Lenovo Yoga Book review: It’s an expensive, eye-catching indulgence, but nothing more

Where do I even start with the Lenovo Yoga Book? It’s hard to describe a device that doesn’t adhere to any conventions or standards. The device is powered by a low-power Intel Atom chip, it’s slimmer and lighter than any laptop, it comes with a stylus, has no usable ports, offers great battery life and a keyboard unlike any other.

Do these assorted features make for a great device, however? Let’s find out.

 Build and Design:

The Lenovo Yoga Book can turn heads; I’ll give it that. Its astonishingly slim form factor, unusual keyboard and touch surface and various party tricks mean that you’ll spend a great deal of time explaining to strangers what it is and what it does.

For a “laptop” that’s this thin and light, the device feel surprisingly good to hold. Lenovo claims that the Yoga Book is made of some Magnesium alloy, but it feels more like premium plastic. An iPad definitely feels like metal, this doesn’t.

That said, it’s very sturdy and there’s no squeaking to be heard anywhere. The hinge in particular is rather nice. It’s the same design that Lenovo uses on its premium Yoga 900 and it’s right at home on the Yoga Book as well.

At 690 gm, the Yoga Book is very light. It’s by no means a device that you can use one-handed for long-stretches, but toss it into a bag and you’ll forget it’s there. The hinge is a little stiff and you can’t open the device with one finger, as you would a regular laptop. I found that the best way to open the device is to literally hold it like a book and open it.

Once open, you find a glass surface that doubles as a keyboard, touchpad and digital notepad. Above this is the 10.1-inch IPS LED screen with some rather thick bezels.

On the side is where our complaints start. The left side is host to a single micro-USB port (for charging and data transfer) and a mini-HDMI port. Beside the two ports is the combo SIM card and microSD card tray.

The right side hosts a single 3.5mm combo jack and you’ll also find the power and volume control buttons here. As far as I/O is concerned, that’s it. This is very limiting.

I understand why Lenovo did this though. The device is incredibly thin and I doubt a full-size USB port would fit comfortably.

Speaker grills are also present on the sides.

You also get a stylus/pen device that Lenovo calls the Real Pen. It’s bulky, but it works. I’m disappointed that there’s no magnetic clip or some such mounting mechanism on the Yoga Book itself. However, unlike Apple’s Pencil, at least you can clip the Real Pen to your shirt pocket. And it won’t roll all over the place.

The Real Pen’s cap is very stiff and it takes a deal of effort to separate the body from the cap. This is good because it means that the Pen won’t fall off, but it’s also bad because of the effort involved.

The Pen can also be used like a real pen, but you need to change tips. This is, again, a convoluted process involving the cap and some amount of pressure. I had to consult the user manual to figure out how to do this. What gadget makes you consult a user manual in 2017?

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Keyboard, Trackpad and Pen:

The USP of the Yoga Book is its rather unusual writing surface. At first glance, it looks like a slab of glass. On closer inspection, you see the outlines of a keyboard and touchpad.

When powered on, the Halo keyboard, as it’s called by Lenovo, lights up. You see the outlines of the keys and touchpad clearly.

Typing on this keyboard is disconcerting at first, but you quickly get the hang of it. However, it’s not a keyboard that’s meant for typing.

My main problem with the keyboard is a lack of any sort of feedback. There is a vibration motor that vibrates when you tap a key, but that motor makes more noise than vibration and sounds like a buzzing bee. The very first thing I did on hearing it was to find a way to turn it off.

There’s no visual feedback either. I’d have loved it if the keys glowed when you tapped them, or something like that. Worse still, the audio feedback that you get when you type (from Windows) is out of sync with your keystrokes.

I blame the decision to go with an underpowered Atom here, but I’ll address the whole power issue further on in the review.

The outlined touchpad can be used to control the mouse, and I appreciate Lenovo’s decision to keep the touchpad a bit small. While the whole surface is touch sensitive, the mouse will only respond to touch inputs on the touchpad. This makes it comfortable to rest your palms on the device while typing. Large left and right click buttons as well as support for Windows’ gestures are a nice addition.

Of course, you can just tap the screen any time you like.

The second mode that the keyboard operates in is, for lack of a better word, pen mode. You tap a little pen icon on the keyboard and the entire surface turns into a Real Pen sensitive surface.

This is the Yoga Book’s party trick.

In this mode, the touch surface is now only sensitive to Real Pen inputs. Your fingers and palms are ignored. In fact, when you enable this mode, Windows automatically throws up the option to enable Windows Ink-enabled apps like OneNote.

I love the fact that the Yoga Book responds on a 1:1 basis when using the Real Pen. If you doodle in the top right corner of the touch surface, your doodle will appear at the top right corner of the screen. The screen, on the other hand, completely ignores the Real Pen and only responds to touch input with your finger. One will never interfere with the other.

This is the magic of Windows Ink and I don’t believe it’s possible on any other platform. Microsoft deserves kudos for this.

The Real Pen input is precise, making writing, sketching and other such actions feel natural. The Pen doesn’t feel as refined as the Apple Pencil, but I’d argue that its response is just as good. The Pen is sensitive to pressure, making it a nifty drawing tool.

Sadly, the laptop’s meagre CPU power lets us down in this department as well.

Another trick up the Yoga Book’s sleeve comes in the form of actual pen input. You can literally place a piece of paper on the touch surface and take notes with the Real Pen (with an ink tip). You’ll have a paper original and a precise digital copy for your archives. Very cool.

