Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro – Review

by on February 23, 2015

One month into using the Yoga 3 Pro – so it’s review time! I have to say, I am largely impressed with this beautiful piece of technology.

The specs of the unit I received were:

  • Intel Core M 5Y70 1.1GHz
  • 8GB soldered DDR3 RAM
  • Liteon 256GB SSD
  • 13.3” QHD+ IPS Touchscreen at 3200×1800
  • Broadcom AC Wifi with Bluetooth 4.0

This model is the base model, and retails for $2099 from the Lenovo AU store. An identical model with a 512GB SSD is available for $200 more.

At the moment, you can also pick both models up from JB Hifi (the 256GB and the 512GB models), each for $5 less than the price from Lenovo direct before shipping costs if buying online. Harvey Norman also stock both models, the 256GB model is currently $2097 and the 512GB model is currently $2296, also before shipping costs if buying online.

First Impressions

A sound first impression is made with the box – as you lift the flaps covering the Yoga, it arises to meet your awaiting hands. When you pick it up, you’ll swear that what you are holding isn’t a computer but a dummy model – at 1.19kg light and 1.28cm thick, it’s one of the lightest and thinnest PCs in the market at the moment. When you pick it up for the first time, it may seem like that you’ve picked up a dummy model by accident. Don’t fret, it really is that light and, yes, it is a real computer in there. That said, this lightness and thinness means it doesn’t feel as sturdy as my ThinkPad T530. I did try and carry it around as I did my T530 (that is, by gripping it with one hand while it was open on the palm rest to the right of the touchpad) and it didn’t feel particularly strong.

The orange colour that I received was, simply put, gorgeous. It’s got a nice satin finish to it that is beautiful and, if you ever see one in person, will probably fall in love with too. If orange isn’t your thing, you can also get it in Silver and Champagne Gold depending on what model you’re after and where you’re buying it from.

The hinge is also interesting, and the pictures do not do it justice. It really does look like an elongated wristwatch band, and it’s very sturdy – I had no issues with the screen not staying in place when I was using the touchscreen.

Ports

On the right, from front to back, there’s the power button, the recessed Novo button (for booting into the UEFI or the recovery partition), the volume control, then a headphone\microphone combo port and a USB 3.0 Sleep and Charge port, in which you can plug in a device such as a phone and charge it as the laptop sleeps.

On the left, from front to back, there’s an SD card reader, a MicroHDMI port, a USB 3.0 port and then a USB 2.0 port.

One thing you may have noticed – where’s the charger port? Well, that’s what the interesting USB 2.0 plug is – it has an additional divot sticking out on the right hand side that accommodates a charging cable (so as to prevent you from plugging the charger into another port). It’s a rather novel concept, really – instead of wasting space on a charger only port, you get a port that’s useful for when you’re not charging.

Probably the only downsides vis-à-vis the ports on this machine are the MicroHDMI port, which will require you to buy an adaptor or cables to plug it into any HDMI cables you already have. That said, if you look on eBay you’ll find these cables for decent prices – a 2 metre MicroHDMI to HDMI cable was $6 with free postage when I looked. Another potential issue might be that, if you’re charging, you lose out on the third USB port – so if you have a number of USB devices you will want to get a USB hub.

Keyboard

One of the downsides to a thinner laptop such as an Ultrabook is that you have less space to make the keyboard have a good amount of travel. Another downside is that sometimes you get weird layouts on Ultrabook keyboards. As a result, a lot of Ultrabooks have had disappointing keyboards.

This aside, while the Yoga’s keyboard doesn’t have the greatest keyboard travel, it makes up for it by being nice enough to type on. The keys are firm and they’re comfortable, with a satin-like finish on them. The keyboard is also backlit, something I have derided in the past as being a rather useless feature (“I touchtype, so why would I need to look at my keyboard” has been my argument), but even in a well lit room it did make the keys easier to read. From my perspective, it was nice, but I’m certainly not going to go out of my way to find (or indeed pay extra for) a laptop with one. But, if this feature is important to you – it’s there.

