Lenovo's Yoga Book is a superportable hybrid device for workers who want to digitize their handwritten notes, but I doubt it will find much appeal outside of that group. The system straddles the space between traditional Windows laptop computers and pen-equipped tablets meant for taking notes. But it includes so many trade-offs that it's neither a great laptop nor a great tablet.
I give the Yoga Book points for novelty; I've never seen anything quite like it. Plus, the superportable design makes this device easy to carry anywhere. Regardless, most people will feel hobbled by the Yoga Book's awkward touch keyboard. And because you can't write directly on the screen with the included active stylus, this machine feels like a big step backward.
What is it?
The first thing you need to understand about the Yoga Book is that you cannot write on the screen with the included pen. OK, you technically can, but the display lacks pressure sensitivity and has poor palm rejection, so writing with the pen on the screen is no better than using your fingertip.
Instead, the Yoga Book's drawing pad is located on the system's lower half, the space where you'd find the physical keyboard on traditional laptop computers. As you write on the smooth digitizer pad, your strokes appear on the Yoga Book's display.
If you've ever used a USB drawing pad, like the Bamboo or Intuos tablets sold by Wacom, then this will feel familiar, especially because the pad actually uses Wacom's pen tech. For everyone else, drawing in one spot and seeing your strokes appear in another location is going to feel really awkward. That's particularly true when there are similarly priced alternatives, like Microsoft's Surface 3 tablet, which lets you write and draw directly on the screen with full pressure sensitivity.
But the Yoga Book can do one thing that the Surface 3 can't: It can digitize traditional pen-and-paper notes. When you set a pad of paper down on top of the Yoga Book's drawing pad (and swap out the pen's stylus tip for one of the included ink pen tips), you can write and see your strokes mirrored on the display with really impressive fidelity. The idea is that you'll have both a paper copy of your notes and a digital copy, which is backed up to the cloud and fully searchable using keywords. This setup is made for workers who don't want to give up the tactile feel of pen-and-paper note taking, but also want the benefits of going digital.
It works because your strokes are actually being detected through the paper and picked up by the digitizer. That means you can't use any old ink pen; the system works only with the included Wacom pen. Since this tool uses real ink, you'll need to replace the ink cartridge periodically. There's been no word yet on the cost of replacement cartridges, though.
It's a lot like Livescribe's pen-and-paper system, which also digitally captures your handwritten notes and sends them to the cloud, where you can access them on any smartphone, tablet or computer you already own. The Yoga Book is about three times more expensive than a Livescribe pen, though. Another trade-off is that the Livescribe stylus is compatible only with special paper notepads sold by the company. The Yoga Book lets you use any notebook, napkin or scrap of paper you have lying around.
The Yoga Book's key feature is its digital drawing pad, which is powered by Wacom tech and provides 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity. That means the device captures your handwriting with near-perfect accuracy, right down to the thickness of your pen stroke.
When I sketched on a sheet of paper, my marks were re-created exactly inside OneNote on the Yoga Book's display. That my strokes were being picked up through a 70-page notepad made the feat even more impressive.
The pen itself looks and feels like a normal plastic ink pen. There are no digital buttons on the side, like you'll find on the stylus for the Surface 3. But it's not really just an ink pen; inside, it has tech that allows the Yoga Book's digitizer to detect the tool. Other ink pens are not compatible.
It's also worth noting that there's no place to stow the pen on or around the Yoga Book itself, so you'll have to store the tool separately in your workbag. If you're prone to losing pens, that could be a concern.
I also discovered that it's not easy to swap the pen's stylus tip for the ink tip. I actually had to use a pair of tweezers to yank each one out when I wanted to use the other one.
All in all, the Yoga Book's pen does what it's meant to do, and it does it well. But I have to wonder: Is there really much of an audience for a device like this? Microsoft's Surface 3 lets you write directly on the display with full pressure sensitivity. Personally, I think tablets like that offer a better, more streamlined approach to digital note taking than the Yoga Book does. If you're wedded to pen-and-paper notes, you might see things differently.
That brings us to the touch keyboard, which you can toggle on with the press of a button, activating a backlight under the surface. From there, you can use the Yoga Book like a typical laptop — well, sort of. After all, you're dealing with a flat surface here, which means you won't be able to feel your way around the keyboard by touch.
I'm of two minds about this keyboard. On one hand, if you don't plan to do a lot of typing, it's surprisingly serviceable. Haptic feedback (i.e., vibrations) does add some tactile feedback on each key press, which is nice. I had no real complaints while using the keyboard to rename a file or punch a URL into my Web browser, even if I couldn't do those things quite as easily as I could on a physical keyboard.
But the Yoga Book's keyboard fails in long-form typing, or even just hammering out the occasional email. Typing on the Yoga Book's keyboard for more than a few seconds is an exercise in extreme frustration, especially for touch typists. I'm a reasonably speedy and accurate typist, but when I try to type at my normal pace on the Yoga Book, I mistype nearly every single word — no exaggeration.
