Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro Review

The Yoga 2 Pro is a convertible ultrabook with a unique design that allows it to function as a laptop, tablet, and something in between. This is a refresh of the original Yoga which brings faster hardware and an insanely high-resolution 3200x1800-pixel screen to the product. I purchased one of these machines about a week ago, and here are my experiences with it so far.

Motivation

I have been happily using a ThinkPad z61t for a while, but it was showing signs of age. The CPU was badly outdated, the chipset limited maximum RAM to 3 GB, and the entire laptop was bulky by today's standards. The main motivator for purchasing this laptop was the screen – the high DPI screen will allow me to effectively develop DPI-aware applications.

Hardware Specs (as reviewed)

I purchased the $1,199 model at Best Buy which came with a dual-core i7-4500U ultra-low-voltage CPU, 8 GB of RAM (unfortunately soldered onto the motherboard), and 256 GB mSATA SSD (user-replaceable). For $949, you can instead opt for an i5-4200U CPU, 4 GB of RAM, and a 128 GB SSD. The machine runs Windows 8.1 (non-Pro) out of the box. There are two USB ports – one on either side – and one of them is USB 3.0. A micro-HDMI 1.4 port supports the connection of an external display at (theoretically) up to 4K resolution. There is no ethernet jack or optical drive built in.

Screen

3200x1800 pixels is a lot. It's more pixels in total than my TRIPLE monitor desktop workstation, and is the highest resolution currently available on a laptop (as of January 2014). It's also an IPS panel that provides good viewing angles, and is LED-backlit, which allows it to be as thin as it is.

Image Quality

Out of the box, the screen exhibited an issue displaying yellow – yellows would appear washed out and dim, almost a mustard color instead of the bright yellow one would expect. This is a known issue due to the PenTile RGBW subpixel layout of the screen, and Lenovo had addressed this with a software update. I installed the update and all was well.

The IPS panel is leaps and bounds better than the TN panel on my old laptop. Colors are fairly vibrant, though not nearly as vibrant as on my wide-gamut HP LP2475w desktop monitor – still, the vibrance is quite acceptable for a laptop. Colors look quite good after fixing the issue with the yellows.

Windows DPI scaling

The laptop came configured with 200% scaling, which resulted in a screen area equivalent to a 1600x900 screen (but with crisper text). Windows 8.1 itself scales decently on the desktop and very well in the Modern UI. However, third-party apps (including NPS, sadly) don't handle the scaling so well. Even Microsoft's own Remote Desktop Connection can't handle scaling on the client side and thus remoting into a server will result in more or less unreadable text. Also notice that I said it scales "decently" – for some reason, text still looks awkwardly big in Windows menus and dialogs.

I ended up disabling the scaling (setting to 100%) and running the screen at a non-native resolution of 2048x1152 for daily use. Many people find text and other items to be too small, but for me, this is pretty much perfect. I have plenty of desktop area to work with and can even switch to full-on 3200x1800 if I'm working on something particularly complicated (and can lean forward to look more closely). Despite being a non-native resolution, the blur introduced by scaling is pretty much invisible unless you look closely. The average user can (at least temporarily) switch to 1600x900 to forego the scaling problems while still keeping the display as crisp as possible.

Running at non-native resolution somewhat defeats the purpose of having 3200x1800 pixels on the screen. As applications begin to scale better, I will switch to full resolution and begin using DPI scaling. In fact, one of the reasons I bought this machine is to allow me to make NPS Image Editor scale better. I otherwise have zero regrets about purchasing a screen with this pixel density, unlike a few of the other online reviews out there.

Keyboard

I have been spoiled by the keyboard on my ThinkPad – it was solidly built, the keys had very satisfying haptic feedback, and a lot of research had gone into the original layout. Naturally, I was disappointed with pretty much every other laptop keyboard out there.

The Yoga 2 Pro keyboard is decent but not great. It feels as solid as it can be considering the form factor of the laptop. Keys have a satisfying click and don't feel too mushy. The layout is fairly standard too. I would rate the typing experience to be at least as good as the Macbook, if not better due to the keys not feeling as loose. However, the keys don't travel as far as they would on a thicker laptop, and this somewhat hampers the typing experience.

The backlighting is a very nice touch when using the keyboard in a darker room. However, there is only one brightness setting and it's downright blinding when actually using the laptop at night (especially with the screen brightness turned down to the minimum). It is toggled by pressing Fn+Space. One final note is the function keys – out of the box, the F1 through F12 keys are mapped to system functions like brightness, volume, and airplane mode, and one is required to hold down the Fn key to access the traditional F keys. This is configurable in the EFI firmware, however.

Pointing Device

The trackpad is a glass Synaptics ClickPad which is pretty much on par to the one on Macbooks. Cursor movement is generally smooth, as are gestures. However, unlike the Mac trackpads, this one seems to have a few quirks, mostly software related. For example, two-finger scrolling randomly stops working in Google Chrome, and the cursor sometimes jumps randomly due to my palm grazing on part of the trackpad. The trackpad can be turned off by pressing Fn+F6.

