- Review Date: 11/19/2012
- Bottom line: The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 is a solid ultrabook, but as a tablet, it's a little too big for comfort. Otherwise, the Yoga 13 has the best hybrid design we've seen so far.
- Pros: Solid Windows 8 ultrabook. Folds back for tablet and stand modes. Excellent keyboard. Speedy performance thanks to Intel Core i5-3317U processor and 128GB solid-state drive.
- Cons: Too large and heavy for comfort as a tablet.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 is almost everything we want in a hybrid ultrabook. As an ultrabook, the Yoga 13 offers an uncompromised computing experience, while wedding Windows 8 with the touch screen it deserves, and delivering performance that will keep you satisfied at work and play. As a dual function device, it transitions elegantly and intuitively, standing out from the rest with the best hinge mechanism we've seen on a hybrid. But as a tablet, it falters. It's too big, and for a device that offers convenience and mobility, that's a significant drawback. That said, the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 is an excellent ultrabook, a great touch-enabled Windows 8 PC, and a passable tablet, and it's the most affordable hybrid ultrabook we've reviewed, to date.
Thanks to Lenovo's "multi-mode" hinge, the Yoga 13 opens like a regular clamshell laptop, but can then open further, folding back around to close behind the screen for a mobile tablet that can be used on the go. The 13-inch capacitive touch display offers 10-finger tracking and HD resolution (1,600 by 900). The smaller hybrids we've reviewed offer 1,920-by-1,080 resolution, but the Yoga 13's display still looks good.
The palmrest is also extra luxurious with an imitation leather surface—imitation so that it won't scuff and gouge like real leather—but it's still comfortable whether you're resting your palms on it to type, or holding around the back of the tablet. The outside finish is just as luxurious as the faux-leather palmrest, with a sandblasted aluminum surface that is so pleasant to touch that I briefly wondered that it might be coated with some sort of soft-touch paint.
After using hybrids that utilize sliding hinges and rotating screens, the stability and simplicity of Lenovo's hinge design is a revelation. Manufacturers take note, this is how you navigate the combination of laptop and tablet. The hinge design also allows the Yoga to bend and twist in other new ways, allowing for not only Laptop and Tablet Modes, but also Stand Mode, with the touch-screen standing up from the base, and Tent Mode, with the ultrabook propped hinge-up. When folded behind the screen in tablet mode, the keyboard and mouse automatically deactivate, letting you touch and swipe unhindered. These extra modes are especially handy when kicking back with a movie.
Despite the excellence of the hinge design, the Yoga 13 does have one design flaw. Because it uses the same 16:9 aspect ratio that is common on Windows PCs, the 13-inch screen becomes awkwardly long when held in portrait mode. Were it an 11-inch system, like the Sony VAIO Duo 11, the size would be just right. Measuring 0.66 by 13.4 by 8.85 inches (HWD), the Yoga 13 is well sized as an ultrabook, but it's too big for comfortable tablet use. It's also a bit heavy (3.4 pounds), just a little heavier than the 3.3-pound Dell XPS 12. This is one time that I wish Lenovo had opted for lighter plastics instead of aluminum, because the elongated dimensions of the device draw attention to the weight, making it more noticeable than on the Dell XPS 12.
The keyboard utilizes the same AccuType keys seen on the Lenovo IdeaPad U310, with each keycap curved ever so slightly for a more comfortable typing feel than you'll get with the usual chiclet keyboard, and a scalloped key shape instead of the usual square keys. It's one of the best keyboards found on an ultrabook—convertible or otherwise—and it's matched by Lenovo's IntelliPad multitouch mouse. With a smooth glass surface and clickable surface, it's responsive enough that you may just forget about the touch screen.
Ports connections include USB 3.0 and 2.0, a full-size card reader (SD/SDHC//MMC), and full-size HDMI output. Lenovo also offers its OneKey Recovery feature, though it has changed the name of the "OneKey" button to the awkward sounding "Novo Button." Wireless offerings include 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, but also notable is what you won't find on the Yoga 13, like WiDi (offered on the Dell XPS 12) and NFC communication (Offered on the Sony VAIO Duo 11 (D11213CX)). While NFC may not be missed, the lack of Wi-Di feels like a gap in the feature set.
The Yoga 13 comes with a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD), the same capacity seen in the VAIO Duo 11, but half that of the Dell XPS 12 (128GB). Lenovo's plain vanilla ultrabook, the IdeaPad U310 offers considerably more storage space (500GB) thanks to a spinning hard drive, but spinning drives don't work well unless kept stationary, which would limit the Yoga 13's mobility. There's no optical drive, but we didn't expect one on a device so thin.
Fire up the Yoga 13, and you'll find a few programs already featured on the Windows 8 Start Screen, like a 30-day trial of McAfee Security Advisor and McAfee AntiVirus Plus, along with a starter version of Microsoft Office 2010, though we wish it were Office 2013, which was made with Windows 8 in mind. Windows 8 apps like Amazon's Kindle App and the Ebay App make an appearance, as does SugarSync Manager. There are a few other programs you'll find if you look hard enough in desktop mode, like Nitro Pro 7 (a PDF reader) and YouCam (for use with the webcam), but nothing too intrusive. Lenovo covers the Yoga 13 with a one-year warranty.
The Yoga 13 resembles other ultrabooks in more than mere appearance. It's outfitted with a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U dual-core processor and 4GB of RAM—a setup identical to the Lenovo U310 and similar to the Sony VAIO Duo 11 (which offered 8GB of RAM instead of 4). In our productivity benchmark tests, PCMark 7, the Yoga 13 scored 4,417 points, performing neck in neck with both the Dell XPS 12 (4,638) and the Sony VAIO Duo 11 (4,648).
Though the Yoga 13 did return higher frame rates in high-resolution gaming tests, this difference is due not to any superior hardware, but the fact that the display resolution on the Yoga 13 maxes out at 1600-by-900, instead of the 1,920-by-1,080 seen on the lower scoring Dell XPS 12 and Sony VAIO Duo 11. Regardless, all of the gaming results, while similar, were well below the threshold needed for serious gaming. You'll still be able to enjoy basic games like Cut the Rope and Fruit Ninja, and perhaps some basic 3D gaming, like Team Fortress 2, but you won't be playing Skyrim in HD on the Yoga 13.
While gaming may be off the table, portability is still a chief concern. While we couldn't test the Yoga 13 with our usual MobileMark benchmark test, we did perform a simple video rundown test, as we did on both the Dell XPS 12 and Sony Duo 11. The Yoga 13 lasted five hours even, while the Dell XPS 12 edged slightly ahead (5:09) and the Sony Duo 11 fell almost two hours behind (3:09).
The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 is a very good ultrabook, and with a price tag of $999, it offers a lot—a reasonable feature set, touch screen, and good design. If you just want a great ultrabook, the Yoga 13 is good, but the Editors' Choice Toshiba Portege Z935-P300 is better, with similar specs and performance, but lighter, thinner construction and a lower price. As a hybrid ultrabook, however, the Yoga 13 has a versatile touch screen, a flexible design, and the best laptop-to-tablet transition mechanics we've yet seen in a hybrid. It's good enough that we hope other manufacturers adopt similar designs, but at a better size—the Yoga 13 is just a little too big for comfortable use as a tablet. If you are shopping for a Windows 8 ultrabook laptop with touch capability and plan on only using the tablet mode occasionally, then the Yoga 13 is a smart choice; but the Dell XPS 12 is better as a tablet.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.