My laptop bag has never felt this light. My computer, never this thin. The $1,350 Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro feels like the future. But the future ain’t here yet.
What Is It?
A super-thin 13” laptop that bends over backwards to become a 13” tablet, too. A laptop that literally uses a giant metal watchband as the hinge—to effortlessly position the screen at any angle. The first laptop to use Intel’s low-power Core M processors to stay thinner, quieter, and cooler than ever. The first laptop to charge with a USB cable instead of a bulky power brick.
Imagine the thinnest, lightest tablet you possibly can. That’s the Yoga 3 Pro’s screen. A super high-def 3200 x 1800 touchscreen affair with smooth Gorilla Glass up front and shiny magnesium-aluminum alloy around back. Now imagine a slightly more pedestrian keyboard base, with super-thin backlit keys, a silky smooth touchpad and dimpled, rubbery palmrests.
Set them about half an inch apart, and connect the base and screen with a freaking watchband—813 precision-machined components that provide constant tension no matter how you angle the screen. Then, try to spend any length of time with the Yoga 3 Pro without constantly toying with that fantastic mechanical hinge. I think my record is 20 minutes.
Sure, the shiny exposed metal isn’t for everyone. Personally, I can’t get enough of the Terminator look, but I’m the kind of guy who wears a solid steel wedding ring and who would probably volunteer to become a cyborg someday. Other Gizmodo writers who-shall-not-be-named think it’s pretty ugly. They prefer the predecessor.
Either way, since the hinge is the defining characteristic of the Yoga 3 Pro, you’ll probably know whether you like the look before you plunk down cash. What you might not know is that the Yoga 3 Pro kind of sucks at being a laptop. And it really, really sucks at being a tablet.
I know what you might be thinking, but no, it’s not Intel’s new Core M processor that’s the culprit. At least not all by itself. I was actually pretty surprised to see how well the 4.5-watt, dual-core 1.1GHz Core M-5Y70 stood up to everyday tasks. Paired with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid state storage in the base config Lenovo sent, performance felt way, way more like a $1,000 Core i5 laptop than a $400 Atom-based machine.
Still, I couldn’t help but notice stutter while scrolling through webpages with lots of big, beautiful images, and when watching 1080p videos piped out over the microHDMI port to my connected HDTV. And of course, you won’t be running any recent games on this computer... though I did manage to play a little Left 4 Dead 2 on low settings.
So if it’s only got a 4.5-watt chip, the battery life has to be great, right? Not so fast. While Core M theoretically means longer battery life and no pesky fan, Lenovo traded those away to make this laptop so light and thin. I only barely managed to hit the 5 hour mark on a charge by turning off the keyboard backlight and adjusting the beautiful screen down to around 60 percent brightness—in the evening when my eyes could deal with how dim 60 percent can be. Most of the time, with my typical Gmail, Tweetdeck, a few auto-refreshing Chrome tabs and some Pandora Radio blasting out tunes in the background, I only saw 4 hours and 30 minutes.
That’s a pretty weak showing compared to the 6-8 hour battery life I’ve seen from many other ultrabooks, and absolutely smoked by the 9-10 hours of real work I’ve gotten from a MacBook Air. I didn’t believe my eyes, and ended up asking Lenovo for a second laptop. Same result. The Yoga 3 Pro is pretty firmly in the “use it sparingly and carry a charger” category.
But! I’ve never been happier to carry a charger in my bag. The new Yoga comes with one of the tiniest, lightest laptop power bricks you’ve ever seen. It’s barely bigger than a USB phone charger, because that’s basically what it is: a 20-volt USB charger that uses a special detachable cable to plug into a special USB port on the left side of the PC.
So yeah, you can’t plug the Yoga into just any USB charger, you’ve gotta bring THIS charger and THIS cable to get the job done. (Lenovo says you can use a regular USB cable, but mine don’t seem to work.) But there are still major benefits: You get one extra USB port on the laptop where Lenovo would otherwise have needed to put a power jack—for a total of three—and when you’re not charging your laptop, you can use the same USB brick to charge your phone too. And again, it’s crazy light compared to a typical power adapter. Remember when I said my laptop bag had never been lighter? Yeah.
