The Lenovo ThinkPad series is the most revered line of PC laptops. Its fans number among the most intense PC enthusiasts on the planet — and they don’t respond well to change for the sake of change. That’s made it hard for many to accept the gradual splicing of ThinkPad and Yoga DNA, which has resulted in products like the ThinkPad Yoga 260.
Lenovo is looking to silence the doubters with its new ThinkPad X1 Yoga. The X1 series is the company’s flagship line; in the past, it’s models have ranked among the best ultrabooks on the market. The introduction of a Yoga model makes an obvious statement. Lenovo remains serious about the 2-in-1, and it thinks the Yoga design language is compatible with the best laptop it makes.
The specifications give reason to believe the company. Our review unit arrived with a Core i7-6500U processor, eight gigabytes of RAM, a 512GB solid state drive, and a 14-inch QHD touchscreen. There’s even an OLED display option, making the X1 Yoga part of a handful of pioneers finally bringing OLED to the laptop.
That’s serious hardware, and it commands a serious price. Base models start around $1,400, and going OLED adds another $125. Our review unit was tested at $1,800, and that’s before OLED is added to the equation. Is the X1 Yoga the 2-in-1 that will convince skeptics, or proof that versatility leads to weakness?
Carbon keeps it classy
At a glance, it’s hard to tell the ThinkPad X1 Yoga apart from past versions. That’s typical. The ThinkPad line has stuck to a matte black, boxy design from the beginning, and fans wouldn’t have it any other way.
On closer inspection, the 2-in-1 proves modern. It’s thin, at 0.66 inches, and weighs just 2.8 pounds. That latter figure is the more impressive, as this is a 14-inch system. Lenovo claims the ThinkPad X1 Yoga is the “world’s lightest 14-inch business 2-in-1.” As far as we know, it’s the lightest 14-inch 2-in-1, period. It’s lighter even than most 13-inch models.
Since it’s a Yoga, this ThinkPad converts into a tablet by rotating the display backwards 360 degrees. This tactic makes conversion simple, and it doesn’t leave you with a now-useless dock you must find a place to store. But it also means the full weight and size of the device is always a factor. A 14-inch laptop that weighs 2.8 pounds is light, but a 14-inch tablet that weighs the same? Not so much.
This is the lightest 14-inch 2-in-1 we’ve tested, and even puts some 13-inchers to shame.
Lenovo does include two features that make the most of tablet mode. The lift-and-lock keyboard physically retracts the keys into the chassis when the device is folded into tablet mode, which makes tablet use feel more natural. The ThinkPad X1 Yoga also has a stylus pen that allows fine-grain use of the touchscreen – and, unlike all its competitors, this 2-in-1 has a built-in storage slot that fully protects the stylus when it’s not in use.
The included stylus is handy in tablet mode, but it doesn’t make the X1 Yoga a direct competitor to the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, Dell Latitude 12 7000 Series 2-in-1, or Samsung TabPro S. This is a 14-inch system, remember, so it’s too large to use easily with one hand in tablet mode, despite its lack of weight. Lenovo designed this system for people who want a notebook first, but also appreciate the flexibility of tablet use when it’s needed.
ThinkPad fans will expect a sturdy product, and despite its 2-in-1 design, the X1 Yoga delivers. It doesn’t feel like a tank — it’s too light for that — but it seems robust when handled. There’s not much flex, and the hinge stays in place where ever it’s positioned. Durability is hard to guess based on a few weeks of use, but the X1 Yoga feels worthy of the ThinkPad name.
Lots of connectivity
While the X1 Yoga’s weight is more like a 13-inch system, its larger 14-inch display and corresponding chassis provide room for more ports than usual. It offers three USB 3.0 ports, a Mini-DisplayPort, HDMI, a combo headphone/microphone jack, a microSD card reader, and a OneLink+ port for use with Lenovo peripherals. Most competitors have only two USB 3.0 ports, and often just one video output.
Wireless connectivity is covered by the usual combo of 802.11ac Wi-Fi with Bluetooth 4.1.
A keyboard you’ll love
Keyboard quality is a big deal for ThinkPads. The brand has endured controversial changes over the last few years, ditching old-school beveled keys for a more modern, rounded design. We enjoyed typing on the X1 Yoga, as the keys featured significant travel and a firm bottoming action, but we also noticed a fair amount of keyboard flex.
Accurate typing was aided by the spacious layout. The keys are large, including those that are sometimes skimped by other laptops, such as Backspace. A touch typist should be able to float across them without much learning curve. The only oddity is one brand loyalists will be familiar with. The Function toggle key is to the left of the Control key, while every other laptop has the reverse layout.
A backlit keyboard is standard. It provides only two levels of brightness, but that’s sufficient for the task at hand, and almost no light escapes from the edge of each keycap.
Mouse navigation is handled by a reasonably sized touchpad with integrated buttons, or a TrackPoint nubbin in the middle of the keyboard. Those who love the latter will be happy to know it works as brilliantly as ever, and is paired with discrete, clickable buttons. Unlike the keyboard, which has changed over the years, the TrackPoint experience is much as we remember it a decade ago.
