Two years ago, Windows 8 birthed what feels like a thousand different varieties of twisting, bending, hybrid laptops. In the vast army of oddities, only a few stood out as being actually good. Of those select few, the Lenovo Yoga was our favorite. Now it's back with a refresh, and it's better than ever.
What Is It?
It's a laptop that's a tablet that can make itself look like a tent. It's a Windows 8 rig that will literally bend over backwards for you. It's the follow-up to one of our favorite PC/tablet freak machines. It's still great.
Why Does It Matter?
The Windows 8 endgame is still every bit the touchy, swipey, converged device future it's always been. Which is why a device that can be both a tablet and a laptop and do both admirably is still the elusive epitome of Windows 8 machines. That and the Lenovo Yoga was great the first time around, but its beginning to show its age. Yoga line needed a refresh to keep that fantastic form factor fresh enough to recommend.
From the outside, the Yoga 2 Pro doesn't look wildly different from its predecessor. It's a greyish (or orange if, you're into that), slab with a uninspiring but fine plastic lid. At a glance, it's identical to the original Yoga in its respectable-if-not-exactly-jaw-dropping style. There are a few little surface-level changes though, which make all the difference. The Yoga 2 Pro is slightly wedge-shaped, unlike its strictly rectangular forebear, which gives it the illusion of being smaller despite the fact that it's really about the same size. It is a third of a pound lighter though.
Open 'er up and there are a few more subtle-but-welcome changes. The awkward physical Windows button that sat below the screen on the Yoga is a touch button now, the keyboard has backlighting, and the obnoxiously-easy-to-accidentally-press power button has moved to the side from its originally even worse placement on the front. The Yoga 2 Pro also has a nice little rubber strip that runs around the edge of the screen now too, which makes "tent" mode on slippery surfaces more feasible than ever, though it was never bad before. It's a host of little changes that add up to a lot.
Inside, there's a spec bump, but it's more than just the cursory move to Intel's battery-sipping Haswell processor. The Yoga 2 Pro has that, yes, but it's also got a crazy (beautiful) QHD+ 3200x1800 display that packs pixels denser than just about anything else out there.
And as for the back-flipping, fold-into-a-tablet tricks the original Yoga had, the Pro 2 still has them, essentially unchanged. That means three officially supported modes. Standard laptop, "tent" mode where the keyboard bends back to form a triangular stand, and tablet mode where the keyboard bends all the way back. And then also everything in between.
But that was already one of the best attempts out there at making a laptop that's a good laptop but can also do tablet things if you really need it to, and if it ain't broke, why fix it?
The Yoga 2 Pro is a very good laptop, and much of what made the original Yoga such a pleasure is still present, and often improved. The trackpad is delightful, one of the best I've used outside of a MacBook, and the keyboard is perfectly wonderful to type on, though it opts for a full-sized set of arrow keys at the cost of a tiny right-shift, which can be a bit annoying. And while the soft, rubbery material that covers the interior doesn't exactly feel premium, it feels practical. It doesn't sweat your palms the way metal will, and it's never particularly hot or cold to the touch. It just is, and helps that part of the machine fade away to the back of your mind like it should.
Every one of the Yoga's contortion modes is also alive and well and improved. Though the hinge on the original Yoga was no slouch, the one on the Pro 2 is rock solid. When you're poking at the touchscreen, there's a little bit of wobble, but just as much as you'd expect from any laptop that can't bend over backwards. But the strength of that hinge really makes itself evident between modes, where the Pro 2 will actually hold admirable in whatever weird configuration you could desire. Personally, I'm a big fan of the 180-degree mode, propped up on my thighs while I'm lounging in bed, with the keyboard extending straight out from the bottom like some insane keyboard tablet.
It's not an officially supported mode, but it works great. And that's the Yoga 2 Pro's greatest strength; it's a laptop that happily shape-shifts to support your particular, weird use cases instead of one that tries to form you to it like the Surface Pro 2 has a tendency to do.
Using the Yoga 2 Pro in pure tablet mode is still a little unwieldy for the same reasons it was last time around. A 13-inch screen is just too large to be a tablet in the modern sense; it's a slate. Which is all well and good in its own way, but it takes getting used to. Likewise the keys are still there on the back for errant pressing. They don't do anything, but it still makes for weird gripping. The Thinkpad Yoga's retractable keys were a clever solution, but they're missing here, in the name of thinness. And all told, it's a fair trade-off.
As for guts, the Yoga 2 Pro is a damn fine laptop. Intel's Haswell processor brings all its power to bear on this thing, which means you've got better integrated graphics than last time around, and better battery power on standby thanks to a whole slew of smart sleep-states. But even with the power-up, the Yoga Pro 2's battery isn't quite great. We were only able to get just over 6 hours of life during a standard Nyan cat video test at 70 percent brightness, and while that's not a total joke or anything, it's certainly not fantastic.
