Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 3 vs Microsoft Surface Book 2 13

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga and the Surface Book 2 are spendy, but which is worth it?

Microsoft Surface Book 2 13 Review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Two notebook brands are perched at the very pinnacle of the Windows mainstream notebook ecosystem. Lenovo’s ThinkPad line has occupied this rarifed air for decades, and Microsoft’s Surface is a recent addition. If you want to spend more money, you’ll need to either switch to MacOS or configure an ultra-powerful gaming notebook that’s going to be limited to doing just one thing really well.

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 3 is the latest convertible 2-in-1 to carry the brand’s moniker, and to a certain extent is a relatively minor upgrade of the previous generation. Does it maintain enough power and prestige to hold off the upstart Surface Book 2 13? Check out our Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 3 vs. Microsoft Surface Book 2 13 throwdown to find out.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga

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Surface Book 2 13

surface book 2 vs

Dimensions 13.11 x 9.01 x 0.67 (in) i5 version: 12.3 x 9.14 x 0.51-0.90 (in)
i7 version: 12.3 x 9.14 x 0.59-0.90 (in)
Weight 3.08 pounds 13.5-inch starts at 3.38 pounds
Keyboard Full-size backlit keyboard Full-size backlit keyboard
Processor Up to eighth-generation Intel Core i7 Up to eighth-generation Intel Core i7
RAM Up to 16GB RAM Up to 16GB
Graphics Intel UHD 620 Intel UHD 620
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050
Display 14-inch IPS touch display 13.5-inch PixelSense touch display
15.0-inch PixelSense touch display
Resolution Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 157 PPI)
WQHD (2,560 x 1,440 or 210 PPI) w/optional Dolby Vision HDR
3,000 x 2,000 (267 ppi)
Storage Up to 1TB PCIe SSD Up to 1TB PCIe SSE
Networking 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
Connectivity USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 with Thunderbolt 3 (x2), USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 (x2), HDMI, microSD card reader, 3.5mm combo jack USB-A 3.0 (x2), USB-C 3.1, Surface Connect, SD card reader, 3.5mm combo jack
15-inch only: Xbox Wireless built-in
Windows Hello
Fingerprint scanner
Optional infrared camera
Infrared camera
Operating System Windows 10 Windows 10
Battery 54 watt-hours 70 watt-hours
Price $1,650+ 13.5-inch i5: $1,200
13.5-inch i7: $2,000+
Availability Now Now
Review 3.5 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars

Design

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga plays strongly to the line’s iconic design aesthetic, taking on the usual black chassis with red accents throughout. The branding has been made a bit subtler, but you’ll still notice the LED “i” on the ThinkPad lid logo and the usual red TrackPoint nubbin in the middle of the 7-row keyboard (if you include the row of three arrow keys). The notebook is constructed of the carbon-fiber alloy that’s typical of the X1 line, and it’s mostly as rigid as usual with the same soft-touch feel that we like, a lot. There’s some flex in the lid and keyboard deck if you go looking for it, but the ThinkPad X1 Yoga still meets the robust MIL-STD 810g certification for protection from the environment.

Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 13 couldn’t be more different. First, it’s thicker than the ThinkPad X1 Yoga — which is a bit thick itself at 0.67 inches — with its rear fulcrum hinge hump coming in at 0.90 inches. And, the Surface Book 2 is heavier at 3.38 pounds, beating out ThinkPad’s 3.08 pounds (also heavy for a 2-in-1). The Surface Book 2 13 also enjoys an aesthetic that is a bit more modern and simplified than the ThinkPad — both are striking machines without being ostentatious, and they couldn’t be more different. Microsoft’s 2-in-1 is distinctly more innovative in how it morphs from a notebook to a tablet and various formats in between, sporting a tear-off display that houses the main computing components and acts as a surprisingly thin tablet for inking and consuming media.

We think the Surface Book 2 enjoys a more futuristic design and is just as solidly built as the ThinkPad, albeit without the certifiable robustness. We give Microsoft the win here, but it’s by a narrow margin.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Book 2 13

Performance

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga is equipped with the excellent quad-core eighth-generation Intel Core i7-8650U, the fasted version of this powerful and efficient CPU. With 16GB of RAM and a fast PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), the convertible 2-in-1 churns through productivity tasks without hesitation.

The Surface Book 2 uses the same CPU, and can also be equipped with up to 16GB of RAM and an equally fast PCIe SSD. So far, it’s the ThinkPad’s equal. However, Microsoft also packed in a bona fide discrete GPU, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 that’s suitable for entry-level 1080p gaming and can also speed up photo and video editing in supported applications.

Both 2-in-1s are productivity powerhouses, but only the Surface Book 2 13 lets you get your game on when you’re taking a break.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Book 2 13

Keyboard, mouse, and pen

As a convertible 2-in-1, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga is typically input-diverse. There’s the usual ThinkPad keyboard with its extensive seven-row keyboard and generally solid feel — it has plenty of travel and a comfortable bottoming action, but it’s a bit loose and lacks the precision of its ThinkPad X1 Carbon sibling. That’s perhaps due to its utilizing Lenovo’s “Wave” mechanism that sucks the keys into the chassis to make for a flatter surface to hold onto in tablet mode.

The Microsoft Precision touchpad has good gesture support and is more than effective, although it’s a bit smaller due to the two buttons supporting the very iconic red TrackPoint nubbin in the middle of the keyboard. That works just as well as always for people who are into that kind of think. And then there’s the obligatory touch display and the ThinkPad Pen Pro that’s smaller than we like but slots into the chassis for recharging and safe keeping. Windows 10 Hello support is via a fingerprint scanner, and you can opt for either an infrared camera for facial recognition or a physical cover for webcam privacy.

