Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro Laptop Review
Bending over backwards to fit your needs
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For the past few years, Lenovo's been turning the laptop form factor on its head with a slew of laptop/tablet hybrids. Instead of forcing you to choose, these Yoga laptops have a specialized hinge that lets you change them from a laptop to tablet—and anywhere in between.
The latest in its Yoga line, the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro (MSRP: $1,199.99), includes a new watchband hinge that is much more stable, making the multiple modes more enjoyable to use. Lenovo has also opted for a new Core M processor, slimming down the laptop’s profile so that it won’t weigh you down when you’re on the go.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the Yoga 3 Pro’s undoing. While the laptop is indeed quite portable, it’s simply not that powerful. It can hang with laptops like the new Dell XPS 13 in some areas, but in others it’s simply outclassed.
Look & Feel
Tablet? Laptop? Media Center? You choose.
As far as looks go, there isn’t a whole lot about the Yoga 3 Pro that might catch someone’s eye. Much like last time, we wish we had the clementine orange or gold model, just to breathe a little life into the unit. But alas, we’re left with the plain silver model that’s remarkable only in its hinge design.
The watchband hinge is at the core of what makes the Yoga line noteworthy. It’s made from aluminium and steel and it’s far more durable and stable than what can be found on the older models. With it, the Yoga 3 Pro can bend almost 360-degrees, which Lenovo breaks up into four different interface modes—laptop, tent, stand, and tablet.
Unfortunately, a 13-inch tablet is about as awkward to use as you’d imagine. There’s a reason there are hardly any dedicated tablets that use a screen this size. It’s a good thing the Yoga Pro 3 isn’t a dedicated tablet. But since you only put it into tablet mode when you want to, it's simply an optional convenience. Instead of trying to balance a laptop on your legs to watch a movie while you’re curled up on the couch you can take full advantage of the smaller real estate of a tablet.
But what if you don’t want to hold a laptop, no matter how thin and light it is? The other two modes in the Yoga’s arsenal—tent and stand mode—are ideal for bingeing Netflix or video calling a loved one, improving viewing angles while providing plenty of support. It might be easy to dismiss them because these modes don’t seem to add enough to the experience to be noteworthy. But, having the option to bend your laptop into these configurations opens possibilities that weren’t there before, if you’re willing to experiment and find what works best.
In order to make the most out of each of these modes—and make sure you were ready to take it on the go—Lenovo made sure to keep the Yoga Pro 3 as slimmed down as possible. Coming in at 11.8” x 8” x .5” and around 2.6 pounds, it’s thin and light enough that it’s useful no matter how—or where—you want to use it.
That slim frame comes at the cost of ports, a sacrifice that's par for the course with ultraportables. There are two USB 3.0 ports, a micro HDMI port, a memory card slot, a combo audio jack, and a power adapter slot that doubles as a USB 2.0 port. You’ll also find dedicated buttons for volume control, a power button, and a Novo button, which is used to access OneKey Recovery and create a system backup or recover a previously created one.
The AccuType chiclet keys feel great to use and while the backspace key is little small and the layout has added some keys on the right, it only took me a moment to get adjusted and have my typing speed back up to normal. The keyboard has more space around it than we'd expect, especially at the top. While it leaves room for gripping when using the Yoga 3 Pro in tablet mode, the keys are surrounded by a wide moat of black plastic in laptop mode.
If you transform the Yoga into any other configuration than laptop mode, you won’t be able to use the physical keyboard and will instead have to settle for the virtual version. If you own a smartphone or tablet then you know exactly what to expect with the virtual keyboard on the Yoga Pro 3. It’s definitely not good enough for any kind of marathon writing sessions, but it’ll get the job done when you need to jot a quick note.
The trackpad, on the other hand, has some pretty major issues. There’s barely a hitch in navigating the screen, but when you try to select anything you run into a problem. The physical buttons on the bottom of the trackpad feel loose, with enough give that it feels like you’re going to break them before they register a click. You’d be better off plugging in a mouse when you’re in laptop mode just to avoid the trackpad issues.
Operating System & Software
Everywhere you look, there’s Lenovo
The Yoga Pro 3 is running Windows 8.1 and unfortunately comes with plenty of bloatware pre-installed that you’ll want to get rid of. Just don’t wipe everything, because Lenovo actually packaged in some pretty great apps—if you’re willing to take the time and figure out what’s worth it.
For our money, the best pre-installed software is Dragon Assistant, which is provided free. It’s the industry standard for dictation and voice control and is pretty fun to use. It has some quirks—just like Siri—but given a little time and practice could easily be inserted into your daily routine. I was even able to dictate this paragraph by saying “Hey Dragon.” I only had to add in punctuation at the end, something that’s still a little tricky to do with voice control.
Along with Dragon, the Yoga Pro 3 also comes with gesture support. Once activated, you’ll be able to use hand gestures in front of the webcam to control content in supported apps. Take Photo Master, which is a fairly generic photo managing app. With gesture support you can rotate photos, scroll left and right, and zoom in/out. Some of the gestures are a little trickier to nail down—I’m looking at you rotate—but after some frustrated minutes of practice, you’ll give up on doing anything other than scrolling to the next photo or step in your recipe.
