(Pocket-lint) - The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga is the convertible version of nerdiest (or at least most business-like) ultra-portable laptop around.
It's all-black, has a nipple mouse in the middle of its keyboard that most of us haven't used since the 90s, and rejects almost every convention that Apple's MacBooks try to make trendy. Those after a Starbucks status symbol probably don't want a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga.
However, it is possibly the best ultra-slim laptop in the world to work on, for one primary reason: the keyboard is divine; a reminder why the ThinkPad line has just a dedicated fanbase.
But like every version of the ThinkPad X1, the Yoga costs a lot. Yet next to Apple's quad-core MacBook Pro options it suddenly doesn't seem too bad...
- 360-degree hinge design
- 333 x 229 x 17mm
- Starting at 1.4 kg
ThinkPad X1s are often used by business types. Over the last few years they have been some of the most expensive laptops you can buy. But just wave that corporate card and the guys in finance will sort it out, right?
We've been big fans of the X1 range, but the price has always made the series hard to recommend to 'normal' friends. That's changing a little, though. The ThinkPad X1 Yoga is actually slightly cheaper than the MacBook Pro 13 in many configurations – and that's before you even start talking about the eye-watering Touch Bar models.
The X1 Yoga is a great design. It has a soft touch finish on every surface, but it's not just plastic underneath – it utilises layers of carbon fibre and a magnesium alloy internal structure to keep the weight low and tensile strength high. Its screen isn't quite a rigid as a MacBook's, but that's only because there isn't a sheet of aluminium running across its back.
Magnesium is often used instead of aluminium to keep weight down, but at 1.4kg the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga is similar to other high-end portables. It's not out to break any records, because build quality and resilience is a big part of the X1 series's appeal. And anyway, 1.4kg for a convertible is pretty good.
Like other Yoga models, the screen flips around and can sit at any angle, letting you prop up the screen while taking up very little space on a surface.
Keyboard and Trackpad
- Textured glass trackpad with separate buttons
- Long-travel backlit keyboard
- Nipple mouse
That said, the keyboard is the main reason to buy the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga, or any ThinkPad. This is the best keyboard we've used in a laptop in a long, long time – probably since the last X1 we reviewed. As the years pass and other companies start to follow Apple in thinning down their key action, it only makes the ThinkPad keyboard seem even better.
Tapping away at it makes you feel like Stevie Wonder sat at the piano, even if your emails are full of dodgy syntax and passive aggressive notes to the finance department, rather than musical genius.
There's more to the keyboard than just key depth too. These keys aren't heavy, or overly clicky, but the feedback is definite. Your fingers seem to sail across them effortlessly. And, aside from the louder spacebar, typing is very quiet.
The trackpad has some of the same magic. It's easy to click, there's deep feedback, and there's a certain softness to its style. The surface, the unusual quietness of the click, the feel of the depress motion: there's a certain blend of the soft and defined you don't get anywhere else.
Some of you who love the idea of this may be put off by the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga's odd parts. The rubbery nipple mouse towards the centre and the keys above the trackpad are unusual. Our advice: don't be too put off by these if they seem like throwbacks.
But they have uses. Press the button in the middle and touch the nipple and you can browse through long documents without endless dual-finger flicking. The nipple is also highly touch-sensitive: press soft and you can scroll finely; press harder and you'll flick from one end to the other in a fraction of a second. The other buttons simply double for the left and right mouse button of the trackpad.
What you don't get from the X1 is a 'pad size of a MacBook's, nor a smart-looking a keyboard backlight (it's just a standard-looking one). The fingerprint scanner to the side of the keyboard is also bog-standard: not very good, in other words.
- 14-inch WQHD IPS panel (2560 x 1440 resolution)
- 500 nits brightness, HDR with Dolby Vision
- Touchscreen controls
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga has a 14-inch screen, slightly larger than the more popular 13.3-inch size. Also note that this laptop has wider surrounds than several other notable options in this class, including the Dell XPS 13 and MacBook Pro. This means you get fewer screen inches per square inch of footprint, thus the X1 Yoga doesn't look quite as up-to-date as some.
However, you do get a good array of choices when buying. There's a Full HD (1080p) version, while a step-up gets you a 1440p LCD. And if you're willing to pay a bit more still you can get a 1440p LCD with better colour, brightness and support for Dolby Vision HDR (high dynamic range).
We had the HDR model on review, which is immediately impressive. Top brightness is searing (for a laptop anyway), contrast is excellent and colour is extremely punchy. It's so punchy, in fact, we wish there were additional modes to tame it a little. Some laptops have different calibration modes to get an sRGB (relaxed) or Adobe RGB (saturated) look, but this one doesn't.
Unlike other convertibles, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga comes with a powered stylus that, unusually, slots into the laptop's side and is recharged when you put it back in place. It instantly becomes the handiest laptop stylus around. These days, there's a part of Windows dedicated to support for styluses like this called Windows Ink. You can make notes in Sticky Notes, annotate what's on-screen and save it as an image, or just doodle in Sketchpad. There are, of course, many more serious applications that support a pressure sensitive stylus, like Adobe Photoshop.