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And if you’re wondering, no, a normal pen won’t work.

Here’s my problem. I like the Real Pen and I enjoy the ability to sketch. However, a keyboard is absolutely essential, especially on a machine running Windows. The Halo keyboard is a lovely concept, but a lack of any kind of proper feedback and the sluggishness of the system don’t make for even a passable typing experience. The performance issues also mean that sketching isn’t quite as much fun as it could have been.

I’ll put it this way: I intended to write this review on the Yoga Book’s keyboard. I gave up before I’d written a 100 words.

The Lenovo Yoga Book is powered by an Intel Atom x5 Z8550 CPU and 4GB RAM. You get an 8,500 mAh battery and 64GB of onboard storage, as well as a micro-USB port and micro-HDMI jack. The speakers are Dolby certified, the keyboard is a touchpad and you get a good stylus with it.

The screen is a 10.1-inch touch-sensitive LED panel with a resolution of 1920×1200, there are a number of accelerometers present within the device and you get dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 ac support.

This is quite a neat package on paper and I think it works, mostly.

The decision to go with 4GB RAM is a sensible one; I’ve seen too many devices that are let down by a measly 2GB RAM. 8GB would have been nicer though. 64GB of onboard storage is also rather low and at this price, I expected better. Bear in mind that this device costs Rs 50,000. Phones come with more storage at half the price.

The real killer here is the Intel Atom chip. It’s a 1.4GHz chip that’s really meant for entry-level devices. As you’ll see later on in the performance section, a lack of power is what leads to this laptop’s downfall.

The lack of a USB-A port is very frustrating. Part of the advantage of a laptop is having the freedom to connect USB devices (Looking at you, MacBook Pro!). It’s not a deal-breaker, however, and while I don’t like the decision, I appreciate the difficulty of putting one on the Yoga Book.

Display:

The 10.1-inch Full HD (1920×1200) is quite nice. It’s a little dull, even on maximum brightness, but the high pixel density of 224ppi (the iPad’s retina display comes in at 264ppi) means that everything is sharp.

While colours are good, we did notice that blacks were a bit too, well, black. You might think that’s a good thing, but in the course of our testing, we found that the Yoga Book’s contrast ratio is bad, it was the first device to earn a zero in our black levels test.

Still, the excellent white levels and lack of banding or significant colour bleed means that it scores higher than the Lenovo IdeaPad 110 or Smartron t.Book.

I’m very picky about my displays, which is why I’m complaining, but I don’t think the average person will care very much. It’s not the best of displays, but it’s far from being the worst one.

Performance:

Performance is tolerable at best. Even basic Windows functions like opening and closing windows and opening the start menu feel sluggish. The worst part was the lag while typing. There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing your cursor stubbornly stuck in the same place. This is exacerbated by the fact that there’s no actual feedback from the keyboard.

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The deal-breaker for me was Google Chrome. This underpowered laptop is good for few things, and I expected video playback to be one of them. However, video playback on YouTube is an infuriating experience. When it works, it’s great, but that rarely happens. On Chrome, resizing the YouTube video frame takes forever, the UI gets janky from time-to-time and there were times when I’d hear the audio but the video would be frozen in place.

Browsing on Chrome was also a very frustrating and lag-filled experience.

Thankfully, Microsoft Edge is at home on low-end systems and it does sterling work in keeping your browsing experience alive. But who uses Edge anyway? I survive on Google services and if I can’t have Google Chrome, I’d rather not have the device, thank you very much.

If you’re not so concerned, you’ll be fine. Edge works fluidly enough and even YouTube playback isn’t so bad on that browser.

Barring YouTube on Google Chrome, video performance was good. I only tried 1080p files, but even high bit-rate MKV files with H.265 compression worked well. Streaming over Wi-Fi from a NAS was also good, I expect the Wi-Fi 802.11 ac support had something to do with that.

The screen was a bit dull, but indoors, it was fine. Paired with its surprisingly loud speakers, the movie watching experience on the Yoga Book wasn’t so bad after all. Speaking of speakers, they’re about 50 percent louder than the speakers on my iPhone 6S Plus and stereo separation is quite apparent.

Our benchmarks place the Yoga Book at the bottom of the pile, Compbook Excellance fairing worse.

We noted that temperatures under load crossed 80 degrees, but the CPU would quickly throttle down to a mere 1.6GHz (it should be consistently hitting at least 2.0GHz) to bring the temperatures down to the low 70s. The passive cooling system is to blame for this.

Thankfully, the device itself doesn’t get too hot.

Battery Life:

Image:: Phone Arena

At last, some good news! The Yoga Book manages to provide a staggering 7.5 hours of battery life in our standard battery test. Most laptops die at the 3-4 hour mark. 7.5 hours on our test means that you can easily extract a full workday’s performance from the device.

Charging the battery to full from zero did take a few hours, but it wasn’t so bad and I just got into the habit of leaving the device charging overnight.

Verdict

Treat the Lenovo Yoga Book as an eye-catching indulgence and you’ll be very happy. Expect something more, and you’ll be disappointed.

If you need a media consumption device, buy a tablet. A cheap Android tablet or an iPad will serve you better. If you need a workhorse, any laptop with a real keyboard is still better. If you need something to sketch on, get a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 or an Apple iPad Pro.

The Lenovo Yoga Book is what it is: A bold take on the 2-in-1, a head-turner, and nothing more.

Specs

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