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Despite a strong fan base, if there's one thing that's bothered people about the Yoga products, it was the way the keyboard and touch pad remained exposed to the elements, even when the system was folded into tablet mode.
For the uninitiated, the Yoga, in any of its iterations, looks like an ordinary ultrabook-thin clamshell laptop, but its lid and display fold back a full 360 degrees to form either a thick tablet, or a stand/kiosk device when only folded halfway back. While the Yoga's keyboard is deactivated, it's still pointing out from the back of the tablet, which is suboptimal, to say the least.
Lenovo has a new take for the ThinkPad version of the Yoga that should make a lot of people very happy. This model has a re-engineered keyboard and chassis that pulls the keys flush with the body as you fold it over backward into the tablet mode. It's exactly what we've been waiting for in a Yoga, although it's a shame that this new feature is only included in the ThinkPad Yoga as of right now, not the more consumer-targeted IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro and the upcoming (less expensive) Yoga 2.
To dive a little deeper, the keyboard itself doesn't actually retract. It's more that the slightly sunken keyboard tray rises up to be flush with the keys, while a secondary locking mechanism prevents the keys from being depressed while in tablet mode. Lenovo calls it a lift-and-lock system. Impressively, it doesn't feel much thicker than the standard Yoga, although the screen measures 12.5 inches rather than 13 inches.
What we're left with is a kind of split in the Yoga line, with the sharp, coffee-shop-friendly design and the impressive 3,200x1,800 display going to the consumer version, while the much-requested retractable keyboard goes to the business line. It's almost cruel to force laptop shoppers to choose between them, especially as both start at around $1,000.
A starker difference presents itself, however, when you go through the available configuration options for the ThinkPad Yoga. The $999 base model includes only an Intel Core i3 processor, basic 128GB SSD, and, most disappointingly, a 1,366x768 touch display. Our review unit includes several welcome upgrades, including an Intel Core i5 processor, 256GB SSD, faster 802.11ac WiFi, and a full HD 1,920x1,080 display, all of which drive the price up to $1,579. Not unreasonable, but at more than 50 percent over the base price, a different purchase calculation.
|Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga||Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro||Apple Macbook Pro 13-inch (October 2013)|
|Display size/resolution||12.5-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 touch screen||13.3-inch, 3,200 x 1,800 touch screen||13.3 -inch, 2560 x 1600 screen|
|PC CPU||1.9GHz Intel Core i5 4300U||1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200U||2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4850HQ|
|PC Memory||4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz||4096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz||8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz|
|Graphics||1792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400||1792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400||1GB Intel Iris Graphics|
|Storage||256GB SSD hard drive||128GB SSD hard drive||256GB SSD|
|Networking||802.11ac 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 8.1 (64-bit)||OS X Mavericks 10.9|
Design and features
We've said before that the Yoga line of hybrids mimics a traditional laptop so well that if you didn't know about its special hinge, you'd never think there was anything unusual about it at all. This goes doubly so for the ThinkPad Yoga, which shares so much of the very familiar ThinkPad laptop design DNA that you could set it in front of someone and there's a good chance they'd never see it as anything other than a common office ThinkPad, right down to the classic red track point in the middle of the keyboard.
While the ThinkPad Yoga is made of a tough, lightweight magnesium alloy, it doesn't feel as slick and high-design as the IdeaPad version, or even the high-end ThinkPad X1 Carbon. Instead, this is a basic matte-black box, and looks like it could have fallen through a wormhole from anytime in the past half-decade.
Still, it's got the look and feel of a ThinkPad, and that includes the extremely well-designed keyboard and touch pad. Even switching to an island-style keyboard layout across the ThinkPad line over the past few years has not slowed Lenovo's reputation in this department, and speaks to years of serious human interface R&D. The design signature that differentiates the Lenovo keyboard from other laptop keyboards is the slightly convex lower edge of each key, which bows out slightly to make for fewer missed key strokes.
The buttonless clickpad-style touch pad is also excellent, and even though there's still a track point nestled between the G, H, and B keys, the second set of mouse buttons it requires are now built into a tiny zone at the very top of the touch pad, rather than eating up a ton of their own real estate.
But the feature that really makes this system stand out from both other ThinkPads and other Yoga hybrids is the mechanical keyboard tray. In the original Yoga, when the screen is folded back into tablet mode, the keyboard and touch pad are deactivated but still exposed. You can feel the keys crunching under your fingers while holding the tablet, and even though they're not active, it's both distracting and unaesthetic.
The ThinkPad Yoga employs a clever mechanical fix. It doesn't retract its keyboard or slide a cover over it, but instead, the actual keyboard tray -- the slightly sunken part surrounding each key -- rises up to sit flush with the wrist rest and the keys, and locks in place. The keys also lock into place, so they can no longer be depressed. What you end up with is a surface that's not smooth, but at least is nearly level all the way across, with no more keys clacking against your fingers.
It's still not a perfect solution. The ThinkPad Yoga makes for a thick, inelegant tablet, but the hidden keyboard trick is so fascinating, you'll find yourself folding the lid back and forth over and over again just to watch it in action. My only real concern is that the mechanism is complex, and adding small mechanical moving parts to a laptop is a potential invitation for future trouble. That said, the hardware worked fine in our hands-on time with it, and it felt sturdy.