for the Lenovo Yoga Book was tricky as it is hard to compare it to other products. We went with the iPad Pro 9.7in and the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 because of their hybrid nature and the ability to use a stylus, like with the Yoga Book. But - and be aware it is quite a big but - the specs aren’t directly comparable. Lenovo has massively undercut the price of both of those products and, by running Android (on this version at least), using a lower-spec processor and, above all, not trying to ape those products either.

The fact that the Yoga Book’s benchmark performance is closer to a smartphone is no bad thing. If you are a casual illustrator or hardcore note taker with the need for an ultraportable device that won’t break the bank (in comparison to supposed rivals) than the Yoga Book hits the sweet spot. It is another point that underlines how unique it really is.

SOFTWARE AND APPS
The presence of Android Marshmallow 6.0 (we updated over the air to 6.0.1) is a welcome one most of the time, only occasionally showing its limitations when used on a device like the Yoga Book. We love that, if already familiar with the OS, that you can ping your way around in and out of apps with relatively little confusion, even on first use. The inclusion of a keyboard in the design opens up the touchscreen to be used for tasks - much better than having half of it taken up by an onscreen version, although this is an option if you prefer. The Android version ships with Google Docs, Sheets and Slides pre-installed, and it’s easy to hook up to other Google services from the Play Store.

Its limitations are shown in the primitive multi window feature. Some apps you can minimise, but only to one uniform size, so while you can have three apps or so on the screen at once, they are all very small. Some apps don’t support the feature either, but we didn’t mind hopping between apps in fullscreen mode. While having around ten apps open doesn’t slow the OS down too much, this still isn’t a device or setup that is ready for a day’s brutal multitasking.

Lenovo’s own software Note Saver, for use with the Real Pen and Book Pad, is fairly primitive but allows you to easily view, edit and organise your digital note collection via a choice of pen effects and colours. We can see real potential for this to be a great way for writers to archive their notes - the downside being the expensive cost of paper refills. The UK price is to be confirmed, but at present in the US Lenovo sells a 75 page refill for $14.99. Thankfully, you can use any kind of paper but you will need to always use the Real Pen for both digital and ink writing with the device.

SPECS
  • Android Marshmallow 6.0
  • 10.1in 1920 x 2000 FHD IPS touchscreen
  • 2.4GHz Intel Atom x5-Z8550 quad-core processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB storage with microSD support up to 128GB
  • 8Mp autofocus rear camera
  • 2Mp fixed focus front facing camera
  • WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
  • Dual Channel (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz)
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • GPS
  • 8500 mAh non-removable battery
  • 256 x 170.8 x 9.6mm
  • 690g

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