That said, there is some weirdness to this keyboard, specifically, there is no dedicated F row. Instead, you have to press the FN key and the appropriate number key to activate the F key. Brightness and volume controls are activated with the FN and arrow keys. Home and End, alas, have been demoted to being activated by the FN key, and are accessible on Page Up and Page Down respectively. FN and Print Screen mute and unmute the audio, while FN and Space toggle the backlight off and on and FN and Delete turn the touchpad off and on.

Another complaint, and one that is the same as the U310 – no media controls! You have to open your media player to do basic music operations like skip, pause and play.

Clickpad

I’ll preface this section by saying that I’m not a huge fan of clickpads. I don’t understand why people wouldn’t actual buttons for clicking on things (probably because “ew buttons are ugly”) but there we go. That said, I wasn’t unimpressed with this particular unit.

The clickpad responded well to my input – like the clickpad on the U310, it’s got a smooth glass finish, but unlike the clickpad on the U310, there was very minimal glitchiness and it always responded when I wanted it to. Two finger scrolling in all directions worked well and I was usually quite happy with it.

The only real issue I had with it (and one I seem to have with most touchpads) was that I sometimes had trouble trying to get it to right click – you have to have your finger in just the right spot to trigger this response.

Touchscreen

Manufacturers seem to have touchscreens pretty much down to a fine art these days, probably helped by the fact that Windows 8.1 can interact with them all pretty well. The touchscreen always responded correctly and accurately to my input, and can accept up to ten fingers worth of input, so you should have no issues playing multiplayer games on it with a couple of people.

Yoga-ness

If you’ve never really used a Yoga or Yoga style laptop before, you’ll probably think that being able to rotate the screen all the way around is just a gimmick and a poor excuse for a tablet. You’d be wrong.

Once you start having the opportunity to bend the screen around, the practicality of it becomes immediately obvious and you wonder why nobody came up with the idea beforehand.

I found myself often using Tent mode while eating dinner and watching media on Netflix or from my desktop PC, for instance – I could get the screen close to me and I wouldn’t drop food on the keyboard which would be difficult to clean up if I got too close.

Stand mode I found myself using a lot – it was handy when I was sitting on the couch setting up the Xbox for Netflix, for instance, as the keyboard was out of the way, it was propped at an appropriate angle for good reading and it was closer to me as a result. I also found it useful in bed for sitting on my lap for Netflix and similar, and when space was cramped – again, propping it on my lap when sitting down in a tight space meant that the screen was closer to me and I could still interact with it because of the touchscreen.

Performance

This was the first Broadwell based notebook released to market. Unfortunately, it’s Broadwell-Y, designed for low power small devices. This should be a blessing (better battery life, can be done fanless due to lower heat output), but a curse as performance suffers because even Intel can’t make a processor that runs like a mad thing at the moment that has a TDP of 4.5W.

In saying that, most of the time the processor didn’t really hamper it – the biggest culprit was Chrome, which would often show a checkerboard pattern as it re-rendered pages if you scrolled too quickly. Performance for tasks like Office, Metro Apps, and browsing in Internet Explorer (the Metro version especially was a joy to use, especially in recent days as I’ve been using it to help me get through Majora’s Mask on the 3DS!) was fine. Just don’t get one of these expecting that it’s going to run as well a desktop Intel processor, let alone a U or M variant. If this is the case, you may be better off waiting for the non-Pro Yoga 3 and seeing if it is more suitable for your needs.

Display

Note: Due to their size, I won’t be embedding screenshots directly in this section, instead linking to them on Imgur.

Yes. The glorious QHD+ display. Where to start.

