Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 review: A full-time laptop meets a part-time tablet

There are three base configurations for the Yoga 13. For $999, you get an Intel Core i3 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. Even with a folding touch screen, that seems pricey for a Core i3. But, for only $100 more, our review unit trades up to a Core i5 CPU and doubles the RAM. Finally, for $1,299, the CPU gets a bump to a Core i7 model. Of the three, the middle-ground $1,099 version certainly seems to be the best bet.

The 1.7GHz Core i5-3317U we tested performed as expected in our CNET Labs benchmark tests. It matched up closely in most cases with other Windows 8 convertibles, many of which had exactly the same CPU. Another recent high-end 13-inch laptop, the much-more-expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, was markedly faster, but it also has a full-voltage Core i5 CPU, rather than the low-voltage models in our Windows 8 laptops.

In practical terms, all of these systems are more than powerful enough for everyday tasks, from Web surfing to HD video viewing to running Photoshop. One area in which the Yoga (and other ultrabooklike Windows 8 laptops) can't compete is gaming. With only Intel's built-in HD 4000 graphics, it can only run current games with the settings or resolution turned way down. In our Just Cause 2 test, at mid-to-high settings and 1,600x900-pixel resolution, the game ran at only 6.7 frames per second.

For any 13-inch laptop, battery life is key, and even more so for an ultrabook, which is specifically designed for use on the go. Add a tablet experience to that -- tablets being basically never used while connected to a power outlet -- and any Windows 8 hybrid or convertible needs to have excellent battery life to be taken seriously. Most of the current wave of Windows 8 systems we've seen have done a decent job on this front, despite powering touch screens and accelerometers.

The Yoga 13 ran for 5 hours and 30 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. That's an above-average time, and with some smart use of sleep mode when you're not actively using it, could stretch to last a full workday. At the same time, pure tablets, such as Apple's iPad or Microsoft's Surface RT, can run much longer, and full Windows systems are not quite in that ballpark yet, absent gigantic snap-on secondary batteries.

Lenovo includes a standard one-year mail-in warranty with the Yoga, and several upgrades are available. As of this writing, extended warranty plans are being discounted, and you can add in-home service and accidental damage protection for your one-year term for $51, or extend that higher level of coverage to three years for $148.

More importantly, Lenovo has excellent Web-based support features that are easy to find and navigate, and the system includes a Windows 8 support app from Lenovo that provides easy access to support tools and documentation.

There's a good reason companies such as Intel and Microsoft have used the Yoga 13 as a prime example of a Windows 8 laptop done right. The folding screen opens up many possibilities for sharing and display, and the tablet mode, while not perfect, isn't really any worse in practical terms than that of any other Windows 8 convertible. The Yoga 13 has a great, premium feel at a semipremium price, and most importantly, the folding hinge design doesn't compromise either aesthetics or mechanics when it's used in clamshell laptop mode.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Samsung SSD

Toshiba Satellite U925t
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Samsung SSD

MacBook Pro 13-inch Retina Display (fall 2012)
OSX Mountain Lion 10.8.2; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210M; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 768MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Apple SSD

Dell XPS 12
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Lite-On IT SSD

Sony Vaio Duo 11
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Toshiba SSD