It’s taken me a while to get down to writing this review of the Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga because I know a lot of you are hoping that this convertible laptop addresses all the shortcomings of the Surface Pro while answering all of your artistic mobility dreams.
So, to cut to the chase: the Thinkpad Yoga is a very capable device for creative users, but it isn’t perfect.
Instead of offering a lot of technical details, I’m going to focus on the Thinkpad Yoga drawing experience and how it compares to the Surface Pro and other Windows tablets I’ve acquired over the past year.
The 1.9-inch diagonal size advantage that the TPY offers over the Surface Pro makes a significant difference. Even at its default scale, crowded desktop apps like Photoshop CC are easier to use on the 12.5-inch display. And if you run the UI scaling hack we posted here, Photoshop is even easier to use.
However, if you’re not a Photoshop user, the additional real estate may not be worth the decrease in portability vs. the Surface Pro.
If you don’t like reflective displays or want to occasionally work outdoors or in brightly lit environments, you’ll appreciate the Thinkpad Yoga’s matte screen finish, which diffuses reflections. But the coating also makes colors less vibrant to my eye and type appears somewhat fuzzy or muddy. I tried to capture the difference on camera, but my iPhone 4S is not up to the task. According to one reader, the Thinkpad is only able to display 75% of the sRGB color space. I don't know much about the subject, but it does appear that colors are muted compared to the glossy displays of the Surface Pro and Sony VAIO Flip 15A.
In the following screenshots I attempted to demonstrate the color, brightness and reflectivity differences in different lighting conditions. All shots were taken with the devices at maximum brightness.
The drawing experience on the Thinkpad Yoga is comparable to any other Wacom-equipped tablet pc. Like many of you who’ve had troubles with Wacom tech on the Surface Pro and other tablets, I’ve encountered several annoyances along the way that I’m forced to work around.
I’ve been unable to get either the touch or pen calibration set up 100% perfectly despite running both the standard and Wacom calibration tools dozens of times. Installing Wacom’s feel drivers deletes the standard calibration settings, but I was able to confirm that the problem I describe below isn’t introduced by the Wacom drivers.
The problem I’ve encountered is that pen alignment and touch don’t match. If I tune the calibration for pen accuracy, the screen won’t respond to taps along the bottom edge of the display so I can’t unhide the desktop taskbar.
I’ve ended up compensating for this by purposely tapping just below the bottom points in the Wacom calibration tool. Now taps on the bottom edge are recognized but there is a one or two pixel drift in cursor accuracy as I move the pen up the screen.
If Wacom ever gets around to releasing a calibration tool with more than four points, it should be easier to limit that drift to the very bottom of the screen.
Based on reading the community’s experience with the Surface Pro, it’s clear that digitizer accuracy varies from machine to machine, so please don’t assume that all Thinkpad Yogas will display this same behavior.
Not much to say here. It’s a tiny pointer that will do in a pinch, but will otherwise stay in its silo forever.
The screen’s matte coating interacts with your pen’s nib very differently than the Surface Pro’s glass. The soft felt nibs I prefer on the SP offer a little too much resistance and feel slightly waxy. Hard plastic nibs don’t feel quite as slippery as they do on glass.
Thanks to the TabletPCReview forum reader who first suggested I try the Fujitsu stylus, I also purchased a set of flex nibs to try. These are black with a white rubberized tip and to paraphrase Goldilocks feel “just right” when sliding along the Thinkpad Yoga’s screen.
All the Surface Pro compatible pens I’ve tested work equally well on the TPY, although they also may require recalibration for best results. This shouldn’t be a problem for most of you who may have one or two at your disposal. I’m sure I’m unique in having 10(!) pens to choose from.
The Form Factor
I expected not to like the feel of the keyboard behind the screen while in tablet mode. And, while it’s not ideal, I find it’s not as distracting in practice as I thought it might be.
I think this is because the size and weight of the Thinkpad Yoga forces you to either cradle it on your forearm or rest it on your lap. It would be very taxing to hold the convertible for long with the keyboard resting on your hand. My average sized hand covers the entire back of the Surface Pro, but it only extends to about two thirds of the Thinkpad.
