Living With the… Lenovo Yoga 13

Recently I was tasked with writing an in-depth comparison between Windows 8 and Apple’s Mountain Lion OSX operating systems. To achieve this required the loaning of a machine from each respective camp, which sounds easier than you might think. The Mountain Lion option actually was pretty easy, with the 13″ Macbook Air being a  most flexible and portable platform on which to work – certainly a lot handier than dragging an iMac down to the coffee shop…although that has happened before.

Choosing the Windows machine was far more of a poser. You see I wanted to give the Microsoft creation the best possible chance to show off all its touch based features, but I know from my own experience that traditional Windows users don’t work that way, and therefore needed to show the OS in a more normal setting. So after lots of deliberation between a large touchscreen desktop machine, a tablet/laptop hybrid, or one of the many other form factors manufacturers were seemingly throwing out at random, I ended up plumping for the Lenovo Yoga 13.

Why this one then? Well, Lenovo have obviously thought long and hard about the Windows 8 user experience and divined that tablet and laptop functionality are, of course, rather different. We’ve probably all heard the ‘Gorilla Arm’ arguments about touchscreens by now (if not then it’s the idea that stretching out to interact with your screen all the time will make one of your arms bigger than the other due to the extra exercise it’s receiving – oh yes, and this isn’t regarded as a positive thing), so Lenovo have come up with something just a little bit clever.

At first glance the Yoga 13 looks like a normal laptop, albeit with rather chunky hinges, and in many ways it is exactly that. The specs are what you would expect of  a premium notebook, with an i7 processor, 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSD, and of course that all important touchscreen. Where the Yoga differs from its less pliable brethren, and gets its name, is those hinges. Open the Yoga 13 up and you can use it as a touchscreen laptop, but if you decide that you want a tablet instead then you can bend it back even more until it looks like an upside down V. Now you can use the tablet functions while the Yoga stands itself up on a table, pretty nifty. Of course this could prove disastrous if you borrow a friends laptop, forget that it isn’t a Yoga, and promptly rip it in half while trying to play Angry Birds.

In use the Yoga 13 is a pretty fast and responsive machine. The touchscreen works most of the time, although there were some occasions where you had to drag a menu in from the side several times before it actually did as you asked.  The matt plastic inner casings were comfortable to lay your wrists on as you typed, but here lay one of the biggest problems I have with the device…the damn keyboard.

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As someone who spends an inordinate amount of my day typing I’m a bit picky about keyboards. For the most part this one is fine, the keys are well spaced, they feel comfortable, and you know when you’ve pressed one. No, the problem that made this actually a nearly unusable macine for me was the extra row of buttons to the right of the enter key. As a touch typist, although an admittedly scruffy one, I have quite a rapid rate of finger speed. So it became something of a problem when I’d automatically hit the furthest right key expecting a new line only to find myself half way back up the page…especially if I didn’t notice straight away and then started adding sentences randomly into previous paragraphs. I know Lenovo are not the only ones to use a different layout like this, but I found it a real problem. Add to that the confusion of Windows 8 and it becomes a potent mixture for tearing out hair, shouting quite obscene language in the middle of Costa, and thinking just how much nicer that 13″ Macbook Air really was.

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Dispensing with the keyboard and going all tablet didn’t really improve things. The Yoga can obviously cope with any of the Modern UI apps that you throw at it, but having a laptop standing on it’s head doesn’t really feel that elegant. It also negates the advantage of a tablet in that it’s lightweight and can be held in your hands for extended periods, something you most definitely couldn’t do with the Lenovo.

In the end the real litmus test was having the two different devices on loan for around a month, really wanting to like the Lenovo – actually being quite excited before it turned up – but finding that whenever I wanted to get stuff done I immediately, and without any hesitation, reached for the Air. It’s boring and predictable I know, and I didn’t want it to go this way as I really want to find an alternative to Apple hardware so that I’m not trapped into a single vendor scenario, but the Lenovo 13 really isn’t the solution. Much like many elements of Windows 8 the Yoga 13 feels like it’s trying to solve problems that just don’t need to exist, and just causes other ones instead.

If you want to read the comparison piece between Windows 8 and OSX Mountain Lion then please visit the PC Advisor website here.