Introduction and design
After launching the Yoga 3 Pro last year, Lenovo found a winning design formula, and it isn’t deviating much with this year’s refresh.. The Yoga 900 has a different numbering convention, but the convertible Ultrabook is an iterative successor to the Yoga 3 Pro, promising longer battery life, faster performance and improvements to a winning 360-degree swiveling hinge design.
Sporting Intel’s sixth generation Skylake processor, the Yoga 900 ($1,199, £797, AU$1,705) comes with the same processing power as Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 ($999, £664, AU$1,420) and Surface Book ($1,499, £996, AU$2,131). All three devices utilize a convertible design, but instead of detachable displays like on the Surface line, Lenovo opted for a rotating hinge with the Yoga 900.
With a screen that rotates 360 degrees, the Yoga 900 competes most closely against the HP Spectre x360 ($1,099, £730, AU$1,563) and the 4K-equipped Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 ($1,299, £848, AU$1,773).
Update: At CES 2016, Lenovo announced a business variant of the Yoga 900 called the Yoga 900 Business Edition. The Business Edition is designed around the BYOD movement and adds support for a TPM module.
Clad in a silver metal shell, you’d be forgiven if you mistook the Yoga 900 for yet another MacBook Pro clone. But that’s where the similarities end, and this immediately becomes apparent when you take a look at the rear of the Yoga 900 and notice the unique hinge.
Lenovo debuted its watchband hinge on last year’s Yoga 3 Pro as a way to completely rotate the screen 360 degrees and convert the laptop to a tablet form factor. This year, the hinge has been improved. Constructed of 813 pieces of steel, the hinge also conceals a rear-facing vent, allowing hot air to escape out the back instead of down your lap.
Unlike the Yoga 3 Pro’s power-sipping Core M processor, the more powerful Intel Core i series CPU requires active cooling. Internally, heat management is also controlled by a new metal alloy fan design, which Lenovo claims is 66% more efficient and 30% better at cooling than its predecessors.
Coupled with the silver metal lid and metal bottom plate, the watchband hinge gives the laptop a premium feel. Lenovo also offers the Yoga 900 in clementine orange, platinum silver and champagne gold.
For most users, the notebook feels balanced when you use it, but keen designers will notice that the laptop’s weight isn’t as balanced as on the MacBook Pro. Apple has perfected the weight distribution of its laptop so that users can lift open the lid with one hand without the base sliding or slipping on a tabletop. This isn’t the case with the Yoga, but you can always overcome this issue when you open the laptop with two hands.
At 2.84 pounds (1.29kg), the Yoga 900 feels light for an Ultrabook, but you likely wouldn’t want to hold it as a tablet for too long. When used for long durations, the Yoga will feel heavy since you can’t separate the keyboard and the screen, unlike the 2.3-pound (1.05kg) Surface Pro 4 and 3.48-pound (1.58kg) Surface Book. With just the screen, the Surface Pro 4 weighs 1.69 pounds (766g) and the Surface Book comes in at 1.6 pounds (725g).
As a convertible, the Yoga 900 is lighter than the 3.35-pound Dell XPS 12, 3.96-pound Asus Transformer Book TP300LA and the 3.26-pound Spectre x360. It’s also thinner than these devices, measuring 12.75 x 8.86 x 0.59 inches (324 x 225 x 14.9mm). The Transformer Book measures 12.9 x 8.86 x 0.86 inches (329 x 225 x 22mm), while the Spectre measures 12.79 x 8.6 x 0.63 inches (325 x 218 x 16mm).
Considering the power under the hood and that the keyboard can’t be removed, the Yoga 900 feels extremely slim and compact. The 0.59-inch thickness places the Yoga 900 within close range of Microsoft’s impressively slim Surface Pro 4’s dimensions. The Surface Pro 4 with Type Cover measures 11.60 x 8.50 x 0.52 inches (295 x 216 x 13.2mm), but Microsoft’s tablet comes with a smaller 12.3-inch display.
The 13.3-inch QHD+ resolution (3,200 X 1,800 pixels) isn’t as high as the 4K UHD screens on Samsung’s ATIV Book 9 or Toshiba’s Satellite Radius 12, but the Yoga still displays text and images crisply. The resolution is similar to the 13.5-inch Surface Book’s 3,000 x 2,000 display, the difference is that the Yoga has a 16:9 aspect ratio whereas the Surface Book has a 3:2 screen.
I found the Yoga’s aspect ratio to be better suited for watching videos, as 16:9 HD movies will display without any letterboxing, but the screen can feel a bit narrow for productivity. The 3:2 Surface Book display allows you to see more content without having to scroll vertically, and when used in tablet mode, the 3:2 aspect ratio feels more natural. In this orientation, the 16:9 aspect ratio makes the Yoga feel a bit top-heavy because of its longer size.
