Traveling with the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro

Introduction

When I was asked to review Lenovo’s newest ultrabook the sleek and sexy Yoga 3 Pro, I was a little apprehensive. What would be the best way to put this machine through its paces and to mirror the type of use its target market would expect from the device? Who is the ideal target consumer for this ultra-light, ultra-stylish, high-res monster? I envisioned someone who traveled the world, lived out of a suitcase, someone for whom design matters… this person probably had a Macbook Air or a slim Sony device in a past life. Wait, whoa…. I AM the target consumer for this device. I work in technology consulting, I live at the airport and appreciate cutting edge tech. I love it when a device sparks curiosity, questions and even a bit of envy. (Spoiler alert: the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro scored very well in the Envy category!)

And so off I went, Yoga 3 Pro in my bag for an 8 day trip from my Charlotte home base to Paris and Amsterdam. Along the way, I would get to experience how Lenovo’s new creation would handle cramped international flights, trains, cafes, client presentations and the occasional bumps and bruises.

Initial Impressions:

  • The Yoga 3 Pro is thin, crazy thin. I find myself carrying it around more like I would a tablet. The weight feels comparable to an early iPad and the tapered edges give it a very comfortable grip
  • For such a light device, I expected it to feel a bit flimsy but I was wrong. The build quality is solid with very little flex or give. The illuminated keyboard still feels precise even if the key travel depth is shallower than on a thicker machine. Compared to other ultrabooks I’ve worked with, this is my favorite keyboard, which makes sense given Lenovo’s strong track record of producing quality typing surfaces
  • The much touted watchband hinge is legit! Lenovo says there are 850 pieces that go into making this full length hinge. I’m going to take their word for it because I lost count somewhere around 50 (math was never my best subject). I have no idea how it all works but the net result is a very sturdy and precise hinge. The Windows 8 touchscreen experience is that much more enjoyable when the laptop screen stays put when you press upon it. I found the hinge to be similarly reliable for the myriad of Yoga positions, never moving or collapsing on me.
  • When you convert the Yoga 3 Pro from laptop to tablet or tent mode, people around you stop and take notice. This is perhaps the most fun aspect of the machine. Without fail, the airplane seatmate stops what they’re doing. The adjoining table at the café falls silent. The client in the sales presentation stops the meeting to ask what just happened. AND I LOVE EVERY MINUTE OF IT. (See earlier entry re: envy)

The Full Review

Machine Specifications (as Reviewed)

Category Technical Specifications
Model Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro
Dimensions 11.8 x 9 x 0.5 inches ~2.6 lbs
Processor Intel Core M-70
Memory 8 GB
Hard Drive 256 GB Solid State Disk (About 40 GB used for Lenovo and Recovery Partitions)
Screen 13.3″ 3200×1800 QHD+ IPS
Multi-touch w/ Gorilla Glass
Operating System Windows 8.1 64-bit
Battery 7.2 hour rated life
Ports/Connectivity USB 3.0 (2 ports + power port)

MicroHDMI

SD Card Slot

Headphone Port

802.11 b,g,n WiFi

Bluetooth

 

Design

My test machine arrived in a sleek black Lenovo box that literally elevated the Yoga 3 Pro out as I lifted the hinges. Thanks Lenovo for the ‘choir of angels’ effect on unboxing! This attention to detail bodes well for the design attention put toward this machine. So let’s take a deeper look:

Waiting to be unboxed
Waiting to be unboxed
Unboxing... she levitates!
Unboxing… she levitates!
Unboxing
Unboxing

The build materials immediately get my attention, even before booting up for the first time. The exterior is draped in what Lenovo calls Clementine Orange. As I discovered in Amsterdam, this also happens to be the exact vibrant orange of the Dutch national soccer team. Yes it is bright, but it still looks rich and professional, not gimmicky or childish. But if orange isn’t your thing, I can attest that the Platinum and Champagne options look equally stunning. After a month of heavy use and some wear I have yet to pick up a scratch or mark on the exterior, which is an improvement over my original Yoga 13 (who acquired some early surface scratches). The exterior has a lovely tapered contour and reaches razor thin proportions at the side opposite the hinge. All ports are on the sides of the machine and Lenovo has consolidated all of the buttons to one side which seems intuitive.

The JBL speakers are located beneath the unit along the front edges. This positioning seems logical and from this audio producer’s standpoint has the added benefit of acoustic resonance from the surface the laptop is sitting upon. The only downside would be when that surface is your lap muffling the audio…nothing a good pair of headphones can’t solve. In media mode (with the Yoga 3 Pro hinge in the front and the keyboard on the table, the speakers are in an optimal position for broadcasting sound to the room so I suppose it all makes sense overall. We’ll delve deeper into the audio capabilities a bit later. Let’s continue on…

Opening up that glistening hinge, I’m presented with a wide keyboard surface covered in a dimpled rubberized surface reminiscent of the perforated sport leather in a German luxury car. It feels rugged yet still a bit soft, comfortable and not plasticky at all. The original Yoga had a leather wrapped keyboard but I think the Yoga 3 Pro offers a more resilient solution. The keyboard is a 5 row affair with doubled-up function and number keys. Key placement seems intuitive with none of the odd positioning found on smaller ultrabooks… no muscle memory confusion here. The keyboard also illuminates which is a great feature for those late night proposal writing sessions on the plane or in the hotel. Below the keyboard is a multitouch touchpad with integrated soft buttons. Again, compared to the high standards set by my Yoga 13, I find the feel to be more refined and precise.

