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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga (2017) OLED Review: Portable Perfection

Posted October 14, 2017 | Hardware | Lenovo | ThinkPad X1 Yoga | Windows | Windows 10


Well, they finally did it. After tiptoeing painfully close to perfection with previous X1 Yoga and X1 Carbon designs, Lenovo has finally closed the gap with the new ThinkPad X1 Yoga OLED. It’s the nicest portable PC I’ve ever used.

Design

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga is very obviously a ThinkPad: It shares its traditional look and feel, durable carbon fiber hybrid construction, and superior keyboard and dual-pointing capabilities with other modern ThinkPads. That look is either modern and elegant or a bit frumpy, depending on your perspective. But I find it both attractive and classic, and in no need of any major changes.

As a Yoga, however, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga also provides versatile transforming/4-in-1 capabilities too. That means you can swivel the screen around and use this device in other usage modes, like tablet, tent, and presentation. Combining all this with its multitouch and active pen functionality, and the X1 Yoga is one of the most versatile PCs ever made. (By comparison, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon doesn’t even provide multitouch.)

Lenovo changed—and arguably improved—how the keyboard behaves when you switch between the various form factor modes (see below), but one thing that hasn’t changed is the 360-degree display hinge: It is rock-solid, with no wobble at all.

The X1 Yoga is also lightweight, at under 3 pounds, given the versatility and the size of its display. By comparison, the 2017 ThinkPad X1 Carbon weighs about 2.49 pounds, but is far less versatile.

Put simply, what the X1 Yoga provides is superior design and functionality in a single package. If you’re looking a portable PC that can do it all, look no further.

Before moving on, I will note that Lenovo now sells the ThinkPad X1 Yoga in an optional and bland silver color. Don’t buy that one. Just don’t.

Display

While there are many reasons to choose a convertible PC like the ThinkPad X1 Yoga, this particular device has a single, very obvious advantage over other convertibles, and even over X1 Yogas: The review unit is outfitted with an eyeball-popping OLED display that needs to be seen to be believed.

That said, I’ll try to describe it. Understand that I will not be able to do it any justice.

We’ve seen any number of technologies appear over the years that raise the bar on display quality. Recently, many of the improvements seem to be focused on a combination of pixel density, glossy display types, and richer colors.

Lenovo brings all of that to the X1 Yoga, providing an HDR-like experience that is, for my at least, a first on any portable PC. This display is so good, so bright and so colorful, that it makes all other portable PC displays look like crap. Once you see and use this display, you’ll never be impressed with anything less. And the display on virtually every other PC is just that less.

Colors pop on this screen in such a fashion that it’s almost like seeing color for the first time. If you’ve ever experienced HDR on a 4K/UHD then you’ll understand the impact of this display. It’s the same kind of effect.

More technically, it’s a 14-inch OLED glossy panel running at WQHD (2560 x 1440) resolution. I very much prefer larger displays, and find that 14-inches is the sweet spot for a productivity-focused machine. So this one is perfect.

Unlike the X1 Carbon, the X1 Yoga also supports both 10-point multitouch and active pens. (It even includes a pen.) So in addition to the superior display and form factor versatility, you also get all the added benefits of multitouch and pen support too.

Components and ports

Insider the review unit, you’ll find some pretty standard parts for the premium PC world, including a 7th generation Intel Core i7-7600U processor, 16 GB of RAM, and speedy 512 GB PCIe-based NVMe Opal 2 SSD storage.

This machine arrived before Intel shipped its quad-core 8th generation parts, so I assume Lenovo will either update this device midstream or do so for the 2018 lineup. That said, the 7th-generation chip is no slouch, and will work just about as well as the newer bits for normal productivity works. Certainly, the real world performance has been exceptional.

Externally, things are nicely modern. Lenovo manages to squeeze two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports (either of which can be used for charging) and two full-sized (and always-on) USB 3.1 ports on the left side of the device.

You’ll find a full-sized HDMI port, another full-sized USB 3.1 port, and a proprietary Ethernet port (Lenovo bundles the needed dongle) on the right.

And there’s a microSD card slot—and, optionally, Qualcomm Snapdragon X7 LTE-A cellular—on the rear. In other words, tons of options.

The webcam is nothing special: It’s a 720p unit that does not support Windows Hello.

From an ambient experience perspective, the X1 Yoga exhibits the usual amount of fan noise, which is to say, nothing particularly annoying. But some other modern PCs, like the new Surface Pro, are silent or nearly so. I’ve not noticed any particular heat issues.

Keyboard, touchpad, and pen

In use, the keyboard on the X1 Yoga looks and works much like last year’s model. But Lenovo has, in fact, reversed how it works and, in doing so, has improved the experience in subtle ways.

That is, the 2016 X1 Yoga used what Lenovo calls a “lift and lock” mechanism. When you transformed the device between its various form factors—say, moved from laptop mode to tablet mode—the plate under the keyboard would be pushed up to lock the keys in place while the rest of the chassis moved.

For 2017, the X1 Yoga now uses a new “rise and fall” mechanism for what Lenovo has named the Wave Keyboard. So there’s no keyboard plate anymore, and the keys are now pulled down into the chassis as the display is swiveled around.