Here comes OLED
The base X1 Yoga has a 14-inch 1080p IPS touchscreen. However, we had the opportunity to review two models.
One was upgraded to a 2,560 x 1,440 IPS touchscreen. It had a semi-gloss coat, which might become annoying in a bright room. The second unit was upgraded to a 2,560 x 1,440 OLED touchscreen, which had a mirror-like finish. We put both panels through our benchmarks.
This laptop is built for work, not play, so gaming isn’t a priority.
Contrast, one of the most important metrics used to describe a display, is the biggest area of difference between the two X1 Yoga panels. It also separates the X1 Yoga with an OLED touchscreen from the rest of the pack. While the OLED screen’s 353310:1 contrast ratio is not quite as high as what we recorded from the Samsung TabPro S, it’s certainly way beyond a typical LED screen.
The X1 Yoga with 1440p IPS touchscreen manages a more typical 720:1 contrast ratio, which beats the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, but doesn’t defeat the Surface Book, or the Dell Latitude 12 7000.
Color gamut is another win for the Lenovo with OLED touchscreen. There, the system manages to render an incredible 99 percent of the AdobeRGB gamut — one of the highest results we’ve seen from any system. The IPS touchscreen hits only 68 percent of the same gamut. That’s not only below the OLED version, but a bit worse competitors with IPS touchscreen technology, too.
So, the OLED touchscreen is great for contrast and gamut. But it’s not awesome for accuracy. We recorded an average color error of 4.63. Lower is better in this test, and a result of 4.63 is higher than almost ever competitor, save the Surface Pro 4. In this area, the X1 Yoga’s IPS touchscreen option is superior, as it reported an average color error of 2.82.
The color problems of the OLED model are, in fact, related to its gamut. Hitting 99 percent of AdobeRGB is great — except that most content is created for the slimmer sRGB gamut. When such content is shown on a display with very wide color capabilities, like the X1 Yoga with OLED, it looks too vivid. Certain colors, like orange, green, and cyan, have a neon look they don’t have on the IPS touchscreen model. That can make content — HD video, in particular — look fake, even when it’s genuine.
We also noticed the OLED panel has a problem with color variance when viewed off-angle. Content starts to look overly blue as the screen is tilted back, or forward. The Samsung TabPro S has the same problem, so it appears this may be an issue with a particular brand of OLED panel on the market today.
Finally, do remember that the OLED screen is glossy. It compensates for that with added brightness – it can reach up to 353 lux, while the 1440p IPS touchscreen only hits 291 lux. But glare can still be an issue if a light happens to be directly behind you.
Even with these problems, the X1 Yoga with OLED touchscreen is worth the $125 it adds to the price. The contrast ratio is awesome, allowing for a true, inky black. Text is easier to read and photos are incredibly vibrant. To be clear, the X1 Yoga with OLED — or without, for that matter — is not going to make photo editors swoon. But the average, everyday user will be stunned by the difference OLED provides.
A pair of speakers are located in the bottom of the X1 Yoga. As with any thin laptop, bass is absent from the equation, and maximum volume isn’t loud enough to fill a large room with sound. Audio quality is reasonably clear, at least, so Skype calls and podcasts sound crisp.
We tested the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga with a Core i7-6500U processor, which is a surprisingly affordable $160 upgrade over the base Core i5-6200U. We’ve tested the i7-6500U in a few previous systems and found it to be a strong performer. The Thinkpad X1 Yoga is no different.
This isn’t the quickest laptop we’ve tested, but it comes close. In GeekBench single-core its score of 3,325 was just shy of the Dell XPS 13 with Core i7, which scored 3,308, and a couple hundred points behind the Microsoft Surface Book with Core i7, which scored 3,490.
The ThinkPad X1 Yoga also does well in multi-core tests.
The ThinkPad X1 Yoga also does well in multi-core tests like 7-Zip. It only falls short of the Dell XPS 13 in Handbrake, a test which evolves encoding a 420GB 4K trailer to h.265. Even then, the Lenovo easily exceeds Core i5 systems like the LG gram 14 and Toshiba Satellite Radius 12.
Performance will be less, of course, if you stick with the base Core i5-6200U, but the Core i7 seems a worthwhile upgrade if you can afford it. In any case, the X1 Yoga should handily defeat smaller, thinner competitors like the Huawei Matebook and Samsung TabPro S. This Lenovo is more laptop than tablet, and that shows in benchmarks.
Hard drive performance
Lenovo offers a variety of hard drive options with the ThinkPad X1 Yoga that connect over either SATA or PCI Express. Our review unit came with a 512GB Samsung PM871, which connects over SATA. That ultimately held back the X1 Yoga’s performance.
The gap between this ThinkPad and systems with a PCI Express solid state drive, like the Dell XPS 13 and Microsoft Surface Book, is most noticeable in read testing. There, the X1 Yoga we tested reached roughly half the capability of the fastest drives available.
As mentioned above, Lenovo does offer a PCI Express drive, so users can grab better performance if it’s desired. The price premium is rather slim, too. Upgrading from the 512GB SATA drive to a 512GB PCI Express drive will set you back just $55.
