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Lenovo Yoga Book review: A digital canvas with a vanishing keyboard

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The Good This is a very slim, very light hybrid laptop, available in both Windows 10 and Android versions. The backlit touch keyboard vanishes at the touch of a button and the included stylus works well on both the Wacom surface and with an ink tip on actual paper.

The Bad The keyboard isn't suited for more than minimal typing, there's only a single Micro-USB port for accessories and charging, and the Atom processor is slower than mainstream laptops. The hefty pen, extra tips and paper pad are a lot of additional gear to carry around.

The Bottom Line Lenovo's slim Yoga Book two-in-one is great with a pen, but its faux keyboard keeps it from being a practical laptop.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Battery 7

Right out of the gate, the Lenovo Yoga Book gets credit for offering one of the most unusual designs we've ever seen: This superportable two-in-one laptop/tablet hybrid includes a Wacom sketching pad that can instantly transform into a QWERTY keyboard. The result is a fun, highly portable device that instantly appeals to creative professionals -- but one that's not nearly as practical as Lenovo makes it out to be.

That doesn't mean it can't be an option for your secondary or travel computer, instead of a Chromebook, iPad or other small-screen budget laptop. But that largely depends on your creation versus consumption patterns, and -- for creators -- what you're actually working on.

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Instead of a keyboard, the Lenovo Yoga Book has a completely flat space that can be a keyboard when you want it to be.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The most striking feature of this slim 10.1-inch hybrid (available in both Windows and Android versions) is its keyboard, or at least the space on the clamshell body where the keyboard would normally be. Instead, there's a completely flat, button-free surface that alternates between a drawing tablet and a touch-powered backlit keyboard. It's a bit like an iPad's on-screen keyboard, except that it doesn't actually take over part of the screen.

Vanishing keyboard aside, the Yoga Book includes a pretty standard set of components for a budget laptop, with an Intel Atom x5 processor, 64GB of solid-state storage and 4GB of RAM. The price reflects these lower-end internal components, at $499 in the US for the Android version and $549 for the Windows 10 version. They're £449 and £549 in the UK, and AU$799 and AU$999 in Australia, respectively. Both versions have the same internal components, but the Android model has a few keyboard/touchpad changes, some Android-centric software tweaks, and comes with a grey lid, versus the black lid in the Windows version.

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When not serving as a keyboard, the flat space can also be a drawing pad.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Lenovo Yoga Book

Price as reviewed $549, £549 and AU$999
Display size/resolution 10.1 inch, 1,920x1,200 touch display
PC CPU 1.44GHz Intel Atom x5-Z8550
PC Memory 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz
Graphics 128MB Intel HD Graphics 400
Storage 64GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 10 Home

The overall shape and size of the Yoga Book can't be beat. It's 0.9 mm thick and weighs a hair over 1.5 pounds (680 grams). This is the only laptop I can recall taking to a coffee shop without a case, bag or anything to carry it in. I just tucked it under my arm like a slim paperback.

If Lenovo made a system roughly the same size and shape, but with a physical keyboard (even a very flat one, as in the 12-inch MacBook), it might be my favorite laptop.

The keyboard that wasn't there

One messes with the traditional design and functionality of the classic QWERTY keyboard at one's own risk, however. Many have tried in the past to prove that an on-screen, or zero-travel, keyboard is as good as having physical keys, and all have failed to one degree or another. There are dozens of add-on keyboards for Apple's iPad, all predicated on the idea that the on-screen keyboard just isn't good enough. Phones probably come closest to hitting the mark, especially with one-thumb swipe-based typing such as what is offered in Swype and SwiftKey, but that's not how you want to write anything more than a quick email or a social media status update.

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You will be looking at the keyboard often when typing on this flat surface.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Typing on a flat faux keyboard surface has been done before. My favorite example is a long-forgotten Acer laptop, called the Iconia 6120, from 2011. It was essentially two 14-inch LCD screens clamshelled together. Both were standard laptop touch displays, but the bottom one could show a large, touch-sensitive on-screen keyboard, as well as media transport controls and other widgets. There was never a second generation of that, which should tell you something about how well the concept worked in real life.

The keyboard here -- called the Halo Keyboard -- isn't an image overlay on an LCD, but instead a backlit outline against a Wacom digitizer surface. It's the kind of low-feedback experience that requires you to look down at your hands while typing, which may be a deal-breaker to some, but it's also how many of us actually type.

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The keyboard lights up on the surface.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While the Halo keyboard lacks the physical feedback of pushing a key down, there are two forms of feedback built in. One works, the other is awful. There's a small haptic kick from typing, and that makes it easier to tell if a keystroke has registered, which is especially important while typing long sentences. That works fine, although it's a general all-over kick, not localized to the area of the backlit keyboard you're trying to hit.

The second is a loud beep with every keystroke. At least it's every keystroke as long as you pause a few beats between each letter. Otherwise, your typing quickly outpaces the audio cues, and you end up with a trailing series of beeps, which totally throws off any typing rhythm. It makes the very minimal keyboard lag feel much worse than it is.

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The Windows and Android Yoga Book keyboards differ slightly.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Fortunately, you can turn one or both of these effects off via a control panel, as well as adjust the brightness of the backlit keyboard icons. With the haptic feedback on but the beeping off, the keyboard feels much more exact, with just a tiny bit of lag under fast typing. I trained my fingers to adjust to the quirks of this system quickly, but this isn't a device for longform typing.

The small touchpad below the keyboard is wide but very short, and it's easy to misread exactly where it starts unless you're staring directly down at it. Two-finger scrolling on long web pages and documents works surprisingly well, but the pad lacks the ability to tap-and-drag, or tap-drag-and-select, which are both common moves for standard physical touchpads. Instead, you'll have to use the faux left and right mouse buttons on either side of the touch pad, which leads to some awkward two-hand maneuvers just to highlight some text.

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