Lenovo Yoga 900 – Review

by on March 21, 2016

Just before Christmas, I recieved a Yoga 900 from Lenovo! I’ve been using it for a while now, so it’s time for a review!

If you missed the unboxing, you can watch it here:

This unit was a pretty beefy machine, with the following specs:

  • Intel Core i7 6500U 2.5GHz CPU
  • 16GB soldered DDR3LP RAM
  • Samsung 256GB SSD
  • 13.3” QHD+ IPS Touchscreen at 3200×1800
  • Intel Dual Band Wireless AC 8260 Wifi Card  with Bluetooth 4.0

This is a model that you can’t actually get in Australia – and indeed I’m not sure where you can actually get it, and I’ve looked almost everywhere that I can think of.

In Australia, you can get this notebook from Lenovo direct, starting at $2199 at the time of writing, which gets you an i5 6200U, 8GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD. For $200 more you get the same but with an i7 6500U processor, for an extra $200 on top of the i7 model you get the same but with a 512GB SSD. Selected models are also available from JB Hifi, Harvey Norman and Officeworks stores.

The prices are likely higher this year due to the current state of the US dollar compared to the Australian dollar (at writing, 1AUD was buying 0.68USD it’s actually 0.76USD at the moment so it’s gone up, compared to 0.86USD 0.77USD this time last year according to XE.com), something to which none of the technology industry is immune to.

First Impressions

The same as last year’s Yoga 3 Pro, the packaging is impeccable – as you open the flaps covering it, the laptop ascends to meet your awaiting hands.

This year’s model is marginally thicker and heavier than Yoga 3 Pro, at 1.29kg and 1.49cm thick (compared to 1.19kg and 1.28cm of the 3 Pro). That said, the differences are not that huge and if you’ve handled them both it’s unlikely that you will noticed the difference between the two.

This year’s colour was silver – a nice choice if you’re not into the loud (albeit gorgeous) option that is the Clementine Orange model. Champagne Gold is also an option again this year as well. It’s a satin finish again, which looks tasteful and stylish, while having the additional benefit of resisting fingerprints that it would pick up if it were a glossy finish.

Last year’s watch band hinge returns, with an additional improvement: if you get the orange or gold models, the plastic portions of the hinge will match the chassis of the laptop.

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), a rotation lock button, then a headphone\microphone combo port and an ordinary USB 3.0 port.

On the left, from front to back, there’s an SD card reader, a USB Type C port, a USB 3.0 Sleep and Charge port (to pass power through to another device as the Yoga sleeps) port and then the same USB\charging combo port as the Yoga 3 Pro.

As mentioned in the unboxing video, if you happen to have the Yoga 3 Pro charger, don’t try and use it with the Yoga 900. The Yoga 900 has a higher power requirement than the Yoga 3 Pro does, and if used with its charger it will cause the charger to overheat and potentially cause a fire or other electrical fault or hazard. If you need a second charger, make sure you are getting a genuine Lenovo charger and that it is one intended for the Yoga 900, not the Yoga 3 Pro. This applies to all laptop chargers. Sure, an off brand one is cheaper, but there’s no guarantee that it’s going to be built to the same standard as a genuine one is.

A couple of differences from last year that are notable: the MicroHDMI port is gone in favour of USB Type C. At the moment, there aren’t many devices that use USB Type C but no doubt more will emerge over the coming years. If you need to connect to an external display, you can get a USB-C to HDMI, Displayport, DVI or VGA adapter.

Also missing, and a rather bizarre omission: the volume control. Likely removed because there are now volume controls on the keyboard itself. Instead you get the rotation lock button, which I didn’t find to be overly useful myself (Rotation Lock is available through the Action Centre in Windows 10, which is a swipe and a press away) and I would have rather the volume buttons stayed myself.

Keyboard

Last year, Lenovo removed the F-key row of keys from the Yoga 3 Pro and instead required that you use the FN key with the numeric row of keys to activate them. This was a strange thing to do, so this year the F keys  have returned as their own dedicated row. Hooray! Additionally, Home and End get their own keys again!

Downside (for me at any rate): by default they behave as hotkeys, not F keys. This is, however, something that can be toggled in the UEFI. That said, this is becoming standard practice so it’s not as if though it’s out of the ordinary

Otherwise, this keyboard is reminiscent of the Yoga 3 Pro’s. There’s a similar amount of travel (not much but enough), the keyboard is firm and there’s minimal flex (great if you’re a vicious typist like me), and it’s backlit again with two levels of backlighting along with no backlighting.

The key treatment has changed this year – there is now black coating all around the key and not just on the top. This new coating is meant to help reduce wear which was apparently a problem in the Yoga 3 Pro.

The Backspace key isn’t a full width key, which will take some adjustment to get used to if you’re used to a bigger key.

And again… no media controls! You have to open your media player to do basic music operations like skip, pause and play.

One thing I will say – don’t eat food that crumbles over the keyboard. The one time I did, I got a crumb under the C key. I couldn’t get it out for ages that made it occasionally not respond without a firm press.