The inability to feel my way around the keyboard means that I often miss the mark when I reach for a key, and my hands tend to drift slightly off of home row after a few seconds, which leads to even more typos. And don't even think about resting your fingers on the home row keys; the touchpad picks up the lightest strokes, so even a gentle graze of your fingertips results in a word jumble.
That leads to another issue: Because you can't rest your hands on home row, you have to keep your wrists bent at a slight upward angle, so your hands hover over the keys. Midway through typing this review, my wrists felt strained.
My accuracy improved when I stopped trying to type fast and resorted to a slow, deliberate pace, especially if I trained my eyes on the keyboard to keep my hands properly aligned. But even while staring at the keyboard, it's far too easy to graze the wrong key. And since you're not looking at the screen, you won't notice when you make such a mistake. You may be used to your smartphone autocorrecting your typos away, but Windows 10 lacks that functionality altogether.
Even when I typed at roughly one-third my typical speed, while being extremely careful, most sentences came out with at least one typo. That's likely due to the other big issue with the Yoga Book's keyboard: Because this machine is a compact, 10-inch system, the keyboard is smaller than a standard keyboard, which makes it feel cramped and throws off my muscle memory.
One last complaint in a long list of them: The Yoga Book frequently failed to register keys when I accidentally touched them with my fingernail instead of the fleshy part of my fingertip. It happened constantly, especially with the keys in the lower half of the QWERTY layout, and even though I keep my nails clipped short. While I typed up this review on the Yoga Book's keyboard, each omitted "c" and "d" left me more aggravated than the last. Even after I got three days of practice, this issue never improved.
Design & Portability
Despite all its shortcomings, the Yoga Book has one huge strength: The system is ridiculously portable. At 1.5 lbs. and 10.1 x 6.7 x 0.38 inches, it's simply the smallest and lightest 11-inch "laptop" I've ever seen. Other small notebooks, like the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 (2.8 lbs., 11.5 x 8 x 0.82 inches) and Surface 3 (1.95 lbs., 10.6 x 7.4 x 0.53 inches), feel bulky in comparison. You'll never have an issue finding room in your crowded workbag or purse for the Yoga Book.
It looks and feels great, too. The magnesium-aluminum lid has a nice matte-black finish that doesn't pick up fingerprints. The system feels really sturdy, without the slightest hint of flex in the lid or lower deck of the device.
Meanwhile, the stylish metal hinge is distinctive and lets you fold the Yoga Book's display back a full 360 degrees, which lets you use the system like a tablet. And unlike other 2-in-1s, the Yoga Book is actually thin and light enough to carry around like an iPad.
With such a svelte profile, the Yoga Book has room for only a few ports. That includes a micro USB charging port, a micro HDMI port for connecting to an external monitor, and a microSD card slot to expand the system's 64GB of internal storage.
The Yoga Book's 1920 x 1200-pixel display is sharp and vibrant. When I watched the HD trailer for the Assassin's Creed movie, the orange and red hues in a glowing red sunset popped nicely.
Of course, the 10.1-inch panel can feel pretty cramped when you're attempting serious multitasking, especially with two apps open side-by-side. But that's a reasonable trade-off for a system this portable. The display is nice and bright, too, topping out at 343 nits of brightness, which is well above the 301-nit average. That makes the screen easier to read outside or in direct sunlight.
Mobile workers will love the Yoga Book's long battery life as much as they love the machine's portable design. The device ran for a really impressive 9 hours and 35 minutes, which is quite a bit longer than the 8-hour ultraportable notebook average. The Yoga Book's time also easily beats the Surface 3's showing of 8:01 on the same battery test.
The Yoga Book doesn't offer a lot of processing power, but that's hardly surprising given the machine's thin-and-light design. The device is powered by a 2.4-GHz Intel Atom x5-Z8550 processor with 4GB of RAM, which performed well enough to let me take notes, browse the Web and watch a few videos without any trouble. I definitely noticed a few moments of lag while switching between apps, though, especially during heavier bouts of multitasking.
The system racked up a decent score of 3,412 on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance. That's about in line with what we saw from the Atom x7-Z8700-powered Surface 4, which scored 3,351 on the test.
I want to love the Yoga Book. It's simply one of the most innovative and interesting devices I've reviewed in a long time. And its ultraportable design and long battery life make it an enticing option for light, on-the-go productivity.
But while highly mobile students and workers who want to digitize their handwritten notes might like the Yoga Book, it's hard for me to recommend the system to anyone else. A traditional pen-equipped tablet like the Surface 3 is a better bet for digital note takers, since it lets you write directly on the screen. And anyone who plans to type for more than a few seconds at a time shouldn't even consider the Yoga Book; its touch-screen keyboard is nifty, but inaccurate and uncomfortable in practice.
If Lenovo lets you draw directly on the screen in a future version of the Yoga Book, then I might be more inclined to recommend this machine. For now, it's a niche device that most workers won't have much use for.