Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 5 review: The legacy continues

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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 5

“The ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 5 continues the honored ThinkPad legacy without missing modern features.”
  • Excellent build quality
  • Tactile keyboard
  • Extra security features
  • Stylus comes bundled
  • Convenient port selection
  • Thick bezels and outdated design
  • Too expensive
  • Uses Comet Lake processors
MSRP $2,303.00

ThinkPads don’t change. The decades-old design is part of its enduring legacy, and its look has become iconic over the years.

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga, though, has always represented a departure from the norm. With an aluminum chassis, touchscreen, and included stylus, it’s not your dad’s ThinkPad — or so the saying goes.

Now in its fifth generation, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga has been updated with the latest internals, and the sky-high pricing remains. My review unit came in at $2,303, and even the base model starts at a hefty $1,439. So, does the ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 5 live up to the venerable ThinkPad legacy? Let’s find out.

Design

The all-aluminum chassis is this laptop’s standout feature, which is odd to say. Since the days of the early MacBook Air, the silver color scheme has been done to death. Of course, not every silver laptop is made equal, and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 5 does it right. It’s a discreet dark gray — dare I say “Space Gray” in tone.

The aluminum material makes it even sturdier than your average ThinkPad. That builds on the brand’s pedigree for excellent build quality, and for a convertible laptop with a 360-degree hinge, that’s even more important. The X1 Yoga is meant to be used as a laptop, yes, but also rotated around in “media” mode, or even flipped upside down in “tent” mode. It’s a device you’re meant to touch, and for that, the durability is important. The aluminum also helps with reducing fingerprints, which the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is known for.

Whether it’s the distinctive keyboard or the TrackPoint nub, you won’t mistake this for a MacBook.

The hinge is tightly engineered — perhaps even a bit too tight. It can’t be opened with one finger like most laptops, and it’ll require a two-handed grip to pull it apart. The aluminum does add some extra weight to the device, though. It comes in at just under three pounds, which is over a half-pound heavier than the X1 Carbon.

Outside of the aluminum, the X1 Yoga is a ThinkPad through and through. Whether it’s the distinctive keyboard or the TrackPoint nub, you won’t mistake this for a MacBook or anything else.

Thick bezels are also part of that distinctiveness. On all sides, they’re not as slim as I’d like to see in a laptop released in 2020, even compared to some of Lenovo’s other 14-inch laptops. The bottom chin is a particularly noteworthy offender. Other 2-in-1 laptops like the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 or HP Spectre x360 do a better job of maximizing screen space.

Ports

ThinkPads have always offered a good variety of ports, and the ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 5 is no exception. On the left side, you get two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a USB-A port, HDMI, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Connected to one of the Thunderbolt 3 ports is Lenovo’s proprietary mechanical docking connection, which could be useful in setting up a new home office. The dock itself, though, is sold separately.

Along the right side, you’ll find one more USB-A port, the power button, a Kensington lock, and the stylus slot. The bundled-in stylus, the ThinkPad Pen Pro, is a great addition. Many manufacturers like HP and Dell charge extra for a stylus and don’t provide on-device housing. Unfortunately, the ThinkPad Pen Pro can’t be pulled out when the laptop is flat on the table. Other pen slots, such as what Samsung uses, have a spring mechanism that can pop it out.

The pen itself is lightweight and simple, precise enough for note-taking and scrolling through webpages. For a stylus more suited to illustrating, you’ll want to stick with either an Apple Pencil or Surface Pen.

The ports on the right side have been shifted down toward you to make room for a sizable exhaust vent. The location of the vent also means that if you’re right-handed and plan to use an external mouse, you’ll get a wave of hot air pushed in your direction. It also puts the single USB-A port in an awkward spot to have dangling cords.

Though the device has two Thunderbolt 3 ports, both of which can charge, I would have preferred Lenovo to split them up. Being able to charge from either side of the laptop can definitely come in handy.

Keyboard and touchpad

ThinkPads are known for their keyboards. I understand why — the extra travel in the keys is a rare feature these days. After a couple days of typing on it, I began to appreciate the luxury of that long travel. The slight concave in the keys is comfortable, and the extra force required on the keypresses adds the feeling of tactile precision.

But I have to admit, I’ve got issues with the layout of this keyboard. As per ThinkPad tradition, the X1 Yoga still swaps the fn and Ctrl keys on the left side. The different layout throws me off every time I type on a ThinkPad machine, and it never stops being frustrating. It took me multiple days of mistyping Ctrl+T and Ctrl+Z to unlearn the layout.

There’s more, though. ThinkPads use the standard, half-sized arrow keys that sit just slightly below the rest of the keys. That alone can cause me to stumble a bit, but the placement of PgUp and PgDn keys right next to them is additionally troubling. As a touch typist, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally jumped up the page because of pinkie mistypes.

Touch typists will need to unlearn some keyboard commands.

My final layout complaint is with keyboard backlighting. Though the ThinkPad X1 Yoga does feature backlighting, but you’ll need to rely on the Fn + Space keyboard command to switch it on. None of these layout problems will be news to ThinkPad users, but it’s a concern for those coming from other laptops or keyboards.