My previous laptop had a TrackPoint (a pointing stick between the G, H, and B keys), and I still find myself reaching for it a week after switching laptops. Unfortunately pointing sticks are rare. One additional missing feature is the ability to middle-click – there is no option in the Synaptics settings for this. Thus I am required to either Ctrl+click or use the right-click menu to open and close new tabs, for example. This is no fault of the laptop but rather a missing software feature.

Form Factor and Usage Modes

Overall, the laptop is very thin and light. The proportions of the screen and keyboard are aesthetically pleasing too, unlike some of the newer ThinkPads with a disproportionate amount of wasted space on the sides of the keyboard. The laptop is fairly flat with only minimal tapering at the edges, unlike the Macbook Air.

What sets the Yoga line apart from other Ultrabooks is a unique screen hinge that allows nearly 360-degree movement of the screen – the screen can fold all the way back. The four modes are described below.

Laptop Mode

In Laptop Mode, the Yoga 2 Pro behaves just like any other thin and light laptop. The touchscreen remains fully functional, allowing screen elements to be touched and swiped. It's also possible to fold the lid 180 degrees down like a ThinkPad.

Tablet Mode

In Tablet Mode, the screen is folded all the way back, turning the Yoga 2 Pro into a tablet. One drawback of the hinge design is that the keyboard's keys are exposed – it feels strange to have keys on the back of the tablet, and there is a very real concern with dirt getting onto the keyboard. Using the tablet on the couch also has some disadvantages, namely that the vents end up on the bottom of the screen, and this can cause the unit to heat up rather quickly if it is resting on the bottom. (To get around this, just flip it upside down – the accelerometer will take care of rotating the screen for you. Unfortunately the webcam will also be on the bottom which can make video chats impossible.)

Stand Mode

Stand Mode is achieved by folding the screen back but not all the way, with the keyboard lying on the table. This gives you the advantage of angling the screen (and keeping it as close to you as possible), perfect for watching movies or Skyping.

Tent Mode

Finally, Tent Mode is achieved by picking up the laptop in Stand Mode and placing it on the table so that it forms a "tent". This allows the touchscreen to be much more stable, so it's perfect for playing touch games or surfing the web on the touchscreen. The webcam ends up being on the bottom, making video chats difficult.

Performance

The Yoga 2 Pro is an ultraportable – it sacrifices some performance in exchange for lighter weight and better battery life. However, I was very pleased with the performance out of the box. Windows booted up in around 6 seconds from cold power-off (a first for me – you can barely see the spinner at the Windows boot screen!). Apps launch nearly instantly thanks to the SSD, and scrolling within apps is buttery smooth. I don't ever expect this machine to replace my desktop, so I can't complain about performance here.

I have not gotten the opportunity to test the claimed battery life, but I feel like this will be consistent with other reviews – disappointing for a Haswell at 6 hours or so, but not bad by any stretch of the imagination.

Software

The laptop runs Windows 8.1. I'm more-or-less happy with 8.1 (actually Server 2012 R2) on my triple-monitor workstation, but the apps always seemed a bit out of place. Not so with the Yoga 2 Pro – the hardware was clearly built with Windows 8 in mind. Apps launch smoothly, gestures work exactly as intended, and the overall experience is very intuitive. And unlike my old Acer Iconia W500 tablet, the hardware is actually fast enough to keep up.

Comparisons with Microsoft Surface Pro

The main difference between the Surface and the Yoga product lines is their primary intended use. The Surface is primarily a tablet, while the Yoga is primarily a laptop. Thus the Surface is somewhat awkward to type on or use on one's lap due to its design, while the Yoga 2 Pro is just too big for use as a general-purpose tablet and has the unusual feeling of keys on the back.

The Surface Pro includes a pressure-sensitive Wacom digitizer, while the Yoga 2 Pro does not. (You can get a capacitive stylus for the Yoga 2 Pro but it's just not the same thing.) On the other hand, the Yoga 2 Pro's screen packs in nearly 3 times as many pixels and gives you significantly more viewing area. Performance and connectivity between the two devices is similar enough to not be a dealbreaker. Price-wise, the Yoga 2 Pro is cheaper for the given performance level, especially considering that you must buy the Surface's keyboard separately.

Both devices can replace your iPad and laptop. The question is which one you will miss more. Keep your primary usage in mind when deciding between the two products – I need a laptop about 80% of the time, so the Yoga 2 Pro was the clear winner for me.

Comparisons with Macbook Air and Macbook Pro

The Yoga 2 Pro is only slightly thicker than the Macbook Air, and packs more pixels into the display than a 15" Macbook Pro with Retina Display. It also includes a touchscreen, and for the given performance configuration (i7 CPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD), is hundreds of dollars cheaper. The Macbook Pro is more powerful (if you choose a quad-core CPU and 16 GB of RAM) but is thicker. If you need OS X, either Macbook is of course a solid choice, but if you're on the fence (or need Windows), I strongly recommend trying the Yoga 2 Pro

Verdict

I am very satisfied with my purchase, and would strongly recommend this device if you're looking for an ultraportable laptop in the $1000+ range.

Posted on Saturday, January 18, 2014 at 3:25 PM | Permalink | Tags: computers, windows, review, touch

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