Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 3 review

The display is to die for, but Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Yoga needs some new tricks

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga has a lovely display, but it’s heavy and doesn’t last long enough on a charge.
The ThinkPad X1 Yoga has a lovely display, but it’s heavy and doesn’t last long enough on a charge.
The ThinkPad X1 Yoga has a lovely display, but it’s heavy and doesn’t last long enough on a charge.

Highs

  • Display is spectacular, bright, and colorful
  • Solid productivity performance
  • Mostly solid build quality
  • Great soft-touch feel

Lows

  • Very expensive
  • Thicker and heavier than many competing 2-in-1s
  • Disappointing battery life

DT Editors' Rating

The ThinkPad line remains one of the most iconic and recognizable Windows notebooks. Its design, solid build quality, and performance are legendary, and the brand usually brings some nice innovations along for the ride. But 2018 is a new year in more ways than one — the Windows ecosystem has become remarkably robust, with a vast array of excellent options in all kinds of form factors.

Take the convertible 2-in-1, for example, a flexible notebook style where a machine can act as a legitimate clamshell notebook but convert into tablet, presentation, and multimedia modes. The ThinkPad X1 Yoga 3rd generation is the brand’s most recent entry into this increasingly popular class, and it comes at the usual premium price.

Our review unit came with an eighth-generation quad-core Intel Core i7-8650U CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), and a 14-inch WQHD+ (2,560 x 1,440 or 210 PPI) Dolby Vision HDR-capable display, all sold at a whopping $2,740. You’ll spend at least $1,640 for the base configuration with a Full HD display, Core i5-8250U, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB PCIe SSD.

Does Lenovo bring enough to the table to justify such a high price compared to an increasingly excellent stable of 2-in-1 options?

The iconic ThinkPad design no longer class-leading

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga isn’t terribly different in its third generation, and it’s very much a ThinkPad. It’s a sleek black sports sedan of a convertible 2-in-1, built with Mercedes-like tolerances that grant it some rigidity and contribute to its MIL-STD-810G certification for robustness and protection from the elements. Aiding to its mostly solid build — although there is some flex in the very thin display and in the keyboard deck – is a mix of carbon fiber, glass fiber, and magnesium alloy that makes up the chassis.

In-hand, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga has a unique feel. Unlike many all-metal competitors such as Lenovo’s own Yoga 920 and HP’s Spectre x360 13, which are cold and hard to the touch, the ThinkPad enjoys the usual X1 coating that feels warm and soft. It’s a pleasure to carry around, and the palm rest is unusually comfortable.

As far as its convertibility goes, the hinge is mostly comfortable to swivel around from notebook to tablet, but it has a clunkiness thanks to the “Wave” keyboard that uses a “rise and fall” mechanism to pull the keys into the chassis as the display is rotated. That means that the keys are protected and the rear of the “tablet” is nice and flat, but it does create an action that’s far less smooth than the competition.

Overall, the ThinkPad is a convertible 2-in-1 that’s just a little chunkier than we’re used to seeing.

Aesthetically, the updated branding is sleeker and modern, maintaining the lit red dot on the ThinkPad logo that indicates operating status. It’s as recognizable as every ThinkPad, and it’s a look that remains iconic even as it’s become slightly more modern. Yet it’s simply no longer such a standout, given options like the elegant and sleek HP Spectre x360 13-inch.

We call it a sport sedan, though, to highlight its relatively heavy (3.08 pounds) and thick (0.67 inch) dimensions. It’s not the slimmest or lightest convertible 2-in-1 around, beat handily by Lenovo’s own Yoga 920 in thinness (0.5 inches), and the Spectre x360 13, which is both thinner and lighter at 0.53 inches and 2.78 pounds. Both of those feel much more streamlined in the hand, and while they don’t sport the same soft-touch feel, they’re less to carry around and are more effective as tablets.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Overall, this is a convertible 2-in-1 that’s just a little chunkier than we’re used to seeing, and it drops the ThinkPad line a little farther back into the pack. It’s clearly a quality machine, but it’s no longer the standout design that it might have been in some previous generations.

A real strength of the ThinkPad X1 Yoga, on the other hand, is its connectivity. There are two USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 ports for legacy support, two USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 with Thunderbolt 3 ports for the future, a full-size HDMI port, a microSD card reader, a microSIM slot, and a 3.5mm audio combo jack. An Ethernet Extension Connector is also on hand, but the required dongle for native Ethernet connectivity is sold separately. Wireless connectivity is provided by the usual 2×2 MU-MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 radios.