That’s right: I said recipe. Probably the most useful bundled app—as long as you cook—is Yoga Chef, which comes preloaded with plenty of recipes for some pretty great looking dishes. Combine that with “tent mode” and the gesture control and you have a great way to cook or bake without getting gunk all over your screen.
The last potentially useful app is the Yoga Phone Companion. With it, you can connect your phone to your computer and sync photos, videos, SMS messages, and contacts. If you’d like, you can also use the app to send SMSes and make phone calls from your computer. They still are sent through your phones’ mobile connection, but it’ll save you the hassle of pulling out your phone.
While the Yoga Pro 3 is currently running Windows 8.1 the latest operating system, Windows 10, will be rolling out by the end of the year. Windows 8.1 has a great combination of desktop and tablet functions and Windows 10 will continue that trend while bringing back some desktop specific functions, like the more traditional start menu. The Yoga Pro 3 won’t have a problem running the new operating system and it’s going to be free to upgrade, so there’s no reason to wait if you need a new machine now.
Lives up to its size
An ultraportable laptop is built for one thing in mind—yup, you guessed it—portability. With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as any big surprise that the Lenovo Yoga Pro 3 doesn’t really hit the performance benchmarks of its beefier counterparts. But, it wasn’t built to run games on max settings, instead, it’s better suited handling more mundane tasks like web browsing or watching a movie on a Saturday night.
Our review unit came with an Intel Processor M-5Y70 CPU @ 1.10 GHz, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of SSD internal storage, and an Intel HD Graphics 5300 graphics card. It’s not the most tricked out Yoga Pro 3 available but it has enough juice that you’ll be able to handle most tasks with ease.
That processor I mentioned is part of the Core M series, which are built to work great in tandem with an ultraportable laptop. They manage heat extremely well, which is great news if you plan on testing the limits of what your machine can handle. That being said, in our experience, the tradeoff isn’t entirely worth it. The new fifth-generation Broadwell processors don’t add that much bulk to a machine and the vastly improved performance is worth more than a couple millimeters saved on thickness.
Take the new Dell XPS 13 for example. It uses the new Broadwell processors and across the board in our tests it performed leagues ahead of the parsed down Core M processor found in the Yoga Pro 3. The Yoga will work just fine if you run only one or two apps at a time or mainly browse the web, get any more complex than that and you’ll start to run into some performance issues.
We used Metro: 20333, a particularly graphic intense game, to determine how well the Yoga Pro 3 could function as a gaming laptop. The Yoga Pro 3 turned out to be on par with the Dell XPS 13, with an average frame rate of 5.67. At that frame rate, the game is practically unplayable, which reinforces that neither laptop was meant to game on. But, on the bright side, even when pushing the Yoga 3 Pro to its limits it only reached a max temperature of 96.5 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s one of the best scores we’ve seen in terms of heat management.
Thanks to the SSD, apps booted up plenty fast and looked gorgeous on the QHD+ 3200x1800 display. Keep in mind, like other ultraportable laptops, it was meant for casual work and entertainment. You can do some gaming, but it’s going to be limited to games that are a little older or aren’t as graphically intensive as the latest blockbuster title.
Unfortunately, the Yoga Pro 3 didn’t nearly live up to our hopes in terms of battery life. Lenovo claims a battery life that can reach as high as 7.2 hours, but using PCMark 8's intensive battery life test on max brightness the Yoga Pro 3 powered down after about 3.5 hours. You can expect to squeeze out a few more hours if you manage your brightness and do less intensive tasks like web browsing. While it didn't quite live up to the 5.5 hours the Dell XPS 13 reached during the same test, it’s certainly not the worst score we’ve ever seen. No matter how you consider it though, it’ll be difficult to stay untethered for very long.
Jack of all trades, master of none
Lenovo’s Yoga Pro 3 is a great option if you’ve had your eye on a tablet for a while, but could also use a new laptop. The Yoga Pro 3 is meant to be the best of both worlds, able to use a new watchband hinge to transform from laptop, to media platform, to tablet easily.
If you happen to be operating system agnostic, and would like a little more horsepower, we’d recommend checking out the Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (Iris Pro) (MSRP: $2,499.00). It’s our top-rated laptop and it’s slim enough that you’ll be surprised how much raw power it has. The only downside is the price; it’s going to cost you a pretty penny to get that much horsepower.
If you don’t have a couple thousand dollars burning a hole in your pocket, we’d recommend taking a look at the new Dell XPS 13 (2015) (MSRP: $799.00). It’s not quite as slim as the Yoga Pro 3, but it comes with a new “infinity” display, meaning the borders on the screen are only millimeters thin. It does suffer from similar trackpad issues as the Yoga Pro 3, but it’s more powerful and offers better battery life for similar money.
But, for all of the perks of the XPS 13 and the MacBook Pro, neither will have the added functionality that comes with switching seamlessly between a laptop and a tablet. While it isn’t flawless, it’s hard to argue with the slim profile and features you just won’t find elsewhere.