The clickable touchpad doesn’t lock when in tablet mode, but I find that’s only distracting when I try to draw in portrait orientation. Then either my fingers or palm are certain to come in contact with it, causing the occasional errant click. The system doesn’t recognize the click, so it’s not really a problem, but it just feels wrong.
While in tablet mode, you’ll also need a bluetooth keyboard around, at least until someone develops a Thinkpad Yoga-specific ArtDock. With the Acer and Sony convertibles I’ve used, you can always lift up the screen to access the keyboard in a pinch, but the Yoga design makes it all or nothing.
The biggest design flaw of Thinkpad Yoga is the location of its fan vents.
The vents are located at the back of the keyboard, which theoretically blows the hot air away from you while in laptop mode. In practice, this is not always the case. For instance if you’re in bed and like to prop the keyboard up on your knees, the fans will blow right into your legs. Or worse, ventilation will be obstructed by your bed covers.
In tablet mode, the vents blow into you unless you rotate the tablet upside down: with the home button up and the camera lens down.
And the vents can get hot. Not scalding like the bottom of my 2008 MacBook Pro, but uncomfortably warm.
Despite moving a lot of hot air, the fans are very quiet and seldom noticeable. When compared to the Surface Pro, however, the fans are definitely louder. To stress the CPUs, disks and graphics hardware, I ran Passmark’s Performance Test 8 and while the Yoga’s fans were audible throughout half the tests, the Surface Pro 2 remained silent.
Fit & Finish
Like most Lenovo products, the Thinkpad Yoga won’t win any design awards. It’s a utilitarian device that feels solid and built for durability.
It avoids some of the sharp edges of the Surface Pro and the magnesium alloy finish resists fingerprints and smudges.
The keyboard feels great and is certainly one of the most popular features for road warriors. I really don’t like the clickable touchpad which feels cheap and flimsy. I don’t know what Lenovo’s reliability record is for this touchpad design, but I worry that it will be the first thing to go.
The keyboard also features the signature red Lenovo TrackPoint touching stick which is fairly redundant on a touch screen, but can be mapped as a middle mouse button. I haven’t tried this but that is a nice feature if you need it.
As I mentioned in my unboxing, my Thinkpad Yoga has a small defect in the upper right corner of the screen. There is a bit of tape or something sticking out between the display and the matte coating. It’s no big deal and I’m not going to risk cutting it off, but a $1735 retail device shouldn’t have such an obvious manufacturing flaw.
In laptop mode, the screen is quite springy. The slightest tap will start it wobbling.
The power button on the right side of the keyboard is very small and hard to find without looking.
Performance & Battery Life
Several of you requested that I run extensive benchmarks and software tests on the Thinkpad Yoga, but I’ve been unable to do so. There are a lot of hardware dedicated sites that do that sort of thing all the time and you’re likely to find more reliable results there anyway.
Using the aforementioned Passmark benchmarks, the Thinkpad Yoga scored 1944 vs. the Surface Pro 2’s 1975. Clearly the Core i7 in the TPY doesn’t make a huge amount of difference in the overall rating.
In practice I found the Yoga to be equal to the Surface Pro 2 in all respects, except for occasional stutters while using Clip Studio Paint 1.27. I’m not certain what to attribute those hiccups to; there may have been background activity going on that I was unaware of, but these delays only lasted a second or so. I did have one freeze that cost me an hour’s worth of work on CSP that may have been caused by a loss of network connectivity.
Some users have complained of weak wi-fi signal, but I can’t confirm that. Running a couple of speedtests side by side didn’t show any difference between the two systems.
I haven’t run the Thinkpad Yoga all the way down to zero battery, but it took about five hours to go from 100% to 10% remaining, all while working in Clip Studio Paint.
So is the Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga perfect? Far from it. Is it better than the Surface Pro 2? Not really, given the price difference.
But if your top priority is screen size in a Wacom penabled device, the Thinkpad Yoga is your best option for the moment. We’ll see what manufacturers have up their sleeves in a few weeks at CES 2014.