(Pocket-lint) - The Lenovo Yoga Book is the keyless laptop from the future, albeit available in the here and now. It's one of those rare products that's not just different for the sake of it, but truly innovative in its thinking, by combining a two-in-one light-up keypad and pressure-sensitive writing surface with Real Pen stylus and touchscreen input.
We've had a love-hate relationship with this 10.1-inch notebook laptop since its unveiling. And we suspect that many others will feel exactly the same. Thinking innovatively is one thing – pulling it off is another altogether. And the Yoga Book more than runs the risk of coming across as overly complex for many.
We've been using the Yoga Book for a full week to try and befriend its unusual ways. The learning curve will be steep for many traditionalists, us included, yet for some its support of multiple input types will be a revelation. So how does it stack up?
Lenovo Yoga Book review: What is it?
- 10.1-inch notebook design, 256.6mm (W) x 9.6mm (D) x 170.8mm (H), 690g
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS LED-backlit LCD touch display, 400-nits
First, a little more explanation, as to grasp all that the Yoga Book can do in one go is a task in itself.
The Yoga Book has a keyboard without physical keys, called the Halo Keyboard. Its illuminated keys give off a subtle vibration when pressed, to act as haptic feedback and deliver a more focused typing experience than you might expect. It's not a case of crossing your toes and hoping fingers land in the right place when tapping away.
The Halo Keyboard also learns your hand positioning over time to compensate for mistakes – although we can't tell if we've simply got used to the unusual nature over the last week or whether the Book has been the reason for our typing accuracy improvement. With the TouchPal keyboard selected there's auto prediction, correction and even touch-on-screen options for a mix of traditional and phone-like automation when typing.
The Yoga Book also comes with a physical stylus – called the Real Pen – that can be used for handwriting or drawing directly onto the would-be Halo Keyboard panel. As the press of a button deactivates the key input, it provides a blank input slate with 2,048 levels of pressure, otherwise known as the EMR writing surface. In a sense it's like a Wacom tablet.
It goes a step beyond this, however, by offering a trace-like mode where you can use real pen nibs in the Real Pen on real paper (hence the name), with the Yoga Book recording this input verbatim. If you prefer pen-on-paper notes, or simply want a digital backup the this is a great and unique input method. Shame the stylus requires a physical nib change for this though – having digital on one side and ink on the other would have been more logical.
As we said before: the Yoga Book is like notebook meets laptop, meets tablet, meets the future.
Lenovo Yoga Book review: Typing experience
- Halo Keyboard has no physical keys, provides haptic feedback
It's also incredibly hard to use. Just writing "it's" at the beginning of the sentence took three minutes because the device became obsessed with a capital S for no particular reason within Word on OneDrive. This is a repeat bug that we've found with the TouchPal keyboard input. Be prepared to swear from time to time.
The learning curve is also sufficiently steep that many people won't want to persevere. Younger or more open-minded folks will potentially love its versatility though. Within a week it's made us start to expect predictive correction on any device – and we keep trying to touch our MacBook Pro's non-touch screen as a result. Oops.
We can't help but wish the keyboard layout was slightly different. The backspace to the top right is huge – because Lenovo knows people are going to be using it more than normal – but it's still not wide enough. We keep hitting the equals symbol next to it instead. The first character press can often be missed too. Which is infuriating on both counts.
That said, the typing experience really isn't too bad. It's possible to type at relative pace, assuming you're OK with auto-correct assisting in our view. It's not as fast as a traditional keyboard, but once you're used to it, it ingrains in the brain. And it's a wholly compelling concept – people have looked at us on London Underground like we're flying a spaceship rather than typing on a laptop.
Lenovo Yoga Book review: Real Pen stylus and pen input
- Real Pen stylus included, with digital and real ink-on-paper pen tips
- Keyboard can be switched to EMR writing surface for use with stylus
- Ink-on-paper input can be duplicated into device
A key component that makes the Yoga Book so different from anything else out there is its Real Pen accessory, which is a bit like it sounds: it can accept real ball-point pen nibs, or these can be popped out and replaced with the stylus-like nib.
Why would you want a real pen for a laptop, you probably wonder? Because the Yoga Book can detect real handwriting on paper placed above its surface and transform this into on-screen notes. There's a pad included in the box, with magnetic clips so it sits flush against the EMR writing surface, but there's nothing special about this paper: you can use any paper.
Or ditch the paper and, with the press of the button to the top right of the keyboard, the illuminated keys vanish, ready for you to scrawl away with the stylus tip for input. It's an unprecedented concept that will suit different users in different ways. If you're not a stylus kind of person then, like with the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, you may not care for this type of input.
