ThinkPad X1 Yoga review
The ThinkPad X1 range of notebooks have been the top of the ultrabook range for Lenovo in the last few years. This year Lenovo released a version that combines the best of the X1 Carbon and the Yoga 2-in-1 convertible computers. This is the ThinkPad X1 Yoga.
Pros and Cons
Let me start by pointing out the Pros and Cons I have found with the X1 Yoga.
- Thin and light, easy to carry around
- Great performance, powerful and fast
- Touch and pen
- Multiple operation modes
- No rubber edges – difficult to use in tent mode
- Hinge could be a little stiffer
- 3.5mm jack tight and difficult to insert plug (might be just this single computer and probably does not apply to all models)
- Unnecesary fan noise (probably will get fixed in a BIOS update, I hope)
Because I purchased the X1 Yoga to be my main development computer, I choose the best specs I could get. It came with a i7-6600U Skylake processor, 16Gb of RAM and a PCIe NVMe SSD drive, which is so fast it just blows my mind away. My X1 Yoga came with the WQHD screen and LTE modem built in.
- CPU: Intel 6th gen Skylake Core i7 processor 6600U 2.6Ghz
- GPU: Intel HD Graphics 520
- RAM: 8-16Gb DDR3 RAM
- Storage: 256-512Gb SSD (even PCIe NVMe SSD options)
- Display: 14” IPS, FHD or WQHD with 10 point touchscreen, OLED option coming in April 2016
- Connectivity: 802.11ac WiFI, Bluetooth 4.01., 4G/LTE modem
- Camera: 720p
- Weight: 1.27 kg
- Dimensions: 333mm x 229mm x 16.8mm
- Operating system: Windows 10 Professional
- Docking: yes, with OneLink+ dock
Before buying the X1 Yoga I took time to research my options, because I am looking to use the computer for the next 3 years. I knew I was going to buy a ThinkPad – I have been very satisfied with them ever since I bought my first one, a T500. Because choosing a computer can be difficult, I thought I would talk about how I ended choosing the X1 Yoga.
I use my computer to develop software. That is the primary requirement. Occasionally I do present from my notebook. I make notes on it in meetings. I do some Office stuff, sometimes light image editing. I also manage my photographs on it.
Because my previous computer was a T430, the first model I put on my possible next computers list was the T460. I also wanted to go thinner and lighter, so the T460s was a logical contender as well. The X1 Carbon and Yoga were of similar form factors as well, as was the X260 and the ThinkPad Yoga 260.
I previously owned a ThinkPad X201i, and I liked the form factor very much. Although I am tempted by the big and strong models like the P50, I decided against that path:
- I do not want to have two computers, one that is thin and light and one that is a powerful workhorse. I had this situation a few times (having two computers) and I just prefer to have 1 at any one time.
- I think Ultrabooks have come a long way to be able to replace more powerful notebooks
So I still had a bunch of options to choose from. I narrowed it down to the X1 Yoga and the T460s. Because:
- X260 / Yoga 260 are a bit too small (12.5″ screen) if I want to work without external displays. Writing code needs a lot of screen real estate and so the 14″ screen is at a sweet spot in my size / productivity requirements
- The T460 does not have the fastest SSDs as options. Its unnecessarily thick and heavy, but still has the same CPU and memory options than the thinner versions.
- The X1 Carbon does not have a touch screen any longer
So in the end it was a decision between the ThinkPad X1 Yoga and the T460s. The X1 Yoga won the race because:
- Weight. It is a little lighter than the T460s
- Battery life. The X1 Yoga has a slightly larger battery.
- Touch and pen.
So here it is now, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga.
The X1 Yoga got its packaging from the consumer Yoga line. Frankly, it looks amazing as you open the flaps the notebook rises from the box!
The X1 Yoga packs the latest Skylake CPUs from Intel. Mine came with a i7 6600U, which is the fastest ultrabook class CPU Intel currently makes available.
Here is short take on the hardware. A more thorough discussion follows in the sections below.
The hardware is very well put together, but this is not a surprise, after all this is based on the 4th generation X1 Carbon. While the first two Carbons were a little bit like experiments, the third one was already very good, and the 4th one is even better. The screen looks great, the keyboard is a dream to type on, the computer is silent (when not pushing it). The built in speakers are not too good, but audio quality is ok, connect headphones if you want to listen to music. There is an LTE modem included as well.
Build quality is exceptional. The notebook is very thin and light and still feels very strong. It has passed milspec testing, so should withstand any normal use and even not normal as well 🙂 Although at times it feels too thin, the chassis feels strong and well put together.
I was a little afraid of the keyboard: because of the thin chassis, the key travel is reduced compared to regular ThinkPad keyboards. Well, I need not be concerned any more: the keyboard feels absolutely great, you will never notice that the key travel has been reduced at all. My previous work horse notebook was a ThinkPad T430 which also had the island style keyboard. The keyboard on the X1 Yoga feels much better than the one on the T430. It is a joy to type on, I like it very much.