Laptop deck and Yoga logo
Laptop deck and Yoga logo

On the other side, we find wall to wall Gorilla Glass and a very bright QHD+ display. This screen is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on an ultrabook. I’m talking 3200×1800 pixels of rich, deep color. This feature alone should make photographers and musicians stand up and take notice. I loaded my favorite music production software and was blown away with how much real estate I had to work with. Even for boring old office work, I can easily hold multiple spreadsheets or contracts side-by-side.

4 decks with room to spare at 3200x1800!
4 decks with room to spare at 3200×1800!

It is important to note that Microsoft still has some improvements it needs to make with DPI scaling in order for all applications to take advantage of and look correctly with this resolution. On multiple occasions, I found application menus to be exceedingly small and needed to adjust them via the scaling tools in Windows (which are far from perfect). IE, Chrome, etc have great support for font scaling but Adobe’s Photoshop and others still have adjustments to make. I would have a hard time recommending this for an elderly person or person with limited eyesight unless I lived close by and could personally tweak all of their settings for their needs. All that said, I love the clarity and performance of the Yoga 3 Pro screen and I look forward to the software community learning how to make this a seamless experience out of the box.

Performance and Battery

System Performance

The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro is in a particularly difficult market position where expectations are extremely high. At roughly $1,300 MSRP, the Yoga 3 Pro is double the price of the mainline consumer laptop market and potentially four times the price of a budget Chromebook. We expect such a machine to be thin, light, powerful and have exceptional battery life. With some useful power management software (OKO) and Intel’s newest Broadwell Core M chipset, Lenovo comes pretty darn close to pulling off this difficult feat.

When I told people in the music production industry that I was going to put the Yoga 3 Pro through the paces as a production workstation, they were skeptical. Engineers at major music software firms lamented that the Intel Core M would be slow. “Look at the clock speed of 1.1 Ghz” they decried. What they didn’t know was that under the covers, Lenovo and Intel packed a flexible chip design that can run at i5 comparable speeds of 2.6 Ghz. Intel and independent experts have benchmarked this chip vary similarly to the last generation of processors but with a drastically lower power consumption. I would compare this to automobile engine technology that shuts down half of the cylinders when not needed to improve fuel consumption. The Yoga 3 Pro ships with OKO Power Management software and profiles for High Performance, Balanced Performance and Power Saver modes. Balanced mode has been more than adequate for all common PC tasks and the Yoga 3 Pro has been quick and responsive even when watching full 1080p videos (Yes, you can watch a lot of episodes of Vikings on a single charge). Solid state disks and the 8 GB of included RAM certainly help as well.

For heavy loads, such as music production with multiple VST plug-ins, effect processing, etc. I simply shifted the Yoga 3 Pro into High Performance mode. I haven’t done any video editing on the machine yet but I’m hoping to cover that in an upcoming review of the GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition on the blog. I have no concerns at this point about its capability unless you’re Steven Spielberg or tackling 4k video editing.

The first Core M ultrabook
The first Core M ultrabook

Battery Life

Battery life on the Yoga 3 Pro is actually pretty impressive given the design limitations posed by its ultra-skinny frame. Here’s how I’ve fared:

  • Balanced Mode: Generally 5 to 5.5 hours of email, web surfing, reading, etc..
  • High Performance Mode (with screen brightness cranked up): I regularly saw about 3.5 hours of life during intensive audio processing, 4-deck DJ’ing (using Virtual DJ), etc..
  • Power Saver: I managed to easily attain 7+ hours of battery life on multiple occasions including a Paris to Toronto flight without ever reaching for a plug

Common sense tips for maximizing battery life include disabling WiFi and Bluetooth when not in use, limiting background processing and adjusting screen brightness. The Yoga 3 Pro screen is very bright and vibrant; I rarely found myself working with the screen turned all the way up to 100%, especially if the room was at all dark. One interesting battery side note is that the OKO Power app gives a lot of advice about unplugging the laptop to maximize battery life. This seemed a bit heavy-handed for my taste and makes me want to ask Lenovo questions about how difficult a battery replacement might be in a few years.

Audio and Video

The Yoga 3 Pro audio leverages an integrated Realtek High Definition Audio Chipset. There are two JBLAudio speakers as well as the Waves MaxxAudio technology. Sound quality is rich and immersive with good high and low-end range for built-in speakers. Volume output is adequate to produce considerable sound even in a noisy environment such as an office setting or coffee shop.

