MSI has long pushed the boundaries of invention with its ever-evolving range of laptops but it has now pulled off a world first with the new MSI Creative 17.
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro hybrid Ultrabook
An innovative watchband hinge makes the Yoga 3 Pro one of the best laptop convertibles on the market
- Excellent design
- Thin and light
- Easy to use as a tablet
- Can run warm
- Battery life not great
- Bluetooth didn't work well for music
The Yoga 3 Pro is indeed one of the best hybrid notebooks on the market when it comes to form and function. It can be used as a tablet very easily thanks to its thin chassis and light weight, both of which have been facilitated by a watchband hinge design and an Intel Core M CPU.
Price$ 2,099.00 (AUD)
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Lenovo is no stranger to making hybrid laptops with screens that can tilt all the way over to facilitate tablet mode. We saw it first in the original Yoga, and the concept proved to be so successful it spawned similar designs from other vendors, and even made its way into the business-centric ThinkPad Yoga. With the 13.3in Yoga 3 Pro hybrid Ultrabook, the company has taken that same concept, but introduced a completely new hinge mechanism that makes the laptop thinner and lighter than ever before, while still enabling tablet functionality.
A hinge that's a talking point
The new hinge is coined as being a 'watchband', for it does look like the metal band of a wristwatch, and it's the star of this show. It's unlike any other hinge on any other laptop out there. Instead of having two mounting points, it has six. Instead of the hinges being bulky and held together by large screws, the watchband hinge forms a continuous, curved pattern from the chassis to the screen, and is only 3mm thick. It allows tilting by changing its shape as you move the screen back and over the rear of the base.
It's a piece of innovation that is fantastic to see in an industry where so many designs are minute upgrades on last year's model, without much changing functionally and aesthetically. With the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, the new hinge dramatically changes not only the look of the product, but also the way it feels and the ease with which it functions. But it's only one piece of a technology puzzle that Lenovo has solved to create an ultra-thin and ultra-light hybrid notebook that should be the envy of all other PC manufacturers.
When the Yoga 3 Pro is closed, it's only about 13mm thick, and when it rests on our digital scales, it barely gets to 1.2kg. While the new hinge is a big part of that reduction in size and weight, the CPU technology also plays a big part. Lenovo has used Intel's all-new Core M 5Y70 model (codenamed Broadwell-Y), which is a 5th generation, 14-nanometer CPU specifically designed for tablets and hybrids. It's much smaller than Intel's previous generation of chips, and built to run with a thermal design power (TDP) of 4.5W. To put it in perspective, Intel's 4th generation of 'Y' designated chips have a TDP of 11W.
Enough performance for getting stuff done
The new Core M CPU can run without a fan in pure tablet designs, but Lenovo has actually installed a fan in the Yoga 3 Pro, despite its chassis being so thin. You can hear this fan only in overly quiet environments if you listen closely enough. We'll say now that the fan is a necessity in this laptop as its base did tend to get quite warm during our evaluation period, even when all we were doing was browsing the Web and typing up our articles. The warm point appeared to be on the right side near the spine, which is the same location as the fan.
Graphics are handled by the CPU (it has Intel 5300 graphics), and in 3DMark's Cloud Gate and Fire Strike tests, they recorded 2223 and 256 marks, respectively. Compared to an Ultrabook running a 4th generation Intel Core i5 U model CPU (such as Sony's VAIO Pro), these results are slower (the VAIO Pro got 3191 in Cloud Gate and 443 in Fire Strike). Rounding out the configuration is 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive (though there is a higher model with 512GB, too).
In our Blender 3D rendering test, the Yoga 3 Pro stopped the clock at 1min 1sec, which is around about the performance you could expect of a Core i3 U-designated CPU in a mainstream laptop. But this is not a mainstream laptop and the focus is more on functionality and practical mobility than it is on outright performance. If you want a laptop with a speed-freak CPU, look elsewhere. If you want a laptop for easy carrying and switching to tablet mode, you can't beat this one.