Clickpad

Another ultrabook, another clickpad. My argument is that clickpads significantly reduce usability because dedicated buttons are more tactile and are generally easier to press and identify which button you’re pressing compared to a clickpad where it’s just one great big slab of clickpad and you have to kinda hope that you’re mashing in the right spot, especially for a right click.

This one is similar than the 3 Pro’s, but a bit larger. It was a relatively well behaved example of a clickpad, beyond a couple of instances where it didn’t want to scroll for me. It also, strangely, did not want to respond to a two finger tap to emulate a right click even though this option was enabled in the Clickpad properties.

Again, you must be precise with where you put your finger when you right click – generally I found I had greatest success when I had my finger smack bang in the bottom right corner of the clickpad and that deviating even slightly too far to the left would trigger a left click instead. This could, however, be operator error and not clickpad error.

Touchscreen

Again, another touchscreen that works. You don’t have to mess around with anything, it will just pick up your touch input and behave itself. There’s not really much different here compared to last year’s – it’s capacitive and can recognise up to ten fingers.

Yoga-ness

As nothing in this department has changed (beyond the colouring of the hinge) from last year’s model, I’ve left this section is largely unchanged from the Yoga 3 Pro review as my opinions on it still stand.

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.

Also, this year I did something that I’d never done before – I flew in an aeroplane! It was a little Saab 340B, on a quick flight between Mount Gambier and Adelaide. If you’ve not been on a 340B before, they’re a small turboprop plane that hold around 30 people. One of the downsides to being so small is that there’s limited tray space. That’s where the yoga-ness comes in handy – you can flip the keyboard back and have the screen front and centre. So I was able to catch up on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson on the flight. Good times!

Watching Sherlock on the Lenovo Yoga 900 on a plane

Cramped airline tray tables are a good example of how the flexibility of the Yoga is a handy feature.

Performance

Probably the biggest downside to the Yoga 3 Pro was the Core m Broadwell-Y CPU. It was a very low power unit that didn’t have the greatest performance. This year, a Skylake Ultrabook CPU was used. This means increased performance over the equivalent Core m models. Hooray!

The problems that I had last year (checkerboarding in Chrome and other occasional slowness) has disappeared. I had no complaints about performance, and the machine handled some playing of the game Papers Please with minimal complaint (until a Windows notification came up and the game glitched out – but I think that’s more an issue with the game itself).

The 16GB RAM meant that I could have a heap of things open with minimal issues with performance (or, if you like, have six tabs in Chrome open at the same time).

The main downsides to using the ultrabook CPU is that the machine is marginally thicker and heavier compared to the 3 Pro, the fans are now more audible (especially under load) and that it consumes more power – while the Broadwell-Y Core m processor in the 3 Pro had a TDP of 4.5W, the 900’s i7 has a TDP of 15W – over three times as much.

Display

I am reasonably sure that this is the same display used in the 3 Pro from last year. If not, it’s just as gorgeous. Colours pop, everything is crisp and a joy to look at, and it’s nice and bright. Viewing angles remain excellent.

But, the same problems with DPI scaling remain. Fortunately, we’ve come a good way forward in the last 12 months, with more machines shipping with high DPI displays, more applications now properly take advantage of them and respect how they work. There are still a few that misbehave (it would be nice if Microsoft could make Device Manager and the rest of the MMC more high DPI friendly – it might not be used that often by all users, but it would still be nice) but progress has been made. And in this case, any progress is good progress.

Out of the box, the DPI scaling setting is set to 250%, giving you an effective resolution of 1280×720. I turned this down to 200%, which was still quite usable – this gave an effective resolution of 1600×900. If you really want, you can turn the DPI scaling up to 275% or even 300%, but this makes everything incredibly large and not that usable.

As per last year, my tips to help make the display a bit easier to use: bring up the Search box or Cortana, type “pointer”, click “Change the pointer display or Speed” and go to the Pointers tab. 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. Also, if you go to the Pointer Options tab, you can enable the “radar” option that will show you where the pointer is when you hit CTRL.

Connectivity

This year, it appears the only choice for Wifi is the Intel AC 8260 card. This card has been fine, I’ve had no issues with it. Connections were made quickly upon waking and turning on to our Archer D5 modem\router, and I could happily stream video files from my desktop (connected via Wifi as well using a TP-Link Archer T4U USB Wifi adaptor connected to a USB 3.0 port) with no lag or other issues.

Audio

Audio is provided via the comoon Realtek chipset. This year, there’s a Dolby sound enhancement utility which you will want to use – without it, the audio sounds very weak and dreadful.

Something bizzare I did notice – when it was in laptop mode, the audio was rather flat sounding, even when there was nothing blocking the speakers directly. Flipping it into Stand mode resulted in the audio becoming much clearer.

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

Windows 10 Home was preinstalled on this unit (it’s the only OS you can have out of the box – if you want Pro you will need to buy the upgrade from the store). This year, rejoice! There is a much lighter preload.

