Review: Updated: Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro

Review: Updated: Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro

Introduction

The Yoga 2 Pro was arguably the finest convertible Ultrabook money could buy when it launched in late 2013 – and it continues to impress today. It was sleek, packed a best-in-class QHD+ display and could transform into a multitude of positions depending on how you wanted to use it.

  • Update 21/5/2015: Lenovo has swapped the Intel Core M5Y70 on the original Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro for a newer Intel Core M5Y71. The latter has a slightly higher base/boost clock speed (1.1/2.6GHz vs 1.2/2.9GHz) so you get a bit more oomph. This hasn’t trickled to the UK though till now. The company has also cut the price of the cheaper model from £999.95 to £799.95 in the UK after a £200 cashback offer with places like John Lewis offering a three-year warranty. Note that there is also a new BIOS update that was rolled out only a few days ago.

At $1,099 (£1,099, around AUS$1,254), it was also relatively affordable compared to competing Ultrabooks boasting displays with high pixel densities.

On the flip side, its battery life, unwieldy tablet mode and lack of 802.11ac Wi-Fi meant that there was still plenty of room for improvement. By addressing these concerns, I could see Lenovo returning with a smash hit on its hands.

On paper, the Yoga 3 Pro promises to be just that, with one look at the spec sheet revealing a machine for fans of both convertible machines and Ultrabooks in general to lust after.

In the grass

Broad appeal?

One of the first devices to arrive with Intel’s new Core M "Broadwell" processor, which succeeds the company’s battery-sipping Haswell architecture, it has catwalk-thin dimensions and comes in a trio of colours: Golden, Orange Clementine and Light Silver.

It has a designer (and not to mention brave) price tag to match, starting at $1,299 (£1,299) for the entry-level model with a 256GB SSD. That rises to $1,699 (UK and AUS price TBC) for the top-spec offering, which doubles storage capacity and comes with the Pro, rather than regular version of Windows 8.1.

Cost also varies (somewhat inconsistently) depending on which colour you choose; you can view the full line-up on Lenovo’s website.

Performing some benchmarks

There are a few notable competitors in that price bracket. One is Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3, which will set you back $1,299 for the 256GB / Core i5 version, and Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina, which costs the same for the 128GB / Core i5 model.

Then there’s the Yoga 2 Pro that, following a price drop that has seen it fall to just $849 (around £530, or AUS$969), now represents serious value for money. Although it’s engineered towards gaming, another option to consider is the Razer Blade, which we reckon is one of the best-crafted Windows laptops of all time.

Flexi-time

One of the Yoga 3 Pro’s most striking features is its watchband hinge, which has been crafted from more than 800 individual pieces of aluminium steel, according to Lenovo.

There are now six hinges, compared to the Yoga 2 Pro’s two. They add a retro twist to an otherwise modern design, and in addition to oozing elegance they occasionally emit the sort of satisfying clink you might hear when slipping on an expensive timepiece.

Windows 8 Ultrabooks have for some time struggled to escape the shadow cast by Apple’s MacBook Air, but Lenovo has found a way to stand out without aping the Cupertino company’s well-familiar design aesthetic – and it’s refreshing to see.

Yoga 3 Pro on sofa

This stylistic choice is timely in more ways than one having arrived during a year that has seen the tech industry pay more attention to fashion trends (in the case of wearables like the Apple Watch, anyway – others remain stoney-faced at the idea.)

But it’s not fashion for fashion’s sake: the new hinge design makes the device sturdier than the not-exactly-flimsy Yoga 2 Pro, and Lenovo says that it also enabled its engineers to slim the device down to the point that they did.

Flipping tech

That hinge allows you to flip the lid 360 degrees into one of four different modes: standard Laptop, Tent, Stand, and Tablet. Next to Laptop mode, Tent is perhaps the most useful because it takes up the least room on the surface area and makes it easier to interact with Windows 8.1 apps.

Tent mode gives some Windows 8.1 apps a new lease of life

I took the Yoga Pro 3 on a trip and found that the Tent position allowed the device to double as an attractive alarm clock when positioned on the hotel’s bedside cabinet.

The other modes have their uses too; Stand provides the same benefits as Tent while providing more rigidity, and Tablet, a bugbear on the Yoga 2 Pro due to that device’s thickness, is easier to handle on the Yoga 3 Pro due to it being thinner, lighter and slightly longer in the body than the outgoing machine.

Specifications and build quality

The Yoga 3 Pro gets a QHD+ display, which totes the same 3200 x 1800 pixel resolution found on the Yoga 2 Pro. You’ll want to adjust the magnification settings in Windows 8.1 to 150% or higher make fonts and text clearly legible.

