With the advent of Windows 8 and its touch-optimised interface, laptop manufacturers have had to quickly rethink how a machine allows you to interact with it. Various hybrids have sprung up, splicing the touchscreen interaction of a tablet with the physical keyboard and processing power of a normal laptop.
Lenovo's turned to bendy gym bunnies for inspiration with the IdeaPad Yoga 13. It looks like a standard laptop, but the 13-inch screen folds back on itself, allowing you to use it as a tablet.
My review model came with an Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM. It's on sale now from PC World for £1,000. Annoyingly, the model on sale packs a higher-end Core i7 processor. You can expect a slightly improved performance to my review model, but I doubt the difference would be immense.
Should I buy the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13?
At £1,000 the Yoga 13 isn't cheap -- it's the same price as Dell's new XPS 12, with its fancy rotating screen. Sadly though, it doesn't do much to demand your money over Dell's offering. While its flipping mechanic is simpler, it requires more space, making Lenovo's machine a more awkward travel companion.
The Yoga also has a slightly bigger screen, but with a lower resolution. It's bright and bold, but so is Dell's. If you want to enjoy Full HD video, the XPS 12 is the way to go.
Both models pack identical internal specs, but Dell's tinkering has resulted in the XPS 12 posting much better scores on my benchmark tests.
Although the Yoga has plenty of power for most tasks and the screen looks good, it doesn't match up to its equally priced rival. If you particularly want a Windows 8 convertible device, the XPS 12 is a better option. Bear in mind, however, you can get better performance from a normal laptop for a much lower price -- if you're willing to sacrifice the touchscreen.
Design and build quality
Folding the Yoga 13 into its tablet incarnation is very simple -- there are no sliding catches to use, you just keep pushing -- but it does require some space. If you're on a cramped Easyjet flight and fancy watching a film after you've finished your work, you might find yourself apologising for elbowing your neighbour in their face.
The Dell XPS 12, by comparison, has a flipping screen held within a frame -- it perhaps isn't the most elegant solution, but it doesn't require any extra room to perform the manoeuvre.
Folding it back on itself means the keyboard is on the underside. This feels pretty weird to hold -- I definitely prefer Dell's flipping method for this reason -- but at least the keys are automatically disabled, so you don't inadvertently type strings of letters. You can also prop it up like a tent for watching video or showing a presentation in a meeting.
At 333mm wide and 224mm deep it's pretty much the size you'd expect a 13-inch machine to be. It's 16.9mm thick too and weighs 1.54kg. For a laptop, that would be rather portable -- you certainly wouldn't struggle to get it into a bag. It's pretty chunky for a tablet though, so don't expect to be holding it up in one hand to swipe around, as you would an iPad.
The screen is fully touch-enabled for Windows 8. You can navigate around the big, colourful tiles of the Metro homescreen using your fingers, switching to the physical keyboard when you need to get some proper typing done. Windows 8 provides an on-screen keyboard when you're in tablet mode, but touchscreen typing (in general, not just here) is frustrating and only comfortable for a couple of sentences at most.
Build quality is generally fairly high. The double hinge feels sturdy and is stiff enough to resist being pushed back when you're using the touchscreen in laptop mode. The casing is firm and there's very little flex or creaking in either the lid, wrist rest or keyboard tray. It's definitely burly enough to put up with at least a few knocks and bumps inside your rucksack.
Looks-wise, it's nothing to write home about. Outwardly, it's very minimalist, with only the small Lenovo logo breaking up the barren lid. It's coated in a rubberised material that I found picked up dirt and grease rather too easily. It's also susceptible to scratches -- I found the coating could be scratched off when it was accidentally scraped against the edge of a desk. You'll need to make a conscious effort to look after it if you want it to keep looking smart enough for important meetings.
An annoying point is that there's no depression or lip on the front edge to help you open it, making it unnecessarily difficult to open. As the hinge has been stiffened, you'll need to push down on the base -- none of that Apple-esque single finger opening for you. I found I had to jam a fingernail in it in order to prise it apart. If you're in a hurry to fire off a quick email this could prove really irritating.
Around the edges you'll find one USB 2.0 port, one USB 3.0 port, HDMI out, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a volume rocker. There's also a full-sized SD card slot for quickly dumping images from your digital camera. Helpfully, there are buttons to turn off the display's auto-rotate function and one for an 'assisted startup' mode, letting you easily restore the machine if something goes wrong.
There's a 128GB SSD drive shoved inside, which is capacious enough for most of your everyday things. If you're a massive media downloader you might find yourself running out of space though. Lenovo promises there'll be a 256GB option as well, although whether shops will be stocking that model is unknown at this point.
