For the second year in a row, I took a brand-new laptop to CES (the largest technology trade show in the world), so I could review it under the harshest, most unpredictable conditions. I did this because I hate myself, and I like to channel that into buying advice for consumers.
But I don’t hate the ThinkPad X1 Yoga. In fact, I like it a lot! It’s a dependable two-in-one laptop that nails almost all the classic ThinkPad design elements, while still being thin, light, and flexible enough to be the ideal travel companion. Aside from a few odd port choices and lackluster audio, I found very few downsides…unless you’re searching for a value.
Old Looks, New Twists
The X1 Yoga series takes the revered ThinkPad X1 setup—a super-premium thin-and-light with business travelers in mind—and “Yogafies” it. That is, it turns it from a standard laptop design into a backward-folding two-in-one.
This is the fourth generation of the X1 Yoga design. The improvements over the previous model include a slightly lighter and smaller chassis, rearranged ports, and, of course, the usual upgrade to the latest processors, with 10th-generation Intel hardware. The latter is an optional upgrade, but more on that later.
I specifically asked for the cheapest variant of the laptop, on the assumption that it would be the most commonly bought. To my delight, that included a 1080p screen, 8 GB of RAM, and a 256 GB SSD. Even on premium models, it’s common the cheapest version includes only 4 GB and 128 GB, respectively (cough Microsoft Surface cough).
The base model includes such creature comforts as a standard fingerprint reader, backlit keyboard, and a stylus tucked away in a dedicated bay. There’s also a physical shutter you can activate to block the webcam, although this cheaper model doesn’t have the additional IR camera for Windows’ face scanning.
The X1 Yoga is surprisingly light for a laptop with a full aluminum alloy chassis (just under three pounds, according to my kitchen scale). It’s not quite light enough to “disappear” in your bag, but it’s certainly lighter and more compact than most two-in-one designs.
On that note, the hinge is excellent, despite lacking the more elaborate engineering of some of Lenovo’s Yoga designs. There’s less wobble on the screen while typing than even many conventional clamshell laptops.
Ports of Call
The ports on the XI Yoga are a mixed bag. It has all the standard connections: two USB-A, two USB-C (including one that connects to Lenovo expansion docks), a nice full-size HDMI port (no longer a given on portable designs), and a headphone/microphone jack (ditto). Still, I found myself missing any kind of card reader. A dedicated SD or MicroSD card slot is a boon on work trips—especially for something like CES, as I often use a dedicated camera. I had to carry a dongle to make up for the lack.
I also don’t appreciate the placement. While there’s a handy USB-A port on either side of the keyboard deck, the USB-C ports are right next to each other, so you can only power the laptop on one side. After a few years of using USB-C power ports on both sides of machines like the Google Pixelbook, I found myself missing the flexibility—especially on a machine that’s intended for travel.
Lastly, the power button on this thing just sucks. It’s embedded into the right side of the keyboard deck, and recessed so that it doesn’t stick out. I can see the utility behind the design—it’s available in tablet mode and won’t get pressed in a bag, for example.
However, it’s so shallow and hard to detect, I often found myself having to physically turn the ThinkPad around so I could make sure I was pressing it. A standard button would be preferable, even given the two-in-one design.
This model comes with the Core i5-8265U processor, a midrange, Whiskey Lake ultralow voltage model that’s now more than a year out of date. If you want the newer Comet Lake upgrade, you have to spring for an i7 at a $400 price bump.
I doubt many people would be disappointed by a lack of performance on the cheaper ThinkPad. Despite the older i5 processor, it was extremely responsive, even under the high CPU and RAM usage of my standard workload, which includes dozens of Chrome tabs and a handful of Photoshop files.
The integrated graphics (Intel UHD 620) were even good enough to play a few rounds of Overwatch at 60 frames per second; admittedly, I turned the settings way down.
Unless you do intense graphics production that demands a discrete graphics card (none of the X1 Yogas have that option), this cheaper configuration can probably handle your work. You won’t be able to play the latest and greatest games at full quality, but the occasional bout of Fortnite is well within this machine’s capabilities.
If you work with a lot of photos or other dense files, you might want to upgrade the SSD—unfortunately, you can’t swap it or the RAM out like you can on some cheaper ThinkPads.
Classic ThinkPad Feel
While using the X1 Yoga as a standard laptop, it felt like…well, a ThinkPad. Obvious? Perhaps, but that’s high praise coming from someone who’s been a big fan of the ThinkPad design for years. I could take or leave the TrackPoint (or, as it’s more commonly called, the “nipple mouse”).