The Yoga 900 displayed colors vibrantly, and its blacks are deep. However, on our review unit, I did notice a little bit of backlight leaking around the edges near the corners of the display. The screen around this area would be more brightly lit than the rest of the display, which could have an impact for business users looking to do light graphics or editing work requiring a more accurate display.
Lenovo also fixed the flexing complaint on the Yoga 3 Pro. On the Yoga 900, when grabbing the laptop by the corners of the screen, I notice a little bit of flexing, but the screen panel didn’t display any rippling or discoloring effects.
To play up the premium aspect of the notebook, Lenovo opted to outfit the keyboard deck with a textured faux leather material. The leather is smooth, compared to the perforated leather-like material on last year’s model.
I’m torn on the use of leather. On one hand, the material feels slightly rubbery and not as luxurious as Lenovo would like you to believe, but it feels nicer than a soft-touch coat of paint. And compared to metal, like on the MacBook, the material is nice as it’s not cold when you rest your wrist while typing.
In addition to the luxury angle, the simulated leather also has a utilitarian purpose. When you’re using the Yoga 900 in display mode, which means the keyboard is placed face down on a tablet top and the screen facing you like an easel, the leather material provides grip and helps prevent the Yoga 900 from skidding across the table.
The bottom of the device is clean, except for two Dolby-tuned stereo JBL speakers. Lenovo kept the undercarriage of the laptop vent-free, which seems like a smart decision since the vents would be blocked if the device is used as a tablet.
Keyboard and trackpad
The Yoga 900 comes with a full-sized backlit keyboard. Each key comes with Lenovo’s trademarked U-shaped design, which the company claims to be more forgiving to typists who may not hit the exact center of each key cap.
As the Yoga is a consumer device, unlike Lenovo’s ThinkPad series, key travel is a bit more shallow and the key caps are flat and not curved.
I found the keyboard design and layout to be comfortable and accurate. Unlike on smaller devices, the full-sized keyboard offered standard key spacing, so typing required no adjustment. However, it did take some time to adjust to the shallow key travel, but the keys are responsive, springy and not too stiff.
Just below the keyboard is the buttonless trackpad, which offers a large, smooth glass area for interacting with Windows 10. I found tracking to be responsive. But despite the premium feel of the glass, the trackpad initially felt mushy, like it was sticking to something underneath when you pressed down on it to make a right- or left-click. The mushiness improved over time, but the trackpad rattles and moves around a bit when you’re running your fingers lightly across it. This doesn’t affect performance, but was generally annoying.
When you’re using the Yoga 900 in tablet mode, the keyboard and trackpad orient towards the rear of the device, and your fingers will grip onto the keys as you’re holding the slate. Even though you may be pressing on the keyboard with your fingers, the keyboard’s functionality is locked on the software side so you won’t be accidentally be typing errant letters or activating the trackpad unintentionally.
Specifications and performance
By using Intel’s Core i series processors, Lenovo fixed the main complaint with the Yoga 3 Pro. The Core i processor on this year’s Yoga 900 is far more powerful than the Core M processor on last year’s model, and to help improve battery life, Lenovo said that it has increased the battery by 50% on this generation.
Here’s how the Yoga 900 that was sent to techradar is configured:
- Processor: 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 3.1GHz with Turbo Boost)
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520
- Display: 13.3-inch QHD+ 3,200 x 1,800 IPS display, 10-point multitouch, 300 nits brightness
- Storage: 512GB SSD
- Memory: 16GB LP-DDR3 RAM
- Camera: 720p front-facing
- Ports: 2 x USB Type A 3.0, 1 x USB Type C 3.0 with video out, 1 x DC input with USB 2.0 functionality, 4-in-1 card reader, audio combo jack.
- Weight: 2.84 pounds
- Size: 12.75 x 8.86 x 0.59 inches
While the top, bottom and hinge are silver on our review unit, the sides of the Yoga 900 are black. There is one USB port on each side of the laptop. On the left side, you’ll also find a multi-card reader and a USB-C port. Lenovo representatives confirmed that you cannot charge the Yoga 900 through this port.
Essentially, the new USB-C port is used to output video to a monitor or for connecting devices, like Google’s Nexus 6P smartphone, to your laptop for data transfer. The Yoga 900 lacks a dedicated video output port, like HDMI or DisplayPort.
You’ll also find Lenovo’s proprietary power port on the left side. The power cable has a flat tip, and you’ll notice that it looks similar to a traditional USB port. Lenovo made some enhancements to this port so that when you’re not using the power cable to charge your Yoga, you can also use this port as a USB 2.0 port, giving your laptop three total USB ports.
Similarly, you can use remove the power cable from the power brick, connect a USB cable and use the power brick to charge a phone or tablet. This innovation allows business travelers to leave behind their smartphone charger if they want to alternate between charging the Yoga and their mobile device.
