Workers who want to digitize their handwritten notes should take a look at Lenovo’s Yoga Book, a nifty 2-in-1 device with a Wacom pen digitizer built into its base. In fact, the Android-powered Yoga Book is the single best tool for that task I’ve seen, bar none. If you’re not particularly interested in digitizing your handwritten notes, though, this jack-of-all-trades devices – which borrows elements from regular laptop computers, Android tablets and desktop drawing pads – isn’t likely to have much appeal.
There’s no denying that the Yoga Book (which starts at $499) is unique, not to mention really cool. And commuters are sure to appreciate its slim and light design. But I doubt many people will warm up to its awkward touch keyboard, and the fact that you can’t write directly on the screen with the included stylus is a shame. Still, its unique ability to capture your pen-and-paper notes (even with the screen off!) makes this extremely niche device worth a look.
What is it?
There are so many ways to use the Yoga Book that it’s kind of hard to explain what it is, so let’s lay some sound groundwork first. It’s essentially a 10-inch, 2-in-1 laptop with a 180-degree foldable hinge. But instead of a physical keyboard, it sports a light-up touch keyboard. Oh, and the base is also a drawing pad when you turn the keyboard off, which lets you write and sketch with the included pen.
Since I see the Yoga Book’s note-taking functionality as its biggest selling point, it’s important to note that you can’t write directly on the Yoga Book’s screen with the stylus, like you would write on the iPad Pro or Surface Pro 4. Instead, the system’s drawing pad is positioned on its lower half, in the spot where you’d find the keyboard on a traditional laptop computer. Any strokes you make on the digitizer pad appear instantly on the Yoga Book’s screen. The setup is a throwback to the old desktop drawing tablets by Wacom, which require you to write in one spot while looking in another direction.
If you’ve never used one of those old-school drawing pads, though, I can assure you that the setup has a learning curve and will never be as intuitive or natural as writing directly on a touch display. It’s especially hard to swallow when you can have pen-equipped systems like the Surface 3 for about the same price, and pen-equipped Android tablets like the Galaxy Tab A With S-Pen are $150 cheaper.
The Yoga Book has one special trick up its sleeves, though: It lets you digitize your pen-and-paper notes by setting a pad of paper down on top of the draw pad. You’ll have to swap out the pen’s plastic stylus nib for one of the included ink pen tips, but after that, you’ll be able to write with real ink and see your strokes mirrored exactly on the Yoga Book’s screen.
Yep – the digitizer can actually detect your pen strokes through a stack of paper, and with impressive fidelity. A 75-page notebook is included (extras are available for $14.99 from Lenovo’s website), though you can use any old pad of paper you have lying around. Keep in mind that only A5-sized paper will fit perfectly onto the Yoga Book.
What’s really cool is that the digitizer pad works with the screen folded back and tucked out of the way. Amazingly, it even works when the display is turned off, so you’re not running down your battery while you jot down notes. It was a bit of a leap of faith for me to feel sure that my handwritten notes were indeed being tracked and logged digitally by the Yoga Book when I couldn’t see it happening, but the feature worked flawlessly every time I tried it, without even the need to launch an app before I started writing.
Essentially, this turns the Yoga Book into a smart clipboard for your pen and paper notes, which is really neat. The ability to record notes with the screen off is exclusive to the Android version of the Yoga Book – the Windows version of the Yoga Book can’t do it. On that model, the display must be on for you to keep taking notes, which can be distracting and drains your battery.
Overall, the digitizer pad is great if you’re married to pen-and-paper note taking but want to have a digital copy of your notes backed up to the cloud (not to mention fully searchable with keywords). Keep in mind that it only works with the included Wacom pen, though, so if you lose it, you’re out of luck (replacement pens cost $39.99 on Lenovo’s website). And yes, you will have to periodically replace the ink cartridges when they dry up – a pack of three costs $14.99.
The Yoga Book digitizer is made by Wacom – the industry’s gold standard -- so writing feels extremely smooth and natural. The Yoga Book’s pad can detect 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity, so I could feather my strokes and vary my line thickness with extreme accuracy. Impressively, I didn’t notice any drop in quality when I sketched on top of a pad of paper.
I was a bit disappointed to find that there are no digital buttons on the side of the pen, like what you’ll find on the Surface 3’s stylus. The buttons on other digital pens are handy for accessing the eraser and other functions inside your drawing app.
When I first powered on Yoga Book, I fired up Evernote – which comes installed out of the box – and started taking notes on paper. I was able to quickly jot down a to-do list for the day, and since I was connected to Wi-Fi, my notes automatically saved to the cloud as I wrote. It’s a simple concept that really works, and there’s real peace of mind that comes with knowing your notes are accessible from any computer or mobile device.
But digital note taking can be done with a variety of other devices, including Microsoft’s Surface 3, which lets you write directly on the display with full pressure sensitivity. Personally, I think pen-equipped slates like that one are a better, more streamlined option for most workers. But if you simply can’t stand writing on a glass screen, the Yoga Book might be worth a look.
The Yoga Book’s touch keyboard is its other standout feature. You can toggle the standard QWERTY layout on and off with the press of a button. This activates a backlight under the surface, illuminating the keys, which vibrate slightly when you touch them for a bit of tactile feedback. From there, you can type away like you would on any other laptop – at least that’s the idea. In practice, though, the typing experience just isn’t very good.
I’m a relatively speedy touch typist, and trying to type up sections of this review on the Yoga Book was so frustrating that there were moments when I wanted to chuck the device out the window. Since I couldn’t feel my way around the keyboard by touch, I was constantly missing the mark when reaching for a key.
