Review: A tale of three Lenovo Laptops - X1 Carbon Touch, ThinkPad Yoga, IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro
I'm a big Lenovo fan and have used Thinkpads nearly exclusively since my first T60p. I'm using an first-gen X1 Carbon Touch as my main on the go machine these days. I've also tried using a Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro but had a little trouble with its extremely high-dpi display, although the build quality of the hardware is amazing.
I'm also trying out a loaner of a ThinkPad Yoga. What's the difference between the ThinkPad Yoga and the regular Yoga or Yoga 2 Pro? I think of the ThinkPad line, and this Yoga, as a business laptop. It has a TPM which is essential for Bitlocker encryption and VPN/DirectAccess without a Smartcard. Both very similar specs otherwise aside from the Yoga 2 Pro's super-high-res 3200x1800 screen.
Battery life on all these is reasonable, but not truly all-day long epic. You can get 6 hours on any of them, you just need to be thoughtful about what you are doing. Turn down brightness, use power plans smartly, and you're cool.
Frankly, the battery life Haswell brought us hasn't been as life-changing as has been the "RapidCharge" feature on the X1 Carbon Touch. A 30 min layover at an airport can get me almost 80% of my battery back. THAT is a feature that has changed how I work.
Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga
Yoga means the laptop is also a convertible and bends into a tent or a tablet. This is the consumer Yoga. My Mom and my wife both chose and use this model, coincidentally.
- The ThinkPad Yoga has your choice of processor from a 4th Gen Intel i3 up to a to an i7-4600U at 3.3GHz.
- You can get the rather low-res touch-enabled 1366x768 screen or the near-deal touch and pen (with a pen you can store in the device!) 1920x1080 screen. Get the 1080p one, I say.
- This one uses mini-HDMI for its video out.
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro
The Yoga 2 Pro has more options to build out but does top out on the processor side earlier.
- The Yoga 2 Pro can also clock to up to an i7-4500U at 1.8Ghz.
- Update: the clock speed for the 4500U is 1.8 and it's Max Turbo Frequency is 3.0.
- It has a fantastic 13.3" QHD+ 32001800 screen.
- Micro HDMI video output.
- This was and remains the one totally unacceptable spec for me. As I present a lot, this connector is useless. It's too small, too weak, too unreliable, and too wonky. It only took three presentations before it broke. I don't blame Lenovo, I blame the connector and its spec. If you aren't going to use video out, don't sweat it at all. But if you are presenting daily, NEVER buy a laptop with micro HDMI. It will let you down.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch
I own and love the first generation X1. I'd really like to get my hands on the new one and its controversial keyboard and compare the two.
The X1 isn't a Yoga and while it does bend to flat and it does have a great touch-screen, it is NOT a tablet.
- The X1 has goes from 4th Gen Intel i3 up to a to an i7-4600U at 2.1GHz.
- Update: the clock speed for the 4600U is 2.1 and it's Max Turbo Frequency is 3.3.
- Mine has a 1600x900 screen but you can now get up to QHD 2560x1440. This isn't as high as the Yoga 2 but when setting Windows at 150% it works nicely. If you have decent eyes you can avoid any high-dpi issues and just run at 100%.
- The Mini DP Connector is great. I've never had an issue connecting to a projector with this laptop.
Things you need to consider if you travel
We can talk specs all day and you can dig into them if you like. Needless to say, they are fast, they have SSDs and you can get up to 8gig of RAM. Here's some things you may not have thought about when looking at an Ultrabook.
These are all small and all around 3lbs. The Yoga 2 Pro is the sleekest and the most outwardly attractive. The X1 is a close second with its tapered nose. The ThinkPad Yoga is boxy and reliable looking.
- What kind of Video Output does it have?
- You won't get full-sized VGA on 90% of Ultrabooks. It'll be either HDMI, Micro-HDMI (a nightmare), or MiniDP (Mini Display Port.) When in doubt, go MiniDP all the way.
