It’s taken me a while to get down to writing this review of the Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga because I know a lot of you are hoping that this convertible laptop addresses all the shortcomings of the Surface Pro while answering all of your artistic mobility dreams.

So, to cut to the chase: the Thinkpad Yoga is a very capable device for creative users, but it isn’t perfect.

Instead of offering a lot of technical details, I’m going to focus on the Thinkpad Yoga drawing experience and how it compares to the Surface Pro and other Windows tablets I’ve acquired over the past year.

The Display

The 1.9-inch diagonal size advantage that the TPY offers over the Surface Pro makes a significant difference. Even at its default scale, crowded desktop apps like Photoshop CC are easier to use on the 12.5-inch display. And if you run the UI scaling hack we posted here, Photoshop is even easier to use.

However, if you’re not a Photoshop user, the additional real estate may not be worth the decrease in portability vs. the Surface Pro.

If you don’t like reflective displays or want to occasionally work outdoors or in brightly lit environments, you’ll appreciate the Thinkpad Yoga’s matte screen finish, which diffuses reflections.  But the coating also makes colors less vibrant to my eye and type appears somewhat fuzzy or muddy. I tried to capture the difference on camera, but my iPhone 4S is not up to the task. According to one reader, the Thinkpad is only able to display 75% of the sRGB color space. I don't know much about the subject, but it does appear that colors are muted compared to the glossy displays of the Surface Pro and Sony VAIO Flip 15A.

In the following screenshots I attempted to demonstrate the color, brightness and reflectivity differences in different lighting conditions. All shots were taken with the devices at maximum brightness.

The matte coating on the Lenovo screen diffuses reflections vs. the sharp reflections on the Surface Pro 2 display.

Laying flat in tablet mode, the reflections on the Surface Pro's bezel are even more distracting than on the screen itself.

The Digitizer

The drawing experience on the Thinkpad Yoga is comparable to any other Wacom-equipped tablet pc. Like many of you who’ve had troubles with Wacom tech on the Surface Pro and other tablets, I’ve encountered several annoyances along the way that I’m forced to work around.

I’ve been unable to get either the touch or pen calibration set up 100% perfectly despite running both the standard and Wacom calibration tools dozens of times. Installing Wacom’s feel drivers deletes the standard calibration settings, but I was able to confirm that the problem I describe below isn’t introduced by the Wacom drivers.

The problem I’ve encountered is that pen alignment and touch don’t match. If I tune the calibration for pen accuracy, the screen won’t respond to taps along the bottom edge of the display so I can’t unhide the desktop taskbar.

I’ve ended up compensating for this by purposely tapping just below the bottom points in the Wacom calibration tool. Now taps on the bottom edge are recognized but there is a one or two pixel drift in cursor accuracy as I move the pen up the screen.

If Wacom ever gets around to releasing a calibration tool with more than four points, it should be easier to limit that drift to the very bottom of the screen.

Based on reading the community’s experience with the Surface Pro, it’s clear that digitizer accuracy varies from machine to machine, so please don’t assume that all Thinkpad Yogas will display this same behavior.

The Stylus

Not much to say here. It’s a tiny pointer that will do in a pinch, but will otherwise stay in its silo forever.

The screen’s matte coating interacts with your pen’s nib very differently than the Surface Pro’s glass. The soft felt nibs I prefer on the SP offer a little too much resistance and feel slightly waxy. Hard plastic nibs don’t feel quite as slippery as they do on glass.

Thanks to the TabletPCReview forum reader who first suggested I try the Fujitsu stylus, I also purchased a set of flex nibs to try. These are black with a white rubberized tip and to paraphrase Goldilocks feel “just right” when sliding along the Thinkpad Yoga’s screen.

All the Surface Pro compatible pens I’ve tested work equally well on the TPY, although they also may require recalibration for best results. This shouldn’t be a problem for most of you who may have one or two at your disposal. I’m sure I’m unique in having 10(!) pens to choose from.

The weakest aspects of the Thinkpad Yoga are its clickable touchpad and the stylus which makes a very poor drawing instrument compared to full size pens.

The Form Factor

I expected not to like the feel of the keyboard behind the screen while in tablet mode. And, while it’s not ideal, I find it’s not as distracting in practice as I thought it might be.

I think this is because the size and weight of the Thinkpad Yoga forces you to either cradle it on your forearm or rest it on your lap. It would be very taxing to hold the convertible for long with the keyboard resting on your hand. My average sized hand covers the entire back of the Surface Pro, but it only extends to about two thirds of the Thinkpad.

