Lauren Goode

Lenovo’s Bendy Yoga 2 Laptop Makes All the Right Moves

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m primarily a MacBook user, mostly because I use video-editing software that is specific to Macs. And I haven’t really been swayed by the whole “convertible” PC trend.

However, if I had to choose a Windows 8-based laptop right now, Lenovo’s Yoga 2 Pro (starting at $899), would be at the top of the list. The Yoga 2 is the second version of Lenovo’s bendy, 13-inch laptop. It’s called the Yoga because its design allows the keyboard to flip backward underneath the display so that the laptop can also be used as a touchscreen tablet.

My boss, Walt Mossberg, reviewed the original 13-inch Yoga a year ago, and while he liked its design, he found it faulty and somewhat clumsy.

But the Yoga has cleaned up well since then, with a tweaked design, higher-resolution display and improved battery life.

It’s still not perfect: It’s awkward as a tablet, especially when compared with a comfortably sized seven-inch tablet. While its battery life is improved over the first Yoga, due to a higher-performing Haswell chip, it still doesn’t best the MacBook Air.

And if you’re not totally sold on the Yoga 2’s “flip” design, you can find cheaper Ultrabook options — basically, a categorization for premium laptops based on Intel specifications — though they might not be quite as nice as the Yoga 2. Lenovo even makes two semi-flexible IdeaPad Flex models, with 14-inch or 15-inch displays, that are less expensive than the Yoga.

The Yoga 2 I’ve been testing is a gunmetal gray model with an Intel Core i5 (midrange) processor, a 128 gigabyte solid-state drive, and four gigabytes of RAM. This is the $999 version. The laptop creeps up in price from there, topping out at $1,449 for a better chip and a 512GB solid state drive. It’s also available in a funky orange color.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro

While the Yoga 2 Pro is aimed at consumers, its hard-angled design at first made me think Lenovo has a tough time shedding its “business attire” entirely. But the Yoga 2’s body had a surprisingly nice leathery feel to it. It also has a thin rubber edge to protect the machine when it’s propped up in different positions.

The Yoga 2 is 0.61 inches thick and weighs 3.06 pounds, compared with the 3.4 pounds its predecessor weighed. This is just a hair thinner than the old Yoga (0.67 inches thick), but makes it comparable to the MacBook Air at its thickest point.

On the left edge of the laptop there is a USB 3.0 port, a mini-HDMI jack and an SD card slot. There’s another USB port on the right side, along with an audio jack, volume buttons and a tiny power button.

Lenovo Yoga 2

Its display has been upgraded to a 3200 by 1800 resolution “QHD” display (Quad High Definition), which basically means it has four times as many pixels as the 1600 by 900 HD+ resolution of the previous model.

It’s no doubt a nice display, with bold, bright colors, though, as with all devices, it depends on what you’re viewing. The ultra-high-definition YouTube videos Lenovo recommends for testers looked great, of course, and so did high-quality photos I swiped through. Episodes of “The Good Wife” in HD on Amazon Instant Video looked all right, but an SD movie I watched through the same service looked like, well, like a standard-def movie.

I found the touchscreen and virtual keyboard to be responsive. Unlike its predecessor, the physical keyboard on the Yoga 2 is backlit, a nice addition.

The Lenovo Yoga 2 in "stand" mode.

The Lenovo Yoga 2 in “stand” mode.

Like a practiced yogi, the Yoga 2 moves fluidly from “regular” laptop mode to stand mode (in which the keyboard is face-down on a surface and the display propped up as though it’s on a stand) to tent mode, which looks like it sounds.

But I found little use for it as a tablet. I use both the iPad mini and Kindle Fire tablets for reading, which makes sense, given that they’re seven-inch devices. Using this 13-inch tab for reading felt pretty ridiculous, like I was reading the Ten Commandments on a long, stone tablet. And when I wanted to watch videos on it, stand mode or tent mode just made the most sense.

The Web camera is an unspectacular one-megapixel Webcam. I’ll let all the people with flawless complexions out there feel dismayed for a minute, but I was okay with the quality for video chats. I Skyped with my colleague Bonnie Cha one night this week, and she said the image was a little grainy on her end but ultimately, fine. What the Yoga 2 lacks in Webcam it makes up for in speakers, though, giving full, clear sound.

The Yoga 2 in "tent" mode.

The Yoga 2 in “tent” mode.

Let’s talk about software. If you’re not yet familiar with Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system, I’ll say the same thing that I say to anybody who asks me whether they should get a fancy new Windows 8 Ultrabook: This operating system takes some getting used to.

The Yoga 2 ships with Windows 8.1, which has some improvements. You can now boot up to the “old” Window desktop if you want, rather than the tile-based Start menu. And, as my aforementioned colleague Bonnie points out here, a quick swipe from the bottom of the screen also brings up a view of all of your apps. But Windows 8 can still be a little confusing.

Lenovo has also installed something called Yoga Picks in the Yoga 2, which suggests suitable apps when you switch between physical laptop modes. And the Yoga 2 leverages voice-command technology in two apps so far: The native camera app, Yoga Camera Man (saying “One, two, three, cheese!” snaps a hands-free picture), and a chef’s app, which I “swiped” through using my voice, though I didn’t actually make any of the recipes suggested. Lenovo says the company is looking at expanding these voice commands and other input methods.

The Yoga 2 in "tablet" mode. It's rather ... large.

The Yoga 2 in “tablet” mode. It’s rather … large.

The Yoga 2’s biggest drawback is its unexceptional battery life. In the test I ran, which involved turning off all power savers, putting the display on full brightness, fetching email over Wi-Fi and playing iTunes on a continuous loop, the Yoga 2 lasted five hours and eight minutes. When Walt Mossberg ran this same test on last year’s Yoga, it lasted just four hours and 31 minutes, so the Yoga 2 has definitely improved. But it fares worse than the new Macbook Air, the Sony Vaio Pro and the HP Envy x2.

Battery life aside, the new Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro is one of the Win 8-based laptops to beat.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik