Review: Lenovo Yoga Book

Lenovo's Yoga Book is the most striking personal computer I've seen in years. More than the original iPhone, or Sony's X505, or the Messagepad, here's technology that seems a few years ahead of schedule. It's compact, attractive and thinner than anything else that might be called a laptop. Imagine two hinged pieces of black glass, one of which glows with the internet and the other with Okudagrams, and you have the Yoga Book.

Inside is an Intel Atom x5 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage space. There's a 10" 1920×1200 touchscreen, a micro-USB port, a mini-HDMI port and a real, honest-to-God headphone jack. It runs Windows or Android, and I tested it with the latter.

The keyboard is a completely flat, featureless panel that doubles as a trackpad and Wacom-style graphics tablet. The layout lights up on it, then turns off when it's being used with the pen. It's pretty and minimalist, every key's outline an etched white line.

This uncompromising design comes at the cost of performance, which aligns with Chromebooks more than "proper" laptops: this thing would get its ass kicked by a Surface Pro. But then again, it's less than half the price of one. In fact, at $500, it feels surprisingly inexpensive, especially given the premium materials and workmanship. This puts you in the right frame of mind: the Yoga Book is a sleek tablet with business benefits, not a business-class laptop.

That said, using the standard Google apps and a few downloaded from the Google Play store, I ran into no significant performance issues. Browsing, typing, mailing, editing (where work didn't involve graphics or video editing) went without a hitch or jag. The Yoga Book passes the "road warriors and grandmothers" threshhold of utility. Serious desktop apps on the Windows model may be another matter.

I'd opt for the Windows model rather than the Android one, though, even being $50 more expensive. Google's mobile operating system just doesn't quite feel right on a quasi-laptop device like this. Multitasking, on-screen keyboards showing up here and there, and various other mobile-device shibboleths constantly got in the way of my expectations.

Lenovo is readying a Chrome OS edition, which will surely be a better fit for those wanting to avoid Windows.

The best thing about the Yoga Book is the way the device integrates with the magnetic leatherette notepad that comes with it. This contains a dotted paper pad ($20 refills!) and a stylus/pen with interchangeable ballpoint ink tips.

In other words, you can simultaneously create physical and digital notes—and art!—simply by placing paper over the keyboard panel and getting to work. You can even close the machine inside-out, turning it into a fancy-looking notepad that's silently digitizing everything you do. People in meetings wouldn't even know it was a gadget, recording not only your scrawled notes but everything they're saying, for later.

I found it surprisingly pleasant to use for drawing and painting, too. It comes with Artrage and has good pressure sensitivity and acceptable latency. In fact, I really liked painting with it: the panel has a texture oddly akin to high-quality paper. Not rough, but with a bit of tooth, much nicer than smooth glass. You can't draw on the actual display, though, so the reference point for artists is still "Wacom Bamboo" rather than a Cintiq or iPad Pro.

The keyboard, though, is what brought me to a halt. There's no mechanical aspect to it at all, no tactility, no feedback. Typing on it is exactly like typing on a tablet's screen, albeit with a more complete and traditionally-spaced layout. If you like screen-typing, don't need a pro laptop and have $500 in your wallet, the Yoga Book is something you can fall in love with.

But for me, this one irreducible aspect of it, key to the whole device's clever spread of uses, means that I just couldn't get any work done.

Lenovo Yoga Book with Windows 10 [Amazon Link]