Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lenovo Yoga 13 Review

Lenovo Yoga 13 Review
The IdeaPad Yoga 13 was one of the first hybrid Windows 8 systems that consumers got a look at. Lenovo unveiled a near-finished prototype at CES nearly a year ago – well before Windows 8 was finished and ready for prime time. Since that time we’ve learned a great deal about Lenovo’s flagship touchscreen convertible but perhaps the biggest question was whether or not a convertible notebook/tablet makes sense at a time when dedicated tablets are arguably the hottest trend in consumer electronics. 

Despite multiple attempts from manufacturers over the past several years, hybrids never gained much traction, not necessarily because of hardware issues but simply because the software to support such an environment hasn’t existed until just recently. Previous iterations of Windows did support touch in a limited capacity but the UI was never built with touch in mind.

Evidently that has all changed with Windows 8 which adds a touch friendly environment front and center (but not everywhere) and Lenovo looks to capitalize early and often with the do-it-all Yoga 13. Priced from $999, this system was one of the first portable systems to launch alongside Windows 8. I’ve spent the past several weeks learning the ins and outs of this hybrid Ultrabook and without jumping right to the conclusion from the get-go, I will let you know that it’s a very capable all-around system that doesn’t compromise on that it is first and foremost: a notebook.

Our evaluation unit arrived with a third generation Intel Core i5-3317U processor clocked at 1.7GHz, 4GB of RAM (systems in this class now ship with 8GB of memory), Intel HD Graphics 4000 and a 128GB solid state drive. True to its name, the Yoga 13 utilizes a 13.3-inch HD+ LED Multitouch display operating at 1,600 x 900 resolution – a bit sharper than many other 13-inch panels in its class. The price for the system price as tested here today (with 8GB RAM) is $1,099.
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13" - $999
  • 13.3" 1600x900 IPS LED multi-touch display
  • Intel Core i5-3317U (1.7 - 2.6GHz)
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • 4GB of DDR3 RAM
  • 128GB SSD
  • SD/MMC card reader
  • 1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, HDMI, audio jack
  • 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
  • 1-megapixel webcam
  • Chiclet keyboard
  • Glass trackpad with integrated buttons
  • 4-cell Li-Polymer battery
  • 13.4 x 8.85 x 0.66 inches, 3.4 pounds
Upon first glance there’s no indication that the Yoga 13 is anything outside of a standard Ultrabook. The outer portion of the lid is coated with a rubber-like material that’s silver / grey in color. A Lenovo name plate is affixed in one corner which gives the system an overall modern and classy look from the exterior.
On the front edge of the Yoga is a backlit power button, battery indicator and a tiny recessed reset button that admittedly didn’t do anything when pressed. On the right edge we find a button to lock the screen rotation when in tablet mode, an SD card reader, a USB 2.0 port and a unique looking charging port that more resembles another USB port than anything else.
The back edge of the Yoga is lined with discrete ventilation slots between the two sturdy screen hinges. On the left side of the Ultrabook is an HDMI-out port, a USB 3.0 port and a combination headphone / microphone jack. Closer to the front of the left edge is a volume rocker and what appears to be a tiny hole for a microphone.
There’s not much to see on the underside of the Yoga 13 aside from four small rubber feet. Upgrading internal components will take some work as there are eight tiny six-sided screws that look to hold the bottom cover in place. You’d certainly need some sort of special screwdriver to remove them so if you are planning to add more memory to the system, it might be best to let Lenovo handle that when you place your order.
Raising the lid reveals a screen that other manufactures would call an Infinity display. That is, the screen and the bezel are covered with a single piece of glass to give the illusion that the two flow together seamlessly. With the display powered on, however, you can see that the bezel around the screen is a little on the thick side. Normally this would be frowned upon but given the fact that the Yoga doubles as a tablet, this actually is good because it gives you some room to hold the system.

A 720p webcam sits centered atop the display and below it is a finger-sized button with the Windows logo in it. Pressing this button performs the same task as pressing the Start button which in Windows 8, switches you between Metro-style view the traditional Desktop UI. Its placement is especially handy in when using the system as a tablet.
The island-style keyboard sits slightly lower than the surrounding area / palm rest. This is done on purpose as to minimize key presses when using the system in tablet mode (more on that in a bit). The keyboard itself has a nice overall feel albeit a few of the keys (the right Shift key and to a lesser extent, the Backspace key) are a bit shorter than usual. Neither of these bugged me at all as I realized I never use the right Shift key and the Backspace key wasn’t short enough to cause any problems.