The fact that it’s a touch keyboard means you can’t rest your fingertips against any part it, since it picks up the slightest stroke. But my wrists quickly grew tired of hovering, and my hands tended to drift slightly off of the home row after several seconds, which served as the source of additional typos.
My results were better when I kept my gaze trained on the keyboard and typed at a slow and deliberate pace. But I still committed plenty of typos as my fingers grazed the wrong digital keys. Even worse, I didn’t notice my mistakes because I was staring at the keyboard. Autocorrect – which is built into Android – does help, but everyone knows that feature is just as likely to make matters worse by replacing your typo with a bizarre non-sequitur.
As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, I ran into one more issue that drove me up a wall. The Yoga Book’s keyboard constantly failed to register keys if I accidentally tapped them with my fingernail instead of the fleshy part of my fingers. This was the case even with my shortly cropped nails. The bottom row of the keyboard was the worst offender in this regard, since I curl my fingers in slightly to hit those keys. The result was that c’s, d’s, b’s and other letters were frequently omitted from words altogether.
All that said, the Yoga Book’s keyboard is fine for typing up the occasional brief email reply, or for punching a URL in the web browser. With practice, it’s potentially better than punching out replies directly on your tablet’s touchscreen. I will also say that my results did improve after a few hours of testing it. And it’s hard to deny how cool and futuristic the light-up keyboard looks.
Just don’t expect this device to replace a proper laptop keyboard for anything longer than a few sentences – especially if you’re a touch typist – and you may come away satisfied.
The Yoga Book is a stunner. It’s simply an astonishingly portable device, slimmer and lighter than any 11-inch “laptop” I’ve ever seen. Weighing in at 1.5 pounds and measuring 10.1 x 6.7 x 0.38 inches, this is one device that you truly can take with you anywhere. If you’re a commuter, you won’t even notice it in your work bag or purse.
Rival notebooks are heftier, including the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 (2.8 pounds, 11.5 x 8 x 0.82 inches) and the Surface 3 (1.95 pounds, 10.6 x 7.4 x 0.53 inches). Those are still extremely portable, but they feel bulky compared to the Yoga Book. On the other hand, many standard tablets are lighter, including the iPad Pro (1 pound, 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.2 inches). That device doesn’t have its keyboard attached, though.
Despite its lightweight design, the Yoga Book feels far from flimsy. The system sports a magnesium-aluminum lid that’s really sturdy. I like the matte black finish too, which looks nice and doesn’t pick up fingerprints.
Lenovo didn’t leave much room for ports, given the system’s super-slim design. You get a micro-USB charging port, a micro-HDMI port for connecting the device to a TV or monitor, and a microSD card slot for expanding the system’s 64GB of internal storage – and that’s it.
Since the system has a flexible hinge, you can fold the keyboard back all the way to use the system as a basic tablet – which is really nice, since Android apps were designed with touch in mind. And since the Yoga Book is super thin and light, you can easily carry it around like an iPad. You can also fold the keyboard back partway to prop the system up on your desk.
The Yoga Book’s 10.1-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel display is bright and sharp, so text looks crisp and readable. Colors are vivid too; when I watched the HD trailer for "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," the orange and red electrical pulses from a sci-fi gun were striking.
Since the 10.1-inch display is compact, multitasking is going to feel cramped. Lenovo included the ability to split your screen to view up to three apps at once, laid out in narrow vertical bars on the screen. That’s handy when you need to reference a webpage or document while drafting an email, for example. Still, I can't see myself using the feature too often, since things start to get claustrophobic in a hurry.
The Yoga Book boasts very good battery life, running for an impressive nine hours and 31 minutes in our battery test, which simulates continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi. That’s a lot longer than the Surface 3’s eight hours, and it beats the clamshell tablet average of 7:45. Then again, the iPad Pro lasted longer (10:43).
Lenovo says the Yoga Book will receive an over-the-air update to Android 7.0 Nougat (the latest version of the operating system) sometime this spring, but for now, my review unit continued to run on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. Lenovo did add some custom tweaks to the software, including the previously mentioned split-screen multitasking mode, as well as a Windows taskbar-style strip at the bottom of the display that makes it easy to launch and switch between apps.
You get a handful of useful apps installed out of the box, including a few drawing and note-taking applications. For example, Lenovo’s Note Saver even starts automatically when you hold the stylus to the screen, which is useful (and can be disabled if you don’t like it). Evernote and Google Docs, Sheets and Slides also come installed.
The Yoga Book is powered by a 2.4GHz Intel Atom x50Z8550 processor, with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. That configuration makes the device more than good enough for everyday productivity tasks like browsing the web, managing your email inbox and editing documents. Light multitasking is fine too, though I did run into the occasional bit of lag while switching between apps. The system scored 3,211 on the Geekbench 4 test, which measures overall performance. That’s right on par with the tablet category average.
The Yoga Book’s ability to capture my pen-and-paper notes really impressed me. Using the device as a smart clipboard for your notepad is intuitive and works flawlessly out of the box, with zero setup required. And the fact that you can write with the display turned off and tucked behind the digitizer pad means that you can keep taking notes without needing to charge the thing every day. The Windows version of the Yoga Book can’t do that, so I would avoid that model.
If you don’t plan to utilize that feature, though, I can’t imagine why you’d buy the Yoga Book over something like the iPad Pro or Surface 3. The light-up touch keyboard is novel, but typing more than a sentence or two on the thing is a recipe for frustration. For typing, I’d much rather own a standard tablet with a more functional clip-on keyboard.
Even if you are looking for a way to digitize your handwritten notes, the Yoga Book’s $500 price tag might be hard to swallow, especially when you can buy the Livescribe smart pen – which has similar functionality, albeit a much clunkier setup – for just $200. Workers who want the very best tool for digitizing notes should give this device a look, though.