(Pocket-lint) - The Lenovo Yoga 9i Shadow Black is the most ambitious laptop in Lenovo's line-up. It's full of tech and ideas you don't see everywhere. How about the micro soundbar in the hinge? The real leather lid? The haptic touchpad? The little stylus that slots into the back, always there when you need it?

There's a lot going on that certainly reads well. But as we've found: not every attempt at innovation works. Why? The Lenovo Yoga 9i's haptic touchpad is a misfire and leaves you feeling disconnected, while the keyboard is shallow.

Which is a bit of a disappointment when the step-down Yoga 7 was one of favourite laptops. Sure, the Yoga 9i beats that in several ways in terms of spec, but we don't think it - and we're specifically talking about the Shadow Black model here - quite hits the bullseye as an everyday work tool.

Design

  • Dimensions: 211 x 318 x 16.4mm / Weight: 1.44kg
  • Shadow Black leather lid

The Lenovo Yoga 9i is a hybrid laptop with a 360-degree hinge, available in 14-inch and 15-inch variants. Lenovo sent us the smaller model, but in a very specific high-end spec - that's where the Shadow Black aspect comes in.

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Usually this might mean it has more RAM, more storage and a better CPU. But here it also means a leather lid rather than a textured hard plastic surface. It's not one of the rather convincing synthetic leathers - the kind used on most headphone pads - it's actual leather.

It's the kind of design flex you might seen on a luxury brand tie-in that would likely be even more expensive. And, we must say, it's rather nice.

Will it age like a fine leather jacket? Probably not. The leather will have been thinned down to suit. It's a veneer, so a nasty scrape may not end well. But if you're spending this much on the Lenovo Yoga 9i, you're going to treat it well, right?

This also means the Lenovo Yoga 9i is a rare thing: a laptop not suitable for vegans. But a metal lid version is available too. 

Almost all other parts of the laptop are metal or glass, and build quality is superb, just like that of most other high-end Lenovo laptops. There's virtually zero wobble to the 360-degree hinge, and the same applies to the keyboard. 

Lenovo hasn't just kept the flashy stuff for the lid either. The 9i has a glass touchpad, but it sits in a huge pane of glass that extends from one side of the laptop to the other, from its bottom right all the way up to the keyboard. 

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Why? No idea. Glass picks up finger grease smudges more readily than aluminium or magnesium alloys and we're not convinced it looks better than the far more traditional metal surround of the Yoga 7. But Lenovo wants the Yoga 9i to look different to a standard laptop.

In typical Lenovo fashion, though, build has been prioritised over weight. The Lenovo Yoga 9i weighs 1.44kg. We consider that perfectly fine for a portable computer, particularly one with a 360-degree hinge, but it is far from the lightest around. The Acer Swift 5 is sub-1kg, for example.

Screen

  • 14.0-inch 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) IPS LCD screen
  • 90% DCI-P3 (98% measured), 100% sRGB
  • 500nits maximum brightness
  • Glossy glass finish

The Lenovo Yoga 9i has a screen to match its high price, in a whole bunch of important respects. First, it's of 4K resolution. This is a widescreen display, not the 3:2 kind that maxes out space per inch of width. But it's a good fit for viewing media.

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Colour is extremely rich, capable of more-or-less matching the DCI-P3 gamut, which is the standard used by Hollywood. Calibration is excellent, too, so you don't end up with a laptop screen that looks cartoonishly saturated. 

Contrast is great for an LCD screen and max brightness is also very good. You need high brightness for outdoors use, but Lenovo goes a step further, adding a reflection-reducing coating to make the backlight more effective when coping with a lot of ambient light. 

This is a truly A-grade screen, and it's far more flexible than most. First, there's its literal flexibility. The hinge lets you hold it at any angle - which is handy if you want to prop it up like a mini TV without having to contend with the space taken up by the keyboard. 

You get a stylus too. This slots into the back, a bit like the S-Pen of a Galaxy Note phone. As such, it's smaller than most laptop styluses, but still has the core tech you want for graphics tablet-like jobs.  

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The pen offers 4,096 pressure levels, using Wacom tech. And, as you'd hope, it glides smoothly across the glass of the display. This makes the laptop a solid choice if you work on a graphics tablet and want a laptop that lets you do similar work when on-the-go. 

Keyboard & Touchpad

  • Embdedded ultrasonic finger scanner
  • Haptic "Clickpad" touchpad
  • Backlit keyboard

We're not as convinced by the Lenovo Yoga 9i as a laptop for rather more dull work though: composing emails, calculating your tax return, and writing reviews of laptops. The touchpad and keyboard are far from the best Lenovo makes. 

The keyboard is shallow and leans towards the "clicky", the polar opposite of what you get from a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop. Plenty will be perfectly happy with it, but as people who spend all day typing we prefer a meatier feel with greater key travel. Feedback here is just below average. 

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The touchpad is more likely to universally disappoint, though, because it uses a haptic motor rather than a touchpad that actually moves onto a mechanical "clicker". These are quite trendy at the moment. Apple makes a brilliant haptic touchpad. Huawei had a decent (if slightly light) stab at one. But we don't think the Lenovo Yoga 9i's is very good. 

Its click does not feel rooted to your finger, like a creaking noise from the walls of your house - the source of which you can never quite pin down. The feel of the thing is leaden. It's not the quick and well-defined pad you expect at this kind of price point.