Unlike some other Lenovo systems I have used, the company decided to place the left Ctrl button in what most would consider the appropriate location – the bottom left of the keyboard. The Fn button is just beside where, where most would expect to find it. And speaking of, the function keys just above the number keys default to their alternate use, meaning you have to hold down the Fn key to press F5 for a refresh, etc.

Lenovo elected to use a glass trackpad that integrates both mouse click buttons. I’m typically not a fan of this implementation, instead preferring physical buttons like those found on the IdeaPad U260 but I must hand it to Lenovo as they have done a fine job with the all-in-one trackpad on the Yoga 13. One of my biggest complaints with similar setups is that clicking the mouse button also moves the cursor. That didn’t seem to happen very often on this system thankfully. The overall size of the trackpad seems just right too – there’s plenty of room to manipulate the cursor yet I still had enough room to type comfortably without my palms causing the cursor to go haywire.

The wrist rest and the surrounding area around the keyboard appear to be constructed of a soft leather-like material. The overall look is extremely classy although as I found out later, this surface is prone to picking up smudge marks and other debris when it’s lying face down in tablet orientation.

Software and Performance

The Lenovo Yoga 13 ships with Windows 8 64-bit, making it the first system we have tested to ship with Microsoft’s latest OS.

I’ll stop well short of doing a full-on review of Windows 8 but just note that if you are totally new to the OS, it will certainly take some time to get used to. I’ve had a little experience with Windows 8 beforehand but even still, it took a bit to get the hang of things initially. After a couple of weeks, however, I felt pretty well versed and even found that there were some things I preferred over the tried and true Windows 7 I’ve been using for years.

One of those things is how quickly the operating system loads from a cold boot. I clocked a complete boot at just 11 seconds; faster than any other system I have tested to date by a significant margin. Windows 8 and the solid state drive can share the credit for this feat.

Upon booting into Windows 8 for the first time, I navigated to the add / remove programs menu and surprisingly found only half a dozen or so programs that I would remove from the get-go. This is refreshing as the last several notebooks I have reviewed shipped with at least a dozen or more bloatware apps.

Given this new platform, we were forced to modify our benchmarking procedures slightly. PCMark Vantage refused to give an overall score now matter how hard I tried. We are also doing away with our “real-world” web-browsing battery test in favor of the much more standardized Powermark application. All of our other testing procedures have been carried over from Windows 7.

Benchmarks Results

Synthetic Tests Yoga 13 Aspire S5 TimelineU M5 MacBook Air

3DMark 06
3DMark Score 4393 3DMarks 5263 3DMarks 11958 3DMarks 5785 3DMarks

PCMark Vantage
PCMark Suite N/A 13643 PCMarks 6743 PCMarks N/A

Application Tests Yoga 13 Aspire S5 TimelineU M5 MacBook Air

iTunes Encoding Test 1 min 25 sec 1 min 15 sec 1 min 19 sec 51 sec

File Transfer Test
Small files 24 sec 10 sec 1 min 11 sec 22 sec
Large file 22 sec 10 sec 1 min 19 sec 22 sec

The iTunes encoding tests consist of converting 14 MP3s (119MB) to 128Kbps ACC files and measuring the operation's duration in seconds. For file transfers, we measure how long it takes to copy two sets of files from one location to another on the same hard drive. On the small files test we transfer 557 MP3s, totaling 2.56GB. For the large file, these same MP3s were zipped into a single file measuring 2.52GB.
Gaming Performance Yoga 13 Aspire S5 TimelineU M5 MacBook Air

Far Cry 2
1024x768, Medium Quality 23.5 fps 35.2 fps 69.0 fps 37.3 fps
Native res, High Quality 15.3 fps 21.9 fps 55.5 fps 19.3 fps

StarCraft 2
1024x768, Medium Quality 16.9 fps 21.8 fps 39.7 fps 25.1 fps
Native res, High Quality 10.8 fps 15.2 fps 29.9 fps 16.1 fps

Lenovo Yoga 13 Specs
  • 13.3" 1600x900 IPS LED multi-touch display
  • Intel Core i5-3317U (1.7 - 2.6GHz)
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • 4GB of DDR3 RAM
  • 128GB SSD
  • Windows 8 64-bit
Acer Aspire S5 Specs
  • 13.3" 1366x768 LED-backlit display
  • Intel Core i5-3317U (1.7GHz - 2.6GHz)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • Intel HD 4000 Graphics
  • 2 x 128GB SSD RAID0
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Acer TimelineU M5 Specs
  • 15.6" 1366x768 LED-backlit display
  • Intel Core i5-3317U (1.7GHz - 2.6GHz)
  • 6GB DDR3 RAM
  • Intel HD 4000 Graphics + GeForce GT 640M LE 1GB
  • 20GB SSD + 500GB 5400RPM HDD
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
MacBook Air 13" 2012 Specs
  • 13.3" 1440x900 LED-backlit display
  • Intel Core i5-3427U (1.8GHz - 2.8GHz)
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • Intel HD 4000 Graphics
  • 128GB SSD
  • Mac OS X, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

