Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro review: Amazing design comes with battery, performance trade-offs

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The Good The Yoga 3 Pro adds a unique new hinge to be thinner and lighter than ever. The high-resolution screen looks fantastic, and the hybrid design still works great as a laptop.

The Bad This first outing with Intel's new Core M processor fails to impress, with mediocre performance and battery life.

The Bottom Line The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro has a breakthrough design, but requires careful consideration of the trade-offs required, particularly battery life.

7.9 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Battery 6

Lenovo's Yoga 3 Pro is so close to perfect that its shortcomings feel all the more frustrating. In terms of form and usability, this is easily my favorite new laptop design of the year. The iconic 360-degree fold-back Yoga hinge has been radically reimagined as a thin strip of watchband-like metal, allowing the body to be especially thin, while still just as flexible as previous versions for transforming into a kiosk or tablet.

It's remarkably thin and light, and feels just different enough from every other slim 13-inch laptop or hybrid to really count as a major step.

The other half of that step forward was supposed to come from Intel's new Core M CPU, a chip designed to be a perfect fit for thin, upscale tablets and hybrids that needed just the right mix of performance, battery life and energy efficiency. The big pitch for Core M is that systems using it can run with minimal cooling, or even without fans at all, allowing them to be thinner and lighter than ever.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Yoga 3 Pro is the first consumer PC with the Core M CPU, and at least for now, the victim of some early growing pains. As the only Core M product we've been able to fully benchmark, it's hard to say if the issues are with the CPU itself, or Lenovo's implementation of the platform.

What we're left with is performance that's good enough for everyday use, but not as robust as competing products -- and not the kind of multitasking performance one might expect from a $1,300 laptop (£1,300 in the UK and AU$2,099 in Australia). Battery life is also below what a portable system such as this needs, optimistically hitting around six hours, while most of the PCs we compared it with add at least two hours to that, and the 13-inch MacBook Air more than doubles it.

Lest this sound like an unenthusiastic take on this new hybrid, remember, there's more to judging a computer than just on-paper performance numbers. If I were simply using the Yoga 3 Pro without seeing any of those application performance or battery life numbers, I'd be very impressed. For the type of work most of us do, running a few Web browsers, streaming video and music and working on office documents, the Yoga 3 Pro felt fast enough. But advanced tasks such as gaming or HD video editing are better served by more powerful PCs.

Battery life was close to Lenovo's promised 7 hours during casual use, although even that feels skimpy by today's standards. Playing video seemed to hit the Core M, designed to throttle computing power to fit your usage, particularly hard, draining the battery in under six hours.

The Yoga 3 Pro, compared with the previous Yoga 2 Pro. Sarah Tew/CNET

The 2.6-pound (1.18kg) body, about 13mm thick, feels amazingly light in the hand, and shows up not only previous Yogas, but even the MacBook Air. Like last year's Yoga 2 Pro , the 13.3-inch (33.8cm) touchscreen is boosted to a very high 3,200x1,800-pixel resolution -- not quite 4K, but close. Although considering the performance issues, perhaps a standard 1080p display might have helped goose the battery life and performance a bit.

The Yoga 3 Pro isn't the universally perfect-for-almost-anyone hybrid it might have been. The physical design is superb; updating and adapting the Yoga just enough to stay ahead of the competition. But the performance is better geared toward casual use than complex multitasking -- the Intel Core M platform isn't blowing anyone away in its initial public outing -- and the battery life is disappointing for such a lightweight system clearly meant for on-the-go use. In the end, it requires a real judgment call about whether this amazingly slim and light design is worth the trade-off in performance and battery life.

Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro

Price as reviewed $1,299
Display size/resolution 13.3-inch, 3,200x1,800 touchscreen
PC CPU 1.1GHz Intel 5Y60
PC memory 8,192MB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz
Graphics 3,839MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5300
Storage 256GB SSD hard drive
Optical drive None
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 8.1 (64-bit)

Design and features

The Yoga line of hybrid laptops kicked off a major trend in mobile PC design, starting with the original version from 2012. Since then, the idea of a clamshell laptop with two 360-degree fold-back hinges has appeared on not only several subsequent Yoga products from Lenovo, but also systems from Dell, Toshiba, HP, and others.

If you're not familiar with how the Yoga line works, it starts off 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 several generations of Yoga systems, including more recent ThinkPad and Chromebook variations.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For the Yoga 3 Pro, the hinge still folds back a full 360 degrees, taking the chassis from a traditional clamshell laptop to a folded over tablet, with many possible stops along the way. The difference is that the new hinge is a single mechanism running the full width of the system.

Instead of two hinges, typically plastic or aluminum, this new hinge has the look and feel of a long section of watchband material and is constructed of more than 800 individual pieces of steel and aluminum, with six points of attachment across the 13-inch display.

Besides being visually striking, the new hinge allows the Yoga 3 Pro to be, according to Lenovo, 17 percent thinner and 14 percent lighter than last year's Yoga 2 Pro . In our hands-on time with the system, it certainly felt like the thinnest Yoga yet, at 12.8mm thick. While the percentage difference may seem small, the difference from an older Yoga was striking.

The keyboard retains much of what we love about Lenovo keyboards, including the slight outward curve to the bottom edge of each key, which makes it harder to accidentally miss a keystroke. But, in order to make the system as thin as it is, compromises were required. The keys are especially shallow, with a little bit of a plastic clack to them. Other thin laptops, such as the MacBook Air, have much deeper key travel, and feel better suited for long-form typing. Despite this, Lenovo manages to fit a backlight in behind the keyboard, which is a very welcome feature.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The keyboard tray is covered with a thin rubbery material. Some people who have seen and handled our tests system have commented that it felt less premium than a traditional metal surface, but it's actually there to provide a cushioned pad when the system is folded into a position that puts the keyboard face down against the table. The soft-touch surface is elevated just ever so slightly above actual keyfaces, so the keys don't scratch against the table surface.

The clickpad-style touchpad works well for two-finger gestures, but you may have to fiddle with the touchpad settings to get the feel just right for you. No matter how good a Windows touchpad is, no one has yet come close to the natural-feeling ease of use from an OS X touchpad and its two-, three- and four-finger gestures.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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