Ever since Intel kickstarted the 2-in-1 movement and Microsoft made touch support a core feature of Windows, Lenovo has been trying all sorts of designs and ideas for the next wave of PCs. In fact Lenovo is easily the most innovative, or at least adventurous, of today’s PC manufacturers. The company sells a range of flip-around 2-in-1s and tablets under the Yoga name, but also uses Yoga as a modifier for 2-in-1 models in its ThinkPad and IdeaPad lines.

lenovo yoga book open ndtv lenovo_yoga_bookNow, there’s a new product, and it is simply called the Yoga Book that retails at Rs. 49,990. Lenovo has retained the flip-around design, but that’s about all this device has in common with today’s 2-in-1s. It’s unlike any other product that Lenovo sells – in fact, it’s unlike any other product, period. What Lenovo has done is reinvent the ultraportable, and we’re absolutely dying to put the Yoga Book to use so we can figure out what to make of it.

Lenovo Yoga Book look and feel
When we first took the Yoga Book out of its box, we were amazed by how small it actually is. It’s almost impossibly thin – thinner overall than Apple’s ultralight MacBook, but thicker than any current iPad model when closed. We really liked the matte black texture of the exterior, which looks minimalist and is thankfully not slippery. In stark contrast, there’s Lenovo’s bright silver multi-segmented watchband hinge, which we first saw on the top-end Yoga 3 Pro, and more recently on the equally luxurious Yoga 900.

The Lenovo logo on the lid is placed vertically in one corner, making the device look more like a hardcover book when it’s closed. It even feels like one, except when holding it in one hand with fingers curled around the hinge – the watchband segments are rough and scratchy, unlike the spine of a book.

We weren’t expecting a lot of ports on a device this thin, but Lenovo has really crippled the Yoga Book in this regard. There’s only one Micro-USB port for charging and connecting peripherals or storage – Lenovo didn’t even include a dongle in the box, but any phone’s USB-OTG adapter will work. This also means you’re limited to USB 2.0 speeds. At least there’s also a Micro-HDMI video output and a 3.5mm audio socket, but if Apple’s MacBook can be criticised for having only one USB Type-C port, this is worse.

There’s single tray on the left with cutouts for a microSD card as well as a Nano-SIM. Cellular data connectivity could be really handy, and of course the ability to augment storage is good too. The power and volume buttons are on the right. There are no air vents since no cooling fan is required, but you will see matching speaker grilles on either side of the lower half.

 

As with all Yoga products, the Yoga Book can be opened and flipped around with its screen facing outwards like a regular tablet. The watchband hinge is just as sturdy as ever, and allows the device to stay in place at any angle. However, the entire upper half does wobble when touched, which makes using the touchscreen a bit difficult sometimes. The Yoga Book can also be positioned in “tent mode” which looks awkward but is more stable.

The screen has a 16:10 aspect ratio which is more common on tablets than laptops. Unfortunately, there are thick borders on all sides as well as a distracting reflective silver Yoga Book logo in one corner. The device has a 2-megapixel webcam in the standard position above the screen as well as an 8-megapixel one on the inner surface of the lower deck, which will point outwards when the Yoga Book is folded into its tablet mode.

That brings us to the most fascinating part of the Yoga Book, it’s so-called “Create Pad”, which replaces a traditional keyboard. This is a flat surface with a rough texture very similar to that of graphics tablets – in fact, it pretty much is a graphics tablet, just with a few extra capabilities. If you look closely, you’ll see the faintest grid pattern. Hitting the illuminated pen icon on the upper edge lights up what Lenovo is calling its “Halo Keyboard”, transforming the surface into a usable typing tool.

The Halo Keyboard has a surprisingly conventional layout, and each key is cleanly defined. The backlight is perfectly even, and the whole effect is extremely edgy and futuristic. The whole thing is still a flat touch-sensitive surface of course – it’s just that specific areas are marked off as individual keys and a trackpad.

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Tapping the same button deactivates the keyboard and you go back to a blank slate. You use this with Lenovo’s Real Pen stylus just like you would on any drawing tablet such as Wacom’s popular Bamboo and Intuos models. The Yoga Book recognises 2048 levels of pressure which allows for subtle nuances in sketches. Microsoft’s OneNote app is tightly integrated with the OS, but you can of course use any Windows software to draw or write with.

That’s not all though – Lenovo has yet another trick up its sleeve. You can swap out the Real Pen’s stylus nib for an actual ballpoint refill and use it like any other pen. With a sheet of paper or even a pad laid over the Create Pad surface, you can write or sketch on an actual surface, while the Yoga Book automatically and instantaneously digitises the exact same strokes on screen. Lenovo bundles a paper pad which is just the right size for the Create Pad’s surface and snaps into place magnetically. Anything you write or draw lines up perfectly with the screen.

The Create Pad clearly recognises writing through several sheets of paper and a backing board, which means there’s a fair amount of flexibility in terms of the kinds of paper and pads you can use. This lends itself to lots of interesting possibilities.

Lenovo Yoga Book specifications and software
Everything about the Yoga Book so far, from its size to its capabilities, has given us the impression that this is far more of a tablet than laptop. Lenovo even offers it with Windows or Android in most markets (with a ChromeOS version reportedly in the pipeline). Only the Windows version has been launched here so far, so that’s what we’re reviewing, but the two are identical in all ways other than software. While Android has its appeal in terms of touchscreen-native apps, Windows could potentially be more versatile, especially for multitasking and general productivity.

At the heart of the Yoga Book is an Intel Atom x5-Z8550 processor, which has four CPU cores running at up to 2.4GHz and integrated Intel HD400 graphics. Based on Intel’s Cherry Trail architecture and fabricated at 14nm, this is a thoroughly modern low-power processor which sips only 2W of power and doesn’t need active cooling.