It’s beautiful. Colours pop, viewing angles are excellent (hooray for IPS displays!), and everything is so crisp and clear that, honestly, if you put a picture of some kind of delicious food on it, you would swear you could lean forward, lick it and taste it. Alas, technology has not progressed that far to allow that to happen. We can only dream. My biggest complaint is that it’s glossy, I much prefer matte screens but matte touchscreens are pretty hard to come by, and when you do find them they tend to be a disappointing semi-matte finish that isn’t really that great, so this isn’t I can hold against it that much.

The biggest issue has nothing to do with the display itself – it has to do with Windows and poorly written applications.

To make the display usable, Windows will run it at a higher DPI by default. Of course, you can turn the DPI setting down to normal, but then you get this, which is really unusable (bear in mind this is on a 13” screen) – so you won’t really want to alter the DPI setting too much.

However, the issue with a non-normal DPI setting is that some applications, including some tools in Windows, don’t know how to handle this or handle it incorrectly. Typically, there were five main ways that I saw that applications will handle high DPI settings:

  1. They will respect them and display appropriately (or appropriately enough – most Windows applications would act like this)
  2. They will respect them but have some weirdness (the Zune client and strangely, the Outlook 2013 setup wizard)
  3. They will ignore them and act as if though you are running at normal DPI (Nitro Reader’s setup did this, some older Adobe applications will act like this too)
  4. They will simultaneously respect and ignore them (VLC Media Player and TeamViewer seemed to do this – with the TeamViewer window I have remoted into my desktop with a full HD screen and that is normal size)
  5. They will stretch and appear pixelated and blurry (Device Manager)

Most modern applications will go for option 1, 3 or 5. Applications designed around the Vista era seemed to work but act weirdly. Older applications designed for XP and older will go for option 5 but there are some modern applications which will act like that too.

The issue is, however, that there is no excuse in an era where high DPI displays are becoming increasingly common for modern applications to behave strangely with them. Zune, I can understand as it isn’t a supported application anymore, but Outlook 2013 acting weird? Device Manager not scaling at all? That’s just unacceptable considering Microsoft make the OS that these applications run in.

This, really, is the biggest letdown of this display – lazy developers.

You will want to do a couple of things, as well, to make it a little easier to use: go into the Mouse control panel and bump the mouse cursor up a size or two so it’s easier to see, and also enable pointer shadows to make it easier to find.

Connectivity

This particular model has a Broadcom AC Wifi card in it – some models will have this while others will have an Intel model. There’s no wired Ethernet available, so if you need wired Ethernet connections you will need to buy a USB adapter.

Connected to our home TP-Link Archer D5, the Yoga transferred 1.01GB of video files from my desktop with a D-Link DWA-182 AC1200 USB 3.0 Wifi Adapter in 1 minute, 11 seconds – an average of 14.6 megabytes per second – not a bad speed. The Yoga also has Bluetooth 4.0.

Audio

Audio is provided via a common or garden Realtek chipset, with Waves Maxx Audio enhancement software. Out of the box, the audio worked fine – no quirks that I could find. The speakers were decent enough considering the space that they had to fit into, obviously you are not going to be getting high end hi-fi quality, but you’ll be fine for casual listening.

The Waves Maxx Audio software, though, is problematic to access – unlike the Dolby solution it doesn’t put an icon in the system tray (that’s good I guess), so you have to dig through the Start Screen to find it. In the end, I ended up pinning it to the taskbar.

There’s a combo headphone port on the right side, so if you want to use a separate microphone to your headphones, you’ll need an adapter.

Software

A Windows 8.1 Core installation was present on the Yoga, with a surprising amount of software…

  • Lenovo Photo Master
  • Dragon Assistant
  • Lenovo Harmony
  • Hightail for Lenovo
  • Lenovo Browser Guard (which I will touch upon in a moment)
  • Lenovo Experience Improvement
  • Lenovo FusionEngine
  • Lenovo Motion Control
  • Lenovo OneKey Recovery
  • Lenovo Paper Display
  • Lenovo Phone Companion
  • Lenovo Reach
  • Lenovo ShareIt
  • Lenovo VeriFace Pro
  • Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro Demo
  • Microsoft Office Trial
  • Nitro Pro 9
  • One Key Optimizer
  • Pokki
  • McAfee LiveSafe Trial