Keyboard and trackpad
Stretched across the base of the Yoga is a full-size keyboard. It uses rounded, isolated keys that are very reminiscent -- if not identical -- to the keys I've seen on other Lenovo laptops. That's not necessarily a bad thing though. They're not the most aesthetically appealing keys I've seen, but they're comfortable enough to type on for longer periods.
They offer an easy click and are spaced far enough apart to allow for easy typing without making too many mistakes. The one exception: Lenovo has chopped the right-hand shift key in half, meaning I regularly found myself hitting the up arrow just next to it. You might well get used to it, but I'd have liked Lenovo to use the space a little more creatively.
The large trackpad makes full use of the available space and offers a very easy surface for finger sliding. Its satisfying click helps make fast cursor movement, while web browsing for example, much more pleasant.
The 13.3-inch screen has a 1,600x900-pixel resolution, which is somewhat disappointing. Even though Dell's XPS 12 is an inch smaller, it still manages to provide full 1080p resolution. If you're particularly keen to use your machine for movies, the Dell is the better option -- they both cost the same anyway.
It's not a poor resolution by any means though, so don't expect any unpleasant fuzziness. Small text and icons are sharp and I doubt you'd notice any difference between it and the Dell for many tasks. You can always output to an HD TV with the HDMI port if you want to.
It also makes up for the lower resolution by being very bold though. Black levels are deep, resulting in good contrast, and colours are rich. It might not be able to display videos at full 1080p, but it'll at least make what video you do watch look good.
Windows 8 software
The IdeaPad Yoga runs on Microsoft's latest operating system Windows 8. If you're a Windows 7 user but haven't seen the new software yet then you're in for a surprise -- it's rather different. Why not take a moment to familiarise yourself with it in our full review?
In short, the classic Windows desktop and Start menu are replaced with a scrolling grid of large, colourful tiles each showing live information. There is a traditional desktop there, but it's no longer what you're met with when you boot up your computer.
With the chunky tiles and a host of gestures, navigation is geared heavily towards touch input. Proper Windows 8 machines like the Yoga, XPS 12 or Sony's sliding Vaio Duo 11 all have touchscreens. It's fairly easy to get used to, although if you want to power through tasks quuickly, you'll need to get to grips with the various gestures on board. Check out our 50 tips for Windows 8 to learn some new tricks.
Windows 8 also brings its own app store, called the Marketplace, so you don't need to go through the rigmarole of installing software via disks with install wizards. Although it has some good finds such as Netflix and Skype, it's not exactly well stocked with touchscreen gems just yet. Hopefully as more people buy Windows 8 machines, developers will have a better reason to bring their software to its shelves.
The Yoga is running the full version of Windows 8 though, allowing you to install any normal desktop software you like. If it's held on a disc you'll need to use a USB disc drive, but any software you can acquire via download will install in the same way you would with Windows 7. This software will run only in the traditional desktop mode, rather than as one of the fancy touchscreen-friendly apps, which makes using them fiddly and disjointed from the rest of the interface.
Power and performance
The Yoga is powered by an Intel Core i5 processor along with 4GB of RAM. Those aren't stand-out specs for a laptop by any means -- Lenovo's own IdeaPad U410 provides double the RAM and costs considerably less money. If it hopes to demand a thousand of your very hard-earned pounds, it should at the very least be able to handle all your everyday computing tasks.
To see how it measures up against the competition, I booted up the Geekbench test and was given a score of 4,971. That's frankly very disappointing, considering the U410 achieved 7,430 on the same test. Sure, it's a standard laptop, but all that power is a major sacrifice to make for a folding touchscreen.
Even more damningly, the Yoga failed to match Dell's XPS 12. The 12 achieved 7,223 on Geekbench, yet is powered by identical components. If you're looking for the best performing convertible for the money, Dell's the way to go. Bear in mind, however, that the Core i7 chip in the machine currently on sale may provide a better performance, but it wasn't available for me to test.
It might not stack up well against its rivals in benchmarks, but it was powerful enough to make light work of most tasks. Swiping around the Windows 8 homescreen was swift and responsive, with apps loading fairly quickly and no discernible delay when switching between apps using the multi-tasking bar.
The essentials of social networking, office work and watching high definition videos are tackled well. I installed Adobe Lightroom 4 and loaded in some high-resolution photos to edit. It coped fairly well, with only a minor delay between moving a slider and seeing the change take place. If you're a professional photographer looking for a dedicated work machine, it won't be for you, but for tackling the odd set of family snaps it'll cope well enough.
I wasn't able to run my usual battery test on this device, but Lenovo rates it for 'up to 8 hours' of use. I'll update the review when I can measure it more accurately.
The Yoga is an interesting concept for turning a normal laptop into a Windows 8 tablet. Sadly though, its high price, lower definition screen and unimpressive performance mean it fails to put itself above its hybrid rivals.