Sticking to higher resolutions gives you more desktop real-estate to edit multimedia files and snap documents side-by-side. In some scenarios it can be a real productivity boon, but overall the resolution still feels like overkill at 13 inches.

One option is to lower the resolution to 2048 x 1152 (16:9), a notch under the native resolution, which keeps everything looking sharp while remaining readable with magnification set to 100%.

The display’s 300 nits is sufficiently bright for indoor use, but slightly too dim for outside conditions. It’s an IPS panel with very good viewing angles – a crucial factor for a device designed to be used in many positions.

Wood floor

The Yoga 3 Pro is one of the most portable Ultrabooks around, coming in 17% slimmer and 14% lighter than the Yoga 2 Pro, by Lenovo’s measurements.

It weighs just 2.62 pounds, making it lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Air’s 2.69 pounds, and it’s slightly thicker along the middle of the left and right edges, as opposed to the tapered design of Apple’s machine.

It’s roughly the same weight as Samsung’s Series 9 900X3C, and only the ageing Toshiba Portege Z930/Z935 and Sony Vaio Pro 13 come in lighter in the 13-inch category, at 2.50 pounds and 2.34 pounds respectively.

Build inequality

The Yoga 3 Pro measures 13 x 9 x 0.5 inches (W x D x H), and it’s astounding just how svelte, portable and slim Lenovo has made it.

It can easily be picked up from any edge with the lid at any angle with ease; however, doing so can expose the Ultrabook’s questionable build quality, raising the question of whether Lenovo has made it too thin.

The lid possesses an alarming amount of flex along the left and right-hand edges, and picking it up using the frame’s bezel produces a rippling, discoloured effect.

Stand mode is great for touchscreen interaction

At no point did I feel like the lid would snap, or even that it might cause substantial damage, but the undesired effect made me constantly aware of the need to be gentle when flipping it into different positions.

The Ultrabook’s base also suffers from slight flex when force is applied to the left and right areas of the clickpad, an action that makes it creak more than a pensioner’s knees.

I’m in the thinner = winner camp when it comes to Ultrabooks, but there is an argument that it can be detrimental for devices to be too slim, especially if it’s at the expense of build quality, and Lenovo treads a fine line with the Yoga 3 Pro.

You've got chain mail

The Yoga 3 Pro is made of a smooth plastic with a dimpled effect on the base and under the display frame. Both the lid and base have a tapered edge, which helps keep it steadfast when in tent mode and prevents it from slipping.

Picking the machine up when the lid is closed is another matter. Lenovo made the decision not to include a recessed section or lip along the machine’s front edge, and as a result attempting to open it from the front can be a maddening experience – even with two hands (forget using one – the lid is simply too light).

I eventually clocked on that it’s far easier to open the lid by placing my index finger on each of the machine’s sides to hold it steady and using my thumb to prise it open. Is it a big deal? No. Could it have been easily avoided? Without doubt.

Ports and connectivity

The Yoga 3 Pro is an impressive feat of engineering, but sacrifices clearly had to be made for it to be so thin at the expense of its I/O capabilities.

Due to the watchband design, there is no room for ports at the rear of the device. Instead they have been lumped into the thicker middle section along the machine’s left and right-hand edges.

Ports left

On the left-hand side is a power port, which doubles as a USB port. The power connector itself has a slightly curved lip to prevent you from plugging into another USB port, which could damage the laptop.

Next to that is a USB 3.0 port and a full-size SD card connector. Unfortunately not enough room remained for a full-sized HDMI port, so you’ll have to make do with using an adapter. It’s not a huge deal, but slightly irritating if you output to a HDMI monitor regularly.

Ports right

The standout communications protocol onboard is 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which was sorely missing from the Yoga 2 Pro. I found that connectivity held solidly throughout my time with the review model. Bluetooth 4.0 is also present for pairing speakers, peripherals and other devices.

Performance and battery life

Benchmarks

  • Cinebench (Multi-Core): 13.3fps
  • 3D Mark 11
  • Ice Storm: 25,839
  • Cloud Gate: 2,738
  • Sky Diver: 1,406
  • Fire Storm: 329
  • PC Mark 8
  • Home: 2,165
  • Work: 2,704
  • Battery life test
  • Power saver: 5 hours 15 mins
  • Balanced: 4 hours and 30 minutes
  • High Performance: 2 hours and 57 minutes
  • TechRadar Light Use battery test: 7 hours and 10 minutes

For the wad of cash you’ll spend on the Yoga 3 Pro, it’s not enough for it to look good – it has to perform too. It may be able to flex, but as powerlifters know, it’s pointless doing so in the absence of muscle.