On the right side, you’ll find the combo audio jack, raised power button and an auto-rotate lock button, which is useful in tablet mode.
Pricing for the Yoga 900 at this configuration is $1,499 (£997, AU$2,131). For comparison, at this price point, you’ll be able to get the base Surface Book with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, 128GB solid state storage and no discrete graphics. You’d be getting more for your money with the Yoga.
At the base configuration, the Yoga 900 will come with an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB RAM and a 256GB solid state drive. Unlike the Surface Book, none of the Yoga 900 configurations come with discrete graphics, so the line’s performance is similar to the Surface Pro 4, as both rely on Intel’s integrated HD Graphics.
- PCMark 8: 2,261 points
- PCMark 8 Battery Life: 5 hours and 6 minutes
- 3DMark: Fire Strike: 844; Sky Diver: 2,931; Cloud Gate: 5,469
Surprisingly, the benchmarks for Intel’s Core i7 Skylake processor is only marginally better than the Core M-5Y70 CPU on last year’s Yoga 3 Pro. The Yoga 900 scored 2,261 points on PCMark 8’s test, compared to the 2,165 points scored by the Yoga 3 Pro.
Where the new Yoga 900 shines is in the graphics department. The more powerful HD graphics on Skylake generated scores of 844 on 3DMark’s Fire Strike test, 2,931 on Sky Diver and 5,469 on Cloud Gate. The Yoga 3 Pro only scored 329, 1,406 and 2,738, respectively, or half as well as this year’s model.
Compared to Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4, which is one of the few convertible notebooks that’s released with Intel’s sixth generation processor, the Yoga 900 delivered similar results. Our Intel Core i5-equipped Surface Pro 4 generated 2,406 points on PCMark 8’s CPU test. It scored 856, 3,673 and 5,873 points on Fire Strike, Sky Diver and Cloud Gate graphics tests.
Similarly, our Surface Book with an Intel Core i5 processor score 2,336 points on the PCMark 8 benchmark. The Surface Book benefited from its discrete GPU in the graphics department, generating scores of 1,868, 6,089 and 7,285 on Fire Strike, Sky Diver and Cloud Gate tests, respectively. These graphics scores are roughly double the performance of the integrated Intel HD Graphics 520.
Compared to the Spectre x360, which runs last generation’s Intel Broadwell processors, the PCMark and 3DMark results are fairly similar without any big differences in performance. The Spectre generated 2,424 points on PCMark, 621 points on Fire Strike, 2,297 on Sky Diver and 4,722 on Cloud Gate tests.
Even though Lenovo increased battery capacity on the Yoga 900 by 50%, battery life remains the same, with the 900 scoring 5 hours and 6 minutes on PCMark 8’s intensive battery test, while the Yoga 3 Pro generated 5 hours and 15 minutes. In my casual observation based on internet browsing, word processing and text-based messaging, the Yoga 900 fared over seven hours with the screen brightness set to 50%. This number is still short of the eight hours that Lenovo promised. We’ll update this review after more battery tests are performed.
Looking at these numbers, it appears that there is little difference in processing performance from this year’s Skylake Core i7 and Core i5 processors, but more importantly, CPU performance is similar across Skylake, Broadwell and Broadwell Core M chips. Where there is a big difference is in the graphics department between Skylake’s integrated graphics and last year’s Core M’s integrated graphics.
Benchmarks only tell part of the story, and real-world usage generally frames the narrative around how a laptop works. The Yoga 900 performs faster than any device with a first generation Intel Core M processor, thanks to its high-end Core i7 Skylake CPU.
Apps launched quickly, and I was able to perform basic video and photo editing without any lags or issues. Similarly, multitasking was no challenge for the Yoga 900. I had several Chrome browser windows open, each with multiple tabs, Microsoft Word and Excel in the background, three different chat and messaging clients as well as my standard Windows 10 Mail and Calendar apps.
One of the first things that I did when I began using the Yoga 900 is remove the bundled McAfee anti-virus software. I didn’t notice any performance improvements after the uninstallation, but I was relieved of the annoying popups.
Yet, despite its performance, I am not quite sure Lenovo made the most out of Skylake. When Skylake launched in early fall, Intel said that the integrated Intel HD Graphics chip could drive up to three simultaneous 4K displays at 60 frames per second, yet the single USB-C port means that the Yoga 900 is only able to drive two displays: the laptop screen and a single external display.
Lenovo doesn’t offer any docking station to expand the Yoga 900’s capabilities. On the other hand, Microsoft’s Surface Dock brings more power to the Surface Pro 4, allowing that device to drive two external displays in addition to the tablet’s own screen, meeting Intel’s three-display specifications.
When it comes to displays, it appears that Windows 10 hasn’t been fully optimized to take advantage of Skylake. I noticed constant popups alerting me that the Intel display driver had crashed, especially while performing graphic-intensive tasks. Additionally, I also experienced an issue with screen flickering.
