Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Review: Enterprise Heritage Meets Future With OLED Display, Modularity, Pen

Lenovo is the world’s #1 personal computer maker in the world by unit volume. The ThinkPad brand of enterprise notebooks harkens all the way back to the IBM days in the 90’s and to Lenovo’s credit, they have kept the brand successful, which when the IBM acquisition occurred, few bet on the company’s success. Enterprises buy ThinkPads because of the perceived durability, price-performance, and in some cases, customers have been buying ThinkPads for decades. So how does a company with this heritage bridge the gap between history and legacy with new use cases and desires? Lenovo has spawned new sub-brands like Yoga, Carbon and even X1 and I think a good example of this practice is Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga, which I had the chance to use over the last month. I wanted to share with you my experiences with the ThinkPad X1 Yoga convertible notebook. Tested use case I like to spend weeks with a system and load all my apps and data on a device as I believe this is the only real way to fairly evaluate a system. I used the ThinkPad X1 Yoga in a multitude of scenarios, but the primary use cases were business-focused. Thus, I installed desktop applications from Microsoft like Skype and Office 365 as well as Google Chrome, Apple iCloud, CPU-ID and Sonos. I also installed some Microsoft Store apps like Twitter, Facebook, IM+ Pro, Insteon for Hub, Messenger and Nest Manager. These apps all ran extremely smoothly on the ThinkPad X1 Yoga and served as a broad array of test applications that would help to determine the overall speed of the machine. In addition to software, there was also a broad array of hardware that I used with the ThinkPad X1 Yoga. First, I used a Microsoft Bluetooth mouse along with a 34” Dell curved monitor as well as an ASUS 30” monitor. I also used a Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse. To top off the dock-like hardware configuration, I also used a Belkin dock that added a Gigabit Ethernet port and 3 USB ports. This configuration allowed me to comfortably use the ThinkPad Carbon X1 Yoga like a desktop and evaluate the notebook’s effectiveness as both a portable computer and as a docked computer. What I liked There were quite a few things I enjoyed about the ThinkPad X1 Yoga. Its biggest differentiator was the incredible OLED display. It’s a 2560x1440 resolution 14” display which uses the latest in OLED technology. The choice to include an OLED display seems like a wise one because the display looks gorgeous on photos and videos. OLED technology is different from LCD technology in that it allows for a thinner display through individually lit pixels that uses less power while also delivering deeper colors and higher contrast ratios. Thus, the blacks look more true and the colors overall look better across the board. These benefits are extremely valuable when you consider how thin notebooks have become and how valued a high-quality display is nowadays. Thanks in part to the OLED display, this device is extremely light, light enough for being a notebook and very light for a 2 in 1. It’s also thin enough to be considered a ‘thin’ laptop and the “tent-mode” is absolutely a life-saver on a cramped airplane. This is Lenovo’s fifth generation hinge and it literally just works. Lenovo invented the convertible PC category so you’d expect that. I’m glad Lenovo supported the top bin,15 watt, Intel Core i7 6600U processor to ensure a satisfactory level of performance along with 16GB of RAM and a 500GB NVMe SSD. Those three things paired together are a formula for a snappy notebook computer. Lenovo also managed to squeeze good battery life out of the 52 WHr battery, I got a solid 6-7 hours of non-stop connected Office productivity work out of it at 50% brightness. With breaks and meetings, you’d probably be looking at getting a whole work-day out of it. Real battery life is personal and heavily subjective, and will vary depending on your work-style, so your mileage may vary. Lenovo also shipped the laptop with plenty of charge, too, as I had 48% of battery life left after the first boot and configuration out of the box. All of this is packed inside of a magnesium body and a carbon fiber lid, which makes it more durable and lightweight. It's important to note that the X1 Yoga adheres to the MIL-STD 810G standard, a military standard for protection from liquids, dust, fungus, rust, sand, salt water, temperature, pressure, humidity, and leakage. So as an enterprise, you’re going feel better about the durability and reliability of the X1 Yoga. You absolutely will not get this in a consumer or small business notebook. The trackpad accuracy was quite good thanks to the Synaptics ClickPad, as were the quick keyboard buttons which I used, including dimming, microphone mute, project, Wi-Fi, home and alt tab quick-keys. Lenovo also includes an active, hidden, self-charging pen to be used on the display. The small size is what allows for the pen to be hidden inside of the body and still very accurate when combined with the Wacom technology. It’s a bit too small for large hands for extended periods of time.  