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.

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.

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.

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.

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’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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