The clickable touchpad doesn’t lock when in tablet mode, but I find that’s only distracting when I try to draw in portrait orientation. Then either my fingers or palm are certain to come in contact with it, causing the occasional errant click. The system doesn’t recognize the click, so it’s not really a problem, but it just feels wrong.

Though not as distracting as I'd feared, the keys can still be depressed slightly while in tablet mode. As seen here in portrait orientation, your fingers or palm are more likely to accidentally press the clickable touchpad which doesn't lock in place.

While in tablet mode, you’ll also need a bluetooth keyboard around, at least until someone develops a Thinkpad Yoga-specific ArtDock. With the Acer and Sony convertibles I’ve used, you can always lift up the screen to access the keyboard in a pinch, but the Yoga design makes it all or nothing.

The biggest design flaw of Thinkpad Yoga is the location of its fan vents.

The vents are located at the back of the keyboard, which theoretically blows the hot air away from you while in laptop mode. In practice, this is not always the case. For instance if you’re in bed and like to prop the keyboard up on your knees, the fans will blow right into your legs. Or worse, ventilation will be obstructed by your bed covers.

In tablet mode, the vents blow into you unless you rotate the tablet upside down: with the home button up and the camera lens down.

And the vents can get hot. Not scalding like the bottom of my 2008 MacBook Pro, but uncomfortably warm.

Pictured side by side with the Surface Pro. The Thinkpad Yoga is too large to hold in one hand. In this orientation, the fans point downward and will blow hot air into your body as you hold it.

Despite moving a lot of hot air, the fans are very quiet and seldom noticeable. When compared to the Surface Pro, however, the fans are definitely louder. To stress the CPUs, disks and graphics hardware, I ran Passmark’s Performance Test 8 and while the Yoga’s fans were audible throughout half the tests, the Surface Pro 2 remained silent.

Fit & Finish

Like most Lenovo products, the Thinkpad Yoga won’t win any design awards. It’s a utilitarian device that feels solid and built for durability.

It avoids some of the sharp edges of the Surface Pro and the magnesium alloy finish resists fingerprints and smudges.

The keyboard feels great and is certainly one of the most popular features for road warriors. I really don’t like the clickable touchpad which feels cheap and flimsy. I don’t know what Lenovo’s reliability record is for this touchpad design, but I worry that it will be the first thing to go.

The keyboard also features the signature red Lenovo TrackPoint touching stick which is fairly redundant on a touch screen, but can be mapped as a middle mouse button. I haven’t tried this but that is a nice feature if you need it.

As I mentioned in my unboxing, my Thinkpad Yoga has a small defect in the upper right corner of the screen. There is a bit of tape or something sticking out between the display and the matte coating. It’s no big deal and I’m not going to risk cutting it off, but a $1735 retail device shouldn’t have such an obvious manufacturing flaw.

In laptop mode, the screen is quite springy. The slightest tap will start it wobbling.

The power button on the right side of the keyboard is very small and hard to find without looking.

Performance & Battery Life

 Several of you requested that I run extensive benchmarks and software tests on the Thinkpad Yoga, but I’ve been unable to do so. There are a lot of hardware dedicated sites that do that sort of thing all the time and you’re likely to find more reliable results there anyway.

Using the aforementioned Passmark benchmarks, the Thinkpad Yoga scored 1944 vs. the Surface Pro 2’s 1975. Clearly the Core i7 in the TPY doesn’t make a huge amount of difference in the overall rating.

In practice I found the Yoga to be equal to the Surface Pro 2 in all respects, except for occasional stutters while using Clip Studio Paint 1.27. I’m not certain what to attribute those hiccups to; there may have been background activity going on that I was unaware of, but these delays only lasted a second or so. I did have one freeze that cost me an hour’s worth of work on CSP that may have been caused by a loss of network connectivity.

Some users have complained of weak wi-fi signal, but I can’t confirm that. Running a couple of speedtests side by side didn’t show any difference between the two systems.

I haven’t run the Thinkpad Yoga all the way down to zero battery, but it took about five hours to go from 100% to 10% remaining, all while working in Clip Studio Paint.

Conclusion

So is the Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga perfect? Far from it. Is it better than the Surface Pro 2? Not really, given the price difference.

But if your top priority is screen size in a Wacom penabled device, the Thinkpad Yoga is your best option for the moment. We’ll see what manufacturers have up their sleeves in a few weeks at CES 2014.

 

 

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Don't ask me which one's better, because I'll advise you to buy them both. 

Lisa Gade of Mobile Tech Review compares the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga.

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AuthorRick Rodriguez

Since Lenovo first announced its penabled Thinkpad Yoga, it's been clear that the convertible Windows 8 laptop would be the device to offer the Surface Pro its stiffest competition for the artist's dollar.