That's roughly half of what you can get out of a Haswell-sporting MacBook Air, and at least an hour shy of most other Windows 8 ultrabooks. On standby, things are a little better. Lenovo says the Yoga Pro 2 can get 9 hours, and we found that to be roughly accurate. Again, it's not horrible for a laptop, but it's also not great. And it is horrible for a tablet, even though if that's your primary use case you should be spending your money elsewhere.
Of course you get something in exchange for that lackluster battery life: a killer screen. At 3200x1800 the display on this thing is incredible, borderline ludicrous. You're going to be hard-pressed to find something that actually takes full advantage of all those pixels, at least for the time being. That said, Windows 8.1 actually handles the pixel-dense desktop pretty well, despite a few hiccups. The Yoga 2 Pro comes out of the box with its scaling option set to 200 percent, which you're going to need in order for text to not be super duper small. And with 8.1's option to change scaling by display, you'll be able to find options that work with an external monitor.
But there are a few issues that just seem unavoidable. Specifically, some desktop applications just aren't set up to handle resolutions of that size, the most obnoxious of which is Chrome. The browser just refuses to take full advantage of tab real-estate at a resolution this high, which means you've got an absurdly low multitasking limit.
Granted this is more Windows 8.1/Google Chrome's fault than it is the Yoga's, and it can/should be fixed with a little update to either piece of software down the line. But for the time being, little issues like that can add up to big problem. For me, a computer that can't support Chrome and at least 10 tabs is nigh unusable, at least unusable in the way I like to use a computer.
Other than that though, the Yoga 2 Pro's guts are more than sufficient to handle whatever you've got in your day to day arsenal. Despite the UI issues, the Yoga 2 Pro can handle 15-20-ish Chrome tabs and a handful of other applications with little to no stutters. We were able to run Photoshop and make plenty of stupid pictures with no performance issues, but gaming can be just slightly dodgier. We tried to play a little Crysis 2, and the it worked OK on low settings with hi-res textures off at 1920x1080, but you'll run into resolution issues again. Crysis 2, for instance, doesn't like to scale up its smaller resolutions to fit the screen. Borderlands 2 works a little better, running reasonably (around 30FPS) at settings slightest above the minimum at 1920x1080, but don't expect to play the newest games with all the bells and whistles on this guy. And running anything at native 3200x1900 is a recipe for single-digit-framerate disaster.
Update: You may have also heard about an issue that causes the Yoga 2 Pro to display yellow poorly. Yes, it was present on our review unit, but there's also a fix now.
The Yoga was a great take on the convertible idea: a laptop that shape-shifts to conform to your crazy usage cases. And that's just as fantastic as it ever was. But what makes the Yoga 2 Pro so great is that on top of those conversion options, it's just a solid laptop. Nice design, good specs, a great screen. Everything else on top of that is just gravy. This Yoga 2 Pro is everything we loved about the Yoga, but more and better and it's easy to recommend to just about anyone.
Quirks still remain. Some of them are old, like the weirdness of having a lifeless but still press-able keyboard on the back of your tablet. Some of them are different but still annoying, like the too easily accidentally pressed power button that's no longer on the front, but isn't all that less obnoxious in its new home on the side. And some of them are new, like the weirdness a super hi-res display brings, or the battery power it sabotages.
Pretty much all of these are things you can get used to, even things that are worth getting used to for a laptop that's otherwise great. But the one, big black-eye on this sucker is that battery life. There's no changing that, and it's only going to get worse as the battery wears down. Whether or not that's a deal-breaker depends on how you use your laptop, but it could be a pretty big problem for a lot of people.
Should You Buy It
Probably. For all its little weirdnesses, the Yoga concept is (still) rock solid, the Yoga 2 Pro is a better execution than ever. Unlike the Surface Pro 2, which is a bulky tablet that can also be a laptop that's not great for laps, the Yoga 2 Pro is a perfectly good laptop, with unconventional modes that make it even better for lap-work, that's also a bulky tablet. And when the laptop part is this good, it's hard to complain about the tablet stuff.
And then, even better, the Yoga 2 Pro won't break the bank (so far as pro laptops go). If you buy direct from Lenovo, you can get one fully loaded for $1,150, with a 4th gen Core i5, 256GB SSD, 8GB of RAM, and that crazy QHD+ screen. And the still admirable Core i5, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD version is only $1,000.
If you are looking for a good Windows 8 laptop, Lenovo's Yoga 2 Pro is one of the best options out there. While its bonus modes might not be vitally important to you, they're there if you need them, and out of the way if you don't. And when it comes to making the most out of Windows 8.1 and all its hybrid glory, that's exactly the kind of hardware versatility you need to experiment and explore the world of weirdness, or to just completely avoid it, as you see fit.
Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro Specs (as tested)
Display: 13.3-inch IPS 3200 x 1800 touchscreen
Processor: Intel Core i5 1.6GHz Haswell
Storage: 128GB SSD
Dimensions: 13.1" x 8.9" x 0.67"
Weight: 3.06 pounds