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You also get 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. That latter number is very low for a Windows-based PC, so you’ll most likely have to rely on a microSD card or online services for most of your storage needs. The screen is a netbook-sized 10.1-inch panel with a relatively sharp resolution of 1920×1200. The battery’s 8500mAh capacity is surprising considering how little space there is in the Yoga Book’s body.

The Yoga Book supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular data. While Lenovo’s spec sheet says that LTE is supported on bands 3 and 40, our test unit only ever detected 3G HSPA+ networks when using our Airtel and Vodafone test SIMs.

Lenovo Yoga Book usage and performance
The Yoga Book is certainly thin and light, which means that carrying it around is no problem whatsoever. It comes with a smartphone-sized charger and can even run off a standard power bank. The problem is that to make full use of it, you also have to carry the stylus, at least two different nibs, and Lenovo’s magnetic paper notebook. We would have really appreciated some kind of carrying case or sleeve – at least a way to store nibs so they don’t get lost.

We had to learn to check whether the Real Pen is fitted with an ink refill or stylus tip at any given point, and we accidentally used ink on the surface of the digitiser more than once. We also found that the stylus tip left visible marks on the digitiser, even after the first use. Having gotten used to iPads and Microsoft’s Surface tablets that allow styli to directly manipulate objects on screen, using the digitiser felt like using a Wacom tablet – in other words, a step backwards.

The fact that the digitiser is physically attached to the screen means that positioning can become a bit awkward. We had to either twist our wrist or our neck, and hand-eye coordination wasn’t totally natural. However, the key advantage of this is that note-taking is super easy. With the screen in portrait mode on the left, and our notebook positioned over the digitiser on the right, we were perfectly comfortable.

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We tried out a variety of programs including OneNote, Autodesk SketchUp, and the included trial version of ArtRage. A OneNote shortcut pops up on screen when the Halo Keyboard is turned off, allowing you to jump right into to a new blank page. Digitisation works best with OneNote running fullscreen in portrait mode, so that the digitiser and screen line up. Drawing apps were great fun, and we were able to manipulate nuances with tools like airbrushes and knives brilliantly.

Lenovo only supplies 15 leaves in its notebook, but promises to sell refills and replacements via its website. You’ll definitely need to buy these, as regular notebooks and pads are either too wide for the digitiser, or slide around easily, throwing coordination off. You also have to tear sheets off in order to use the other side. We wish Lenovo had gone with a common standard paper size, because proprietary supplies are bound to get expensive over time.

Windows 10 still isn’t perfect when it comes to touch-based interaction but you can always use the Halo Keyboard’s trackpad or even the stylus as a pointing device. The keyboard has a touch surface but works exactly like a desktop keyboard, which means you have to hold down the Shift and Ctrl keys rather than tapping them once to activate them. The layout is actually more sensible than we’ve seen on many small laptops. Haptic feedback did seem to help, but the Yoga Book also makes a really annoying beep every time a key is struck, and we couldn’t find any way to turn this off other than muting everything.

In terms of comfort, we had to make do with staccato jabs rather than our usual typing flow. We were simply unable to touch type with any viable degree of accuracy even though the layout allowed us to have all fingers on the surface. It was a lot more comfortable than an on-screen keyboard or even some of the cheaper cloth-backed 2-in-1 keyboard covers we’ve encountered, but it still took time to get used to.

Connectivity was a significant problem. It isn’t possible to charge the Yoga Book and have any USB device plugged in at the same time. Files transfer at USB 2.0 speed which is just painful in this day and age. We also cannot understand why Lenovo wouldn’t toss a simple USB-OTG adapter into the box like it does with other products. This is a prime example of how Type-C would have been an advantage.

There is simply no way that the Yoga Book can take the place of an everyday laptop if you do a lot of typing. It might be tempting to go for something this slim and portable, but it really is a specialised tool for specialised purposes. It should only be considered a secondary computer, unless you really understand and can live with the tradeoffs it requries.

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As far as more conventional aspects of performance are concerned, the Yoga Book was a mixed bag. The screen is brilliant, but too small to really enjoy videos without leaning in. The speakers were surprisingly rich and loud – Lenovo somehow found a way to push a lot of air through a really tiny chassis. Battery life was also excellent, with a score of 5 hours, 12 minutes in the Battery Eater Pro benchmark. Cellular data connectivity was handy, but we never did manage to connect at 4G speed.

On the other hand, general performance is weak. This is an ultraportable with an Intel Atom processor, after all. We logged 141 in the WebXprt test, and PCMark 8 was unable to run. CineBench R15 showed only 134 points, and POVRay took 15 minutes, 15 seconds to complete its benchmark run. Graphics performance was also just about okay, with 250 in 3DMark’s standard Fire Storm test. Gaming is pretty much out of the question, though high-resolution videos played flawlessly thanks to the CPU’s hardware acceleration capabilities. We also found that the 64GB of internal storage became a limitation to us within a week.

Verdict
The Lenovo Yoga Book is something completely new. It’s edgy and exciting in a way that few other computer products have been for as long as we can remember. It has a surprisingly reasonable price tag, but we’re quite convinced that this will never be anyone’s primary PC, and so it should be seen as an additional indulgence. This could be a great device to travel with, but that’s a waste of the digitser. On the other hand, serious digital artists might want to use software that the Yoga Book is too lightweight to run. There is a middle ground, but it seems pretty narrow.

That won’t stop the Yoga Book from being a success, though. It’s like a futuristic concept design that somehow made it to market, and people will love it for that. Anyone who sees the Halo Keyboard lighting up for the first time will just want to own this device. The Yoga Book can be shown off anywhere, anytime, and is sure to go down in history as one of the most memorable experiments ever.