The Surface Book 2 is equally well-endowed when it comes to input options. The keyboard is excellent, with copious amounts of travel and very precise feel, and the large Microsoft Precision touchpad is perhaps the best you’ll find this side of a MacBook Pro. The PixelSense display provides perfect touch responsiveness, and the updated full-size Surface Pen is more precise with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity (compared to the ThinkPad’s 2,048 levels), tilt support, and the fastest response time in a Windows 2-in-1. Finally, an infrared camera scans your face almost instantly and logs you in via Windows Hello without asking you to lift a finger.

Both 2-in-1s make entering information quick and easy, but the Surface Book 2 13 is simply more refined.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Book 2 13

Connectivity

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga is well-stocked with ports, offering two USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 ports, two USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 ports without Thunderbolt 3 support, a full-sized HDMI port, and a microSD card reader. You’ll connect wireleslly via 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac Bluetooth 4.1.

The Surface Book 2 isn’t quite so well-equipped. It has two USB-A 3.0 Gen 1 ports to go with a single non-Thunderbolt 3 USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 port. That’s an improvement over previous Surface models that bypassed USB-C completely, but isn’t exactly future-proof thanks to the lack of Thunderbolt 3. There’s also usual Surface Connect port for charging and expansion (one in the keyboard base and one in the tablet), a full-size SD card reader, and 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios.

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga has more ports, and they’re more modern. It takes this round.

Winner: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga

Display

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga offers a trio of display options, including a 14-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 157 PPI) display and a WQHD (2,560 x 1,440 or 210 PPI) panel. However, the real winner — and one that adds basically $500 to the price — is the WQHD option that adds in Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) support (coming in a future update) and an extra boost in brightness. In our testing, it was a spectacular display, with dynamic and accurate colors in a very wide gamut, excellent contrast, and blinding brightness. It’s the best display for photo professionals that’s not attached to a MacBook Pro.

The Surface Book 2 13 has its own excellent display, specifically a very sharp 13.5-inch 3,000 x 2,000 resolution (267 PPI) that’s incredibly sharp. It also uses the very productivity-friendly 3:2 aspect ratio that’s a bit taller and shows more vertical information (while causing some video letterboxing). The color gamut is just average, but accuracy and gamma are good and so images are true to life. Contrast and brightness are excellent, however, and in fact unparalleled on any other machine that we’ve tested, lending real depth to images and rendering incredible black text on white backgrounds. It’s a productivity user’s dream.

This one’s hard to call. The Surface Book 2 13’s display is better for getting productivity work done, and it’s also much more comfortable in tablet format — important given that both of these are convertible 2-in-1’s that are meant to be used in portrait mode for inking and drawing. The ThinkPad X1 Yoga’s display is better for watching video (although 4K would have been welcome) and photo editing, but we still think Microsoft still managed to make the more useful display.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Book 2 13

Portability and battery life

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga packs in 54 watt-hours of battery capacity, and it utilizes a CPU that sucks power when working hard but allows a battery to stretch its legs when the system is performing less intensive tasks. Oddly enough, though, while the 2-in-1 posted solid battery life in our most intensive battery test, it fell short on web browsing and playing video. It’s a result shared by the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, and it’s hard to explain.

The Surface Book 2 13 stuffs in a whopping 70 watt-hours of battery, split between the tablet and the keyboard base. It also sports Intel’s efficient eighth-generation CPU with its usually consistent efficiency. There were no surprises with the Surface Book 2 — it boasts some of the best battery life you’ll find in this notebook class. No matter your use case, you won’t find many 2-in-1s that offer stronger all-day battery life.

Neither machine is exactly thin and light, but the ThinkPad X1 Yoga is certainly better in these dimensions than the Surface Book 2 13. However, battery life is a vital statistic, and Microsoft is the winner here.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Book 2 13

Availability and price

The ThinPad X1 Yoga starts at a hefty $1,650 for an eighth-generation Intel Core i5-8250U, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe SSD, and a Full HD display. It tops out at $2,740 for a Core i7-8650U, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB PCIe SSD, and that luscious WQHD display with Dolby Vision HDR. It’s a premium notebook, and then some.

As is usually the case with the Microsoft’s PC hardware, The Surface Book 2 is also a true premium 2-in-1. It starts out at at $1,200 for a seventh-generation Core i5-7300U, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. But, your stuck with Intel integrated graphics in that configuration. Be prepared to spend more for the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050, a minimum of $2,000 for a Core i7-8650U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD. If you want to max things out, you can spend a whopping $3,000 for 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD.

Microsoft doesn’t often win the pricing battle, but in this case the Surface Book 2 13 comes out ahead. Not only is it available with a less expensive entry-level option, but it provides significantly more value at the high end given its much better performance and battery life.

Winner: Microsoft Surface Book 2 13

Microsoft’s performance, battery life, and modern design wins out

Microsoft Surface Book 2 13 Review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The Surface Book 2 13 remains perhaps the most innovative convertible 2-in-1 around, with a tear-off display that seems like something from the Jetsons and some of the best performance you’ll find in a 14-inch or smaller machine. Both machines offer quality builds, but the Surface Book 2 13 is more modern, and its input options are second to none.

Given that both of these 2-in-1s are incredibly expensive, the Surface Book 2 13 doesn’t even have to hold its head in shame at its exorbitant pricing. It wins this shootout handily.

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