This is a surprising amount of bloat on this system, and to be honest something I’m becoming increasingly disappointed by this from Lenovo. I can count exactly three applications on there that I actually used and liked (the Office stub, harmony, ShareIt, One Key Optimizer), the rest either I found irritating (Lenovo Paper Display, for example, makes everything have a yellow tinge like aged paper does when certain apps are open and the appropriate setting is enabled in Harmony) or just plain useless (why would I want to flap my hands around at my computer as Lenovo Gesture Control would like me to do, when I have a more accurate touch screen?).

To be perfectly honest, Lenovo needs to do what Dell has done, and take a step back, look at what they’re including with their systems and decide  what their users are actually using. Smart money is most users aren’t using a lot of the junk their systems come with.

Of late, Dell systems have had drivers, the Office stub, a McAfee trial, a Dropbox shortcut that grants an extra helping of space and two or three Dell apps on a new install to provide updates, hardware diagnostics and recovery media. This is a good amount of software to install – enough so that the user can then decide themselves what they want to do with their PC.

Lenovo Browser Guard

Imagine my surprise after installing Eset Endpoint Security when I got this message:

Eset Endpoint Security had found and identified Lenovo Browser Guard as being a member of the Conduit flavour of potentially unwanted programs (which is a term for malware in most cases that lawyers insist antivirus companies use).

Eset Endpoint Security had found and identified Lenovo Browser Guard as being a member of the Conduit flavour of potentially unwanted programs (which is a term for malware in most cases that lawyers insist antivirus companies use).

Lenovo. Not cool.

I do not want Conduit installed on my computer by myself or a foolish friend who doesn’t pay attention when installing things. I also don’t like seeing it on client’s computer, as I so often do, when they bring it because it’s running slow and could we please fix it.

Needless to say, I do not want you to be installing it for my “convenience” either.

For the record, I let Eset do as it wished and let it clean it up.

Superfish

The Yoga 3 Pro never had the Superfish software installed as a preload.

However if you are unfortunate enough to have a system with Superfish on it or think you have it, you can get more information, a list of affected models (some of which are currently being sold in Australia) and a removal tool here.

My personal feelings on the matter is that this is another incidence of bloat being added for the sake of it. I cannot think of any user who would willingly install it in the first place, even if it didn’t have the security problems that it does have in its current form

Battery Life

This time, I used Battery Eater to test battery life on this unit.

To start with, I ran Battery Eater in Classic mode, where it renders an image of a battery, calculates Pi repeatedly and writes data to the disk drive. In this test, the machine lasted 3 hours, 51 minutes before shutting down due to low battery. This was a bit higher than I thought, as I expected it to give up the ghost around the 2.75-3 hour mark.

Running the test in Reader Mode scrolls through a document, pausing after each scroll to simulate reading, until the end is reached, then starts again. In this test, it lasted 6 hours, 15 minutes before shutting down due to low battery.

Lenovo suggest that the system should last 7 hours, 12 minutes hours idling and 5 hours, 18 minutes playing back full HD video. Based on these tests, I’d say that these values would be a slight over estimation (as is typical for the IT industry) but close enough

Final Thoughts

The Yoga 3 Pro is, really, quite frankly a remarkable feat of engineering. If in 2006 I had a ThinkPad R60 and someone told me that, in nine years’ time, I would be able to get a computer that was a quarter of the thickness, more than half the weight, with a higher resolution screen, ran faster; cooler and for longer on battery, was bright orange, had a large amount of flash storage and sold for $200 less, I would probably have laughed at them and told them they were insane.

Today, they would be laughing at me.

Needless to say, I was really happy with the Yoga 3 Pro, and I was sad to send it away to its new home (which I’ll touch on directly). It was a beautiful machine, with a glorious screen and reasonable input devices considering its size. If I were to go out and spend $2000 on a new laptop today, this would definitely make my shortlist.

