In this review I’ve got the honor to write about one of the more exciting products announced at last years IFA in Berlin (which also happened to be the first one I attended): The Lenovo Yoga Book. With its Halo keyboard and Real Pen Stylus the device caught the attention of people around the world and also I was impatiently looking forward to getting my hands on this convertible device at Lenovo’s booth at IFA. Some months later we were finally able to spend some quality time (actually, a couple of months – thanks Lenovo Switzerland and Jenni Kommunikation!) with this innovative product.
Before we dive right into our in-depth review, let’s quickly have a look at what’s included in the box:
- Lenovo Yoga Book
- Power supply unit consisting of power adapter and USB to micro USB cable
- Real Pen
- Book Pad with 20 Paper Book Pad refills
- 3 Real Pen ink refills
Design and Build Quality
Available in one color only (Carbon Black) the Lenovo Yoga Book with Windows is a very sleek-looking device which not only feels premium and sturdy to the touch but also lies comfortably in your hands thanks to Lenovo’s distinctive watchband hinge already known from other Yoga convertibles. Thanks to its relatively small footprint (256.6 x 170.8 x 9.6 mm) and its pleasantly low weight of 690 grams, the device is perfectly suited for productivity on the go (though you’ve got to make some sacrifices as described later in this review) – you barely even notice it in your bag. Having such a light device isn’t just great if you plan to take it with you when you leave the house though: Also indoors this characteristic is of great value as the device can feature as your ultra-portable companion. Furthermore, the 360 degree hinge which Lenovo says has been tested and verified to withstand more than 25’000 open and close operations means you can perfectly adapt the Yoga Book to different use-case scenarios. For instance, you could use it in Tent Mode to show pictures to your friends while Presentation Mode might be most suited for watching movies. And while some of those modes – especially Tablet Mode – don’t really offer a pleasant experience on bigger devices such as the Asus Zenbook Book Flip UX360CA the Lenovo Yoga Book seems to have just the perfect size and weight in order for it to work well in all the mentioned modes.
The device’s compactness though somewhat limits another important mode – at least for those who not only want to consume content with the Yoga Book: The Notebook mode. Because having a small device also means having a small keyboard – which in the case of the Yoga Book is already special in itself – and thus does not offer the best typing experience. Additionally, the Yoga Book is also limited in terms of ports as the thinness didn’t allow for a full size USB Type-A port. Instead users will have to content themselves with only one micro USB port (used for charging and data transfer), one micro HDMI port and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. In order to let customers expand the rather small 64 GB internal storage Lenovo also included a SD card slot. All the ports are nicely integrated in the keyboard part of the device. The keyboard base also houses the Dolby Atmos speakers on either side as well as the volume rocker and the power button – both of which are located on the right side of the device. They too feel sturdy.
All in all the Yoga Book is a very nicely designed, elegant and sleek-looking device which feels sturdy in your hand. Thanks to its 360 degrees hinge, the device offers great flexibility in terms of using modes known from previous Yoga devices such as the Yoga 900. Unfortunately, the Notebook mode is somewhat limited due to the poor keyboard experience (also see section Input Devices).
Before taking a detailed look at the various aspect of the Yoga Book let’s have a quick glance at its specifications:
- 10.1″ Full HD (1920 x 1200) IPS display
- Color Depth: 16.7 Million
- Color Gamut: 70 %
- Brightness: 400 nits
The Yoga Book might not be equipped with the sharpest display out there, but I still believe that for the screen size (10.1″) the Full HD+ resolution is perfectly fine. Text, pictures and videos look acceptably crisp and detailed. I have no complaints regarding the screen resolution.
Also in terms of brightness I’m pleased with the Yoga Book’s display. It can get sufficiently bright enough – although not as bright as the Surface Pro 4 (400 vs. 436 nits, source [Pro 4] : Display Mate) – and extremely dark which could be of advantage for those intending to use the device in dark environments as well. The device further supports auto-brightness which proved to work very reliably during our testings.
So far I have nothing but praised the Yoga Book’s display but as you might imagine there are also some weak aspects regarding the screen. While I wouldn’t dare to say colours look bad (because quite frankly that’s not the case) on the Yoga Book, I do have to mention that especially whites and blacks look quite greyish which in my opinion reduces the quality of the overall experience regarding display-related content consumption and productivity. Other colours however look quite good.
In terms of viewing angles the Yoga Book’s display doesn’t shine either with noticeably inferior viewing angles than the Surface Pro 4. Don’t get me wrong: It’s definitely not bad but you do notice a difference. However, I do believe that most people won’t use a 10.1″ device to watch videos with other people (which might not sit directly in front of the device) I think this isn’t a huge problem. Because if you’re sitting directly in front of the display you’ll be pleased with it.