Its solid state drive put on a good show in the CrystalDiskMark sequential data test, recording a read rate of 501.5 megabytes per second (MBps), and a write rate of 404.9MBps. This is an important cog for keeping the system running swiftly, and we didn't notice any sluggishness when it came to opening applications and accessing locally stored data. Cold booting took, as expected, only 7sec.
Although it doesn't give as much performance as its price might otherwise suggest (for example, it's not as fast as the Yoga 2 Pro, which we tested with a Core i7-based CPU), it is, however, a robust configuration considering the thin nature of the product, and despite the comparatively slower performance results we obtained, it nevertheless contributed to an enjoyable overall user experience.
What else to expect
Usability, user-friendliness, ease of use, whatever you want to call it, the Yoga 3 Pro has it all in droves. The thin and light design makes it a delight to carry around and use on an everyday basis, and the transition from a laptop to a tablet is as effortless as it has ever been on a hybrid device with a permanently attached screen. It's the clear market leader for laptops that turn into tablets, and that's because it's a laptop that you actually can hold in your hands as a tablet in order to play with apps and read e-books, without feeling like the product is too big and heavy for the purpose. Sure, it's no iPad, but an iPad is no laptop either.
The basic premise of the hinge design is that it can allow you to use the laptop in one of four different modes. There are the conventional laptop and tablet modes, of course, but there are also 'stand' and 'tent' modes. With stand mode, you basically turn the screen over until the laptop is sitting on its keyboard and the display is facing out. Rest it on a table, and there you have it: stand mode. It's good for watching videos or displaying photos without having the keyboard in the way. Tent mode is similarly useful for videos and photo displays, but instead of resting the laptop on the keyboard, you place it on a flat surface along its edges (so that it looks like you've pitched a tent). It's a mode that you can use when there isn't much room for the base to rest on.
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Software called Harmony is installed that can tell you how often you use each of the modes, and it will suggest apps to you to use in that mode (either ones that other people have been using, or ones that it has detected you regularly use in those modes). We found ourselves using the Yoga 3 Pro primarily in the laptop and stand modes, mainly because we rarely have a usage case for a Windows tablet except to read e-books (for this, the software has a toggle to give the screen a more paper-like yellow tinge while reading), and we only went into tent mode once or twice while in the office, mainly to show it off while streaming video.
The 13.3in screen has a high-end pixel count of 3200x1800, which means there is plenty of space on the screen to line up windows and view information -- but that's if you actually use the native resolution. By default, Lenovo ships the Yoga 3 Pro with the text and icon size set to 'Largest' which makes the unit look a little comical. We recommend toning it down a notch or two to get more space on the screen. Some of you may find the native resolution a little too hard on the eyes, as the text becomes irritatingly small and hard to read for some things (such as tool-tip text and many application setup screens, for example).
Colours are deep and vibrant, and the viewing angles are wide. Looking at pictures on this device is a joy, and the ability to take the screen back and put the laptop into tent, display, or tablet modes, just gives you more ways to show off your photos when you're in the living room, or even in a studio. There are some reflections from room lights if you don't hold the screen the right way, which is the case with pretty much every touchscreen consumer device out there.
During the course of our evaluation, we noticed a dynamic brightness issue in which the screen changed brightness depending on the content that was displayed. It produced noticeable brightening and dimming effects and was annoying. Simply changing the auto-brightness setting in Windows 8 didn't disable this effect. It turned out to be caused by the graphics driver's power saving features. Once we toggled these off, the screen maintained its brightness level at all times.
With a thickness of only 13mm, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the typing experience on the Yoga Pro 3 is not a good one. The opposite is true. The keys are full sized (for the most part), are soft to hit, and they have a decent amount of travel that feels good. Other things to note are that they are practically silent, and their backlight (which has two intensity levels) produces minimal bleeding around the edges of each key. It's a wonderful keyboard both in terms of the way it looks and the way it feels. That said, there are some issues with it, such as the location of the Delete key being in the corner right next to Backspace, and the right-most column of keys in general taking time to get used to, especially since they make the right Shift key smaller than usual.