Great security meets so-so input options

ThinkPads are renowned for their keyboards, and usually for good reason. They tend to offer one of the most comfortable and precise typing experiences around, and that’s been true for years. The ThinkPad X1 Yoga is nearly as good as usual, but it does stumble just a bit. While it has decent travel and a soft bottoming action, it’s also a touch loose. It lacks the snappiness of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, and it isn’t as precise as the Spectre x360 13. We guess that’s due to the unique Wave keyboard mechanism, and while it’s a good keyboard, it’s not as great as it could be.

According to our colorimeter, this is one spectacular display with incredibly brilliant colors.

The touchpad is better, with a comfortable surface and good Microsoft Precision Touchpad gesture support. It’s also a bit smaller than it could be, thanks to the extra buttons up top to support the iconic red ThinkPad TrackPoint nubbin that’s nestled in the middle of the keyboard and that provides precise controls for ThinkPad fans who demand its presence.

This is a 2-in-1, so of course its sports a comfortable multitouch display. The usual ThinkPad Pen Pro slides into its holder and enjoys the same in-port charging as always. It’s therefore smaller than we like, which mitigates somewhat the pleasure of using its 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity — more than the Spectre x360 13’s 1,024 levels, but less than the Microsoft Surface Book 2 13’s 4,096 levels.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Finally, The ThinkPad X1 Yoga supports Windows 10’s Hello password-less login via a fingerprint reader on the keyboard deck. This is a particularly secure option because Lenovo has opted for “Match-in-Sensor” technology whereby fingerprint data is isolated on a System-on-Chip (SoC) and therefore can’t be hacked at the operating system level. There’s also a special ThinkShutter camera switch that physically covers the webcam for privacy from video snoopers, but you can opt for an infrared scanner with facial recognition support instead.

We’ll add that Lenovo has baked Amazon Alexa support into the ThinkPad X1 Yoga, making it one of the first PCs to support the retail giant’s increasingly popular digital assistant. Or, at least, it will be, once Lenovo ships the required update in late April.

Oh, my, but those colors are bright!

The previous ThinkPad X1 Yoga generation offered one of the few OLED displays you’ll find in a notebook, but Lenovo has dropped that option in the third generation due to battery concerns. Instead, there’s now a 14-inch WQHD+ (2,560 x 1,440 or X PPI) panel at the high end that will support Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) with a software update in late April. That’s the display in our review unit, and we were excited to give it a look.

According to our colorimeter, this is one spectacular display. It aced all our tests, with 454 nits of brightness, a very strong 1050:1 contrast ratio, 96 percent of AdobeRGB color gamut, 0.68 color accuracy (under 1.0 is considered excellent), and a perfect 2.2 gamma. The only display that comes close to these across-the-board results is the Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar which normally serves as a benchmark, and although its brighter and has slightly better contrast, its colors aren’t as wide or as accurate.

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga’s more pedestrian competition doesn’t come close. The Surface Book 2 13 has great contrast and brightness, but not nearly the same kind of color gamut and accuracy. And the Yoga 920 and Spectre x360 13 displays aren’t even in the same ballpark. Lenovo knocked this one out of the park, albeit at a price — it adds almost $500!

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

We note that Lenovo has included a small utility that switches the color profile of the display for user and task preference, from the “Native” setting with the most vibrant colors to a “Standard” setting that’s muted somewhat, with additional settings for photo editing, video editing, and reading modes. The setting makes a huge difference not only in color saturation and brightness but also in white point, and you’ll likely want to play around with it — colors can be a little too saturated at the “Native” setting.

This is an incredibly nice display for productivity and creative tasks and you’ll love watching movies and TV thanks to deep blacks and bright colors. That will only get better once the Dolby Vision HDR support is released, which will be supported by Windows 10 and Netflix and should make for a truly dynamic binging experience. We’ve tested HDR on some past monitors, and while it’s not perfect on the PC, it does raise the bar on image quality drastically when paired with movies or games that embrace HDR.

You’ll also enjoy surprisingly loud audio to go with that awesome picture. Lenovo touts its Dolby Audio certification, “bass enhancer,” and “device orientation tuning,” but nevermind the names — we’re impressed that so much sound can be squeezed out of such a relatively small machine without distortion. It’s lacking in bass, as usual, but there’s plenty of high and midrange clarity to go with all that volume.

Fast, thanks to 8th-gen Intel silicon

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga sports the very fast and efficient eighth-generation Intel Core I7-8650U processor. This is the fastest member of an excellent family of quad-core CPUs that’s proven its high-end performance and low-end efficiency on just about every notebook we’ve reviewed.

Things were no different this time around. In both our synthetic benchmarks and our real-life tests, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga led its competition. Whether we’re talking about other 2-in-1s like the Yoga 920 or Spectre x360 13, or its ThinkPad X1 Carbon clamshell cousin, Lenovo’s premier convertible was just as fast or faster.