According to Lenovo, this change results in a more stable design with better long-term durability and no protruding parts. But it also creates a weird “popping” effect that is felt as the keys travel into (or out of) the chassis. It initially feels wrong, like something bad is happening, and to this Bostonian, not a little bit like cracking open a cooked lobster. It’s not loud—more feeling than sound, really—and you get used to it.

As for the keyboard itself, hey, this is Lenovo: The firm’s ThinkPad keyboards remain the bar by which all PC keyboards are measured, and it has yet to meet its equal. The keyboard is backlit, of course, and offers spill resistance. The Fn and CTRL keys are swapped, for some reason, but Lenovo lets you switch them virtually.

(HP and Microsoft offer great keyboard experiences on their premium PCs, too, and the 25th Anniversary ThinkPad, with its retro keyboard, is perhaps—maybe—even better.)

Lenovo retains its lead in the pointing department, too: Like other ThinkPads, the X1 Yoga includes both a TrackPoint nubbin, which I prefer, and a glass touchpad that is certified for Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad software. That means its ideal, and no matter your preference, you’ll be happy with either choice, or both.

Unlike the X1 Carbon, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga includes an active smart pen, and it even provides storage for the accessory inside a slot on the right side of the keyboard. This pen, called the ThinkPad Pen Pro, is nothing special, with 2048 levels of sensitivity but no tilt support. And it’s tiny, probably too small for many adults. (Myself included.)

In the good news department, the pen charges quickly when inserted inside the Yoga, and Lenovo says you can achieve a 100 minute charge in just 15 seconds. So you should never be without the pen if you need it.

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga also provides a fast and touch-based (as opposed to swipe-based) fingerprint reader, which is conveniently located on the right wrist rest.

Battery

If you check in on my ThinkPad X1 Carbon review, you’ll see that Lenovo’s non-touch flagship delivers about 8 hours and 14 minutes of battery life in my 1080p video streaming test over Wi-Fi. But that Utrabook features a 1080p (1920 x 1080) IPS display, so my expectations for the X1 Yoga, which provides a dramatically better OLED 4K display, were suitably muted.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the ThinkPad X1 Yoga almost matched its stablemate by providing 8 hours and 8 minutes of life on the same test. And not only did it look better doing it—seriously, that display makes even terrible movies like The Phantom Menace look like HDR masterpieces you can’t take your eyes off of—you could also likely do even better by turning down the brightness. I make sure to set display brightness to the same setting—40 percent—and I disable adaptive brightness. But out in the real world, I would typically turn down the brightness even further on this incredibly-bright and beautiful display. Have I mentioned that it’s a wonder yet? It is.

Charge time is increasingly as important as battery life, and here Lenovo has you covered as well: As with the 2017 X1 Carbon, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga’s bundled USB-C charger can charge the battery to 80 percent capacity in 60 minutes.

Long story short, you should have little trouble getting through a day of work with this wonderful portable PC: I’ve taken the X1 Yoga on multiple business trips over the late summer and early fall, and it’s never let me down.

Software

I hope the rest of the PC industry is paying attention to what Lenovo is doing with its ThinkPad lineup. The only crapware that comes on these PCs is the silliness that Microsoft foists on us all in Windows 10. The rest of it is pure goodness.

As with other ThinkPads, the X1 Yoga provides a Signature PC experience, meaning that there is no third-party AV software or duplicate interfaces for such things as networking, audio, or battery.

Lenovo provides only a few utilities and both are useful and even desirable. Lenovo Companion is a dashboard, of sorts, for the PC, and it helps you find system updates, monitor the system health, and get support when needed. And the Lenovo Settings app helps you configure features that are unique to this device. (For example, you can use it to reverse the Fn and CTRL keys.) That’s it.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga comes with Windows 10 Pro.

Pricing and configurations

As a premium transforming PC, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga is not inexpensive. Pricing starts at about $1900 for a Full HD version with a Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB of storage, and Windows 10 Home. But it can escalate quickly from there. (That said, Lenovo always has sales, and this configuration currently sells for under $1700.)

But you can spend more. There are Core i7 processors to be had, up to 16 GB of RAM, and up to 1 TB of storage. You can upgrade to a WQHD display, in either IPS or OLED. You can get WWAN. And you can, of course, get Windows 10 Pro. Get the RAM you need as you can’t upgrade it later.

Specced like the review unit, you’re looking at about $2550, or $2300-ish during the sale I see at the time of this writing. (The OLED display is a $530 upgrade, though it is on sale for just $250 right now. This will be the best money you’ve ever spent.)

Recommendations and conclusions

In my review of the 2016 ThinkPad X1 Yoga, I noted that Lenovo had delivered a nearly-perfect business-class transforming PC. Its successor, in OLED trim, puts this device over the top. Perfect is a tough word, but this one gets really close. My only serious nitpick, of course, is the price. But you get what you pay for.

If you can afford a 2017 ThinkPad X1 Yoga in the OLED configuration, it will be a source of jealousy for everyone around you. This the nicest portable PC I’ve ever used, period.

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga is highly recommended.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • My God, that display
  • Versatile form factor
  • Excellent typing and pointing experiences
  • Great battery life

Cons

  • Expensive pricing
  • Weird popping effect during form factor transformation
  • Fn key is in the wrong place

 

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