Usage Impressions, Conclusion

As I mentioned earlier, using the Yoga 13 as a notebook is really no different than any other system in terms of usability. It’s a whole different story when you transform it to tablet mode, however. The whole tablet experience is heavily reliant on the operating system and its touch interface. That aspect of the system works surprisingly well, but it’s not without fault.
At 3.4 pounds and 0.67-inches, it makes for one heavy tablet when you consider dedicated slates weigh a fraction of that (~1.5 pounds for a 10-inch tablet). Furthermore, it’s pretty thick as far as tablets go but given the internal hardware, that is to be expected.

Perhaps the saving grace for the Yoga as a tablet is the number of different orientations it can be used in. The display can be laid back flat to act as a true tablet or it can be angled in a tent-like manner or even flipped upside-down as a stand. Each orientation would of course have its benefits depending on exactly what you were trying to accomplish. 

It’s also worth mentioning that it’s pretty darn nice to use what is essentially a 13.3-inch tablet, much for the same reason that people like the 5.5-inch display on the Galaxy Note II. Watching videos on the Yoga in tablet mode is much more enjoyable than on a standard 10-inch screen, especially when you have the system propped up in stand or tent mode.

With most of the recent laptops we've reviewed using solid state drives (Aspire S5, MacBook Pro Retina, etc.), I can’t stress enough how important flash memory is, especially in a notebook where before it was rare to find a speedy storage solution. While the storage system in the Yoga 13 wasn’t nearly as fast as the RAID 0 configuration of the S5, not having two drives that could potentially fail is a bit more reassuring. 

There’s also the complaint that there’s only 128GB of storage on tap and while that’s true, odds are that Lenovo, Microsoft and a host of other manufacturers are betting that cloud storage will be the next big thing. Services like SkyDrive can virtually offer all of the storage you’d ever need and it’s accessible from anywhere with a network connection.

I conducted our standard notebook battery tests on the Yoga 13. Our video playback test consists of looping a 720p rip of the movie Inception at full screen with max brightness and Wi-Fi disabled. This is a taxing test that resulted in 5 hours and 4 minutes of battery life.

Our Powermark test consisted of running the application at default settings under the “Balanced” profile which gives a mixed workload of web browsing, word processing, gaming and video playback. This test was also run at max screen brightness and resulted in 3 hours and 21 minutes of uptime. 

Our informal YouTube 4k resolution video test pushed the CPU all the way up to 99 percent usage at one point. The video never showed any signs of lag but with the processor pegged so high, one has to wonder what is going on. If you recall, the same clip on the Acer S5 (running the exact same processor and graphics card) only pushed the chip to around 60 percent usage. The key difference between the two systems, however, is the operating system.

The two speakers in the Yoga 13 are positioned out of sight under the keyboard. I was concerned that this would impede sound quality or noise levels but that wasn’t really the case, even when the system was used in tablet mode as a stand with the keyboard laying flat on my desk. As for audio quality, the speakers sounded just fine albeit they didn’t get very loud when cranked to 100 percent. Either way, audio remained clear with zero distortion so that’s a plus.

I used Prime 95 to generate a full CPU load on the Yoga 13 in order to observe heat output and noise levels. The cooling fan, spinning at what I assume was full speed, wasn’t very loud at all so don’t expect any distractions even if you are working in a very quiet environment. The bottom of the notebook near the exhaust vents did get warm and I could feel warm air being pushed out of the system but again, it wasn’t hot by any means and certainly nothing to be concerned with. After all, the processor only carries a maximum TDP of 17 watts.

Overall, I think Lenovo has shown that a convertible notebook can be a viable option in today’s market, especially for someone that is still on the fence about wanting a tablet but still requiring a notebook for productivity purposes. You can expect to pay a slight premium considering the hardware that’s included but that’s also expected given the flexibility and hybrid nature of the system.
Pros: The Yoga screen and hinge system works really well. Great ultrabook overall, excellent quality screen, good value and decent performance. Nice keyboard and trackpad feel.

Cons: Too bulky for a standalone tablet replacement. Keyboard pressed against table when in tablet mode -- it's not backlit. 


About Dilips Techno Blog

A Daily Blog for Latest Reviews on Technology | Gadgets | Mobile | Laptop | Software and Hardware Reviews | Social Media | Games | Hacking and security | Tips and Tricks | Many more....

Dilips Techno Blog

Dilips Techno Blog