The same is generally true for the ThinkPad X1 Yoga’s Samsung PM981 PCIe SSD, which provided solid performance in both reading and writing data. It was beat out by the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, but at these speeds it hardly matters. If you’re doing the usual productivity or creative tasks, then the ThinkPad X1 Yoga will be plenty fast at accessing your information.

You won’t have a problem with just about any task you throw at this premium 2-in-1. At least, you won’t as long as we’re talking about the usual CPU-intensive processes.

Gaming is no better than you’d expect

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga is limited to an Intel UHD 620 integrated GPU, meaning that you have little reason to hope for anything other than casual gaming. If you want to game on your 2-in-1, then you’ll want to look for an option with a discrete GPU.

This fact is born out by synthetic benchmarks, where the ThinkPad X1 Yoga scored right in line with most other 2-in-1s. If you want better gaming performance, you’ll need to choose the Asus ZenBook Flip 14 with its Nvidia GeForce MX150, or Surface Book 2 13 with the much faster Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050.

In our real-world gaming, you’ll find yourself limited to lower-end games like Rocket League, where the ThinkPad X1 Yoga managed a playable 57 frames per second (FPS) on “Performance” settings at 1080p but dropped down to 25 FPS on “High quality.” The 2-in-1 was completely unplayable in our other test games including Civilization VI and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.

Curiously mixed — and disappointing — battery life

Lenovo packed a 54 watt-hour battery into the ThinkPad X1 Yoga, which is a decent capacity when mated with the very efficient eighth-generation Intel Core processors. The WQHD+ resolution display did give us reason to pause, however.

As it turns out, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga followed in the footsteps of its sibling, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, in providing some oddly mixed battery life throughout our testing. Usually, we see notebooks with eighth-generation Intel processors do best on power-sipping tasks and struggle a bit when the CPU was being well-utilized. The ThinkPad had the equation reversed.

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga had some oddly mixed battery life result throughout our testing.

It performed quite well on our most demanding Basemark web benchmark loop, lasting for just over five hours. That’s a very good score that beats out much of its competition including the Yoga 920 and Spectre x360 13. Among 2-in-1s, only the Surface Book 2 13 lasted longer.

On our web browsing test, however, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga dropped to well below average at just over six and a half hours. And in our least-demanding video test, Lenovo’s 2-in-1 barely made it past eight hours, thoroughly trounced by the Yoga 920’s nearly 14 hours, the Spectre x360 13’s just over 14 hours, and the Surface Book 2 13’s roughly 17 hours.

In short, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga will likely last you much of a working day on a charge, but it may fall short for surfing and Netflix binging compared to its competitors. And given that it’s also a rather heavy 2-in-1, that makes for a less portable option than we expected.

Our Take

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga is a curious mix of awesome and meh. That high-end display is to die for, and it will only get better when its Dolby Vision HDR support arrives. But its chassis, though typically robust, is heavier and thicker than it needs to be. It’s not that the ThinkPad X1 Yoga is a bad convertible 2-in-1, it’s just that its design no longer justifies its high price compared to such stiff competition.

Is there a better alternative?

If you’re will to give up a little bit of display size, you can opt for the excellent HP Spectre x360 13, a favorite convertible 2-in-1. While the HP doesn’t have the Lenovo’s military certification, it’s nevertheless a well-built 2-in-1 that’s significantly thinner and lighter and thus more comfortable as a tablet. It’s just as fast, has better battery life, and is much less expensive at $1,150 ($1,000 on sale) for a Core i5-8250U, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD (360GB SSD with a free upgrade).

If you insist on a 14-inch 2-in-1, then you could also consider the Asus ZenBook Flip 14. It’s less expensive at $1,300 even when configured with a Core i7-8550U, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD, but it also includes a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU for some decent lightweight gaming. The display isn’t as nice, but it’s average for today’s premium notebooks — meaning it’s still good.

Buyers with a serious budget must consider the Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 13. It has a nice display of its own that’s just as bright, has higher contrast, and enjoys a more productivity-friendly 3:2 aspect ratio, while not having quite so many colors at its disposal. It also offers a very fast Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 GPU for real gaming, and its battery life is significantly better. It’s expensive at $3,000 for a Core i7-8650U, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB PCIe SSD, but that’s only $300 more than the ThinkPad. And it starts at a more palatable $1,200.

How long will it last?

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga has modern components, a robust build, and is built like a tank. It’ll easily last for years of productive service, and we only wish it was covered for longer than a year’s warranty given its premium pricing.

Should you buy it?

No. The ThinkPad line has lost some of its cachet given the upward mobility of Lenovo’s competition, and there are thinner, lighter, and longer-lasting convertible 2-in-1s available for significantly less money.

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