Lenovo Yoga 900 review: A hybrid laptop with some serious muscle

The Good The Lenovo Yoga 900 keeps the slim watchband-style hinge from last year's version, and adds major upgrades to performance and battery life. Even the lowest-cost version includes a big 256GB SSD.

The Bad Because of the change to more powerful processors, the body adds a little thickness. A few keys on the keyboard suffer from awkward placement.

The Bottom Line Lenovo clearly listened to feedback about last year's high-end Yoga, keeping the excellent overall design but boosting the specs to match other premium 13-inch laptops.

8.5 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 9

What a difference a year makes. Just about 12 months ago, Lenovo released the Yoga 3 Pro, its slimmest, most-advanced Yoga hybrid laptop to date. It had a high-res screen, a very thin body, and a unique watchband-style hinge that impressed everyone who saw it.

But, despite being a sharp-looking, well-made laptop/tablet hybrid, it also wasn't terribly fast, and its battery life was passable but not great. I recommended the Yoga Pro for its design, portability and overall usability, but cautioned that the Intel Core M processor inside wasn't going to be right for power users or all-day websurfers. Since then a handful of other laptops, such as Apple's 12-inch MacBook, have used the Core M to create very thin, light systems. But we've also seen PC makers succeed in fitting more mainstream processors, such as Intel's new sixth-generation Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs, into very slim computers, including a featherweight Lenovo/NEC laptop called the LaVie Z.

Sarah Tew/CNET

That's the tack Lenovo has taken with the new Yoga 900. It keeps the watchband-style hinge from the Yoga Pro 3, which takes up less space than a traditional hinge (and just looks cool), but trades up to new Intel Core i7 processors rather than the slower Core M. The Yoga 900 is still very portable, but there's a definite tradeoff, as this new system is a little thicker and heavier than last year's Yoga Pro 3, at 2.8 pounds (1.27 kg) vs. 2.6 pounds (1.18 kg).

But I think it's a tradeoff well worth making, as the Yoga 900 retains nearly everything we like about the Yoga line, while adding excellent performance and battery life, at a price that's in line with other premium 13-inch laptops.

The series starts at $1,099 (AU$2,199 in Australia, and £1,000 in the UK, with a Core i5 CPU) for a new sixth-generation Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a big 256GB SSD for storage. We've tested an upgraded configuration with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of solid-state storage, for $1,399, which is not a terrible way to spend an extra $200 on a premium laptop (although the base model should be fine for most users). All of the Yoga 900 configurations include a 3,200x1,800-pixel touchscreen, which puts it in the same high-resolution category as Apple's Retina and Microsoft's PixelSense displays.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The list of things I don't love about the Yoga 900 is short: there are thinner, lighter hybrids now; a couple of keyboard design quirks, such as the placement of the backspace key, slow my typing down; and Yoga systems always seem to have power buttons that are both hard to deliberately find but easy to hit accidentally.

Beyond those nitpicks, this is a great all-around laptop, even if you never use its acrobatic hybrid hinge, especially because even the lowest-end configuration includes a fast Core i7 processor. To match those specs in an Apple MacBook Pro or Microsoft Surface Book would cost hundreds more.

Lenovo Yoga 900

Price as reviewed $1,399, £1,100, AU$2,199
Display size/resolution 13.3-inch, 3,200x1,800-pixel touch display
PC CPU 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U
PC Memory 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz
Graphics 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520
Storage 512GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0

Design and features

Nearly every PC maker now makes a hybrid laptop with a hinge that folds back 360 degrees, but Lenovo started the trend with its original Yoga in 2013 and has since built systems in different sizes and with different features, such as the more business-like ThinkPad Yoga line.

The fold-back hybrid, as we sometimes call it, is popular because it recognizes that most hybrid users are looking for a full-time laptop and part-time tablet. This style, unlike pull-apart hybrids or tablets with clip-on keyboards, does the least to compromise that traditional clamshell laptop shape. In fact, if you didn't know (or care) that the Yoga 900 was a hybrid, it could be taken for just another high-end 13-inch laptop.

Sarah Tew/CNET

But if you do know this is a hybrid, there are several ways to use it. The most obvious is to fold the display all the way back and form a thick tablet. That works as well as it ever did, but still leaves the keyboard and touchpad exposed on the back side (although both are deactivated when the screen folds back). You can also fold the screen back about 180 degrees into a kiosk mode, sometimes called a presentation mode. In that case, you have the touchscreen display directly in front of you or your audience, with the keyboard acting as a stand (with the keyboard and touchpad face down against the table).

Some clever engineering and design is at work here to make for an optimal hybrid-tablet experience. The keyboard tray is covered with a soft-touch material that rises imperceptibly higher than the sunken keyboard, so that when the keyboard is face down, the actual key faces float just above the table, which both protects the keys and prevents scratches on your desk. The eye-catching hinge (Lenovo says it's made of 813 individual parts) is stiff enough to stay in place when tapping on the screen with a finger, and also allows the entire body to be thinner than it would be with a more traditional hinge.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The keyboard follows the standard Lenovo design of the past few years, taking the familiar island-style key shape and adding a slight curve to the bottom on each letter key. Typing is excellent, with just enough key travel, but a few layout issues bothered me -- two in particular especially slowed down my typing. First, the right Shift key is very small and placed directly to the left of the up arrow, leading to lots of inadvertent line-jumping. Second, the Backspace key is inset from the right edge of the system, instead sitting to the left of the Home key -- which led to an ongoing game of "where's the cursor?" when I tried to go back a space.

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