  • Dolby Audio X2
  • Lenovo Photo Master
  • Lenovo Accelerator Application
  • Lenovo Battery Gauge
  • Lenovo Onekey Recovery
  • Lenovo Product Demo
  • Lenovo Quick Optimizer
  • Lenovo Solution Centre
  • McAfee LiveSafe Trial
  • Microsoft Office Trial\Installer Stub
  • ReachIt
  • ShareIt

After the Superfish issues of last year, Lenovo announced that with Windows 10 they would have a much lighter preload. Suffice to say, they’ve made good on this promise.

While it’s not the clean slate many would like, it’s clean enough that you’re not going to need to spend more than 20 minutes (15 of which will be waiting for Mcafee to uninstall) to remove these applications.

Battery Life

I tried to use Battery Eater to test the battery life this time around, but that didn’t work so well (I suspect compatibility issues). So I came up with my own test.

I downloaded this video to the computer in Full HD and played it on repeat in the Windows 10 Film and TV app. I then had Microsoft Edge refresh the home page of The Guardian Australia every 5 minutes while connected to Wifi. There was no audio on the video and brightness was set to 50%. and both windows were side by side. Running in the background was Passmark BatteryMon (to monitor the discharge rate and time it took to do so), Eset Smart Security 9, and the normal Windows services.

Battery life was 54 seconds shy of 4.5 hours exactly, which considering the unusual workload (you’re unlikely to be watching full HD video and constantly refreshing the internet – more likely than not doing one or the other) isn’t too bad.

Lenovo claims a battery life of 9 hours, assuming you have BIOS V32, brightness set to 200 nits and wifi off – the latter of which isn’t likely given our connected society and the lack of ethernet on this machine. In normal use I got about six hours battery life (that is, general web browsing using Opera, on various sites including Youtube and Tumblr).

Final Thoughts

This year, Lenovo listened to the criticisms of the Yoga 3 Pro, and took them on board. They have released a laptop that is truly an excellent machine that most users will be very happy with.

I think my biggest complaint is the keyboard, and that’s because I’m spoiled on my other computers – I have a clicky mechanical keyboard on my home desktop, an excellent Thinkpad keyboard on my T530 and a fancy Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic keyboard at work. The key travel is not great compared to them. Compared to other consumer laptops, it’s great – no flex and you can actually tell that you’re pressing keys and not just mushing things that might type what you’re pressing – but compared to my other fancy keyboards it’s just average. The only real ways it could be improved are to make the F keys act like F keys out of the box, and to have more key travel – but this would mean a thicker laptop as a result. So sacrifices must be made.

Since Lenovo started the Yoga craze, there’s been copycats from other manufacturers. Toshiba, HP, Dell and Acer to name but a few have jumped on the bandwagon and have their own variants, and there’s a whole line of Yoga products from Lenovo too – both consumer and business class. So it’s not as if though you aren’t spoilt for choice in this market at the moment no matter your price point.

As for this machine, the only thing it has going against it that will affect most people is price. The Australian dollar isn’t buying as much US currency as it was 12 months ago, and the tech market is suffering as a result.

Most people don’t have $2200 to spend on a laptop. Most people will not need a Quad HD+ display. Most people don’t need the thinnest, lightest PC. For those who need or want these things, this machine exists.

For $1399, you can get a perfectly serviceable Yoga 700, with the same processor, a full HD 14″ display, 4GB RAM and a 128GB SSD. It weighs 300 grams more and is 10mm thicker, but for most people, unless they need a heap of storage, this machine would be more than sufficient. It also has a model that has an nVidia GPU as well – something the 900 series doesn’t have.

If you jump across to the Thinkpad line, you have more options again – there’s the Thinkpad Yoga 260 starting at $1699 – although this is a very barebones model with an i3 CPU, 127GB SSD, 4GB RAM and a 12.5″ display running at a paltry 1366×768. To save your eyes, I’d be forking out the $50.01 for the full HD upgrade.

For $1899, you can get the Thinkpad Yoga 460, which is a little more beefy than the 260, with an i5, 8GB RAM, Full HD screen, but you lose the SSD and get a 1TB hard drive with a 16GB SSD cache instead (a 128GB SSD is a $50 upgrade, a 256GB one $149.99 or you can add one yourself aftermarket).

If you want to spend more than what you can spend on the Yoga 900, the X1 Yoga exists, starting at $2299 and going all the way up to an eye-watering $4099 for a fully maxed out model (i7, 16GB RAM, Windows 10 Pro, 512GB PCI Express SSD, Quad HD display and stylus support) – break out the Centurion!

 

 

So, I guess the takeaway is this – if you have the money – then you will be very happy with this laptop. No question about it. It’s beautiful, performs well, and honestly, the only other laptop I have been as happy with was my T530 when it was new. But if you’re a normal person, you may well find a better deal with a lower model that will probably suit you just as well.

 

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