Jan 25, 2014


For as long as I have used computers, I have wanted a device that can act, both functionally and reliably, as a laptop and as a notebook. From my first ThinkPad (a 750C - the first spacefaring ThinkPad) to old Fujitsu tablets, the closest I had gotten to this device was the ThinkPad X61 tablet. While this device had an excellent keyboard and a look like something out of Aliens, it was unimpressive in performance, was not very portable and both its display and battery endurance left a lot to be desired.

The Lenovo ThinkPad S1 Yoga is a convertible device that is the love child of Lenovo's consumer Yoga and business ThinkPad lines. Its 31.75 cm display can fold 360 degrees, allowing for a few usage configurations, including laptop and tablet. In the configurations other than traditional laptop, the base of the keyboard rises and the keys lock, providing a flat surface for handling. I've been using one of these machines for the past month.

With the ThinkPad Yoga's use of an Intel i7-4500U 64 bit 8 core CPU utilising nonplanar transistors with a 3MB cache and a design clock speed of up to 3 GHz, it has impressive performance, compromised only really by its portable nature - performance is reduced occasionally for the sake of battery endurance. It has a bright, 1920 x 1080 fairly high resolution IPS 31.75 cm display with a luminance of 400 nits (that makes my department-issued 2010 MacBook Pro screen look blocky and washed out), an Intel HD Graphics 4400 processor (because fuck you, Nvidia) and a 256 GB SSD and 8 GB of RAM. It's weight, while non-negligible (especially in tablet configuration), is 1.58 kg. The keyboard, while arguably worse than its IBM-designed predecessors, still is a leading keyboard on portable devices and is described as being spill-resistant (possibly somewhat less so than its predecessors - that were quite capable of having a glass of water poured through their keyboards). The display features both a responsive, 10 point capacitive screen and a fast Wacom digitiser resonance panel, with which the stylus works very well. I understand that the HDMI output is capable of 4K resolution, though I have not tested this. When compared with other machines of its class ("Ultrabooks"), its system noise is exceptionally quiet. The device is straightforward to dismantle for casual modification.

The feel of the machine deserves comment. The closed dimensions are 31.7 cm x 22.1 cm x 1.93 cm. It is made from a magnesium alloy and has passed MIL-SPEC tests for pressure, extreme temperatures, vibrations and dust. All surfaces, from the display to the general bodywork have a sensible, pleasant texturing. With the device closed, the feel of the thing brings to mind a quality hardback notebook.

On style, the device, while slightly more grey in colour than the traditional black, follows the understated, high-end ThinkPad design language closely. Unlike Apple designs, the ThinkPads are less about touting a style and more about being minimal, but not so minimal as to compromise functionality.

As is my usual approach, I dismissed the default Windows 8 operating system and installed Linux. The ThinkPad Yoga with Ubuntu works very well by default, with the only obvious problem being slightly dodgy Bluetooth. While some limitations remain, I was pleasantly surprised by the touchscreen support provided by both default Ubuntu and the Touchegg multitouch gesture recogniser. Tweaks I employed included a disabling of the clickpad for directional control (I have a preference for the pointing stick - which requires less effort to use and is more precise), some key remappings and a custom program, spin, which provides easy control of usage configurations, automatic switching between laptop and tablet configurations and stylus proximity monitoring (for the purposes of palm rejection).

There are some things about which one can complain. The clickpad doesn't lock as the keyboard keys do and the loss of dedicated buttons for the TrackPoint pointing stick is something I lament currently, though I am hopeful that training and possible textural modification shall address any issues I take with the clickpad.

Overall, however, the ThinkPad Yoga is an extremely well built and designed device that can handle field use, has a good keyboard, great display and excellent usage modes, from traditional laptop usage to tablet notetaking. It is now my laptop, my laboratory notebook and my canvas.

If you can stomach it, here's Lenovo's advertisement for it:

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