Hands-on: Lenovo's Yoga Book sketch pad/tablet 2-in-1
When introducing the Yoga Book at IFA this week, Lenovo essentially explained that it had been designed for users under 30 – folks who spend much of their day in and out of apps, constantly checking social networks and cheerfully updating feeds by tapping away on a virtual keyboard. Well, two out of three ain't bad. We spent a little time with the Yoga Book and, despite being the wrong side of the target age group, were quite impressed by what we found.
The Yoga Book 2-in-1 has a mini version of Lenovo's 360 degree watchband hinge between the upper and lower touch-enabled displays. This allows it to be positioned in laptop mode, laid flat for side-by-side sketching, bent over into tent mode to watch movies onscreen or folded back to back for tablet mode.
Picking up the Book, something immediately caught our eye. When closed, the twin display clamshell multi-moder was about the same thickness as the encased Galaxy Note 8.0 we had with us. That's just 9.6 mm (0.38 in). Though heavier than the Samsung tablet, tipping the scales at 690 g (24.3 oz), we didn't feel it was too weighty for extended one-handed operation.
The housing is made from magnesium/aluminum alloy, which has a premium ring to it, but it didn't strike us as looking particularly high end. It did seem well put together though, and Lenovo told us that it's been designed to easily withstand the inevitable bumps and knocks of modern mobile living.
The Yoga Book is being made available in two operating system flavors. The Android Marshmallow version of the Yoga Book is reported to be good for up to 15 hours of use per charge of its 8,500 mAh Li-Pol battery, with the Windows 10 model managing up to 13 hours. The former comes with Lenovo Note Saver app to help digitize doodles or notes scribbled on the lower display and ArtRage for Android painting software. Office Mobile is pre-installed on the latter, along with a trial version of ArtRage Lite software.
The 10.1-inch, 1,920 x 1,200 pixel resolution IPS top screen looked crisp and bright in spite of the poor lighting at the launch event, and the Dolby Atmos speakers hold the promise of decent sound, though we weren't able to test for sound quality in the noisy environment at IFA.
But the really interesting stuff happens on the lower display.
When in laptop mode, this section is home to what looks like a full virtual keyboard. But it isn't. The touch Halo keyboard is actually a stack of Gorilla glass, an LCD panel, a backlighting film (to light up the keys) and an electro-magnetic resonance film (that works with the pen accessory).
That means that unlike the Keyless LifeBook concept from a few years back, the layout is baked into the hardware and not determined by software or at the control of the user. As such, different models will need to be produced for QWERTY, QWERTZ or AZERTY markets. There are currently no plans to support alternative layouts such as DVORAK.
Lenovo's press release promised "the best possible touch-typing experience," and the upper surface was rough to the touch, rather than glossy smooth, to help prevent fast-typing fingers from sliding on contact. And haptic feedback gave our typing fingers a little buzz when they hit the keys.
But while the letters F and J on the demo unit's keyboard were underscored, they weren't raised like they would be on a physical keyboard. And I did find myself wandering off course a little during a touch-typing demo
Lenovo looks to have considered this, however, and has built in some forgiveness wiggle room for less-than-accurate keying. The system is reported capable of learning typing behavior and, if a user frequently hits below the space bar or taps slightly right of a letter key, for example, the Yoga Book will recognize such sloppy efforts and compensate so that the desired action is produced onscreen. Pretty nifty, though we didn't spend nearly enough time with our demo units to test this out.
When the lights go out around the keys – either automatically when the Book is taken out of laptop mode, pressing a pen icon to the top of the keyboard or by pushing a button on the pen itself – the lower section is transformed into a digitizer drawing pad powered by Wacom technologies.
For input in this mode, Lenovo includes an EMR pen that's similar to last year's Wacom Spark pen. The pen communicates with the input surface via electromagnetic induction, and gets the power it needs to operate from electro-magnetic resonance. So there's no need to worry about small cell batteries or recharging.
As we hovered the tip of the pen a short distance above the input surface, a positional marker appeared onscreen. We then jotted down a few notes and did some random scribbling, and the system's algorithms instantly digitized our scribbling on the main screen. A big plus with this design is that your writing hand doesn't block huge chucks of the screen as you create your content.
The pen is said to register 2,048 levels of pressure (equal to the Galaxy Note 5's stylus, but half of the Note 7's), allowing for gentle strokes of a virtual paintbrush in art software or strongly defined lines of a pen for meeting notes. It has both stylus circuitry and makes use of real ink cartridges, meaning that the pen didn't mark the blank canvas of the lower section during our hands-on. The design also allows for a pad of paper to be placed on top for drawing or note-making in ink.
Whatever is scribbled, jotted or drawn on the paper in real ink is simultaneously repeated on the tablet screen, at the same size as the original. A Lenovo booth rep reckoned that an ink cartridge should last for a couple of months of daily use before needing to be replaced, and refills can be purchased from high street stationers. The pen's cap doubles as a tool for removing the refill.
The company's AnyPen technology also means that the pen can be used as a stylus on the upper touchscreen.
As well as squeezing the EMR and sensing technology into the 4 mm (0.16 in) thick lower section of the Yoga Book, Lenovo has also managed to fit in a motherboard that's home to the Intel Atom quad-core processing brain, 4 GB of system memory, 64 GB of solid state storage and 802.11 ac dual channel Wi-Fi. If the included storage isn't enough, a microSD slot allows for more to be added.
To the top right of the keyboard/sketch pad area is an 8 megapixel auto-focus camera for use when the Book is in tablet mode, and there's also a 2 megapixel front-facing, fixed-focus camera at the center of the top screen bezel, too, for video chats and selfies.
The Lenovo Yoga Book is a compelling multi-function offering from Lenovo. We can't imagine using the keyboard for hours and hours at a time, but it could be useful for taking notes at a press conference, for example. Or just quickly updating social network feeds and flinging off rapid-fire emails. The real/digital drawing functionality worked really well during our brief test session, too, and we can see how that would be particularly useful for students. But we'll reserve final judgement for a full review.
The Android (Marshmallow 6.0.1) version is priced at US$499, while the Windows 10 model will cost $599. Both are expected to be available online in the US by the end of October.