Some of this issue is likely down to Lenovo's decision to use a great big pane of glass, which will naturally cause some of the force of the "click" to spread across the entire panel. 

Sound

  • Dolby Atmos hinge soundbar

Not every attempt to show off works in the Lenovo Yoga 9i, then. But it does have a better-than-average speakers. 

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See that grille in the hinge? That's a little soundbar, making up part of the speaker system. Tweeters live in this part, to offer the clearest stereo image, as higher-frequency sound is more positional than the bassy stuff. 

Additional drivers inside the base add the low frequency audio. It's loud and full, and the treble is unusually clear. Is it as powerful as the alarmingly good MacBook Pro 16? No, but it beats most Windows laptops in its class. 

Performance

  • 11th Gen Intel Core i7-1185G7 processor
  • 16GB RAM (LPDDR4x at 4266MHz)
  • Intel Xe graphics
  • 512GB M.2 SSD 

The Lenovo Yoga 9i is also an Evo laptop. This is an Intel quality seal that comes with 11th Gen processor systems, and guarantees you get nine hours of battery life, Wi-Fi 6, Thunderbolt 4, and an Intel X-series graphics chipset. 

This last one marks the biggest change in how you might approach thin and light laptops. The Lenovo Yoga 9i has the Intel Core i7-1165g7 processor, which has Intel Xe graphics. This integrated chipset is miles better than the GPUs of previous-gen Intel, and lets you play some pretty challenging stuff. 

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You can play Skyrim at 1080p, using Ultra graphics, and get comfortable 30fps+ rates. Subnautica runs fairly nicely at Medium graphics. The Witcher 3 runs reasonably at 1080p, or with more visual bells and whistles turned on if you're willing to drop the resolution. And the newer Kingdom Come Deliverance mostly sticks above 30fps if you use Low graphics settings, and the dynamic resolution mode that swaps between 900p and 1080p resolution based on headroom. 

Sure, it's no Xbox Series X, but the Lenovo Yoga 9i and the many other style laptop lines updated with Intel Xe graphics are ready for some fun. 

This particular Lenovo is well suited to some of the more demanding productivity apps too. It has 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD, and the bump up from 8GB RAM acts as grease to keep data-hungry apps working nicely. 

Sure, Apple's M1 MacBooks are more powerful still, but not everyone wants a Mac. And a Lenovo Yoga 9i doesn't make you deal with the compatibility issues of a switch from one system architecture to a completely different one, which is what's going on in Apple's latest MacBooks.  

You can do pretty much everything with a Lenovo Yoga 9i, much as video editing will feel better on a giant desktop with 950 processor cores. 

Battery & Connections

  • 2x Thunderbolt 4.0 connectors, 1x USB-A
  • 60Wh battery (10 hours)
  • 65W charger, USB-C

The Lenovo Yoga 9i has a 60Wh battery that Lenovo claims lasts up to 17 hours. However, that only applies to the 1080p display version, not the 4K monster we have here. 

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That change in resolution sees the claim drop from 17 hours to 10. If you need proof of why a display upgrade isn't always an upgrade all-round, here it is. 

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We set the Lenovo Yoga 9i to stream a YouTube video with a full battery, set to the sort of brightness you might use indoors. It lasted eight hours and 43 minutes - which is a little under the Evo badge claim of nine hours. But only just.  

This reaches what we look for as a minimum for a slim laptop. However, it's not even close to the 16 hours 40 minutes we saw from the Lenovo Yoga 7 Slim. Given the 1080p version is likely to get much nearer to this sort of dream stamina, you should seriously consider how much you need the 4K screen, even if it is better in other respects like colour and brightness too. 

All versions of the Yoga 9i also net you the same ports. There are two Thunderbolt 4.0 USB-C connectors, and a full-size USB so you won't need to use a cable adapter so often. A headphone jack is here too, but there's no memory card slot or HDMI output. 

Verdict

This Lenovo Yoga 9i puts us in the unusual position of asking you to seriously consider one of the cheaper alternatives from the same company. 

The Shadow Black Lenovo Yoga 9i has some interesting ideas, like a haptic touchpad and a slot-in stylus. But the touchpad just doesn't feel great and this high-end model's 4K screen makes the battery life drop from amazing to merely acceptable - just about in line with Intel's Evo minimum expectations.

Creative types might be able to shrug these off, consider them outweighed by the lovely display colour, the quick-stowed stylus, and the amount of power squeezed into a portable laptop such as this. But we think there's a better version of this particular concept in Lenovo's future, particularly if it does away with this touchpad. 

Also consider

Lenovo Yoga Slim 7

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Lenovo's step-down series, the Yoga Slim 7, is quite incredible. Sure, it's not quite as flash as the 9i and doesn't have a 360-degree hinge, but performance is great, battery life is amazing (AMD Ryzen model tested) and we like how it looks and feels too. 

HP Spectre X360

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It looks a bit more "out there" thanks to the Spectre series's angular style, but it actually feels more familiar in use. The keyboard has fairly deep keys, the touchpad a standard clicker. There are 13in and 14in versions. Buy the smaller one and you can even get a 4K OLED screen, if display quality is your top priority. 

Writing by Andrew Williams. Editing by Mike Lowe.