Since 2012, a Lenovo Yoga notebook has been my constant companion and my everyday work horse. Today we are looking at the third generation of the Lenovo Yoga series, the Yoga 3 Pro, an touchscreen Ultrabook equipped with a 360 degree hinge. This is not a full and comprehensive review, but rather my first impressions having used the device for a couple of days.
Ahead of the official presentation from Lenovo we already had a good idea of what specifications to expect thanks to some careless dealers who had inadvertently leaked some key, and quite promising details. An Intel Core 5Y70 M processor, the return of the 3,200 x 1,800 screen resolution, a choice of either 256GB or 512GB SSD and metal housing. With these specs forming the base of the technical details, our expectations were high, especially when you add a thickness of only 12.8mm and a weight of just 1.2kg. This is one of the first of a new breed of Core M-based 2-in-1 / Ultrabooks which promise to be light, thin an fast. On the surface at least, the Yoga 3 Pro proved to fulfill these expectations.
Yoga 3 Pro: Design and Build
With a thickness of only 12.8 millimeters, the Yoga 3 is an incredibly thin Ultrabook that does not compromise on comfort. The keyboard is somewhat compact considering the space available on the device, but I’m sure most of us will not complain too much about Lenovo eliminating the top row of ‘F’ or Function keys, integrating these into the number keys along the top row. This can mean that hot-key shortcuts can become a challenge (needing three keys pressed including the Alt key) but in general the keyboard is similar to what we have seen before from Lenovo – top notch. Because the notebook is so thin, there can be a little give, or bend when you apply pressure, but I guess bending is better than breaking.
Despite being thinner the torsional stiffness of the base is has been increased by an improved internal structure and the metal cover on the bottom. This helps maintain integrity and prevents the track pad locking when you lift the device from one corner – something that was a pest on the previous generation. The display too is thinner than its predecessors and as a result can be bent a little more than previously, but the fact that there is plenty of give again means less chance of fracture which can be an issue with thinner displays. The new hinge on the Yoga 3 uses solid metal braces and feels more stable than the previous design and means the device is a little shorter than before.
The hinge, according to Lenovo is constructed of 813 individual pieces of metal and aluminum and it’s not just for decoration, far from it. Together these 813 components combine to form six hinges that connect the display and the base in a very firm, flexible and elegant way. There are sections of braid added to links that connect together in a similar way to a metal wrist watch strap, combining to offer several stages of movement. The idea that this is a gimmick fades fast after handling the Yoga 3, as the metal braces and links form a very stable device that allows the display to be moved in to, and solidly held in virtually any position.
The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro is predominantly made of metal with the display and the frame of the base made from an aluminum-magnesium alloy. Instead of rubber coating we find that the lid of the device is finished by a layer of paint which could well be prone to scratching, but generally the Yoga 3 does not feel at all slippery despite using plastic. The area around the keyboard feels reasonably classy in comparison to the functional rubber feel of its predecessor, the finish is plastic but it does not suffer from the issues that have plagued some designs – the Galaxy S5 springs to mind. To the touch, the Yoga 3 Pro feels good.
The 13.3 inch display on the Yoga 3 Pro once again sports a high resolution QHD panel with a resolution of 3200 x 1800. You may be tempted to reign this in however as Windows 8 and 8.1 actually do a terrible job of scaling up to properly exploit all of those pixels. Windows 10 will hopefully do a better job of scaling the desktop environment so that icons and text are clear and readable in QHD resolution. As with the Yoga 2 Pro, I tend to configure the screen resolution to be 2048 x 1152 pixels, a configuration which stills gives you a very impressive image quality without forcing me to squint. The display itself is a PenTile IPS panel from Samsung, and you would expect from Samsung, the result is very impressive even though the higher native resolution of the display does effect sharpness a little.
One issue that was apparent on the Yoga 2 Pro was that in terms of color reproduction, it tended to look a little yellow-ish. The Yoga 3 Pro appears to have resolved this issue and no longer needs custom color profiles or manual adjustment. The colors looks natural. Overall the display is an improvement offering plenty of brightness and good viewing angles. The 10-point multi-touch interface is also a joy to use.
Intel Core M Processor Platform
The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro is one of the first devices to run on the new mobile platform from Intel, using the Intel Core M platform which is based on the latest Broadwell architecture. The Intel Core 5Y70 M runs with a maximum power draw (TDP) of only 6 watts. From what we know the manufacturers are able to configure these processors according to their needs, which of course means according to the thermal constraints of the design. The Core 5Y70 has quite a conservative base clock speed of 1.1GHz, is capable of turbo boosting to 2.6GHz when needed. The emphasis for Intel Core M processors is without doubt the lower TDP, which while helping considerably with battery life, should also allow thinner devices like the Yoga 3 Pro. At launch Intel talked about Core M enabling fanless, thin 2-1, Notebook and larger tablets. The larger question however is around performance.