While the T430 keyboard felt more like plastic, the X1 Yoga keyboard keys feel softer, almost has a rubbery touch. It has the same exceptional typing experience I love about ThinkPads. Frankly, I have yet to experience the same quality typing on any other notebook (not even MacBooks can compete).
By default the computer is set up so that the Fx keys invoke the extra function attached to them (volume, brighness, etc) and you need to invoke FnLock in order to have the Fx keys the primary keys. This behavior can be switched in the BIOS.
When you put the notebook into stand, tent or tablet mode – opening the display beyond 180% – the keyboard frame raises and the keys lock, so you cannot press them. This is called the lift and lock keyboard. This way when you hold the notebook in your hands, you will not be pressing on the keys and the bottom will feel flush. For example on the YOGA 900 this does not happen, and so you can freely press on the keys, and it feels a little strange.
The keyboard also has backlighting. There are three settings: off, auto and on. I wish there more steps to choose from, because auto still makes it too bright to my liking, and on is pretty much full brightness.
Touchpad and trackpoint
The touchpad is very smooth and fingers glide across the surface very easily. It feels precise, and takes on two and three finger gestures with ease. Two mouse buttons are integrated into the lower left and right parts of the touchpad, and you can also tap to click.
Trackpoint is just the same thing that you have become used to with ThinkPads. I actually prefer the trackpoint to the touchpad, feels more precise. The trackpoint feels like the same as with all the previous ThinkPads I have owned. But hey, why change something when it is working!
The X1 Yoga is equipped with all the ports you might need. All USB ports use USB 3.0. There are not one but two display outputs: a mini-displayport and a full sized HDMI port.
Left side ports:
- USB 3.0.
Right side ports:
- Kensington lock
- USB 3.0
- USB 3.0
- headphone jack
- volume rocker
- power button
- ThinkPad Pen Pro silo
- SIM card slot
On the back side of the notebook there is a small cover that you can open to reveal the micro-SD reader and the SIM cart slot.
Audio and speakers
The notebook has two speakers which are located on the bottom side of the notebook. So on notebook mode, they face the table.
They are loud and clear and you can use them for audio conferencing, they work great. When used in tent mode, they face the user, and it is really nice to listen to audio this way, be it a movie or a presentation. Unfortunately the speakers lack bass, so they are not that good for music listening or immersing yourself in a movie.
(Compared to the YOGA 900 speakers, the X1 Yoga speakers are not as good. I thought they might be similar, given the similar form factor, but the consumer line notebook got the nicer speaker. Sound quality wise they are similar, but the YOGA 900 has a little bit more bass)
The notebook has a 3.5mm combo jack where you can connect headphones and a microphone. The combo jack on my X1 Yoga feels a little tight, the plug always gets stuck and is hard to insert. But I guess it is just this single computer that has something wrong with the jack (it still works perfectly).
The notebook also has Dolby Audio software installed, which tries to improve the sound quality by providing different sound profiles. You can also customize these and create your own profile to tune the audio as you like it best.
I opted for the WQHD screen (2560×1440, 16:9, IPS). Although there are still some problems with the display scaling in Windows, I thought this would optimize text quality. Because I work with text a lot – I write code – it is very nice that the text it displays is high quality.
The screen is very bright and the colors are great. I used Adobe Lightroom to retouch some photos, and the screen is great at showing colors. I did not measure any RGB spectrums though, but Notebookcheck did, and found that the X1 WQHD screen is excellent. More details in their review here.
The combination of the high speed NVMe SSD and the i7-6600U CPU makes for a very impressive performance. Windows boots very fast, and applications open instantly. I also use Visual Studio a lot, and it works really great. Again, I have not measured anything, but my impression is that the X1 Yoga is blazing fast. If you want numbers, please see the Notebookcheck link above 🙂
One of the main selling points is probably the Yoga modes of this notebook. I have written many times about the different operating modes (both in my article about how to utilize the different modes and also in my Yoga comparison article).
I still use the notebook mostly in notebook mode. I would probably say I use the notebook in this mode about 90% of the time. The other mode I use is tent mode: I consume content in this mode while sitting on the couch or laying in bed. This works both for casual web browsing and video viewing. I especially like this mode when watching videos, because the speakers are actually facing me, so the audio is really good.
The third mode I use is the tablet mode, and stand mode I use very rarely.
In these modes – when the display goes beyond 180 degrees, the keyboard frame raises and the keys lock. This is the lift and lock keyboard. See the keyboard section above for more info.
There is one annoying thing about the X1 Yoga when you compare it to for example the YOGA 900. The YOGA 900 has a rubber edge all around the chassis and the screen. What this means is that when in tent mode, the notebook rests on the top of the screen and the bottom edge of the chassis. With the YOGA 900, this mode is very stable, because of the grip the rubber provides. However, on the X1 Yoga both of these edges is just slippery carbon fiber: there is no grip to speak of. This makes the stand mode on a smooth surface not that stable. This is less of a problem if the surface has some texture to it, like a bed or a tablecloth.