This laptop is built for work, not play, so gaming isn’t a priority, and a discrete GPU is not available. Intel Integrated Graphics is the only option. While the Core i7 processor presents Intel HD graphics in its best light, it’s still quite far behind what gamers expect.
3DMark Fire Strike makes that obvious. The X1 Yoga’s score of 782 represents a system that can play some 3D titles, but can’t handle modern games, or even particularly demanding titles that are several years old. This result is well less than half the performance of the Microsoft Surface Book, which we reviewed with its optional custom Nvidia GPU.
The Dell XPS 13 with Core i7 is an interesting point of comparison. While that model performs similarly in compute benchmarks, it actually has a more powerful version of Intel’s IGP, Intel’s Iris Graphics 540. The Core i7-6500U in the X1 Yoga only equips Intel’s mid-tier HD 520. As you can see, the XPS 13 is quite a bit quicker in 3DMark.
Related: Dell XPS 13 (Skylake) review
That makes a difference. A Dell XPS 13 with Core i7 can handle some modern 3D titles at low settings, while the ThinkPad can hardly handle any. You’ll be fine if you stick with older games, or 2D titles, but you shouldn’t buy the X1 Yoga if you care to play Star Wars Battlefront.
Portable, though OLED has a penalty
The 14-inch screen, combined with beefy bezels along the display’s top and bottom edge, make for a sizable system footprint. Yet, as mentioned, the 2.8 pound ThinkPad X1 Yoga is extremely light – about the same as Dell’s XPS 13, which is substantially smaller overall. That means the X1 Yoga isn’t dense, and distributes what little weight it carries well.
All versions of the X1 Yoga have a 52 watt-hour internal battery, which is not user replaceable. The battery is large for the system’s size, and it results in long battery life. The heavy-load Peacekeeper web browsing benchmark drained a full charge in four hours, 48 minutes – almost identical to the Dell XPS 13, a laptop we’ve repeatedly praised for longevity.
OLED does have some impact on battery life. In Peacekeeper, it reduced endurance by about 50 minutes. That somewhat understates the potential impact of the OLED display, because we standardize the brightness of tested systems at 100 lux. The OLED touchscreen is brighter than the 1440p IPS touchscreen, however, so in certain situations the OLED model can eat through the battery quickly. If maximum portability is important, go with the IPS screen.
You might be surprised to hear that, in spite of its performance, the X1 Yoga offers better endurance that the Huawei Matebook or Samsung TabPro S. The 1440p IPS touchscreen model beats the Matebook by about an hour in the Peacekeeper test, for example. Though its quicker, and uses more power, the X1 Yoga also has a much larger battery than smaller, lighter competitors can cram in.
The X1 Yoga’s powerful Core i7 processor keeps cool at idle, but modest load can drastically increase both temperatures and the fury of the fans keeping the processor cool. We recorded a maximum external temperature of 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit during our 7-Zip benchmark, and fan noise registered at 46.8 decibels.
The Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 was five decibels quieter, and 14 degrees cooler, in the same situation. The X1 Yoga’s heat is not unprecedented, though. The LG gram 14 and Asus Zenbook UX305CA are similarly warm under load. The Huawei Matebook and Samsung TabPro S were cooler, coming in around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, at most.
The usual one-year warranty comes standard with the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga. Several upgrades are available at an added cost.
Value & Conclusion
Lenovo’s pricing changes frequently, but our review unit currently sells for about $1,800 (with $125 added if you want the OLED screen).
That’s a lot of money, but it’s not unusual for the category. The Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 maxes out at $1,400 with a Core i7, but only has a 256GB SSD. Dell’s XPS 13, which is not a 2-in-1, is $1,650 with a Core i7 but again has a smaller 256GB SSD. Microsoft’s Surface Book with Core i7 and 512GB solid state drive sells for $2,700, though it brings Nvidia discrete graphics along for the ride.
The last system, the Surface Book, is the X1 Yoga’s most obvious competitor. The Surface is more innovative, and its fully detachable screen makes tablet use better. But the Surface Book has not aged well due to driver problems, it has an inferior keyboard, and it is much, much more expensive.
Newer options, like the Samsung TabPro S and Huawei Matebook, are much less expensive. The Samsung TabPro S is also the only other 2-in-1 with an OLED display. But these systems are smaller, have far less pleasing keyboards, and are much less powerful. They’re fine for travel, but become burdensome when it’s time to work.
In the end, the verdict is what any ThinkPad fan might expect. The X1 Yoga’s strong performance, great keyboard, quality touchpad, and broad range of ports make it a great laptop for work. There are areas where competitors have the edge, such as display contrast ratio, but the X1 Yoga is one of the few 2-in-1 devices that can truly handle rigorous day-to-day use.
There’s one final fact to note. Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon is basically identical to the X1 Yoga, aside from the 360-degree hinge and lift-and-lock keyboard that makes the Yoga model unique. If you don’t care about tablet use, but you do like the idea of a powerful, thin, 14-inch system, going with the X1 Carbon will save you about $200. Whichever you choose, you’ll end up with a system built for serious productivity.