As far as Windows 8 devices go, we're having a hard time seeing any other first-gen Windows 8 system or device being more interesting than Lenovo's 13-inch IdeaPad Yoga. It's attractive, snappy, versatile, and surprisingly affordable.
Microsoft's Surface runs a very-close second in our book. And, just like the Surface, the 13-inch Yoga validates the Windows 8 operating system in a way that the OS itself can't quite accomplish.
More on this in a bit. Let's start from the top.
Technically speaking, the Yoga is an Ultrabook, primarily because it meets Intel's "Chief River" Ultrabook specification:
- Intel Ivy Bridge CPU
- Has dimensions of 13.1" x 8.9" x 0.67"
- Can resume from hibernation in 7 seconds or under
- Has USB 3.0 and/or Thunderbolt
- At least 5 hours of battery life
Even though Lenovo assigns the Yoga to the category of convertible Ultrabook, the manner in which it converts into a tablet and back is unlike any other.
A special patented double hinge allows the keyboard to flip 360 degrees, all the way to beneath the display. The hinge also allows a few other positions. In all, there are four different ways you can set it up: standard laptop mode, tablet mode, tent mode, and stand mode.
These modes aren't just hype; while testing the Yoga, we consistently used three of the four modes throughout the day. Tablet mode while sitting in front of the TV. Stand mode while using it as a second screen. Laptop mode at tables and desks - as well as when inspiration struck while sitting in front of the TV or anywhere else.
The tent mode seems like the least usable, although Lenovo makes the point that this is a perfect position for reading while cooking.
The magic of this convertible is that people who can't live without a keyboard will find the ability to quickly convert the Yoga into a full-fledged, no compromise laptop indispensable - particularly given how great the keyboard it is.
We initially feared that we would dislike how the keyboard felt when folded below the screen in tablet mod, since in this mode, you're essentially gripping the keyboard on the back of the tablet. Aesthetically, it does look a little weird.
However, because of its size, this is not the kind of tablet you'll hold in your hands for long stretches of time. More often than not, it's just resting on your lap. If you really have a problem with this, Lenovo sells a $40 sleeve that you can tuck the bottom half of the Yoga into.
In any case, the keyboard shuts off when it is folded behind the screen - and in the other two non-laptop modes.
All this said, as far as tablet experiences go, the high-quality display makes the Yoga a joy to use in this mode. It's worth noting that, given its screen size, this is not a device that you'll be using much in portrait mode.
(Confession time: it still occasionally blows us away to be holding a screen in our lap that is the same size as our dorm room TV from college in 1992.)
How does the Yoga compare to the non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Air? Pretty favorably. Operating systems notwithstanding, the two systems are virtually identical, except that the Yoga has a 1,600 x 900 display while the MacBook Air has a 1,440 x 900 display. The MacBook Air also has a 512GB solid state storage option, while the Yoga currently only goes to 256GB storage.
The MacBook Air, of course, does not have a hinge that allows you to fold the keyboard behind the screen.