I received my Thinkpad Yoga earlier today and it definitely lives up to expectations. Officially listed as the Thinkpad S1 Yoga, the specs are very similar to the $1299 Surface Pro 2: 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, Intel HD Graphics 4400 and the all-important Wacom active digitizer. But unlike the Surface Pro, the Thinkpad Yoga is powered by an Intel Core i7 processor and features a 12.5-inch HD display. At $1739, this is not an inexpensive upgrade, but when you add in a keyboard, the Surface Pro is actually $1428 and the only other Wacom equipped tablet in the 12-13 inch range is the $2000 Cintiq Companion.

I was fortunate to get a 12% discount on my Thinkpad Yoga order, which brought the price down to $1530. I won't be surprised to see Lenovo offer even steeper discounts in the new year, so if you're interested in one, make sure to order by phone and ask if discount codes are available. Also, be certain that the model you're ordering has a digitizer. There is an i5 model listed on their site for $1299 that doesn't have pen support.

While not exactly a lightweight at 3.5 lbs, the Thinkpad Yoga is nowhere near as heavy as the 15-inch convertibles from Acer and Sony that I've reviewed recently. But despite its weight, the Lenovo's size makes it a little difficult pick up with one hand while in tablet mode. The keyboard keys on the back of the device have a little bit of give when your fingers hold the weight of the tablet which can be a slightly unsettling feeling.

I knew I'd be spoiled by my couple of weeks with the Sony Flip 15A and Acer Aspire R7 displays. Although the Yoga's screen is big, it's not quite big enough to sit on your lap every time you work; you'll want to occasionally cradle it closer to you for detail work. Though not impossible, the weight and dimensions make this a bit more of a challenge than you'd like.

PC wonks heap praise on the Lenovo keyboard and while it's nice, I don't think it's quite all that. Keyboard travel is good, but still relatively shallow. I wish the spacebar was bigger. For some reason, Lenovo put a Function and PrintScreen key on the bottom row that eats up space and is sure to cause me to mistype. I also am no fan of the red pointing stick which seems like an absolute anachronism in this age of touch.

 "Those of you who've been holding out for a Wacom device with a larger screen... may have finally found a suitable option."

The worst part of the keyboard is the touch pad, which has a significant amount of travel. It's pretty noisy to click and doesn't lock when the Thinkpad is in tablet mode. It's not active, but still feels very strange when you depress it while it's on the back of the screen.

Getting the Yoga set up was relatively painless. The laptop ships with Windows 8.1 so it only needed a handful of updates, including a couple from Lenovo itself. There's very little crapware, so I just had to uninstall Norton Internet Security.

The Thinkpad Yoga does not ship with Wacom feel drivers pre-installed. But once they are, Photoshop CC and other Wintab-dependent programs run great. Although the Adobe interface is still small, it's far more usable with the additional screen real estate. And you can always run the UI scaling hack we published yesterday. UI scaling is not enabled by default, and you may not think it's necessary, but I like the desktop icons and text to be a bit bigger.

I also tested the old standby Manga Studio this afternoon and it also ran perfectly. Despite the extra screen size, I still appreciated being able to run the software in tablet mode where the touch targets are even easier to hit.

The display appears to have a matte screen protector that may or may not be removable. It's so snug that I assume it isn't. The surface of the screen cover interacts with the pen nibs and yields very different feedback than the Surface Pro's glass. The felt nibbed Wacom Bamboo Feel styluses that I normally prefer offer a bit too much drag. The Surface pen tip feels less plastic, but the best results I got came from the Modbook Pro pen. Its tip glides like satin as does the nib of the otherwise terrible (because it's puny) standard stylus.

I tested for the "black hole" digitizer bug that many early European buyers reported and it does not seem to exist in my unit. Likewise, I didn't notice any latency or burn-in that several users are now saying plagues their displays. Some Thinkpads use LG panels which also created issues for recent Apple MacBooks.

As always, the true nature of the Thinkpad Yoga's strengths and weaknesses won't emerge until I've spent many more hours with the pc. But for the moment, it appears that those of you who've been holding out for a Wacom device with a larger screen (and don't mind paying a premium for it) may have finally found a suitable option.

Do you have any specific questions or software you'd like me to test? Please let me know in the comments section below.

The Lenovo packaging is a very utilitarian affair. Despite traveling all the way from China, there's no double boxing.

The Lenovo packaging is a very utilitarian affair. Despite traveling all the way from China, there's no double boxing.

The contents are also very basic: the Thinkpad Yoga, a power cord and power supply and a one sheet set of instruction. Period.

