Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga review

Work meets play in Lenovo's snappy, sightly business ultrabook

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The ThinkPad Yoga is an impressive, attractive and perplexing work machine all at once. It brings the style of consumer-grade hybrid laptops while attempting to pull off the sincerity of business-class ultrabooks.

It some ways, it shines, offering the snappy performance enterprise users need in a striking form factor that won't break their back or die on them midway through cross-country flights. In others, the ThinkPad Yoga falls short, with use modes that, frankly, seem superfluous for business folk. And that's despite a welcome (and arguably innovative) improvement to its keyboard.

We liked

This is the most stylish ThinkPad I've ever seen. I was proud to pull the ThinkPad Yoga out of my bag at the airport and thought nothing of carrying it to and fro. Lenovo kept all of the design elements that built the iconic ThinkPad brand since the IBM days, while cramming them into a super sharp package. While I'm not a fan of the touchpad's signature give and the TrackPoint mouse, ThinkPad veterans will feel right at home on this machine.

Thanks to a 128GB SSD, Haswell chip and 4GB of RAM (all standard), the ThinkPad Yoga had no trouble keeping up with my web-heavy workload. While I don't run VLOOKUPs on immense spreadsheets or do intense graphics tasks in my day-to-day, this machine should handle at least the former with gusto. For the general enterprise user, the ThinkPad Yoga will run like a dream.

While it doesn't inspire many compelling use cases for the working crowd, the 360-degree hinge–and the modes it allows–is nevertheless impressive and elegant. It was a delight to have a second screen propped up on the coffee table while half-watching The Daily Show on TV and half-ordering dinner online. But again, it's tough to see these features wowing the business set anytime soon.

Finally, it's the smaller niceties that round out this ultrabook for a truly premium computing experience. It's good to know that the stylus, while not essential, is expertly tucked into the keyboard deck. And the backlit keyboard (also standard) is a must at this point for any type of user. The ThinkPad Yoga also produced respectable sound through its tiny stereo speaker grills, offering punchy bass and crystal clear vocals.

We disliked

While this ultrabook is no slouch when it comes to battery life, it would be even better if it met the MacBook Air's 9-plus hours of endurance. With Haswell and an SSD on board, we would have expected similar lasting power, but alas. Of course, the ThinkPad Yoga is pushing an FHD resolution, whereas the MacBook Air still languishes at 1440 x 900. This buys it some leeway in our evaluation, but a few more hours of battery life would have been nice for the enterprise customer ThinkPads are designed for.

For the business crowd, 128GB to start–speedy SSD performance regardless–might be too small. While many businesses are adopting cloud storage solutions, users still want local copies of files for that extra peace of mind, and 128GB will fill up mighty quick. While a 256GB version is on offer, that adds a whopping $150 to the asking price, something companies might not be willing to pony up for a whole fleet.

Lastly, the ThinkPad Yoga's three tablet-esque use modes would be much more compelling for business users if Lenovo created apps that took better advantage. The whiteboard function of QuickCast is interesting, but not even close to a system seller, and the same goes for the included Skitch Touch. How about some design-focused apps for Wacom tablet crowd?

Final verdict

Again, the ThinkPad Yoga is one of slickest business ultrabooks I've seen yet. Not once did I feel ashamed to draw this sharp system out of my bag amid an army of MacBook Airs. IBM devotees might scoff at such a thin and light ThinkPad, but it will no doubt keep up with the lot and look better doing it.

If you already question the utility of a hybrid laptop at home, then this changes nothing. After over a week with the ThinkPad Yoga, I still can't think of many work-related uses for those modes that make them a must-have. At the very least, it's impressive to see an enterprise laptop be so flexible–literally and figuratively.

The ThinkPad Yoga offers the features and performance that business users need, thanks to Windows 8.1 Pro standard and optional 802.11ac. But despite it all, this is not a focused business-class product. No-nonsense workers might be better served by a souped up ThinkPad T440s for the extra ports, or even a 13-inch MacBook Air for the added battery endurance, plus double the storage and an even lighter load for $30 less. At any rate, the ThinkPad Yoga is a Windows business ultrabook that you'll be glad to whip out on your commute, even if you don't flip it over or tent it up.