Under the hood is Intel’s Core M-5Y70 CPU, which is clocked at 1.1GHz (turbo boost to 2.6GHz). As I’ve mentioned, it’s based on Intel’s Broadwell architecture, which brings the benefit of allowing manufacturers to make their Ultrabooks fanless (and thinner and quieter as a result). The Yoga 3 Pro isn’t fanless, but it still runs very quiet. You’ll occasionally hear its internal fan whirring away under heavier CPU or graphic-intense workloads.

Unfortunately, the move to Broadwell has had a negative impact on processing power compared to the Yoga 2 Pro. Last year’s Ultrabook scored around 1,000 points more in PC Mark’s Home and Work benchmarks. The Yoga 2 Pro’s HD 4400 also scored slightly higher than the Yoga 3 Pro’s HD 5300 in 3D Mark’s more demanding Fire Strike and Cloud Gate benchmarks. However, the newer entrant performed better in the Ice Storm test, which simulates light gaming use to test the GPU.

The system runs cool most of the time. When it does begin to warm up under heavier loads, heat is concentrated to the top right-hand corner of the base, and I never found it to heat up to the point where it was uncomfortable.

On bench

Other specs include 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD from Samsung, which make for a nippy machine that boots up and shuts down almost instantaneously. Performance in Windows 8.1 apps is smooth, with the Yoga 3 Pro able to handle anything you can find in the Windows Store.

Graphics duties are taken care of by Intel’s integrated HD 5300 solution, meaning only modest gaming is on the menu. Games running Valve’s Source Engine (such as Team Fortress 2, or Half-Life 2) will manage a healthy 40 – 50 FPS on lower resolutions with details turned down. A more demanding title in Skyrim, on the other hand, only managed an average (and borderline unplayable) 30FPS on 1280 x 720.

Most tasks on the desktop can be undertaken without any sign of slowdown; 1080p videos play with a hitch (including when outputted to a larger monitor or TV), and medium-sized images in GIMP around 300MB in size can be scaled and resized with delays into tens of seconds, rather than minutes.

Battery strife

The Yoga 2 Pro’s middling battery life was one of the main pain points of last year’s outing, and poor performance has once again reared its head on the Yoga 3 Pro.

The move from Haswell to Broadwell was expected to increase efficiency, and while Lenovo states nine hours of continuous use, you won’t hit that unless you use the machine very conservatively.

Our Light Use battery test: viewing websites, holding a couple of Skype calls, watching a few YouTube movies, editing documents and images (and so on) allowed the battery to run for just over seven hours. That was with Lenovo’s battery power management panel set to ‘Power Saver’, brightness on 75%, keyboard back-lighting, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi all switched on.

Garden

For further analysis, I also ran PC Mark 8’s punishing Home Battery Life test under all three of Lenovo’s power management settings, with brightness set to 100% and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi switched on.

As expected, all three yielded lower results then the manual Light Use test, with particularly dismal results from the High Performance setting. Where the Yoga 2 Pro managed roughly 3 hours 10 minutes under the same conditions, the Yoga 3 Pro went for just 2 hours and 57 minutes.

This is not an Ultrabook that will go anywhere near all day if you want to use the display on full beam. Whether this is down to Lenovo’s poor battery management software or Intel’s Core M processor will become clear when more Ultrabooks based on Broadwell hit the market.

On the plus side, charging times aren’t so bad. Set Lenovo’s charging assistance software to Normal Mode and juice is restored up in around 2 hours 30 minutes. A second option, Conservation Mode, will top up from empty in around four hours but is less taxing on the battery level, which Lenovo reckons can help extend battery life if frequently used.

Keyboard and clickpad

I was impressed with the Yoga 2 Pro’s keyboard, and the Yoga 3 Pro’s is a more-than-solid offering with well-spaced chiclet keys that possess a decent amount of travel. It’s here that the laptop’s thin profile comes in as an advantage.

Because it sits so low, it almost feels like you’re typing on the surface that it’s resting on, allowing the wrists to rest at a comfortably low position. Its keys are once again shaped like those from Lenovo’s Thinkpad line of devices, with a square top edge and rounded bottom.

Keyboard

Once caveat in this area is the lack of a F-row of keys, which is a curious and frustrating omission for an Ultrabook with a "Pro" moniker. There’s plenty of room between the top of the keyboard and the hinges to squeeze one in, and the empty space winds up looking a little barren.

Even if a F-row wasn’t included, pushing the keys higher up the keyboard would have allowed Lenovo to make the clickpad slightly larger. As things are, it’s merely adequate, with a smooth texture that’s a magnet for fingerprints.

