Monday, May 16, 2016

Lenovo Yoga 900 13isk - Review

Review: Lenovo Yoga 900 13isk - Quick Review

Day-to-day observations, along with comparisons between the Lenovo Yoga, the Dell XPS 13/15, and the Microsoft Surface 4.


I recently purchased a Lenovo 900 ultrabook.  In competition was the Dell XPS 13 and the Microsoft Surface 4.  I chose the Lenovo Yoga for the following reasons:
  • The keyboard had dedicated Home, End, Page-Up and Page-Down keys
  • Backlit keyboard, (now standard on high-end laptops)
  • Dedicated PFKeys
     
  • Screen resolution: 3200 x 1800 - almost amazing - good and bad, see below
  • USB-3 and USB-C (new standard)
  • SD Card Slot
  • Innovative hinge design

Initial Impressions:

This is a sexy machine that I am proud to own.  It weighs next-to-nothing. The screen is unbelievably thin while the bottom half is the thickness of a USB-connector.  Folded, it is slightly more than a half-inch thick.  Full specifications here.  I would buy this machine again.

The competition:

I seriously entertained the Microsoft Surface 4 and the Dell XPS 13 and 15inch models.

The Microsoft Surface is a wonderful design, but a little more costly, and I worried about the detachable keyboard.  In Microsoft's view, the keyboard is optional, adding $150.  The keyboard, as well-designed as it is, is not as solid as a built-in keyboard and it is missing the aforementioned keys.  Their other product, the Surface Book (a convertible laptop), solves these problems, but it is even more expensive than the 4.

The Dell is also a well-received machine, getting numerous compliments in the press, but it was also more expensive (as configured), and the keyboard lacked paging-keys.  Additionally, the trackpad was too large, which causes problems with palm-detection when typing.  Finally, because of their "Infinity screen" (see below), Dell's webcam was in a strange location, along the bottom bezel.  

For these reasons (mainly the keyboard), I decided on the Yoga.

Drawbacks and Issues with the Yoga:

No laptop is without compromises.  Here are the things I noticed.

Screen:
At 3200 pixels, the screen resolution is amazing, but causes some programs to display dialog boxes incorrectly.  Depending on the application, text, menu and checkboxes are sometimes too small to read.  With some programs, toolbar buttons are too small to be useful.

For example, with my photo editor, Paintshop Pro X8, toolbar preferences had to be modified to use "large tool buttons" and some screens, such as this preference screen, have radio-buttons that are too small to be readable.



This is not a fault of the screen, but it does indicate not all software was designed with these screen resolutions.

Another glaring example is VMware Remote-control program; the remote-machine window is too small to be usable.  The screen maintains the resolution, as set on the remote setting, in my case, 1280 pixels.  This means the entire session occupies a little more than a third of this small laptop's screen -- making for very tiny fonts, icons and menus.

In the future, I might give pause before buying screen resolutions greater than 1920 pixels.  Vendors will update their software to fix these problems.   In the mean time, it has added some difficulties.  On the plus-side, the tiny fonts are sharp as a tack.

Windows has a system option, where you can enlarge the screen by (200%); see Settings, System, Display, "Change the size of text, apps, and other items".  This works well, but not all software respects the setting.  The Lenovo came with this as a default option.

With this said, having 4K resolution on a 13" laptop is glorious in other ways.  Fonts and icons are sharp; high-resolution photographs are amazing.

Other Screen Comments:
The Dell XPS laptop features their new "infinity" screen, where the screen's bezel is so thin, that the edge of screen meets the edge of the laptop (this is why their camera is in such a strange place).  This is an intriguing feature for a desktop or laptop, but as a tablet, a bezel-less screen would make the tablet hard to hold and the screen would detect all kinds of spurious edge-events.  In the Yoga's case (and with the Surface), a bezel is probably needed.

Touch Screen:
As a touch screen, there are no issues and I admit this was a feature I was not looking for.  When the Yoga's screen folds back upon itself, it becomes a tablet (the keyboard disables).  This works perfectly.  Touch-screen also works in laptop mode.  I was surprised at how much I like this feature, fingerprints on the screen, and all. [But now, after several months of use, I find I am like most other people I've met with tablets; they almost always use it in keyboard mode.]



The Yoga Hinge:
The screen's hinge is an innovate and sturdy and it doubles as the heat-exhaust.  After working the machine fairly hard in its first week, I have not noticed a fan or heat problems.  I assume this has everything to do with the new Intel 6th-generation i7 chip.



Keyboard:
From this article's introduction, the keyboard was an important consideration.  Although I have been a loyal Dell fan, the Dell XPS 13 did not get my business because of the keyboard.  Not having a dedicated Home-End-Page keys was a show-stopper.  Can you imagine not having dedicated FKeys in Excel or your word processor?

By default, the Yoga's FKeys act as a the laptop's hardware controls, for volume, screen brightness, turning off wireless, etc.  It is easy to accidentally tap a key and turn off the mouse or the wireless.  For this reason, I went into the BIOS and flipped these keys around, making the FKeys act as normal PF-keys.  Now to get to the hardware functions, I press the Fn plus the Fkey.  This is a recommended BIOS setting. 

