The all-around best-in-class example of a first-generation Windows 8 hybrid was the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, a clever fold-back laptop-turned-tablet that was almost universally liked in both its 13-inch and 11-inch versions (let's just not mention the 11-inch Windows RT variant). It's a tough act to follow, but the flagship for the Windows 8.1 era may well be the IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro.
If you're not familiar with how the Yoga line works, it masquerades as an ordinary thin clamshell laptop, but the lid and display fold back a full 360 degrees to form either a thick tablet, or a stand/kiosk device when only folded partway back. That basic hook applies to both the original and updated models.
How exactly does the Yoga 2 top the original? The star of the show is an ultrahigh-res 13.3-inch display, with a native resolution of 3,200x1,800 pixels. That puts the Yoga 2 in similar territory to the Toshiba Kirabook, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, the Chromebook Pixel, the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus, and a handful of others. That's an especially notable improvement, as the original Yoga had a 1,600x900-pixel display, which was not what one would expect from a modern $1,000 laptop.
The price can be a bit difficult to pin down, as Lenovo is infamous of late for offering a confusing array of preconfigured systems, many with poorly explained "coupon codes," discounting some models to what feels like what the original price should have been.
As of this writing, our Intel Core i5, 4GB RAM, 128GB solid-state drive (SSD) review unit is available for $999 both from Best Buy and from Lenovo's Web site, although the latter is technically a discount from the $1,099 list price. In any event, the specs listed above are just right for $999, if you consider the higher-than-HD resolution, slim design, and flexible tablet modes.
IdeaPad is Lenovo's line of forward-thinking consumer products, in contrast to its ThinkPad line of business laptops and tablets, so adding the superfluous "Pro" to its name is an odd choice. But despite the naming confusion, this is still a strong consumer hybrid. And like the original Yoga, the Yoga 2 scores by remembering that it's a laptop first, and doing nothing to interfere with the traditional laptop form. Adding that higher-res screen for $999 is also a price breakthrough, and makes the Yoga 2 a hard-to-ignore value.
|Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro||Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus||Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (October 2013)|
|Display size/resolution||13.3-inch, 3,200x1,800 touch screen||13.3-inch, 3,200x1,800 touch screen||13.3-inch, 2,560x1,600 screen|
|PC CPU||1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U||1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U||2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4850HQ|
|PC memory||4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz|
|Graphics||1,792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400||1,749MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400||1GB Intel Iris Graphics|
|Storage||128GB SSD||128GB SSD||256GB SSD|
|Networking||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 (64-bit)||Windows 8 (64-bit)||OS X Mavericks 10.9|
Design and features
If I had to go out and find a thin, light, sharp-looking ultrabook-style laptop for around $1,000, the Yoga 2 would be on my short list, along with the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, the Samsung Book 9, the Sony Vaio Pro 13, and a few others. The Yoga 2 feels like it can stand toe-to-toe with any of those as a laptop, ignoring its shape-shifting abilities. The overall look is close to the original, but the new version is a bit thinner and lighter, with a slight taper to its previously squared-off lip.
The most apt comparison is with other better-than-HD systems, such as the MacBook Pro and Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus. The Yoga 2 is not quite as slick or solidly built as those, but it also costs less for a similar Core i5, 128GB configuration, making it the least expensive way to get into higher-resolution mobile computing.
Hybrids and convertibles fall into two categories. Some are primarily tablets that can spend part of their time as laptoplike devices, while others are primarily laptops that can double as part-time tablets. For example, the recent Sony Vaio Tap 11 is maybe 75 percent tablet and 25 percent laptop. The Microsoft Surface Pro 2 is perhaps a 60-40 tablet/laptop. On the other hand, the Lenovo Yoga 2 is 75 percent laptop, and you'll use the other modes less frequently. Frankly, if you need something that's a full-time tablet, look elsewhere.
That's primarily because when the Yoga 2 is folded back as a slate, the keyboard is exposed, pointing out from the back of the system. Although the keyboard and touch pad are deactivated in this mode, it's still not ideal, and one of the few things people criticized about the original Yoga.
There's also the problem that spans all Windows 8 tablets, which is that Windows 8/8.1 is still not a 100 percent tablet-friendly OS, and rarely knows how to organize information efficiently in portrait mode, which is how the iPad has trained a generation of consumers to hold a tablet.
In laptop mode, however, the Yoga 2 is a joy to use. Lenovo is known for putting serious resources into keyboard R&D and usage testing, and the current design is found (with a few variations) across most of Lenovo's consumer and business laptops. It takes the standard flat-topped island-style keyboard and adds a slight curve to the bottom, which helps catch nearly missed keystrokes. The finish on the keys feels softer and the keys themselves less clacky than on the original Yoga. My only real complaint is that a shortened right Shift key has carried over from the first Yoga, and I still find it hard to get acclimated to. This new keyboard is also backlit, which is a big upgrade for people who use their laptops in dim coffee shops and commuter train cars.
The large clickpad-style touch pad is similar to the previous version, and works well with two-finger gestures, such as Web site scrolling. It's tuned a little too sensitively for my tastes, but you can tweak the settings a bit to find the right level for you.
Besides the laptop and tablet modes, you can fold the screen back about 180 degrees and put the system into what I call a kiosk mode, with the display pointing out at the audience, without a keyboard or touch pad in the way. That's helpful for presentations or playing photo slideshows and videos. You can also fold it a bit farther back and position the Yoga 2 so that it's standing up in a table-tent shape. It's technically one of the four shapes Lenovo promotes for the Yoga 2, but I can't see how that's preferable to the kiosk mode.
The real forward leap here is the move to a better-than-HD screen, with a native 3,200x1,800-pixel resolution. That's higher even than the MacBook Pro's, and equal to the resolution on the $1,500-and-up Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus. More importantly, offering that screen at $999 (or even $929 currently for a Core i3 configuration) is amazing.
The benefits come from crisper text and more screen real estate for editing images. In the Windows 8 tile interface, you're unlikely to notice the difference unless you look closely. Like OS X, Windows 8 autoscales its icons and layout to fit any resolution. In the traditional desktop view still accessible in Windows 8, however, the very high resolution looks and feels odd on such a small screen. Icons and links will be hard to hit, and loading up Photoshop, you had better be familiar with the menu layout, or else be prepared for some hunting and pecking amid the tiny pull-down menus. As very little online video is available at resolutions higher than 1080p, it's not a huge help for that, either, even if the 4K video era is coming quickly.
Think of the higher-res IPS display as a bit of future-proofing, especially as it's turning up in more and more systems with each passing month.
Connections, performance, and battery
A few corners had to be cut somewhere for Lenovo to get this sharp design and great display in at under $1,000. There's only one USB 3.0 port (and a second USB 2.0 one), and the Wi-Fi is not of the newer 802.11ac variety. Your only built-in video output is via Micro-HDMI, and an Ethernet connection will require a sold-separately dongle.