However, ThinkPad keyboards remain the best of any laptop. They provide satisfying, comfy typing, and the trackpad is also smooth and responsive. I just wish Lenovo wouldn’t force me to swap the left Ctrl and Fn buttons via a software toggle on every machine!
One of the things I love most about a two-in-one design is the ability to fold back the screen and use a mechanical keyboard and dedicated mouse in a much smaller space than a normal laptop. The X1 Yoga delivers on this note with nary a wobble onscreen, even when I pound on Cherry switches.
The screen’s a standard, 16:9 affair, and while it’s nothing special, it is decently bright. However, the top and bottom bezels are a bit thicker than Lenovo’s more elegant competition. A 16:10 aspect ratio would be my preference.
The included stylus pulls the neat (but not unique) trick of automatically recharging when it’s in its bay. It feels good in your hand (somewhere between a mobile and dedicated stylus, à la the Surface Pen).
If you’re hoping this will replace something like a dedicated Wacom stylus, though, it won’t. It’ll do in a pinch if you need to make adjustments to a digital painting, but it’s more for nice-looking digital signatures than dedicated art creation.
As a means of doing work while on my trip to CES, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga performed extremely well. I would have liked the option of an LTE radio (the one baked-into the Yoga 630 spoiled me last year).
As long you generally have web access, though, the X1 performs everything you need it to smoothly and with minimal fuss—especially in terms of software. Aside from Lenovo’s driver manager programs (which seem to have taken a serious hit in usability since I last saw them), the laptop didn’t include anything beyond the typical Windows 10 applications.
The ThinkPad easily handled a full day of writing and research at CES, but it couldn’t be stretched to two. On the day I forgot to recharge it in the hotel room, I had to top off in the morning with a battery pack. (The included adapter is 65 watts, but it’ll charge off as little as 30.)
This makes Lenovo’s claim of 18 hours of battery life from the included non-removable 51 Wh battery seriously doubtful.
The laptop lasted seven hours and 15 minutes on a looped YouTube video, at about 70 percent screen brightness. In my (admittedly) unscientific estimation, that puts it between nine and 11 hours of normal web browsing. That’s pretty darn good for a laptop this small, but a far cry from 18 hours (which is par for the course when it comes to the battery claims of laptop manufacturers).
Also in the X1 Yoga’s favor, it does charge quite rapidly, even from sources less powerful than its chunky included adapter. If you can grab half an hour at an airport outlet, you’ll probably be good for at least a cross-country flight. While this thing is no endurance champion, it’s certainly better than many competitors.
Looks Better Than It Sounds
The X1 Yoga’s 14-inch, 1080p screen is more than serviceable for work. It’s also surprisingly good at media, too, with excellent contrast and viewing angles. The maximum brightness is 380 nits, which actually goes down to 280 if you opt for the 2560 x 1440 upgrade. Considering the size, I think the 1080p panel is the much better choice.
I wish I could be as generous to the laptop’s bottom-firing speakers. They’re good and loud enough to fill a hotel room. However, you’re going to seriously suffer at the highest treble and lowest bass if you’re listening for quality. That’s pretty typical of laptop speakers, though—especially on ultraportable models—so, I can’t hold the lack of sound quality against the machine too much. It’s just an opportunity to excel that Lenovo passed up.
The proud, “Dolby Atmos” badge on the keyboard deck (where the speakers should be) is almost mocking in context.
Not a Great Value
If there’s one thing dragging down the X1 Yoga, it’s value. This is the cheapest configuration available, and, while I commend the inclusion of an i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of storage, a comparable Dell XPS 13 two-in-one comes with the upgraded 10th-generation processor and a MicroSD card reader.
A convertible laptop from Acer or HP with identical specs (but, admittedly, without that wonderful backlit keyboard or fingerprint reader, and in a cheaper case) is $400 to $500 cheaper.
ThinkPad fans know they’re going to pay a premium for the brand. Even so, I can’t help but think Lenovo could be a lot more competitive here—especially with the XPS and Spectre lines coming in so strong.
Whether you’re willing to pay more for a ThinkPad is, of course, up to you. Although I’m a big fan of its aesthetics and the keyboard, I don’t think I would.
Here’s What We Like
- Light and compact for 14 inches
- Excellent keyboard
- Includes a fingerprint reader, backlight, and rechargeable stylus
And What We Don't
- Quite pricey for specs
- Battery life way below quoted maximum
- Poor speakers
- Finicky side-mounted power button