Lenovo also opted for a spill-resistant keyboard, which is great for users who might use their computers outdoors or indoors with a desk that has drinks on it. For connectivity, one of the more notable things is that the X1 Yoga has two different video out ports that are digital, one HDMI port and one miniDP port. This means that a serious business user could easily connect two displays to the ThinkPad X1 Yoga without needing to use any dongles or a dock. In addition to the display connectivity, Lenovo also offers the ThinkPad X1 Yoga with an optional LTE-A (LTE advanced) modem. This is a two-fold benefit because it means that the laptop is always connected when its mobile and doesn’t require an external internet connection. It also means that a user is much less likely to connect to an unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot because they already have a secure LTE-A connection that is very likely as fast as or faster than what is publicly available. In terms of security, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga is an enterprise device so you would expect a lot of it built in. It features a Synaptics NaturalID fingerprint sensor which can be used for authentication supporting Windows Hello login, built right into Windows 10. It also has all the standard security features you’d expect on an enterprise client notebook including TPM, Intel vPro and a Kensington lock. Of note, Synaptics and Lenovo are both doing a lot around adding functionality to NaturalID like e-commerce. Stay tuned. I usually despise the built-in, added software on a PC. They’re usually incompatible, buggy, slow and there are just too many of them. But I really liked using the Lenovo Settings and Companion app. The app provided value for platform-specific features in one place, not spread out all over the place like others do with separate apps. This means bringing together settings like Dolby Audio, special sleep states, TrackPoint, privacy modes, OLED settings, warranty, maintenance, tips and tricks and supported accessories. Lenovo has done a good job of offering useful tools in the past, including their battery management apps, so it’s nice to see them try to bring things into one manageable area. Legacy support Lenovo has a long legacy and heritage with its ThinkPad customers and I believe the company acts on what they ask for. Lenovo remained with some of those more historic features including the globally recognized red TrackPoint stick as well as the left and right trackpad clickers. These seem like a whole lot of investment for legacy folks, personally it looks aged to me, but I get it. Lenovo wants to keep fans and loyal users happy since there are probably plenty of people that still like that. Lenovo told me they have done a lot of research recently that verified that. Lenovo also remained with the iconic, black matte finish, which is cool, but picks up a lot of fingerprints and doesn’t look great under certain light. Lenovo kept the blinking red light on the ThinkPad “i” and Lenovo says that customer research said users like this to know when its plugged in. This may be a fair assessment since Apple did kill the glowing Apple in their MacBook Pros and angered some users. Features I’d like to see in the future As I do with every review, I talk about what I would like to see in the next version of the product. I’d like to see Lenovo go for USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity on the next generation since this model doesn’t have either. By supporting both, Lenovo adds a little bit of future-proofing to the device and prepares it for the future of wired connectivity. With Thunderbolt 3, you get daisy chaining of displays, storage and other external devices as well as power, oh and 40 Gbps throughput. The reality is, Thunderbolt-3 just became ready for prime time, enterprises are typically conservative, so I understand the conservatism. Even Microsoft passed on Thunderbolt-3 with their latest Surface and Studio. Speaking of throughput, I would really like to see Gigabit-class LTE-A as well as 802.11ad Wi-Fi connectivity to increase the wireless performance of this notebook and enable features like wireless display. I would also like to see Lenovo implement Windows Hello face and iris scanning for even higher levels of security and authentication by adding another factor. I would also integrate the fingerprint reader into the trackpad to make it a better user experience which includes making the trackpad clickable at the top. I would also like to be able to trade the legacy trackpad, clickers and stick for an overall larger trackpad. Finally, it would be nice to see Lenovo offer a discrete graphics option, be it an AMD, NVIDIA or Intel Iris graphics option. The basic integrated graphics option that comes with the Intel CPU won’t be enough for some serious graphical rendering usage. Additionally, I would also like to see Lenovo include a 1080P webcam for Skype calls to make better use of that high-resolution OLED display. Wrapping up I consider the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga a good balance between legacy and new ,and will help enterprise IT keep certain users looking for more in their experience very happy. The OLED display is truly incredible and you really need to experience it to believe how good it is with videos and photos. As it’s a Yoga, it’s a convertible PC and you will really appreciate this on the airplane in cramped spaces. As others are putting away their PCs and pulling out tablets and phones to try and get work done, with the X1 Yoga, you can keep on working or play on a truly great touch display. To me it’s a bit large to use as a classic tablet but it’s there if you need it and some will, particularly those who sketch or draw a lot. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga is a durable, thin and light workhorse of a commercial convertible notebook that you know is classic ThinkPad with a few tricks up its sleeve that remind you of the future workspace.
Patrick Moorhead

Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.