Except for its stylus, you could easily mistake the Thinkpad Yoga for any business-oriented Windows laptop. The included pen is too small and thin to be your everyday drawing instrument, but the nib feels very smooth on the display's screen protector. By contrast, the Wacom Feel pens offered too much resistance on the display. The ModBook Pro pen's nib came closest to providing the same silky feedback as the Lenovo stylus (go figure).

In tablet mode, the keyboard's backplate rises, disabling and effectively "lowering" the keys. You can ignore the slightly ridged texture of the keys as you're holding it in tablet mode, but real distracting element is the touchpad, which is very springy and easy to click. It doesn't do anything, but it would be nice for it to be locked while flush. 

This image doesn't do the display justice. Color is even and picture sharpness is very good. The display appears to have a screen protector which makes it significantly less reflective than the Surface Pro and other Windows 8 devices I've tested. I'm unsure whether this film can be removed from the display. You can see in this picture that the device has a small yellow tab toward the upper right corner that I might use to peel off the screen protector, but it also may be a small manufacturing defect. If anyone knows, please let me know; otherwise I'm not going to mess with it because I actually prefer the more matte finish.

Despite its larger display, the Thinkpad Yoga is remarkably thin: just barely thicker than the Surface Pro 2 with Type Cover (right).

Most artists will appreciate the extra two inches of the 12.5-inch Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga display vs. the Surface Pro's 10.6.

Although the active display is just shy of 11-inches tall in portrait mode, it's only 6.1 inches wide. A standard American comic like this page from Dynamite's Red Sonja #1 has to be reduced to fit horizontally, leaving two .8 inch black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. I'm still pining for the perfect 8.5 x 11 display where my comics and magazines wouldn't have to be reduced at all. 

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MobileTechReview's Lisa Gade is back with a second Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga video review. Here's a link to her earlier look at the device.

This time, she specifically covers the performance of the pen and active digitizer, which looks very good. Are you sold?

I've seen a lot of mention of Wacom edge tracking issues recently and Lisa addresses the issue by drawing an edge all the way around the screen.  But except in those cases where the tracking is so bad that you can't access the file menu or other items in the interface, I believe the importance is somewhat overblown. Since the canvas is not fixed in any graphics application, it's a simple matter to slide a problem corner or other hard to reach spot into the center of the screen if necessary to paint into it.

I also rarely draw or work in a 1:1, menu-free set-up like she appears to be doing with Fresh Paint below. Do you?

Let me know if I'm out to lunch in the comments section below.

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Our favorite tech video reviewer Lisa Gade of MobileTechReview is back with an exhaustive look at the long-awaited Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga. Unfortunately, the version supplied by Lenovo did not include the Wacom digitizer and pen we're all waiting to test.

Perhaps this is due to the digitizer black hole error we reported last week?

Lisa Gade reviews the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga. This is Lenovo's business oriented Yoga with a 360 degree hinge and a 12.5" IPS display with 400 nits brightness. It's available with 10 point multi-touch or with both touch and a Wacom active digitizer and pen.

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I was contacted yesterday by Peter DeBiase, a new reader of this blog and a member of the Notebook Review forums.

Peter linked me to this thread where European purchasers of the Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga are complaining about a defect in the digitizer that they've come to call "the Black Hole."

The problem was first reported by simon_at_mso, who documented the issue with the image below. (It's never occurred to me to use a straight edge on top of a tablet, but I may adopt this technique for future testing). 

The pinching visible toward the upper right corner has been verified by several other users. 

Most readers have speculated that this is a hardware issue caused by interference with other pc components, But as Pete wrote:

"The funny thing is, if you check out the online ThinkPad Yoga Service Manual and head to FRU Videos > FRU Service: LCD Panel, you can see that there don't appear to be any components behind the affected area in the upper right quadrant of the screen. This indicates to me that the problem must be internal to the LCD panel - either an unshielded component within it causing an errant EM field, or perhaps a defective digitizer layer."

The concern about hardware defects may be misplaced, as this morning, the following official response from Lenovo was published:

All,

We have been investigating this and so far it looks like this is an issue related to the firmware level on some of the digitizers in systems built prior to mid November. Manufacturing has already been updated and new production units are not be affected.

I think we will have more information shortly.

I am hopeful that we will be able to provide a downloadable firmware update as we have with some other systems like helix, twist, and carbon touch to provide fixes and improvements to the digitizer. 

I appreciate your patience.

Best regards, 
Mark

So hopefully this software fix will correct this otherwise major flaw. The machine I had been counting on reviewing next week has now been delayed until December 8, which means I won't have it before mid-December. You can rest assured that the Black Hole will be the first thing I investigate.

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