Fortunately, it appears that screen flickering only occurs, at least to my eyes, when the display is cold. After the screen warms up after about 10 minutes of use, the flickering stops, but it’s still a worrying issue for a top shelf convertible Ultrabook system from one of Microsoft’s largest OEM partners. Hopefully, the screen can be tuned with a future software update.
If you’re viewing the Yoga 900’s screen from an angle under bright light, you’ll also notice small dots arranged in a grid pattern on the display. These dots likely help with touchscreen performance, but can be a bit distracting.
Multimedia performance is stellar, aided by the stereo bottom-firing JBL speakers that are tuned by Dolby. Music sounded rich and audio sounded loud enough to fill a room, and there is no distortion even at the highest volume. If you listen to more bass-heavy music, you’ll likely want to connect external speakers, but I had no issues with videos, movies and tracks that are heavy on vocals and acoustics for such a slim device.
Even with the screen folded back and covering the speakers in tablet mode, there was no issue with sound output. I only wished that Lenovo added physical volume buttons for use in tablet mode. This way, you won’t need to fiddle with Windows 10’s small menus.
The Yoga Pro 900 is an iterative release, improving on the flaws of its predecessors. In this regard, the experience is similar to the refinements that Microsoft made moving from the Surface Pro 3 to the Surface Pro 4 this year.
Lenovo put a lot of thought into the design of the Yoga 900. Given the similarities between the Yoga Pro 3 and the Yoga 900, it’s easy to forget that a lot of change has gone into this year’s model. Not only did Lenovo add Intel’s newest processor, but the processor class also changed from a Core M to a Core i series. Lenovo did a fantastic job moving to this powerful form factor while still retaining the same clean design.
The laptop never felt too hot in general use, and the clever placement of the fan means that users won’t have scorching thighs when using the Yoga 900 as a laptop, adding to the “lapability” of the device. Heat dissipation is also aided by a redesigned internal fan as well as through the faux-leather keyboard deck.
For port management, I love the versatility of Lenovo’s proprietary charging port. When you’re not charging the laptop, the charging port can double as a third USB port on the slim device.
Most importantly, the Yoga 900 maintains its premium status with an impeccable slim and lightweight Ultrabook design that also converts into a tablet. In this form factor, the device is meant for more casual tablet use and multimedia consumption, especially with tent and display modes. Business users looking to stay more productive will likely look for devices that support an active digitizer, but most users will be happy with the versatility that the Yoga 900 delivers as a two-in-one device.
While Microsoft managed to shave a little bit of weight and thickness off of the Surface Pro 3 moving to this year’s model, Lenovo went the opposite direction. The Yoga 900 is almost 0.1 inches thicker and 0.22 pounds heavier than last year’s model. Lenovo representatives claim that the slight bump is needed to accommodate a larger battery. However, moving from the power-sipping Core M to a more powerful Core i7 processor, the larger battery made no impact on battery life, with both models faring just over five hours on our battery life test.
And while it may not be Lenovo’s fault, compatibility issues with Windows 10 and Intel’s graphics driver are problematic nuisances for a flagship consumer convertible, resulting in driver crashes and screen flickering. These problems plague an otherwise gorgeous, QHD+ resolution display.
For touch typists, the shallow key travel on the keyboard will be disappointing, especially considering the fact that the Yoga 900’s form factor makes it an Ultrabook-first device. The keyboard feels shallower and stiff compared to the Microsoft’s new Type Cover for the Surface Pro 4.
The Yoga 900 is what the Yoga 3 Pro should have been: a powerful, lightweight Ultrabook. As manufacturers race to make their devices slimmer and lighter, Lenovo played it safe and made this year’s model just a little heavier and thicker to accommodate a larger battery, a necessity considering that we’re working with more power-hungry internals.
These sacrifices paid off. Despite the zippier upgrade to an Intel Core i7, battery life on the Yoga 900 is similar to the Core M-powered Yoga 3 Pro, an impressive feat of engineering considering that Lenovo had to also build in vents and add fans for active cooling.
But are the upgrades enough? Despite the latest chipsets, processing performance is about comparable with last year’s premium Broadwell processors, and the jump to a Core i7 didn’t post any significant CPU gains when benchmarked against the humble Core M from last year. Where the Yoga 900 shines is in the graphics department, and you should find no trouble with light or moderate video and graphics work using Adobe Creative Suite and casual gaming.
For business users, the Lenovo Yoga 900 fails to be as versatile as a Surface Pro 4. It lacks a dock to connect more than one external monitor, and you can’t rely on the USB-C port to charge the device. But if you’re looking at an extremely lightweight travel companion with a decent keyboard, the Yoga 900 delivers with a gorgeous display, light form factor and solid build quality.