If we compare the Core 5Y70 with a Haswell chip of a similar thermal rating, perhaps a ‘Y’ series processor, we find that Broadwell beats Haswell by around 10-15 percent. The previous generation, the Yoga 2 Pro uses a more power intensive ‘U’ series chip that in theory would suck down double the power of the Core 5Y70 M. It would however also win out in a performance head to head. In general, the Core 5Y70 M offers sufficient performance, as long as you avoid Power Saving Mode.
Power Saving Mode will restrict the Broadwell chip considerably, reducing performance to the level of base clock only. This change is felt in several respects, with Youtube videos (of any resolution) starting to stutter and a generally less than smooth browsing experience for example. It seems that the Intel chip throttles quite considerably once it starts to warm, this is especially true of processor intensive tasks and benchmarking where we see an initial 2.6Ghz clock becoming reduced to something closer to 1.3GHz after an extended period. This is a feature of the Intel Core M processor, but I wonder if Lenovo could have configured the processor to maintain higher clocks, perhaps with improved cooling.
In terms of cooling it is actually interesting to note that the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro does indeed use a fan. Intel is obviously positioning the new Core M chips towards devices towards fanless designs, their marketing is clear on this. But it would seem that Lenovo has opted to use a fan and copper and copper cooling combination to ensure sufficient heat dissipation. This is not necessarily a bad thing and one would suspect that adding a higher thermal margin allows the device to squeeze more performance. Lenovo have told us that the fan is very quiet and during less intensive tasks will actually shut down entirely. This is in contrast to the Yoga 2 Pro which kept the fan going continuously, so I guess some progress has been made.
One comment I would make however, is that although the Yoga 3 Pro fan does turn off, it actually seems to come alive too soon. The fan actually kicks in before the device gets too warm, so I would wonder if perhaps there is a little more headroom there that Lenovo could have exploited. I guess a BIOS update could fix the issue, reducing noise during less intensive tasks.
Enough about the processor, there is also the issue of drive performance. The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro has a decent 8GB of DDR3 memory with the OS installed on a Lite-on SSD that provides very good transfer speeds. The model that we have has a 256GB SSD, but there is also the option for a larger 512GB. Personally I would opt for the larger drive as we do quite a bit video production on the road and HD video takes up plenty of space. In general apps like Photoshop and other heavier programs were a pleasure to use on the Yoga 3 Pro. In general terms, there is plenty of performance here.
Ports, Battery and Audio
The Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro has a 44.8 watt-hour battery that is actually smaller than its predecessor. The lower power silicon from Intel should help stretch out that performance and in fact I found that during an afternoon of browsing the web, streaming music and video with display brightness turn up full throughout, the device was capable of six hours usage. If you turn down the brightness and curb the media consumption a little, it is possible to get closer to the nine hours that Lenovo are quoting. Although I cannot verify that figure, it is clear that the Yoga 2 Pro offers improved battery life compared to its predecessor.
As with previous Yoga Pro devices, you are only getting two USB 3.0 ports, although the power port also acts as a USB 2.0 port. The power supply provided can also be used in two voltage modes so that it can power both the Yoga 3 Pro and also a smartphone. It’s interesting to note that whether you are charging your phone or the Yoga device, you are using a USB port. Smart decision in my mind. You also getting a 4-1 card reader (SD, MMC, SDXC, SDHC), a micro-HDMI out plus audio jack. In terms of audio the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro uses a pair of integrated JBL speakers, but in truth I would argue that the Yoga 2 Pro is louder with a richer sound. In general however, it is a better audio experience than the majority of notebooks and 2-in-1s out there.
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro: Initial Conclusion
Overall, you would have to describe the Yoga 3 Pro as an attractive evolution of its predecessor and the high-end Ultrabook series from Lenovo. It’s also indicative of ultra-mobile technology in general, showcasing the next step in power efficiency from Intel with their Core M platform. There is a performance hit, but it is offset by quieter operation and improved battery life. Plus you are getting a very thin and very light build that certainly makes an impression.
The Yoga 3 Pro gives you a super keyboard, a very useable and solid track-pad, an innovative power / USB 2.0 port and don’t forget one of the best hinge designs we have ever come across. All of these features make the Lenovo 3 Pro a very attractive Windows 8 device. Lenovo are proving that they are ahead of the curve when it comes to designing great mobile devices and I am genuinely excited to see future products from probably, the leading notebook / 2-in-1 manufacturer in China right now.
It is a little disappointing to see the that the Intel Core M chip throttles down during any kind extended intensive tasking, and also that Lenovo have configured the integrated fan to kick in earlier and more often than we would like. Let’s hope that Intel and manufacturing partners like Lenovo can work out a way to improve on this. Regardless, you can consider the Yoga 3 Pro a statement of intent from Lenovo and a blueprint for today’s new generation of notebooks.
Written by Roland Quandt, translated and edited by Stewart Haston