We love the texture on the palm rest, which we think is among the best we've felt on an Ultrabook, as it has a softness and grip to it that make typing comfortable. Furthermore, the front edge of the Ultrabook is angled in a way so that it isn't sharp and won't dig into your wrists. Basically, for typing, the Yoga 3 Pro is well above average for an Ultrabook (and almost any other notebook in general).
Its touchpad is centred according to the chassis rather than being placed in line with the Spacebar, but we never had an issue with it getting in the way of our typing. It has a soft texture that feels good to use, and it was responsive during our tests. We were able to perform all of our intended gestures, such as two-finger scrolling and three-finger flicking, but two-finger taps to bring up the right-click menu were not supported. Instead, we had to press down on the pad with two fingers rather than tapping.
Battery life and other issues
While our overall experience with this Ultrabook was a good one, and one that we enjoyed very much due to the design and feel of the unit, there are some issues to be aware of. Primarily, the battery life isn't all that good. Because there are so many pixels to push on the screen, the battery life can take a major hit.
In our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise brightness, and loop an MP4 video, the Yoga 3 Pro lasted only 3hr 23min (we're re-testing this a few more times just in case and will update the review if we get a different consistency). When we turned the brightness down to 50 per cent, the battery life improved vastly, giving us almost five and a half hours. You'll have to keep this in mind when using the Yoga 3 Pro while away from a power outlet, and make sure you use a power saving power profile to get the most out of it.
It took 2hr 16min to completely charge the battery using the supplied adapter. We should note that the adapter’s cable is rather short and it's not easy to work with the laptop while it's charging, unless your power points are very close by.
Ports and slots on the laptop's chassis include one USB 3.0 port on each side, a headset port, a micro-HDMI port (for which an adapter is needed to connect it to a TV or monitor), and a full-sized SD card slot. The slot won't consume cards wholly. Instead, they will stick halfway out. Other things on the edges of the chassis include volume controls, the power button, a screen rotation lock, and a reset button. A capacitive Windows button is located below the screen.
The wireless adapter in the unit is a Broadcom 802.11ac module, which enabled fast transfers of up to 45MBps when transferring large files from our NAS device to the Yoga, using a Linksys WRT1900AC wireless router. The transfers peaked at 57MBps. That's among the fastest wireless transfer we've seen to any laptop over 802.11ac.
The Bluetooth adapter is also from Broadcom, but we didn't have nearly as much success using this. It performed poorly when we used it to listen to music, with connections to a Bluetooth-equipped Rotel amplifier and to a BluAnt Ribbon adapter both exhibiting clicking and slowed down playback. Driver updates didn't rectify these issues, nor did a system refresh.
What's the verdict?
We love the innovative design that Lenovo has gone for with the hinge in order to make the laptop thinner and lighter. It looks good, and it allows the Yoga 3 Pro to be converted easily depending on the scenario you're after. It felt strong during our tests, though we're not sure how it will hold up after prolonged opening and closing (Lenovo claims it's opened and closed 20,000 times during product tests). It's super-light and easy to handle as a laptop and as a tablet, and it feels good to type on for long periods of time. Basically, as far as user comfort is concerned, it's excellent.
That said, it does have some issues. It can tend to get noticeably warm when you're streaming video or performing other tasks that make plenty of use of the CPU and Wi-Fi adapter, and the battery life is also not great, primarily due to the large screen resolution that needs a lot of power to be bright. The Bluetooth performance when connected to speakers for listening to music was disappointing, and the SD card slot not being able to keep an SD card seated all the way in are other negatives for us.
But if those things don't concern you, and you mainly want the laptop for its thin and light design, and the ability to easily use it as a tablet, then it's hard to go past it. The Yoga 3 Pro is indeed one of the best hybrids on the market when it comes to form and function.
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