- Intel Core i7-8550U (1.8GHz, 4GHz Turbo)
- 16GB LPDDR3 2133 MHz
- 512GB SSD OPAL2 PCIe TLC
As well as an array of screen specs, there are four different CPU options available in the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga. All are either Intel Core i5 or i7 processors, in their standard and business/vPro versions.
We're using an up-specced consumer version with a Core i7-8550U, 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD. This exact config, with the higher-end display, would cost you £1937. Yep, it's pricey. But consider a 13-inch MacBook with the same core specs costs £2399 and suddenly it doesn't sound so bad.
Lenovo also uses great SSDs in the ThinkPad X1 Yoga. The 512GB model reads at up to 3281MB/s and writes at 1872MB/s, which is five times faster than some old SSD types.
If you're upgrading from an older laptop, the shift in power of Intel's 8th Gen chipsets is what you need to notice. Until now, thin laptop CPUs had two cores. This one has four, with eight threads. You get power closer to that of a heavy laptop from a year or two ago that can't last more than 3-4 hours away from the plug.
Of course, even old dual-core laptops could handle a bit of video and image editing. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga is simply better at it than its predecessors. And until you start straining the CPU it's near silent too.
There's one thing it's no good at: gaming. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga has standard Intel UHD 620 graphics, and there's no option to add a low-bulk card like an Nvidia GeForce MX150. Can it play Fortnite? Sure, just about. Can it play Total War: Warhammer II? Not really. If you want a convertible that can handle more pressure, consider the HP Envy x360 or 15.6-inch HP Spectre x360. They're available with the GeForce MX150. It's not a true gamer's card, but is far better than the X1 Yoga's integrated chipset.
- 2x Intel Thunderbolt 3, 2x USB 3.0, 1x HDMI port
- 4-in-1 microSD card reader
There's a real mix of the new and the traditional. The two USB-C ports (one also used to charge the laptop) are Thunderbolt 3 connectors like those of a MacBook Pro. These offer ultra-high 40Gbps bandwidth to allow extremely data-hungry connections.
You also get two full-size USB ports, a full-size HDMI, a mini Ethernet port, and a headphone/mic combi jack. There's more too: a flap on the back covers a microSD slot and, in some configs, a nano SIM slot for 4G data.
Not many of us want to spend an extra £30-a-month just to get roving data, but don't forget there's a big business audience for ThinkPads. And even without 4G, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga is a killer workhorse laptop.
- Integrated Li-ion 54 Whr battery with RapidCharge technology (12hrs from 1hr charge)
- 45W or 65W Type-C power adapter
Lenovo says the X1 Yoga lasts for up to 15.4 hours between charges, which seems almost pathologically optimistic when it has a 54Wh battery. That's just a hair larger than the 52Wh of the 2018 Dell XPS 13.
Using the ThinkPad as our normal work PC, for web research and writing, it lasts much closer to nine hours. It'll get you through the day. But as is generally the case with out-of-this-world battery claims, Lenovo's own is a bit ambitious.
You should also be careful when buying one of these, as there are two chargers available. The standard 45W one takes a good few hours to recharge the cell. If you want to get the fast charging Lenovo talks about on its website, be sure to select the 65W charger. This is a, drum roll, £1.20 upgrade. But bear in mind the more powerful charger will also be larger, and may be a pain if you plan on travelling with the X1 Yoga a lot.
The Lenovo X1 Yoga is the best laptop you can buy for typing. ThinkPad laptops' reputations for quality isn't like some folks' obsession with vinyl. There's no nostaglic retro ritual element here. The keyboard is just great.
Add the comprehensive connections and high-quality screen options and you have a very compelling laptop for those who don't worship every move Apple makes.
If you won't appreciate the ThinkPad line's specific appeals, though, there are great alternatives to consider. This laptop doesn't have the smallest footprint and, while better-priced than quad-core MacBook Pros, the HP Envy x360 and Envy Spectre X360 offer more power per pound.
And the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 line? As much as it is a great design, Dell uses Y-series CPUs in its current convertibles. They are not nearly as powerful, so it's the 'normal' XPS 13 you should probably check out if you're looking for a more affordable option.
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1
At first the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 seems the obvious alternative to the X1 Yoga. The price is lower, the footprint much smaller and the Dell XPS's reputation for quality is excellent. It doesn't have two of the key appeals of the ThinkPad, though. The Dell also uses a much less powerful Y-series CPU and the keyboard is very shallow by Dell's standards, let alone a ThinkPad's.
MacBook Pro 13
To get the same level of power as the Yoga you need to buy a quad-core MacBook Pro 13. And these start at £1749. You get OS X, better display calibration and the OLED touchbar. But the typing experience is much worse, you'll need adapters to connect most peripherals and Apple's RAM and SSD upgrades cost a packet.