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Lenovo Yoga 9i (14-inch) review: Already stellar 2-in-1 gets a bit better

Eleventh-gen Intel processors bring better performance and battery life, but the rest of the package sticks to last year's script.

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Josh Goldman/CNET

When I reviewed Lenovo's 14-inch Yoga C940 at the beginning of the year, it was one of the best in its category -- great design, excellent features and faster performance than its predecessor. It did leave me wondering what Lenovo would do with it next, though. The answer: Just enough to keep up with the competition. 

Now called the Yoga 9i, Lenovo dropped in Intel's 11th-gen Core processors and, with it, the chipmaker's improved Iris Xe integrated graphics. It also has faster memory, Thunderbolt 4 support and an updated keyboard and active pen. All of those add up to jumps in performance and battery life as well as a better user experience, keeping it among the best two-in-ones you can buy, if only slightly better than the last iteration.

9.0

Lenovo Yoga 9i (14-inch, Mica)

Like

  • Overall faster performance and longer battery life
  • Built-in active pen with improved screen feel

Don't Like

  • Innovative design features only available on Shadow Black version
  • Memory soldered on

I can't help but feel a little duped, however. When the Yoga 9i was announced, Lenovo hyped new design touches for 2020's 14-inch model (it's also available in a 15.6-inch size) including an optional lid upgrade with black leather bonded to its aluminum chassis, an edge-to-edge glass palm rest with an encased touchpad that uses haptic feedback, allowing for a much larger touchpad area as well as a new ultrasonic fingerprint reader. In order to get all of these features, though, you have to have the Shadow Black version with the Intel Core i7-1185G7 processor. In other words, you can't get the glass palm rest and ultrasonic fingerprint reader without the leather top.

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The Yoga 9i in Mica doesn't have a glass palm rest with its Glass Sense touchpad and ultrasonic fingerprint reader. 

Josh Goldman/CNET

While the Yoga 9i tested was configured with that requisite Core i7 processor, it was in the Mica color option. That means I can't tell you if the glass palm rest with the embedded touchpad and ultrasonic fingerprint reader is worth getting. Seemingly, it does not cost you extra to get these design features, so if you want them just make sure you get the Shadow Black model and not the Mica. Prices start at $1,100 for the Mica with a Core i5, but the Shadow Black with the Core i7 starts at $1,400. In the UK, the 14-inch Yoga 9i starts at £1,470. It's not yet available in Australia, but the US starting price converts to about $1,455. 

Lenovo Yoga 9i (14-inch, Mica)

Price as reviewed $1,380
Display size/resolution 14-inch 1,920x1,080 touchscreen
CPU 3GHz Intel Core i7-1185G7
Memory 16GB 4267MHz LPDDR4x (soldered)
Graphics Intel Iris Xe
Storage 512GB PCIe NVMe SSD
Networking Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201 (2 x 2) and Bluetooth 5.1
Connections 2x USB-C (Thunderbolt 4), 1x USB-A (3.2 Gen 2), combo headset jack
Operating system Windows 10 Home 64-bit

Although I like the idea of fancy new features on a premium laptop, you might be better off sticking with the proven touchpad and fingerprint reader on the Mica version. The precision touchpad is silky smooth and worked perfectly, as did the reader for quickly unlocking Windows with a touch. Likewise, the updated backlit keyboard has enough travel and feedback to make touch typing comfortable. Compared to the C940's, the keys have a bit more pop to them. 

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All of the Yoga 9i's ports are on the left side. 

Josh Goldman/CNET

The full-HD display is nice, too, with color good enough for average photo and video editing. Although, like the C940, it can be improved with calibration. For movies, games and other entertainment, you likely won't be disappointed. Also carried over from its predecessor is its physical privacy shutter on its webcam, which makes sure you can only be seen when you're ready.  

The soundbar hinge continues to be a highlight on this system, too. Regardless of the position the screen is in, you get clear audio. And, with the Dolby Atmos processing turned on, it sounds better than other laptops this thin. You'll still want good headphones or external speakers for thumping bass, but for general listening to music or watching videos, this setup works really well.   

Included is a small active pen that stores and charges in the rear right side of the body. The pen has a new elastomer tip that adds some friction. To me, it feels similar to a wax pencil on glass.   

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A garage on the back stores and charges the included active pen.

Josh Goldman/CNET

That's about where the differences between the Yoga 9i and C940 end with the exception of the new components, of course. The 11th-gen Intel Core i7 processor gives it a noticeable boost in performance over the 10th-gen chips in the C940. And Lenovo used the faster Core i7-1185G7 processor, which did give it an advantage over the Core i7-1165G7 in the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 (though only a slight advantage). 

Battery life was impressive, too. On our streaming video test, the Yoga 9i ran for 14 hours, 25 minutes. In general use, I had no trouble getting through an average 8-hour workday with time to spare. Should you decide to upgrade to the optional UHD-resolution display, be prepared to lose a chunk of the battery life, which is an unavoidable cost to 4K laptop screens. However, when it is time to charge, it does so quickly via one of the two USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports on the left side. It would be nice if eventually, Lenovo split these so you could charge on either side. 

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Josh Goldman/CNET

Like I said at the top, not too much has changed from last year's Yoga C940, at least on the Mica version I tested. You get better performance and battery life, an improved typing experience and a new tip on the included active pen for more pleasing writing and drawing experience. This was already a pretty great two-in-one and the improvements here just cement it as a top pick for the category for the foreseeable future. As always, though, this is far from the only two-in-one option out there