It's all down to personal preference - and while we've not found the desire to want or use it much, we've seen artists creating impressive drawings with immaculate levels of detail and pressure control using the Yoga Book. Indeed, for some, this may be the only way to use it.
Lenovo Yoga Book review: OS and trackpad differences
- Android (£449) or Windows (£549) operating system options
- Intel Atom x5-Z8550 Processor (quad core, up to 2.40GHz), 4GB RAM
The Yoga Book comes in two flavours: Android (£449) or Windows (£549). We've used both devices, with the Android version the one we have in for review. The Windows option might be the more natural choice, as the Yoga Book never quite feels like an Android tablet thanks to all its bells and whistles inputs.
The only external difference between the two are the trackpad markings: Android goes with a five-dot mapped one; Windows is divided to represent left and right clicks. Using a trackpad with Android feels alien, nor is it especially responsive given the surface coating. But with a combination of touchscreen and Android-based apps this isn't a killer problem.
Neither Yoga Book option is especially powerful, however, with an Intel Atom x64 processor at its heart – which is one of the device's more apparent shortcomings. Equivalent tablets offer more power, albeit less innovation. Not that this device is exactly designed for hardcore use: it's ideal for notes, browsing and similar. This isn't a mini gaming device by any means.
With Android running version 6.0, Lenovo had added some mods to help handle this kind of form factor. Principal is the addition of a task bar to assist with switching between current open apps. It's made us use the machine a lot like we would a Windows device, by Shift+Tab jumping between apps, for example. In a way this adds to the confusion of an Android based device with a full-on keyboard.
Lenovo Yoga Book review: Battery life
- 8,500mAh rechargeable battery
- microUSB charging, approximately 10-hours life per charge
The bigger issue that we've had is with some of the outdated hardware. The microUSB port is slow to recharge or transfer data, for example, and we can't help wonder where the USB-C port is. After all, there's certainly no room for a full-size USB port in such a thin product – the Yoga Book is just 9.6mm thick when folded shut. Its 690g weight is ultra light too.
This microUSB port has proven problematic though. Charging is painfully slow, especially compared to modern day phones. A 2A battery pack was unable to replenish the battery quicker than it depleted. Plugged into a mains USB, with the provided charging cable, and a full recharge would take 20 hours. Yes, twenty frickin' hours. This could all be easily improved with updated technology. It's quite the sticking point.
Still, a single charge can last for ages, at around 10-hours (not the claimed to be 13-hours in our experience). Standby is also exceptionally long-lasting as you would expect from Android – potentially for days with no in-between use.
Lenovo Yoga Book review: Competition to consider
Ok, so the Yoga Book is unlike anything else. But if its first form can't catch your attention quite enough, then how about these alternatives instead.
- from £499 (Apple Pencil £99 extra; Apple Smart Keyboard £129)
In the iPad Pro 9.7 Apple has created a tablet powerful enough to act as a laptop replacement. It might not have the snazzy Halo Keyboard, and the Pencil and Smart Keyboard cost extra, but as powerful tablets go this is will act as a laptop-replacement for many.
- from £419 (Type Cover keyboard £109, Surface Pen £45)
If you don't want to splash out on the newer, speedier (and much more expensive) Surface Pro 4, then the older Surface 3 offers plenty for the money. You'll need to pay extra for the physical keyboard and stylus, but if Windows is your thing and you want portable then this is one mighty fine choice that won't break the bank.
- from £749
Now bear with us here, as the Huawei MateBook - while not exceptional when it comes to battery life and more expensive than the Lenovo - is an ultra-slim (6.9mm) tablet that looks simply stunning. So if business and style are what you're all about then this could be a decent alternative.
It's rare that a product could be called revolutionary in its thinking, but that's certainly an accolade that could be awarded to the Lenovo Yoga Book.
However, while the Yoga Book is one of the most exciting tech products we've seen in some time, it’s also convoluted. Many of its potential benefits won’t be seen as positives by many – even if they do represent an imaginative future – as ditching a traditional keyboard is a bold step into the unknown for many.
For all its promise and different thinking, it’s the simpler things that really let the Yoga Book down. Its limited power, some typing bugs, and simply awful recharging speed are significant marks in making this device practical for everyday use.
The Lenovo Yoga Book is available to buy now in its £549 Windows variant from the Lenovo shop. The £449 Android variant is listed as "coming soon" in the UK.