The real issue here is the processor. Although it can be used in Ultrabooks, as it has been done here, to me it was the real drawback in what is otherwise an excellent machine. I’m incredibly pleased that, at this price point, the base model machine has a good sized SSD, 8GB RAM and a decent resolution screen, and I wish more manufacturers would take note and adopt this strategy. Too long I have looked at laptops at this price point and immediately written them off as being possible purchase or recommendation options because they either have a spinning hard drive in lieu of an SSD, only 4GB RAM or a 1366×768 screen (which really has no place in anything above $800 if you ask me). The CPU seemed to be the main drawback – there was no reason for Chrome to display checkerboards as it re-rendered as I scrolled with the RAM and disk access speeds it had, so by process of elimination it’s the processor at fault.

If you can live with the processor speed, then this is a great system – when I wasn’t using Chrome I loved this system. Videos looked great on the display, it was gorgeous and easy to carry around.

Of course, there are alternatives, but at present, there aren’t many comparable systems that are available in Australia in this price range.

First, is the recently released Dell XPS 13, which retails at time of writing for $2099 as well with an i7 5500U processor (which will be a huge improvement over the 5Y70 in the Yoga), a 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM, a 3200×1800 touchscreen and a one year in home warranty after remote diagnosis. While you do lose the bendability, you do gain a faster processor, Windows 8.1 Pro instead of Windows 8.1 Core (handy if you want to use it at work and need to join it to a domain), and you get a light software preload, consisting of Windows, drivers, full versions of Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements, Skype, a Dell support application, the Office trial\installer stub and Dropbox (attention: every other computer manufacturer. This is how you do it! Provide minimal software. Make it useful. If you are going to provide software, please provide best in class software, don’t cheap out and include generic ripoffs or trials, especially when you are asking your customers for a big chunk of money). Its starting weight is 1.18kg which doesn’t include the touchscreen, so it would be marginally heavier than the Yoga at this spec level.

Second is the Surface 3 Pro. At its regular pricing, you can pick up the i7 256GB model with 8GB RAM for $1978.99 with a Type Cover so you can use it as a laptop. You also get a nice active digitizer, which may be attractive to some people (me included, I’m a sucker for pen computing). However, the Surface is still using Haswell chips, this one using an i7 4650U, but again, this would be an improvement on the 5Y70. However, the Type Covers aren’t the greatest keyboards in the world, nor do they have the greatest touchpads, so these are something that you definitely try out in person before you drop down nearly $2000 for. You also literally have three ports on it – power, one USB 3.0 and a mini DisplayPort – so you may run into some issues there. There have also been some issues with regards to the Surface 3 Pro not having the greatest battery life, so this may also be a detracting feature.

If you don’t mind having a machine that’s about a kilogram heavier than the Yoga (there’s conflicting reports as to its weight, some Lenovo sites suggest 2.13kg and some suggest 2.24kg) and has a screen that’s two inches bigger, the ThinkPad T550 may also be an option, however compared to the Yoga it’s $15 more for one customized with an i5 5200U, 8GB RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 3K (2880×1620) IPS Touchscreen. Again, this is a bigger, heavier notebook, but it is a ThinkPad, so there’s a good chance that it will live a very long and happy life provided its maintained well.

What’s happening with the Yoga 3 Pro?

For the past three years, I’ve been living at Lincoln College, a residential college in North Adelaide, Australia, while I undertook my university studies at The University of South Australia. This semester, I’m not living there as my last class for my degree I’ll be doing in the second semester.

This week there it’s O-Week, where the new students (affectionately known as Freshers) are oriented to the college and a variety of activities are run for them by the College Club. I’ve sent them the Yoga 3 Pro to give away in a fashion of their choosing to an incredibly lucky student, who will hopefully enjoy the beauty that is this machine. Photos will come soon!

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