Lenovo Yoga 900 review: A hybrid laptop with some serious muscle
The latest Yoga adds a serious boost to performance and battery life.
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.
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.
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
|13.3-inch, 3,200x1,800-pixel touch display
|2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U
|16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz
|128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520
|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.
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.
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.
The function key row at the top puts useful features within easy reach, including volume, brightness and airplane mode controls. Tap F8 and you'll get a view of all your open apps and windows. There's an onscreen icon for that in the Windows 10 task bar, but it's great to have this "task view" labeled on the keyboard as well.
Many PC makers load their systems up with custom software for media organizing, security and system management. Most are generally pretty useless, but in this case, I liked the Lenovo Settings app, which puts display, input device and other settings in a single app. However, Windows 10 does a much better job of making system settings easy to find and use than previous versions of Windows, so having a standalone app is a bonus but not a necessity.
The 13.3-inch display has a native resolution of 3,200x1,800 pixels -- not quite 4K, but pretty close. Most Windows software scales well to this higher resolution, and the traditional 1,920x1,080 resolution is starting to feel more like a floor than a ceiling, with more and more higher-res laptops arriving all the time.
The display looks clear and bright, although the top coating was glossy enough to catch a lot of reflected light. In the settings menus, there's an option for what Lenovo calls "paper display," which uses the webcam to "detect ambient light conditions" and adjust the brightness and color temperature for optimal reading. It mostly just turned the screen a slightly yellowish hue, so I kept it off after a few test drives.
Ports and connections
|Via external dongle only
|Combo headphone/microphone jack
|2 USB 3.0, 1 USB-C, SD card reader
|802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Connections and performance
For a slim laptop, you get a decent selection of ports, including two USB 3.0 ports, a rarely seen USB-C port and an SD card slot -- but no dedicated video output. For that, you'll need an adapter. The orange power port can also double as a USB 2.0 port in a pinch.
As each Yoga 900 configuration includes a new sixth-generation Intel Core i7 processor, you shouldn't see degraded performance if you opt for the less-expensive versions. In our single-app benchmark tests, the Yoga 900 and its 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U CPU beat high-end systems like the 13-inch MacBook Pro and Microsoft's new Surface Book (which both have Core i5 processors), as well a Core i7 systems such as the Toshiba Radius 12 and LG Gram 14. In a multitasking test, the MacBook and Surface Book were faster, but only by a small margin. In most cases, all the machines mentioned were very close in performance.
One system the new Yoga 900 handily beat out was last year's Yoga 3 Pro, which was held back by a slower Intel Core M processor. Any complaints we had about sluggish performance in last year's Yoga have been erased here.
Also getting a serious boost is battery life. The 2014 Yoga 3 Pro ran for 5 hours 46 minutes in our video playback battery drain test -- acceptable, but not impressive. This year's Yoga 900 ran for 8 hours 56 minutes on the same test, which is a huge improvement, and makes this an all-day laptop. There's still room for improvement, however, as both the MacBook Pro and Surface Book still offer hours more battery life.
The latest version of Lenovo's Yoga hybrid laptop is easily the best yet. It takes the excellent revamped design from the previous model and adapts it to work with higher-end components, showing a significant real-world improvement in both performance and battery life.
But beyond the scores, I appreciate that it includes the most important of those better components, the Core i7 processor and a big 256GB SSD, in even the lowest-end configuration, at least in the US. This isn't an inexpensive laptop by any measure, but especially at its $1,099 starting price, it's a great value.
|Lenovo Yoga 900
|Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64.bit); 2.5GHZ Intel Core i7-6500U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD 520 Graphics; 512GB SSD
|Lenovo Yoga Pro 3
|Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 1.1GHz Intel 5Y60; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 3,839MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5300; 256GB SSD
|LG gram 14
|Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-5500U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 5500; 256GB SSD
|Microsoft Surface Book
|Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit) 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-6300U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM ; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 512GB SSD
|Toshiba Satellite Radius 12
|Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64.bit); 2.5GHZ Intel Core i7-6500U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD 520 Graphics; 256GB SSD
|Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2015)
|Apple OSX 10.10.2 Yosemite; 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-5257U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 1,536MB Intel Iris Graphics 6100; 128GB SSD