I occasionally found that clickpad’s sensitivity was a little on the low side and failed to register swipes if not enough pressure was applied. Clickpads, like keyboards, are subjective, and I prefer ones that are rock solid and highly sensitive (in terms of physical pressure required, not the cursor speed in Windows).

The MacBook Pro line has led the line in this area, and those on Fujitsu’s Lifebook line of business Windows 8.1 notebooks tend to perform similarly well. As someone who has become accustomed to a MacBook Pro clickpad, I often became frustrated at the Yoga 3 Pro clickpad’s imprecise nature.

Multimedia and apps

The Yoga 3 Pro’s speakers are typical of most 13-inch laptops: loud enough to fill a small room, but sorely lacking in bass, so a dedicated external set will be required if you’re planning on using it to provide the soundtrack at parties.

Out of the box, the speakers suffered from a crackling, distorted sound with the volume cranked up. This was fixed by going into Windows 8’s Device Manager, uninstalling the Realtek audio driver and rebooting. That driver was replaced with a HD audio driver entry, and the crackling completely disappeared.

On the front of the Yoga 3 Pro’s frame is a 720p webcam, which produces a video image clear enough for Skype calls and is comparable to a mid-range smartphone camera.

In terms of bundled Lenovo software, the company has given its adaptive "Harmony" software, which is designed to adapt to how you would use the machine over time, a short in the arm. Reading an e-book, for example, will see it automatically change the brightness and colour temperature according to environment lighting.

It can also apply a sepia-like on-screen filter to writing apps such as Evernote, which is designed to simulate a book’s page. I found it more distracting than useful, though I don’t doubt that it would reduce eye strain when used for hours at a time.

Verdict

The Yoga 3 Pro is undoubtedly a stunner: it’s almost perilously thin, offers supreme portability and is genuinely useful in certain scenarios when flipped into its various modes. If you value those attributes above all else, there is nothing out there quite like it.

Such originality is a dual-edged sword, because you’ll have no choice but to pay through the nose to get it. Moreover, questionable build quality, poor battery life and lower performance than last year’s model are overbearing negatives that you should be aware of before pledging your hard-earned.

We liked

The Yoga 3 Pro is thin and light with a strikingly original design, making it arguably most attractive Windows 8.1 Ultrabook out there. Its display isn’t one of the brightest we’ve laid eyes on, but its QHD+ resolution means that text, images and UI elements look pleasingly crisp and provide plenty of desktop real-estate for productivity or general tasks, in addition to light gaming.

Its excellent IPS display means that content can be easily viewed from all angles and shared with a friend when flipping the convertible into one of its four different modes.

For those that like to be productive, the lack of an F-row of keys only slightly detracts from what is an excellent keyboard to type on. It’s satisfying to use thanks to its incredibly low profile and decent sized, well-spaced chiclet-style keys.

It may not be an absolute beast in the power department, but a fast-performing SSD means that you’re never waiting long for it to boot up and shut down, and Windows apps open and close in a snap.

We disliked

It can’t be escaped: this is a fairly pricey Ultrabook with only very average battery life. Sure, if you set the display to 25% brightness and read a couple of websites a day then you may well hit those nine hours that Lenovo promises, but is that the experience you want on something that costs upwards of a grand – and then some?

Not only does the Yoga 3 Pro have poorer battery life than the Yoga 2 Pro, our benchmarks show that it’s less powerful too – in both the CPU and (in more taxing conditions) graphics departments.

It’s incredibly pretty and portable, but that thinness has been achieved at the expense of build quality. The lid is overly flexible and highly sensitive to LCD discolouration no matter how or where you grab it. It’s also awkward to open in the absence of a recessed lip.

You may fall in love with that superb keyboard, but only if you can get along with not having a dedicated row of F-keys. And while the clickpad operates smoothly enough, it becomes caked in fingerprints too easily and is slightly finicky with how much pressure it wants you to apply.

Final verdict

The Yoga 3 Pro ultimately fails to live up to its high price tag once you get past the attractive exterior. There are too many drawbacks for it to be recommended to anyone other than the style conscious crowd and those who must have the latest model at any cost.

On the other hand you can look past its caveats and simply want one of the thinnest and lightest Windows 8.1 machine on the market for everyday computing tasks – whether that’s browsing the web, light gaming or productivity work – you’d be hard pressed to find find anything like it.

But before you put your hands into your pockets, it’s worth noting that the Yoga 3 Pro is one of the first Core M devices to race out of the traps, and others are expected to follow soon. Thinner and lighter is set to become the norm, and with fanless designs on the horizon, we should expect to see even more experimental models that won’t break the bank in the near future.

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