- USB3 vs. USB2
- Most Ultrabooks have one USB3 connector and one that's USB2. The USB3 one is almost always blue, that's how you can tell. Think about what your requirements are what if you'll need a nice USB adapter. I recommend combination USB3 hubs with included Ethernet. I own one and love it.
- Will you dock your laptop a lot?
- If so, consider the new OneLink Pro dock from Lenovo. It's in the ThinkPad line of laptops, so that's the ThinkPad Yoga or the 2nd Gen X1 Carbon Touch. That means one connector gets you power, USB along with 6 (!) ports, 4 of which are USB3. You'll also get DisplayPort up to 2560x1600 and a DVI-I connector.
- I own the original USB3 dock which uses USB3 and DisplayLink technology to run up to two additional monitors. The video is compressed and you have to plug in both a USB3 connector and the power. It works, and I'm happy with it, but OneLink is a clear improvement.
I have always loved ThinkPad keyboards. The W520 workhorse has the best laptop keyboard ever, to this day, IMHO. The first generation X1 Carbon Touch is a close second.
The ThinkPad Yoga's keyboard is good, but a few changes like the removal of the insert button from the top row as well as the de-emphasis of the function keys did slow me down for a few days.
The Yoga also changes the TrackPad a little by making in larger, clickier, and removes the physical buttons for folks who like "The Nub" for their mousing. Note that the buttons are still there, they are just integrated into the top of the TrackPad so your muscle memory doesn't need to change.
The Yoga 2 Pro keyboard keys don't have the subtle concave shape that the ThinkPad line is known for. The keyboard is nearly flat. It also seemed to show hand grease a little more, although clearly a cloth solves that problem quickly. As a fast touch-typist I'm a little slower on this keyboard but it's certainly reasonable and only took me a few days to adapt. I do prefer the X1, though.
I just love 1080p on a 13.3" screen. It's just large enough that it feels roomy but not so big that it's squinty. This collection of three laptops straddles that ideal, though. My wife doesn't see the difference and works on the 768 or 900 machines with no complaint. My wife has a retina one and doesn't appreciate it (or notice its screen). I prefer 1080 or 1800 if I'm doing multiple window website debugging. At 1800p the pixels just disappear.
My Wish List for the Ultimate Lenovo Ultrabook
This is simple.
- Micro-HDMI is a failed connector. The industry needs to accept this and stop using it.
- There is only full-sized HDMI or ideally, MiniDP. Mini Display Port, in my experience, always works and works well. Adapters are many and plentiful and I always feel comfortable going to a conference with a MiniDP laptop as I know they can handle it.
- I want more RAM. Always. Give me a 12 gig Ultrabook, please, Lenovo. That said, these machines have happily run VS, Outlook and two Virtual Machines without complaint.
- Anything over 1080p at 13"+ is the sweet spot resolution for me. Retina is nice but Windows 8.1 isn't quite there yet on the desktop. Soon I hope.
- A 256 gig SSD is the ideal size for me. 128 is a little cramped for a developer.
- #MOARYOGA - The whole Yoga hinge is brilliant.
Give me an X1 Yoga with the fastest i7, 256G SSD, a Mini DP connector, and a screen that is anything over 1080p and we're cool. You can...
Today, I'm happy using the X1 Carbon Touch until I see the new X1. But I really recommend any of these devices if the tech specs and connectors meet your requirements.
- Initial Impressions - Intel Haswell 4th Generation Developer Prototype Ultrabook
- My next PC will be an Ultrabook
- Initial Impressions of the 3rd Generation Ivy Bridge Intel Ultrabook Reference Hardware for Developers on Windows 8
- A month with an Intel Haswell prototype
- Review: The Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch is my new laptop
Sponsor: Big thanks to ComponentOne, a division of GrapeCity, for sponsoring the blog this week. Their widely popular .NET control suite, Studio Enterprise contains hundreds of data and UI controls such as grids, charts and reports that offer the functionality, features and support you need for current and future application development. Download your trial today!