There's a trend at work in Lenovo's new "convertible family" of Windows 8 computing products: the names all suggest what they do, and the theme is flexibility. The Yoga. The Twist. The Lynx. Things connecting, transforming, bending. Will that be the legacy of Windows 8 — flexibility in tech design? If so, the Yoga is the poster child.
Look at Lenovo's new Yoga, first unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, in one of the still shots, and you can't see much of a difference between it and any other recent IdeaPad ultrabook. The excellent island keyboard and large touch pad are there, and the top hinge opens up like on any other laptop. Except, in the case of the Yoga, it keeps bending — all the way around. There's no swivel or detachable design, just that all-the-way-around 360-degree hinge. It's like an extra-flexible swinging door.
On the Yoga, what it means is that the 13-inch screen can flip all the way around and fold flat on the back, turning the laptop into a tablet. Or, it can stand up on its front edges like a tent (called Tent mode). Or — something that we think many people will like — it can be used with the keyboard side down and the screen bent back, becoming almost like a tiny tabletop touchscreen all-in-one (Stand mode).
Its 13-inch, 1600x900-pixel resolution IPS display feels suitable for the wide viewing angles that you're likely to subject the Yoga to. The display supports up to 10-finger capacitive multi-touch.
The Yoga 13 is a more traditional Windows ultrabook on the inside. Topping out at a third-gen Intel Core i7 ULV processor, plus up to 8GB of DDR3 RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD), it matches many other ultrabooks on the market. Unlike some laptops, it doesn't have discrete graphics, just Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. A USB 2.0 port, a USB 3.0 port, an SD card slot and an HDMI port round out the expected connections, along with Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11n Wi-Fi (but there's no Ethernet port). There's also a 720p, 1-megapixel webcam for video chat. Battery life is estimated at seven hours, which is what a lot of Windows ultrabooks lay claim to.
At 1.54kg and 16.76mm, this isn't a featherweight, ultra-slim device for a tablet, or even for some 13-inch ultrabooks. It's comfortably middle ground for ultrabooks. However, that added screen flexibility could give the Yoga 13 an interesting edge among the first wave of Windows 8 convertible products. It's not a budget machine, with the US price set at US$1099. This could be the most flexible hybrid device, and one of the simplest at the same time.
It certainly felt that way in our hands-on experience. The 360-degree hinge felt sturdy and smooth, and it worked flawlessly. The screen also responded well when we adjusted it, snapping the image in the correct orientation with little delay.
Using the Yoga 13 in tablet mode did feel a little unwieldy, given the size of the device. The keys on the underside of the Yoga also felt awkward. Lenovo suggests sliding an included travel sleeve over the keyboard portion to smooth out the tablet-mode experience, but that adds an annoying extra step.
As long as you buy the Yoga 13 with the intention of using it as a laptop first, you can probably put up with the keys on the occasions when you use it as a tablet. And, yes, the keyboard shuts down in tablet mode, so you don't have to worry about any interface issues.
We still haven't been briefed on Lenovo's Windows 8 intentions in Australia, but this particular device has sparked our interest.