The only other keyboard comment is the right-shift key which is tiny and so far has been impossible for my right-hand to find.  I have resigned myself to this because all subcompact laptops are designed this way.


Touch Pad:
I have never met a touchpad I liked.  This laptop uses a Synaptic pad and again, I am not thrilled.  On the plus side, the pad is noticeably smaller than Dell's and this means less chance of your palm being detected and it also means your fingers have less-travel across the pad.  I have been pleased with the pad's smaller (but not too small) size.

Normal mouse movement works well.



But two-finger scrolling is frustrating -- it seldom works as expected and often the scroll happens in fits-and-starts.  And I have also had problems with mis-detected single-taps (where an unintended tap is detected).  I am still adjusting driver options, looking for the best settings, but have failed.  These are clearly software problems.

Fortunately, Lenovo uses standard Synaptic drivers so you can always download the latest version without having to wait for the vendor.

The entire pad acts as a mechanical switch (it clicks when hard-pressed) or you can lightly tap.  Both techniques work well.  Etchings on the pad indicate the left-and-right mouse-click areas and it is sensitive to where your thumb is when clicked, but the button markings are not tactile and I find I have to look for the position. 

As you can tell, I have a love-hate relationship with the trackpad.

To work around this problem, I purchased a Logitech T630 ultrathin mouse.  See Keyliner Logitech T6330 Review here.  Single or double-finger scrolling works wonderfully with this mouse.  This is a slick device and recommended. 


CD/DVD Drive:
There isn't one, nor is one expected with an ultra-portable.  If you need a DVD, buy a cheap external drive or map to a desktop computer's shared CD Drive.  I find a locally-attached CD useful enough to spend the $40.


Battery Charger:
The battery charger "wall-wart" was a pleasant surprise.  It is smaller than most and uses a USB-like (proprietary?) cable with a orange colored tab (instead of the normal white or blue). 



When not used for power, the same port is also a standard USB-2 but I have been afraid to plug any other  device because it is "stiff."  The power-cable is designed in such a way that it can only plug into this port (even though the port can accept other devices).

In addition to this, there are two other USB 3 ports plus one USB-C (noted the USB3 ports are not color-coded blue).  You will also find an SD-card slot and a headphone jack.  These are all welcomed features, especially on a laptop that is this light and thin.

If you use an external wireless mouse, get a bluetooth mouse and free up a port and dongle.

Battery Life:
In other publications, you can find technical reviews about the battery.  My experience has been good, verging on amazing.  Using the laptop and wireless every evening for several hours, I am able to run four to five days and still have 20 to 40% battery.  This is far better than my previous laptop.  I have not yet tried to get through an 8-hour day, all day on the wireless.  

Update:  Three weeks later I am finding inconsistencies with the battery.  A full charge use to show 10 to 12 hours, now it shows 8 one day and 12 on another.  I will update when more is known.

Crapware:
Amazingly, no crapware was installed, except for two unneeded Lenovo utilities (which help set screen brightness and to open other standard control panel options).  These are easily found on the keyboard or in Windows and the utilities un-install without issue. This is refreshing.  Not even McAfee was installed.




Which Model

There are two Yoga 900 models:  The Yoga 900 (reviewed here) and the Yoga 900s.  The less-expensive "s" model has a slower "mobile" processor, which I discounted.  The standard, non-s model, comes in two versions:

8GB Ram and a 250G SSD hard drive or ($1200)
16GB Ram with a 500G SSD  ($1400)

Both have the latest Intel I7 processor, but one has double the RAM and double the hard disk.  I chose the more capable model, adding $200 to the cost.  Outside of that, both are the same.  Windows 10 runs well with 8G of RAM.  Most people, including me, would do perfectly well with the less expensive model.  


Where to Buy

Yogas seem to be the same price world-wide,  I bought mine at Best Buy, where if you charge it to the store card, you get 10% back in rewards as in-store credits. If you have other purchases to make (which I did), this will save you another $100 to $120.  Be aware the reward points expire.

The most obvious benefit to a real store is you get the product that day and you get to talk to the sales guys.  Asking how many have been returned and naturally they said they've had no obvious problems.  With that said, Best Buy had two that were returned (15-day no questions asked return policy) and were being sold as refurbished.  I found a new-condition unit with a full warranty, saving another $250. If shopping at Best Buy, ask for refurbished models.



Final Comments

If I mostly wanted a tablet, and only occasionally needed a keyboard, I would have purchased the Microsoft Surface 4.  I love those machines.  But I like to type and wanted a better keyboard.  My friends who have Surface machines admit they almost always use it with a keyboard.

The touchpad is serviceable, but I am still irritated at two-finger scrolling and missed-click events.  Fix this problem by getting an external mouse - spend the money and buy the Logitech T630.






It comes in boring silver and black (what I got), as well as the really cool "Clementine Orange" and "Champagne Gold".  Live on the edge and get the orange.

The only other problem I have had is in finding a case small enough to hold the laptop and its accoutrements.  All carrying bags I have found are cavernous.  This is a terrible problem to have.  Temporarily I settled for a sleeve.  This means I can't carry the charger or mouse in the same case.  Perhaps a stylish fanny pack?

Reviewed:  2016.05 - Lenovo 900 Yoga.

Related article:
Keyliner Logitech T630 Mouse Review


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