Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga review: The Yoga's keyboard assumes a new position

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.

The 12.5-inch display is a bit of an oddity -- a screen size we see only rarely. In real-world terms, it feels very much like a 13-inch display, so much so that you'd probably never notice the difference if not specifically alerted to it. A bigger issue is that the default screen resolution on the ThinkPad Yoga is 1,366x768, which is not what one would expect from a $999 laptop with a nearly 13-inch screen. A full HD 1,920x,1080 upgrade is available -- that's what we have in our review unit -- but it's an expensive $250 add-on (it also includes a stylus pen).

At least the display has a matte finish that cuts down on glare while still managing to look clear and bright. Especially if you plan to flip and fold the screen into its kiosk or table tent modes, the matte finish is a major plus. The 10-input touch screen works well with both fingers and the included digitizer pen, which tucks neatly into a slot along the front right edge.

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga
Video mini-HDMI
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack
Data 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections, performance, and battery
While the ThinkPad Yoga has fewer ports and connection than you may be used to from a business laptop, Lenovo hopes you'll connect one of its OneLink docks, a $119 add-on that includes USB, Ethernet, and HDMI ports. The built-in mini-HDMI port will be annoying, unless you carry an adapter, but it's interesting to see a business laptop with HDMI rather than DisplayPort. Our system also includes a $30 upgrade to 802.11ac Wi-Fi, but note that you'll need a compatible router to take advantage of faster speeds.

The base $999 ThinkPad Yoga is a tough sell, offering lower-end parts than I'd expect for that price. That means a current-gen Intel Core i3 CPU, 1,366x768 screen, plus a basic but reasonable 4GB RAM/128GB SSD combo. Add the better of two Core i5 options, double the SSD to 256GB, up the screen resolution to 1,920x1,080, and add 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and you end up with our review configuration, which tops $1,500.

With the upgraded Intel Core i5-4300U, the ThinkPad Yoga was a strong performer in our benchmark tests. Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro, becoming more popular in business settings, may be faster in these tests, but the Yoga is comparable or faster than many similarly high-end 13-inch laptops. For everyday home or business tasks, such as preparing presentations, multitasking with office docs, or just Web surfing or streaming HD video, it's more than powerful enough.

Battery life is especially important for highly portable business laptops, and the ThinkPad Yoga turns in an impressive 6:48 in our video playback battery drain test. That's a hair less than the recent Yoga 2 Pro (which had a slightly slower CPU), and with some careful usage, likely enough for a full day of work or travel.

The clever keyboard-hiding mechanism in the ThinkPad Yoga is both a great conversation piece and a practical real-world improvement to an already popular design. But, why must I choose between sharp looks and an ultra-high-res screen on one hand, or a better tablet mode on another? This split in the Yoga line makes little sense to me, and I hope we'll see a unified feature set at some point.

Keep in mind that the Yoga 2 Pro gives you a Core i5 and 3,200x1,800 screen starting at $999, so you'll have to be prepared to spend more for a comparable ThinkPad version (still topping out at a 1080p screen). Consider the extra investment as payment for the sturdier ThinkPad hardware and all the helpful IT-friendly software Lenovo preloads, including security features your IT department may need to be able to sign off on this as an acceptable workplace computer.

QuickTime iTunes Multimedia Multitasking test
(In seconds, shorter bars indicate better performance)
Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test
(In seconds; shorter indicate better performance)
Apple iTunes encoding test
(In seconds; shorter bars indicate better performance)
Handbranke Multimedia Multitasking test
(In seconds; shorter bars indicate better performance)
Video playback battery drain test
(In minutes; longer bars indicate better performance)

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga
Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 1.9GHZ Intel Core i5 4300U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 1792MB (shared) Intel HD 4400 Graphics; 256GB Samsung SSD

Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1749MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400: 128GB SSD

Apple Macbook Pro 13-inch (October 2013)
OSX 10.9 Mavericks; 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-4258U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 1GB Intel Iris Graphics; 256GB Apple SSD

Toshiba Kirabook
Windows 8 (64-bit); 2GHz Intel Core i7 3667U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Toshiba SSD

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro
Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 1.6GHZ Intel Core i5 4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 1792MB (shared) Intel HD 4400 Graphics; 128GB Samsung SSD

Find more shopping tips in our Laptop Buying Guide.

Best Laptops for 2020

All best laptops

More Best Products

All best products