With its 10.1″ display the Yoga Book is definitely one of the smaller 2-in-1 devices running Windows 10 and thus might be a great option for those looking for an extremely portable convertible. Personally, I’d prefer to have a slightly bigger screen (~12 inches) but I do value the fact that Lenovo contributes to the diversity of Windows 10 devices with the Yoga Book and its small screen – compared with most of the 2-in-1 devices.
According to Lenovo one of the reasons why you should consider buying the Yoga Book is it´s physical Halo keyboard which “only appears when you need it”. As someone who loves writing a lot, I couldn´t disagree more. Normally, when I write reviews of notebooks or 2-in-1s I always insist on writing it with the device I´m reviewing as this allows me to get a final impression of various aspects such as the display and even more importantly of the keyboard of the actual device itself . And in many cases it´s actually a joy to do so, especially if the device happens to have a great keyboard just like the Surface Book I reviewed here. For this review I decided to be content with writing at least one section (the one you´re currently reading) with the actual review unit – and to be frank, it really took me a lot of effort to do so. Because writing on the Yoga Book Halo keyboard is, well, special and does take a lot getting used to.
But what exactly is a Halo keyboard? Well, this essentially means that there is no ordinary physical keyboard on the device’s base but instead you´re looking at a sort of touch keyboard – essentially like the one you’re using on your smartphone every day. This means there is no key travel whatsoever though in order to give users at least some kind of feedback Lenovo has opted for vibration in combination with a touch tone. Luckily, you can turn them off independently from each other which I did right after setting the device up because the vibration just gets so annoying. Sadly, it’s not possible to adjust the intensity of the vibration – there’s just the option to either turn it on or off in the Halo Keyboard settings under Control Panel -> Appearance & Personalization -> Halo Keyboard. There you can also turn on or off the touch tone, adjust brightness and sleep of the keyboard. Apart from the unfamiliar surface you’re typing on, the Yoga Book’s keyboard is pretty standard when it comes to functionality and Windows-specific layout though the right backspace key is rather big.
But there’s not everything bad with the keyboard: You’ll never be bothered by keys in tablet mode when having the keyboard flipped around and the keyboard also only turns on when you really need it. Furthermore, cleaning the base part is much easier as no dirt or dust can occupy the space between the keys.
Like the keyboard, the touchpad is Halo-like though it doesn’t feel as strange as the former. Instead of clickable left and right buttons, the relatively small touchpad has two additional areas left and right of the main touchpad area which make up for the missing buttons. The surface of the touchpad – which consists of the same plastic-like material as the keyboard – sadly doesn’t feel too comfortable and prevents a smooth experience regarding touchpad controls. Furthermore, it doesn’t support Windows 10 multi-finger gestures. Based on my experience I’d classify the Yoga Book’s touchpad as ‘usable’ but definitely not as ‘good’ and I’m sure users will find themselves using the touchscreen or the Real Pen Stylus much more often.
Real Pen Stylus and Create Pad
One of the areas where Lenovo really proves with the Yoga Book that they are one of the most innovative companies in the PC business is the area of input based on its Real Pen and Create Pad technology. You can use Lenovo’s stylus – which they call Real Pen – to draw and write on the surface of keyboard. Because as mentioned above, the Yoga Book’s keyboard isn’t what you would consider to be ‘normal’: As there are no physical keys, the area can be used for other things as well, namely as a ‘Create Pad’ for the stylus. In fact, the keyboard/Create Pad area is a layer of Electromagnetic Resonance (EMR) film which is powered by Wacom Feel technology and according to Lenovo’s Reviewer’s Guide supports up to 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity and 100-degree angle detection. Switching between keyboard mode and Create pad mode is as easy as pressing the dedicated pen button located on the base of the device. Once activated, you can use the Create Pad to write and draw directly on it using the Real Pen and the really cool thing is that user input gets instantly (without any noticeable delay) transferred to the used application – most likely OneNote – on the screen. Depending on what tool is chosen on the screen actions performed by the user on the Create Pad will have different effects (as you’d expect of course): So for instance, if you’ve selected the rubber in OneNote ‘touching’ the EMR film of the Create Pad with the Real Pen will erase the area you’re pointing at. Furthermore, you can use the stylus as a mouse pointer by hovering above the Create Pad surface and left or right clicking by tipping on the area or press and hold respectively. Alternatively, you can also use the stylus to draw and write directly on the screen which I – as cool as writing on the dedicated EMR film may be – personally consider to be more comfortable and especially more natural as writing on a ‘real’ paper also involves writing on the surface where the input eventually also appears. For some reason though, this did not work in the OneNote Universal App.