So what does all this thin and light talk add up to? It SHOULD add up to a machine that’s downright comfortable to throw around in any configuration you can imagine, like the designers probably intended when they created that watchband hinge. Yet somehow, Lenovo screwed up the two most important configurations.
In laptop mode, the typing experience is paramount, right? But this is one Lenovo machine where the keyboard needs work. The keys don’t have much travel AND you need to press them fully to ensure that they actually generate letters on the page, which means I now have sore finger joints. (I just typed every single word you’re reading on the Yoga itself.) And while the dimpled rubbery material on the palmrests feels pretty great, it doesn’t curve around the front lip of the laptop to cushion your wrists. Instead, there’s a rough plastic edge. Chafing. Lots of it.
Flip that screen back into tablet mode, and you’ve got a reasonably light 13-inch tablet: just 2.6 pounds. But there’s no good way to hold the damn thing, because the watchband hinge doesn’t let it lay flat against the back of the laptop. There’s a huge gap. You know what happens if you grip it firmly? The screen bends. Like this:
You can even see the liquid crystal ripple when you press down even lightly, which feels a little bit disturbing when we’re talking about a $1,300+ machine. And make no mistake, you’ll need to press down at least that much if you don’t want it to slip out of your hands.
This isn’t the tablet you’re looking for.
The touchpad’s pretty good! It tracks my finger quite nicely, with smooth scrolling and pinch-to-zoom action.
Pretty decent array of ports for a laptop this thin: two USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, microHDMI, a headset jack and an SD card slot.
Lenovo’s Harmony app is pretty cool: it can automatically detect which mode you’re in and automatically configure and launch apps if you want. Flip into tablet mode, and boom, you’re reading a book. Speaking of reading, the screen can get nice and dim for reading in bed.
Even though the Yoga still has a fan, it’s whisper-quiet. You won’t hear it over the speakers, which sound surprisingly decent for a machine this thin.
I love not having to carry around a bulky power brick.
4.5 hour battery life is a dealbreaker for me.
Build quality isn’t fantastic. The machine flexes and creaks a bit, and there are some seams and deformities if you look closely. One of the screws on my unit was loose.
Despite boasting a pretty impressive 3200 x 1800 resolution and some lovely colors, the screen isn’t quite top-notch either. It’s overly glossy and those colors wash out a bit when viewed at off-angles. The backlight also bleeds a bit near the bottom corners of the screen.
Touchpad picks up finger oil like nobody’s business. Even with a microfiber cleaning cloth, I can’t seem to remove the stains.
When you fold it back into a tablet the most obvious way—watchband hinge facing down—the volume controls are the opposite of what you’d expect. Even though Lenovo’s software can clearly tell which way you’re holding the machine, it doesn’t flip the volume buttons to match. Also, it’s way too easy to accidentally hit the power button on the right edge.
My poor wrists after using this machine for 4.5 hours straight.
Should You Buy It?
No. It’s a decent machine, but nothing about it screams “Pro.” It’s not as fast and doesn’t boast nearly as much battery life as other PCs in its price range, and everything Lenovo sacrificed to make it thin and light is basically nullified by it being a pain in the ass to use.
But if you look to the future, Lenovo’s next Yoga is clearly going to be a tour de force. I dearly want USB charging in my next laptop, because the thought of going back to carrying a chunky power brick makes me feel like a caveman. I want a watchband hinge, because to hell with anyone who doesn’t see the raw mechanical bliss.
I just need some more battery life and processing power to go with those things... and/or the ability to fold it into a half-decent tablet. Because seriously.
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro Specs (as tested)
Display: 13.3-inch IPS 3200 x 1800 w/ 10-point touch
Processor: Intel Core M 1.1GHz (Broadwell)
Storage: 256GB SSD
Wireless: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
Dimensions: 12.99” x 8.98” x 0.50”
Weight: 2.62 pounds
GIFs by Nicholas Stango