As always, the touchpad hardware buttons are located above the touchpad, for access while using the TrackPoint. The red nub in the middle of the keyboard is iconic and a unique feature. But if you plan to rely primarily on the touchpad, the buttons take up valuable space where a larger touchpad surface could have been. My fingers often ran up against it while performing two-finger swipes or three-finger gestures. The glass touchpad itself feels precise and smooth, and the click is quieter than other laptops.

The fingerprint scanner, unfortunately, is located just to the right of the touchpad. I’d much prefer something build into the keyboard itself, but the reader that’s included is a good one. Above the screen, you also get an IR camera for Windows Hello facial recognition and a 720p webcam.

Display and speakers

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 5 features a 14-inch 4K display, though you can also opt for a 1080p model, which will save you a few hundred bucks. The 4K display, though, is brighter, sharper, and more colorful. It maxes out at just under 500 nits, which is bright enough to overcome glare even in brightly lit rooms. Despite not being OLED, like the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, the X1 Yoga Gen 5 also fares well in contrast, where it hits 1,020:1.

The colors, though, are a bit of a mixed bag. For a 4K display, I expect to see the widest possible color gamut and precise color accuracy. The ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 5 is a bit behind some of the leaders in this area, such as the Dell XPS 13 or HP Spectre x360. While 86% of Adobe RGB is better than your average laptop, the color accuracy isn’t quite up to par. Professional photo editing or graphic design isn’t the kind of work the X1 Yoga Gen 5 is cut out for.

The 1080p screen is the better choice for most potential buyers, as it’ll result in longer battery life.

The speakers are downward-facing and located below the edges of the chassis. Not surprisingly, the audio quality is a bit muddy. The speakers don’t have the tinny highs of many laptops, but these won’t impress you either.

Performance

Despite the X1 Yoga’s desire to extend its appeal, all ThinkPads are business computers at heart. The ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 5 honors that legacy by using the latest 10th-gen vPro Core i7 processors. These are Intel’s business-specific chips that add in extra security and manageability features, which your IT department will appreciate.

There is a downside to opting for vPro over a normal 10th-gen processor: Pure speed, as well as graphics performance. The Intel Core i7-10610U vPro is a quad-core processor, but it’s of the older 14nm Comet Lake variety. The newer Ice Lake processors, such as those found in the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 or HP Spectre x360, claim to be faster. That was true in Cinebench R20, where the XPS 13 was 10% faster than the X1 Yoga Gen 5 in both single-core and multi-core tests.

The business-class processor puts you at a slight performance disadvantage.

The X1 Yoga Gen 5 wasn’t the fastest in real-life performance either, such as in video encoding in Handbrake. Laptops like the XPS 13 and MacBook Pro 13-inch blow it out of the water, thanks to their improved multi-core performance. The new crop of AMD-powered laptops extend this lead even further. Unfortunately, choosing a business processor with extra security features still puts you at a slight disadvantage in performance.

I’m not saying the X1 Yoga is a slow computer in day-to-day tasks. It’ll have no problem handling multiple 4K monitors, heavy multitasking, and even some light content creation.

Graphics is the one area of performance where the difference is most noticeable. Comet Lake processors use Intel’s awful UHD integrated graphics, while laptops like the XPS 13 2-in-1 or Spectre x360 have the option for Intel’s improved Iris Plus graphics. Neither will transform your laptop into a hardcore gaming machine, but Iris Plus is at least enough to squeeze by on lighter games with low settings.

Battery life

All 4K laptops struggle with battery life. More pixels means more energy required to power them, and the ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 5 is no different. It lasted around five hours in my daily usage, which consists of lots of multitasking and browser tabs, but not many heavy applications. That’s not bad, but you can’t safely sit away from an outlet for a full workday.

In our lightest test, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga lasted 7 hours and 49 minutes while looping a local 1080p video file. The HP Spectre x360 lasted nearly two hours longer in this same test, despite having a 4K OLED panel. The ThinkPad X1 Yoga was in line with the battery performance of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

Our heaviest test is the Basemark web benchmark, which simulates battery life while running a heavy application. The ThinkPad X1 Yoga was out of juice after just two hours, though again, that’s not uncommon for a 4K laptop.

Our take

The ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 5 is a more modern business laptop, but it still has a commercial heart. That’s no excuse for some of its stodgy design choices, most notably its hefty bezels. The ThinkPad X1 brand still has its benefits, especially when it comes to the keyboard, the TrackPoint, and the world-famous build quality. The included stylus is a unique feature too, one that’s matched by only the Samsung Galaxy Book Flex.

Is there a better alternative?

There are two ThinkPad X1 alternatives to the Yoga: The X1 Carbon and the X1 Extreme. The X1 Carbon is more lightweight, and the X1 Extreme is larger and far more powerful. Neither, though, have the aluminum chassis or the 2-in-1 features.

Both the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and HP Spectre x360 13 are better 2-in-1 laptops for the average person, offering better performance and a more modern design. Both are cheaper than the X1 Yoga, but neither are “business-class” laptops.

If the business pedigree is a must-have, both the HP Elite Dragonfly and Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1 are worthy rivals of the X1 Yoga.

How long will it last?

The ThinkPad brand is known for longevity, and the X1 Yoga Gen 5 is no different. It should last you up to five years, though the standard warranty only lasts for a year.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The X1 Yoga won’t win any converts in its fifth generation, but it’s a great choice if you’re upgrading from an older ThinkPad.

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