But Lenovo didn’t stop there: The Yoga Book’s real magic comes to life with the Book Pad which is basically nothing else than a magnetized pad which holds a stack of paper (included in the box together with 20 papers, but it can be easily refilled by standard A5 sized paper). Now you can put a paper on the Create Pad surface and write on the actual paper using your Real Pen with one of the three real pen ink refills which are included in the box. Writing with real ink on a real paper but still getting all your content instantly transferred to OneNote is a really neat feature and works perfectly fine on the Yoga Book. While I personally still prefer my Surface Pro 4 setup where I take notes by writing directly on the screen all the time, I do believe that this functionality might appeal people who do prefer to write with a ‘real’ pen on paper. And it’s just an impressive feature to show your friends 😉
The Lenovo Yoga Book features a set of stereo speaker which are located at the left and right side of the keyboard base and offer quite decent quality – of course always keeping the size of the device in mind. As your hands can help to resonate the sound when holding the Yoga Book, the location of the speakers is best for tablet mode. But also when placing the device on a desk, sound resonates quite nicely.
Powered by an Intel Atom x5-Z8550 (Cherry Trail family) clocked at 1.44 GHz the Lenovo Yoga Book with Windows is far from being a performance monster. And frankly, that’s something you notice when using the device. While Intel Atom processor belonging to the Cherry Trail generation have been massively improved compared with older generations, they are still not the most powerful SoCs out on the market. Having said that, I want to emphasize that the performance of the Yoga Book isn’t terribly bad: When you don’t have many programs and processes running at the same time, you’ll be just fine. When running multiple processor intensive tasks, for instance checking your computer with Windows Defender, you might find your CPU working to capacity and thus things might take a bit longer. Nevertheless, you’ll get things done with the Yoga Book – don’t worry! Especially since with 4 GB of RAM the device is equipped quite generously in terms of memory compared with older Intel Atom Bay Trail Windows tablets. While of course having more RAM would always be nice – the x5-Z8550 does support up to 8 GB of RAM – I rarely came into a situation where the 4 GB of memory were a limiting factor. Where the device is limited though is in terms of storage as there are only models with 64 GB (of which about 34 GB are available to the user) available for purchase. Luckily though, you can extend the internal storage with up to 128 GB via the Micros SD card slot found in the keyboard base of the device.
Lenovo claims the Yoga Book’s battery is good for up to 13 hours of usage though as you might already expect you probably will never reach that level of battery life in real life usage as battery life depends on various factors such as display brightness and activity types (e.g. what you do with your computer). Nevertheless, you’re looking at a very good nine to ten hours of battery life depending on your usage with the Yoga Book running Windows 10 Pro. Charging the device with the included power adaptor consisting of a power plug and a USB to micro-USB cable takes about two and a half hours, while you can charge the Yoga Book in one hour up to about 50 %.
Our review model came pre-installed with Windows 10 Pro (Build 14393.0) and to my surprise Lenovo didn’t pre-install a lot of bloatware – which is of course great but still unexpected as Lenovo devices typically come with many programs pre-installed. Apart from the already described ArtTage Lite Trial software and Dolby Audio there is only a little program installed which let’s you directly open the PDF version of user guide. Thus the Lenovo Yoga Book offers a very clean Windows experience – something I appreciate in particular. During our review period we did not encounter any (major) problems with Windows 10 Pro running on the Yoga Book.
If Lenovo’s goal was to create and design a device which is both innovative and interesting they were absolutely succesful, but if they were aiming at a 2-in-1 which is actually useful and competitive they failed. While the innovative Halo keyboard makes the Yoga Book very interesting indeed, it also makes it almost useless for those who actually need a keyboard. And while it might be intriguing to have such a light and portable device, users have to make various compromises regarding input devices and performance. This would all be acceptable if the Yoga Book came in at a reasonable price but as of now this isn’t the case. At the moment you are looking at an RRP of almost $550 which in my opinion is just too high. Not necessarily because of the hardware components (although an Intel Atom processor and 64 GB of storage aren’t really what I would call high-end) but because of the limited usability of key parts regarding Notebook use – with the Halo keyboard leading the way. It might be innovative – and I do want to give Lenovo credit for that – and I’m sure the company will make improvements to the current state and one day I actually might like having such a keyboard on my notebook as well but at the moment exactly the aspect Lenovo highlighted the most in their press releases – the Halo keyboard – is the reason why I don’t feel comfortable recommending the Yoga Book. Sure, you could make the argument that people who don’t need a keyboard that often could find the device just perfectly fitting their needs and I would agree to a certain extent. Nevertheless, I’d claim that they’d be better off with something like a Pro 4….
I think you’ve noticed how unsure I’m about the Yoga Book: On the one hand there are the good (great battery life, extremely portable, etc.) and innovative aspect (Halo keyboard, Real Pen Stylus, Create Pad, Book Pad) but on the other hand there’s the inevitable fact that I would not spend my personal money for this device because quite frankly I would not have a use case for it: The Pro 4 has everything I need and in many ways does things better than the Yoga Book. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to a possible successor of the Yoga Book and hope Lenovo will make improvements where the device needs them most urgently.
Thanks to Lenovo Switzerland for providing us with the review unit!