Why settle for a basic work notebook when you can get something more flexible? Lenovo's ThinkPad Yoga takes everything that makes the ThinkPad line the best there is for business users, and adds a folding hinge so you can use the device like a big-screen tablet. But, puzzlingly, Lenovo left out pen support, which is the primary reason I'd want a hybrid work laptop in the first place.
Still, you do get long battery life, good security and an attractive, durable design. It's not the smallest or lightest 15-inch work machine on the market, and its keyboard is a bit on the shallow side, but the ThinkPad Yoga 15 is one of the most well-rounded hybrid laptops I've tested.
Without pen support, though, I wonder if business users might be better off opting for either a traditional 15-incher like the ThinkPad W550s, or a slightly smaller pen-enabled laptop like the 14-inch ThinkPad Yoga 14.
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Despite its hybrid design, the ThinkPad Yoga 15 is just as stately – and sturdy – as Lenovo’s traditional ThinkPad laptops. The notebook's matte black shell will look right at home in a conference room, and its strong build quality makes it feel extremely tough and reliable.
At 5.07 lbs., the ThinkPad Yoga 5 is heavy, but not as heavy as some competing workstations. HP's Envy x360 15t Touch hybrid laptop weighs 5.2 lbs., while Lenovo’s non-hybrid ThinkPad W550s tips the scales at 5.47 lbs. There are definitely lighter options, though, including the Toshiba Satellite Radius P55W (4.8 lbs.)
The bottom line is that if you need a 15-inch workstation that's light enough to lug on a work trip, there are worse options than the Yoga 15.
The Yoga 15's flexible hinge is the main thing that separates it from traditional 15-inch workstations like the ThinkPad W550s. The notebook's screen can be rotated back a full 360 degrees or anywhere in between, so you can use the device in stand, tent or tablet mode. The first two modes are good for presentations in front of a small group, and all three modes are useful for accessing the touch screen in tight quarters, like on an airplane tray table.
The hinge that connects that Yoga 15's display and keyboard is more than sturdy enough to prop up any of its three alternate modes. The bigger issue is that the laptop's huge 15.5-inch frame makes switching modes feel more than a little cumbersome.
I wouldn't recommend carrying the Yoga 15 around in tablet mode, either, since it weighs five times as much as an iPad. Even in tablet mode, this machine is best used at your desk. Smaller 2-in-1s like the ThinkPad Yoga 12 or ThinkPad Yoga 14 feel more practical overall.
That's especially true since both of those machines can be purchased with active pen support. Lenovo does not currently sell the Yoga 15 with a stylus or an active pen digitizer, which makes its flexible design feel a lot less useful to me.
ThinkPads are known for their excellent keyboards, but the Yoga 15 doesn't quite live up to the best the line has to offer. That’s because its keys are a bit shallow, with just about 1.25mm of travel. The average notebook has about 1.5mm of travel, and machines like the ThinkPad T450s offer a whopping 1.9mm of travel. I prefer deeper keys because they provide a more desktop-like typing experience.
Thankfully, the Yoga 15 makes up for it by offering large, well-spaced keys that feel snappy when pressed. Those qualities make for a pretty comfortable typing experience overall, especially compared to other hybrid laptops, which are typically even shallower than the Yoga 15.
A full 10-key number pad is included just to the right of the standard QWERTY layout, which is one of the main features that separates the ThinkPad Yoga 15 from the slightly smaller Yoga 14 model. It's a big perk if number-crunching is part of your job.
Touchpad and TrackPoint
Just below the keyboard is a roomy 4 x 2.25-inch touchpad. I like the pad's smooth matte finish, which my finger glides over easily. Mousing around feels accurate, and multi-finger gestures like two-finger scrolling are responsive. The pad itself can be pressed down for left and right clicks.
The second way to control the cursor comes from the red TrackPoint pointing stick – a trademark of the ThinkPad brand – which is positioned between the G, H and B keys. It’s not for everyone, but I personally like using the pointing stick because it gives me accurate mouse control without having to move my hands from the keyboard. Dedicated buttons at the top of the pad make left, right and middle clicks easy when using the TrackPoint stick.
