With its unique keyboard and handwriting capabilities, the Yoga Book is not like any other 2-in-1 device. But is it right for you?
In our preview of the Yoga Book, we wondered if Lenovo had reinvented the hybrid tablet with its impossibly slim design and unique keyboard that can double as a virtual piece of paper. Now, having given it a more extended evaluation, we have some good and not-so-good news.
The good news is that the Yoga Book comes in Windows model (for $999) and an Android version ($799), and the latter impressed us a lot.
The not-so-good news is the Windows version has some limitations – but its benefits may make it be worth considering if you’re prepared to live with those flaws.
Design and screen
The Lenovo Yoga Book isn’t quite like any laptop we’ve seen before. Folded up, it’s an artefact of beauty: the ultra-thin 9.6mm frame comes clad in magnesium alloy, with a tasteful industrial-styled hinge. It weighs just 690g, yet open it up and it becomes a fully featured Windows 10 laptop, or equivalent Android device, with a bright 10.1in 1,920 x 1,200-pixel touchscreen.
Both versions are physically identical apart from the colour: the Windows Yoga Book comes in an elegant black, while the Android version is available in grey or gold.
‘Halo’ keyboard and pen
The Yoga Book’s most distinctive feature is the futuristic ‘Halo’ keyboard, which shines out of a completely flat touch-sensitive surface. It’s this that allows the Yoga Book to be so seductively thin, and it comes with a clever trick: tap the Stylus button above the key area and the keys instantly wink out. In their place, the lower half of the Yoga Book becomes a 10.1in tablet surface, directly mirroring the screen. Lenovo calls this the Create Pad, on which you can draw and scribble with the supplied stylus.
This could make the Yoga Book a very agreeable companion for anyone who likes to take handwritten notes and sketches. Office Mobile comes preinstalled, and integration with OneNote is faultless, so you can scrawl your notes directly onto the page, easily drop in media and text, and sync your notes to other systems via OneDrive. With support for 2,048 pressure levels it’s possible to create some quite artistic illustrations, too.
Of course, taking notes on a tablet can be a weird experience: when you write on one plane, your ‘ink’ appears on another. One solution is to fold the screen all the way back round on itself, putting the device into tablet mode – the trademark of Lenovo’s Yoga range – and write directly onto the screen.
But there’s another option too. Lenovo calls its stylus the Real Pen, because by simply slotting in one of the supplied ink cartridges you can turn it into a bona fide ballpoint pen. The supplied magnetic paper holder lets you clip a thin pad of suitably-sized paper on top of the tablet area, so you can write real physical notes, while OneNote simultaneously creates a digital record for easy sharing or archival storage.
It’s a neat idea, and it is undeniably fun to hold the Yoga Book up portrait-wise, jot down your thoughts on paper to the right and see them digitally mirrored on the screen on the left. But we have to wonder how many people will actually use it on an everyday basis. Having to use a particular app, a particular pen and a particular clip holding a particular sort of paper feels a bit contrived. It’s easier to grab a cheap spiral-bound notepad and take notes the old-fashioned way.
Performance and usability
The Yoga Book’s design and screen are its strong points, with the latter offering a super-sharp pixel pitch and a maximum brightness of 422cd/m².
Performance-wise, the Yoga Book doesn’t a lot going for it, however. The Atom x5-Z8550 processor isn’t fast enough to make Windows 10 feel responsive – in our benchmarks it scored a very low overall score of 12.
The 4GB of RAM and the 64GB of built-in storage aren’t particularly generous, either, although you can expand the storage with a microSD card. The thinness of the thing means there’s no room for regular ports: all you get is micro-HDMI and a single micro-USB port, used for both charging and hooking up peripherals via an OTG adaptor (which isn’t supplied).
And while the Halo keyboard is an impressive engineering feat, it’s not as good as the real thing. With a little practice it’s possible to type with a decent degree of accuracy but you’ll never get up to full speed. Lenovo’s auto-correct software provides little comfort and although it is possible to enable a gentle haptic buzzing and a quiet click when a key is registered, but feedback is too weak and the sound too laggy to be useful.
The touchpad is tiny, too, with its left and right buttons stuck out at the sides rather than at the bottom, so even when you switch from keyboard to mouse it can be frustrating to use.
These shortcomings don’t seem like a big deal for the Android edition of the Yoga Book, but then that operating system was always designed as a lightweight platform for touchscreen devices. On a Windows device, however, many of us expect to be able to type long emails and documents, hook up peripherals and store a decent amount of data and applications.
None of this is to take away from what Lenovo has achieved with the Yoga Book. It’s a striking piece of hardware, with a great screen and beautiful, super-slim chassis. However, it’s not for everyone.
If you want a 2-in-1 that’s a good general-purpose Windows laptop, the Yoga Book is simply not powerful or flexible enough to recommend.
However, if you’re mainly after a tablet that’s also capable of basic laptop tasks, the Yoga Book’s excellent tablet and handwriting capabilities should be more appealing.
Then again, the Android version can do the same for $200 less.