Has it really only been four years since Lenovo's first Yoga hybrid? That 13-inch two-in-one PC was the biggest argument in favor of the then-new Windows 8 and its tile-based interface, because it could transform into a touch-friendly tablet with ease, and because it did so without compromising the familiar clamshell laptop experience that nearly every PC user is accustomed to.
It turned out that the Yoga really was the one hybrid to rule them all, and every other major PC maker, including Dell, HP, Toshiba and others, experimented with all sorts of flipping, folding, rotating, and shifting hybrid PC design before settling on a similar 360-degree hinge. Today, you can't even casually browse a computer store (either brick-and-mortar or online) without tripping over Windows PC with kiosk and table tent modes.
Lenovo went on to make several variations on the Yoga, including different screen sizes, different colors and higher-end models with watchband-style hinges. But the overall best Yoga design the company produced was the ThinkPad Yoga. This variant, part of the buttoned-down ThinkPad line of business computers, kept the best parts of the transforming Yoga experience, but also added a clever keyboard trick.
When the hinge rotates from its clamshell position all the way to its tablet position, the keyboard tucks itself away inside the base. It looks and feels like a retractable keyboard, but in reality, the outer edge of the keyboard tray raises up slightly to be flush with the keys, which are in turn locked into position. But the end effect is the same, so feel free to keep calling it a retractable keyboard. It's a great feature missing from the standard IdeaPad Yoga systems, which leave a deactivated keyboard clacking under your fingers when in tablet mode.
Still, the ThinkPad Yogas were never as thin, flashy or lightweight as the consumer models, so I could see going with a slim IdeaPad Yoga 900 instead. Until now.
The latest 14-inch ThinkPad model, called the X1 Yoga, adds an OLED display (in its highest-end pricing configurations), making it one of the first laptops anywhere to have this stunning new type of screen. This isn't a surprise development, Lenovo announced OLED was coming to the Yoga back in January at CES 2016, but it's taken until now for the first units to finally ship. We recently reviewed a version of Dell's Alienware 13 with an OLED screen, and my colleagues and I were blown away by what a big difference it made in everything from gaming to video viewing, and to a lesser extent, casual web surfing and productivity work. The Samsung TabPro S, a Surface-like tablet hybrid, has a similar AMOLED screen and was also very impressive.
Here in the larger 14-inch X1 Yoga, you can really appreciate why OLED screen technology sets the standard for excellence in the best-looking current-gen big-screen televisions, and why, despite the very high costs, TV buyers crave them. Even for a smaller laptop screen, there's still a premium to pay. The exact high-end configuration we tested, with the OLED 2,560x1,440 display, a Core i7-6600U processor, 16GB of RAM and a big 256GB SSD, costs $2,289, as configured through Lenovo's website. In the UK, you can get an identical OLED configuration for £2,286. In Australia, the same configuration costs AU$3,999.
If you're looking for OLED on a budget, Lenovo also offers a Core i5 version in the US with the same OLED display but half the RAM and SSD storage for $1,682.
ThinkPad Yogas always cost a few hundred dollars more than the consumer versions, because of the retracting keyboard, better construction and built-in IT-friendly security features. Adding OLED drives the price up even further, but it'll be a least a few more years before OLED laptops and TVs are as inexpensive as their LCD counterparts.
|Price as reviewed||$2,289|
|Display size/resolution||14-inch, 2560 x 1440 OLED touch display|
|PC CPU||2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6600U|
|PC Memory||16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1866MHz|
|Graphics||128MB Intel HD Graphics 520|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Micorsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)|
This new X1 Yoga keeps much of the look and feel of previous models, from the low-key matte black color to the red trackpoint nestled between the G, H and B keys -- a throwback to an earlier era of laptop computing that feels more like a branding play than a practical navigation tool these days.
But the keyboard itself is fantastic. The deep keys are whisper quiet, no plastic clackiness to them, and they have a slightly bowed bottom edge, to better catch your finger while typing. I never make fewer general typing mistakes as when I'm using a ThinkPad keyboard.
A fingerprint reader sits next to the touchpad and a small active stylus is tucked into a slot on the right side -- both are probably of more interest to business users, but I liked that if your stylus battery is discharged, just slipping it into the charging slot for 15 seconds should give you enough juice for more than an hour of use.
The OLED display costs extra, on top of an already premium-priced laptop. Is it worth the expense? I clearly think so, as I can't tear myself away from the small handful of OLED PCs we've tested this year.
Once again, I took the system to our in-house television testing lab, manned by TV testing expert David Katzmaier, and we viewed a variety of video content on the screen. The displays on the Alienware 13 and X1 Yoga were both excellent, but neither was a dead-on as a great OLED television, which can cost $4,000 or more for 2016 models with 65-inch 4K screens. Still, colors were clear and exceptionally bright, and more importantly, black parts of the screen were so dark, they blended perfectly in with the black bezel around the screen.
But, in the case of the Lenovo version, we had much more control over the display. Inside the Lenovo Companion app that ships with the system is a page for color settings. It's not obvious, but that's how you access the OLED controls. Katzmaier and I found a series of presets that changed the color space and gamma settings for the display, with some pretty big differences between them.
Like the Alienware 13, the colors were oversaturated by default, and in this case, we found by switching from the default "native" setting to the "standard" setting, we got the best overall picture quality, even for movie viewing. Katzmaier's suggestion is to switch to the standard setting, using the common sRGB color space, and leave it at that.
Performance was slightly faster overall than other high-end laptops and hybrids using Intel's current low-voltage U-series Core i7 processors. In everyday use, the system played HD and higher-res video without a hitch, and easily handled multiple web browsers, productivity apps and other tasks at the same time. You could probably trade down to the Core i5 version without even noticing it too much.
Battery life was very good, especially considering that OLED displays draw power differently than LCD ones. The X1 Yoga ran for 8:02 on our streaming video battery drain test, which is more than enough for a full day or work. Battery life on an OLED screen can be affected by not just brightness, but how much of the screen is displaying white or very light colors. In a secondary test, we set the screen to display a white background with the screen brightness maxed out to really tax the screen and battery. In that test, the system ran for 5:14. Both of those scores were better than the Alienware 13 with the OLED display.
While it lacks some of the style of Lenovo's still-excellent IdeaPad Yoga systems, this ThinkPad Yoga is all substance, from the rugged design to the high-end components to the fantastic keyboard. On top of that, the OLED display a joy for Netflix viewing, photo editing, or any other task where you want the very best visual quality. It's more expensive than non-OLED laptops or hybrids with similar specs, but I'm going to have a very hard time going back to a standard LCD screen.
|Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga (OLED)||Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6600U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 520; 256GB SSD|
|Alienware 13 (OLED)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U; 12GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M; 256GB SSD|
|Dell XPS 13 (Gold Edition)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.2HGz Intel Core i7-6560U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel Iris Graphics 540; 256GB SSD|
|HP Spectre||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5HGz Intel Core i7-6500U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 256GB SSD|
|Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2015)||Apple OSX 10.10.2 Yosemite; 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-5257U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1866MHz; 1536MB Intel Iris Graphics 6100; 128GB SSD|