Ports and connectivity
You'll sacrifice some connectivity options by choosing the ThinkPad Yoga 15 over a traditional ThinkPad notebook like the W550s. The Yoga 15 includes two USB 3.0 ports and one USB 2.0 port, HDMI out, an SD card slot, and a desktop docking port so you can link the notebook to all your accessories with a single connection.
That's not a bad selection, but the W550s beats it with three USB 3.0 ports and the addition of VGA out for connecting to older monitors and projectors, a mini DisplayPort, and an Ethernet jack for connecting to wired Internet and office networks.
Most business-grade notebooks – including the majority of ThinkPads – come with a matte coating on their displays to fend off annoying glare from overhead office lights. The Yoga 15 defies that convention with a glossy 15.5-inch display. It really comes down to personal preference; matte screens have less glare, but they also tend to look duller and dimmer than their glossy counterparts.
And the Yoga 15's screen certainly isn't dim. Topping out at 299 nits of brightness, it's quite a bit brighter than the Toshiba Satellite P55W (217 nits), the HP Envy x360 15t Touch (214 nits) and the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 (180 nits). That makes it easier to use outdoors or in direct sunlight.
The display comes with a full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, which is more than adequate for a screen this size. Text looks sharp and images are crisp.
Outfitted with a 2.2-GHz Intel Core i5-5200U processor with 8GB of RAM and a 180GB solid-state drive (SSD), my ThinkPad Yoga 15 review unit proved more than capable of handling a heavy workload. Apps opened and closed quickly and multitasking was smooth, even while editing a large spreadsheet, streaming HD video on YouTube and juggling more than a dozen tabs in my Firefox Web browser.
Lenovo touts the Yoga 15's 8-hour battery life as a major selling point, and our tests found that it lasts even longer than that. The notebook ran for a whopping 8 hours and 12 minutes in our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi with the screen set to 100 nits of brightness. That's especially impressive considering that the average 15-inch workstation runs for just 5 hours and 46 minutes. Even the relatively long-lasting Toshiba Satellite Radius P55W ran for only 6 hours and 54 minutes in the same test.
Lenovo sells the ThinkPad Yoga 15 in a variety of configurations, with the entry-level model starting at $929 with a fifth-generation Intel Core i5-5200U processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and a Nvidia GeForce 840M graphics card.
The mid-tier $999 model – the one featured in this review – hits the best sweet spot for business users, though. It ups the notebook's Ram to 8GB of RAM and replaces the spinning hard drive with a much speedier 180GB SSD.
For $1,095, you can upgrade the processor to an Intel Core i705500U processor with a 256GB SSD.
Lenovo's 14-inch ThinkPad Yoga 14 hybrid laptop ($799) is just a bit smaller than the ThinkPad Yoga 15, but includes active pen support. On the other hand, it lacks a 10-key number pad and has lackluster battery life.
Lenovo's 15.5-inch ThinkPad W550s non-hybrid laptop ($1,133) has a lot in common with the ThinkPad Yoga 15. It lacks that notebook's flexible hinge and weighs almost a half-pound more, but has longer battery life, a slightly more comfortable keyboard and some additional ports.
HP's Envy x360 15t hybrid laptop ($679) is more affordable than the ThinkPad Yoga 15, but it's slower, lacks business-class durability, and lasts half as long on a charge.
Toshiba's 15.5-inch Satellite Radius P55W hybrid laptop ($849) is also less durable than the ThinkPad Yoga 15, and offers shorter battery life.
The $999 ThinkPad Yoga 15 matches almost every feature of my favorite overall 15-inch work laptop – the ThinkPad W550s -- with long battery life, good performance, a durable build and Lenovo's excellent TrackPoint pointing stick. The Yoga 15 is also a half pound lighter than that machine, and features a flexible hinge that may or may not prove useful, depending on your needs.
On the other hand, the W550s has a better keyboard and lasts nearly twice as long on a charge, so it might be a better buy if you don't really need a hybrid. And if you don't mind sacrificing some screen space and battery life for active pen support, the ThinkPad Yoga 14 is another good option.
Among 15-inch hybrids, the Yoga 15 easily wins out. Competing machines from HP and Toshiba cost less than the Yoga 15, with offen weaker performance and much shorter battery life. That makes the ThinkPad Yoga 15 feel like a standout option for business users – or anyone else in the market for a seriously well-rounded laptop.
[For more information on how we test mobile devices, visit our testing methodology page.]