I would also prefer a little bit stiffer hinges for all the Yoga modes. I might be too critical on this feature, but I feel it would add to the overall usability.
Touch and pen
While the third generation X1 Carbon had an optional touch screen, the evolution of the X1 was split after the third generation Carbon. The Carbon is now your classic notebook, no touch options even. If you want touch, you will need to get the X1 Yoga. And the X1 Yoga has both 10 point multitouch and a digitizer pen included.
I found I use touch more and more when I use the notebook. It is just faster doing certain operations directly on the screen then trying to use the mouse to achieve the same. And I am not talking just about tablet mode: I use the touch screen also in notebook mode. I am so much getting used to it in fact, that I almost touhed my regular external displays a few times 🙂
Windows works great with the touch screen. But the X1 Yoga also has a pen included!
On the right hand side (if viewed from above the keyboard) is the ThinkPad pen. It has its own little silo in the chassis, so you will not forget it at home, and also it is harder to lose.
The ThinkPad Pen Pro uses an internal battery that is charged whenever you insert the pen into its silo. I do not use the pen all the time, so I have never ran out of battery for the pen. Even a small time in the silo would charge it very quickly, at least according to the manual.
I had a chance to try the YOGA 900 earlier this year (I also reviewed that one as well) which has great battery life. While the components inside the X1 Yoga are similar (so power consumption is similar) the battery is unfortunately smaller. This results in the X1 Yoga having a shorter battery life than the YOGA 900.
In my typical usage, the battery last like so:
- Reading, very light usage: 10-11 hours
- Light usage: 7-8 hours
- Intensive usage: 5-6 hours
- Heavy usage: 3-5 hours
Although there is no UI any longer to configure battery charging thresholds, I can confirm that they can indeed be configured using changes made to the registry and they work on the X1 Yoga. For details, please read my article on charging thresholds.
The notebook comes surprisingly clean preinstalled from the factory. There is of course a large selection of Lenovo utilities and applications installed, but mostly only those that are required for day to day operation. Like the Lenovo Companion, which can update your drivers and software or run hardware checks. Or the Lenovo Settings, from where you can do all kinds of hardware settings.
The only piece of software that was third party and that I did not want to keep was the McAffee suit of applications. It removed itself nice and silent when the uninstall option was invoked from the Control Panel (with a reboot at the end).
You also get Office preinstalled, but you will need to supply your own key to actually use it. For me it was still the 2013 version of Office, so if you want to use Office 2016, you will need to remove this and install Office from scratch.
Looking at the hard drive, the recovery partition is 1 GB in size. Yes, only 1 GB! So I did not even bother removing it this time around – maybe it will become handy later. Although with the current Reset feature of Windows 10, I will not even require a restoration media anytime soon.
The 512GB SSD came in a single partition, this I chopped into two partitions, a 140G primary one and the rest. I needed to use a partitioning tool to make this happen, because there were some files in the end of the disk and Windows refused to resize it beyond a certain point. Despite me doing this as soon as I had it booted the first time, and not having installed anything on it yet.
In the beginning when I received the notebook there have been some annoying small bugs. Software and BIOS updates have mostly taken care of these. So if you experience some problems with an X1 Yoga do update to the latest software versions and BIOS. It will probably fix your problems.
If you have problems with OneLink+ and displays, read my article about the issue and a solution as well.
If you have touchscreen problems, read the discussion on Lenovo forums.
If you have a constant warning about invalid power adapter (90w) connected to OneLink+, then please update your BIOS and the OneLink+ firmware (you can find links here)
(Some examples of the problems I had: excessive fan noise without reason, monitor configuration problems with two OneLink+ docks, AC power adapter warning even though correct adapter was connected).
Because the ThinkPad X1 Yoga is very thin, the regular docking connector could not be fit into its body. So the OneLink+ docking is the way to go. I actually like this even better than the regular docking. The docking station can be anywhere on your table and a single cable runs to the computer. I also like that there are front side USB ports on the dock (for quickly connecting USB devices, hard drives, etc) and also the audio connector is on the front.
Some people reported having problems with the dock. I have not had any major problems with either displays or ethernet connection. Both OneLink+ docks I use have been working great!
(please note the OneLink+ dock needs to be purchased separately)
I had the X1 Yoga in use for about a month now. It is the very best computer I have use so far. It is powerful when I need to work at my desk, driving 2 external displays and compiling all the code I need. But I can just as well take it with me onto the couch to surf the web, look at a video or write some things (like this blog article). When the notebook is not doing anything computing intensive, the fans are virtually silent. I have waited ever since ultrabooks came along to reach this kind of computers.
There are a few minor problems, but those are to be expected by early adopters like myself. Hopefully BIOS updates and driver updates will fix these. Other than these, there aren’t any major shortcomings. I can highly recommend this notebook to anybody.
Update 10.6.2016: Added some links to problem solving articles.