Lenovo utilizes Intel’s integrated 5300 HD Graphics chip, common across many devices including the Macbook Air and Surface 3. The chip provides consistent and reliable playback of high resolution content. I’ve had no problems viewing movies and TV shows or streaming YouTube, even in Power Saver mode. Obviously, the more CPU you throw at video the better things get but the Yoga 3 Pro handled things just fine without complaint.

The Y3P also includes an onboard webcam/camera and microphone. I have conducted a number of video conferences over Skype, Google Hangout, GoToMeeting and Adobe Connect. In each case, I’ve found the webcam to be clear and the audio discernible. The webcam does not appear to have any special software for light processing so a user will need to be in a reasonably well lit room and avoid backlighting situations (unless you’re going for the 60 minutes anonymous witness look). In summary, the JBLAudio is the standout in the audio/video department but all of the other features ensure parity with other premium machines in this category.

JBL Audio and ruggedized covering
JBL Audio and ruggedized covering

Yoga Modes

A review of the Yoga would be incomplete if I didn’t discuss each of the Yoga operating positions:

Laptop Mode: ‘Nuff said. See above review.

Tablet Mode: Thirteen inches makes for a large tablet. Fortunately, the Yoga’s watchband hinge and tapered side make this a surprisingly easy device to hold with one hand. In tablet mode, the keyboard automatically disables to prevent accidental input and the screen rotates to accommodate different viewing positions. There is also a button on the side of the device that disables auto-rotate in the event you’re lying at an angle, in bed, etc.. The high resolution opens up some really interesting options for document viewing. I had the opportunity to spend some time pouring through high resolution scans of an obscure 16th century Italian manuscript on a flight and the rich immersive screen allowed me to peer into every mark in this ancient text.

Stand Mode: Stand mode is the perfect mode for watching movies on the airplane since it is immune to being crushed by the reclining passenger in front of you. Stand mode is also very stable since the entire keyboard side of the laptop is flush to the ground. The touchscreen interface still provides easy access to a keyboard when necessary.

Stand mode is also my favorite mode for sales presentations thanks to Lenovo Motion Control. With Motion Control and Office 365, I am able to put my Powerpoints into presentation mode and then move the slides with the wave of a hand. The webcam simply watches for a number of simple gestures and flips the pages accordingly. This also works in Adobe Acrobat, Word and a number of other applications. This is kind of thing that makes customers go crazy (see earlier comment regarding envy) .

Tent Mode: If I’m honest, tent mode is my least utilized mode. Given the relatively large size of the device and paper thin width, I find tent mode a bit precarious for a $1,300 laptop. Nevertheless, it is by far my eight-year old son’s favorite way to watch YouTube and play games. Some people find Tent Mode very useful and it DOES certainly show off that classy hinge.

Lenovo Add-ons

Every PC maker seems to want to differentiate its products with proprietary software and Lenovo is no different in this respect. For the Yoga 3 Pro, Lenovo has bundled a suite of applications to aid in systems management and collaboration. Some of these tools are innocuous and operate unobtrusively in the background (such as Lenovo Support, OneKey Options Power Management, MaxxAudio, Motion Control, etc). Some seem duplicative to common Windows applications… Do we need a Lenovo Photo Manager or ShareIt collaboration tool?

One tool that I’ll admit I’ve not taken advantage of is Lenovo Harmony. With Harmony, Lenovo provides an application that learns what software you tend to use in each of its display modes. Then as you convert into a new mode, a panel of suggested apps is displayed. The application also tracks how you utilize your Yoga mode-wise relative to its global user population. Interestingly, this data would show that 80% of all Yoga 3 Pro use is in laptop mode, followed by tablet mode. Perhaps the Yoga is a bit like a Sport Utility Vehicle, everyone demands advanced 4-wheel drive when 95% of the people driving it will never leave the pavement. I’ll be watching these statistics over time to see how Yoga 3 Pro users find new ways to use their convertible machines.

Lenovo Harmony
Lenovo Harmony

In Conclusion

With the Yoga 3 Pro, Lenovo has effectively carved out a new category and class of machine. This ultra-premium ultrabook device offers a combination of features that is unparalleled in the industry. Never before has a PC maker been able to tick so many boxes in a single device. I am extremely impressed with the design, quality and build feel of this system. It is certainly on a different trajectory from the conservative ThinkPad design and I couldn’t be more pleased. There are still a few kinks to work out as Microsoft starts to retool its operating system for this sort of high-performance ultrabook but I can’t blame Lenovo for that. Most importantly, the Yoga 3 Pro has that special “something” the X-factor that causes people to stop and stare. It is the perfect gift for someone who appreciates performance and design, and if you travel as much as I do, this device is a back-saving electronics consolidator. Very impressive, indeed.

Category Summary Score
(out of 5 possible)
Design Best in class looks, rock solid engineering *****
Weight Tablet light design, ultra-portable *****
Screen Gorgeous QHD+ display, depth and color *****
CPU/Power Versatile battery-friendly workhorse Core M ***
Battery 7+ hour battery life in an ultra-skinny form ****
Applications Some useful utilities, some redundant apps ***
Overall ****

 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s