Since Lenovo first announced its penabled Thinkpad Yoga, it's been clear that the convertible Windows 8 laptop would be the device to offer the Surface Pro its stiffest competition for the artist's dollar.
I received my Thinkpad Yoga earlier today and it definitely lives up to expectations. Officially listed as the Thinkpad S1 Yoga, the specs are very similar to the $1299 Surface Pro 2: 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, Intel HD Graphics 4400 and the all-important Wacom active digitizer. But unlike the Surface Pro, the Thinkpad Yoga is powered by an Intel Core i7 processor and features a 12.5-inch HD display. At $1739, this is not an inexpensive upgrade, but when you add in a keyboard, the Surface Pro is actually $1428 and the only other Wacom equipped tablet in the 12-13 inch range is the $2000 Cintiq Companion.
I was fortunate to get a 12% discount on my Thinkpad Yoga order, which brought the price down to $1530. I won't be surprised to see Lenovo offer even steeper discounts in the new year, so if you're interested in one, make sure to order by phone and ask if discount codes are available. Also, be certain that the model you're ordering has a digitizer. There is an i5 model listed on their site for $1299 that doesn't have pen support.
While not exactly a lightweight at 3.5 lbs, the Thinkpad Yoga is nowhere near as heavy as the 15-inch convertibles from Acer and Sony that I've reviewed recently. But despite its weight, the Lenovo's size makes it a little difficult pick up with one hand while in tablet mode. The keyboard keys on the back of the device have a little bit of give when your fingers hold the weight of the tablet which can be a slightly unsettling feeling.
I knew I'd be spoiled by my couple of weeks with the Sony Flip 15A and Acer Aspire R7 displays. Although the Yoga's screen is big, it's not quite big enough to sit on your lap every time you work; you'll want to occasionally cradle it closer to you for detail work. Though not impossible, the weight and dimensions make this a bit more of a challenge than you'd like.
PC wonks heap praise on the Lenovo keyboard and while it's nice, I don't think it's quite all that. Keyboard travel is good, but still relatively shallow. I wish the spacebar was bigger. For some reason, Lenovo put a Function and PrintScreen key on the bottom row that eats up space and is sure to cause me to mistype. I also am no fan of the red pointing stick which seems like an absolute anachronism in this age of touch.
"Those of you who've been holding out for a Wacom device with a larger screen... may have finally found a suitable option."
The worst part of the keyboard is the touch pad, which has a significant amount of travel. It's pretty noisy to click and doesn't lock when the Thinkpad is in tablet mode. It's not active, but still feels very strange when you depress it while it's on the back of the screen.
Getting the Yoga set up was relatively painless. The laptop ships with Windows 8.1 so it only needed a handful of updates, including a couple from Lenovo itself. There's very little crapware, so I just had to uninstall Norton Internet Security.
The Thinkpad Yoga does not ship with Wacom feel drivers pre-installed. But once they are, Photoshop CC and other Wintab-dependent programs run great. Although the Adobe interface is still small, it's far more usable with the additional screen real estate. And you can always run the UI scaling hack we published yesterday. UI scaling is not enabled by default, and you may not think it's necessary, but I like the desktop icons and text to be a bit bigger.
I also tested the old standby Manga Studio this afternoon and it also ran perfectly. Despite the extra screen size, I still appreciated being able to run the software in tablet mode where the touch targets are even easier to hit.
The display appears to have a matte screen protector that may or may not be removable. It's so snug that I assume it isn't. The surface of the screen cover interacts with the pen nibs and yields very different feedback than the Surface Pro's glass. The felt nibbed Wacom Bamboo Feel styluses that I normally prefer offer a bit too much drag. The Surface pen tip feels less plastic, but the best results I got came from the Modbook Pro pen. Its tip glides like satin as does the nib of the otherwise terrible (because it's puny) standard stylus.
I tested for the "black hole" digitizer bug that many early European buyers reported and it does not seem to exist in my unit. Likewise, I didn't notice any latency or burn-in that several users are now saying plagues their displays. Some Thinkpads use LG panels which also created issues for recent Apple MacBooks.
As always, the true nature of the Thinkpad Yoga's strengths and weaknesses won't emerge until I've spent many more hours with the pc. But for the moment, it appears that those of you who've been holding out for a Wacom device with a larger screen (and don't mind paying a premium for it) may have finally found a suitable option.
Do you have any specific questions or software you'd like me to test? Please let me know in the comments section below.