I went into reviewing the Yoga 910 with very high hopes because, on paper, Lenovo has done virtually everything right. The centerpiece is the 13.9-inch touchscreen, which is spacious but fits inside a body that is closer to a 13-inch laptop thanks to very tiny bezels on three sides. It starts at $1,049.99 for a 1080p touchscreen, but upgrading to a 4K version doesn’t add much to the price. A top-of-the line model with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD is a reasonable $1,649.99.
The model I’m testing is in the middle of that range, with 16GB of RAM and the 4K screen, which is beautiful. It doesn’t quite get blindingly bright, but that doesn’t bother me. More importantly, Windows 10 does a much better job than it used to at handling these high resolutions.
Lenovo still makes the best hinges
The screen is attached to the now-classic Yoga “Watchband” hinge. It’s a set of four metal rails elegantly pieced together so it can work traditionally as a laptop or as a tablet (or in a tent mode). This hinge deserves every bit of praise it’s received: unlike the Surface Book, the screen sits flush with the body when closed and unlike many other 2-in-1s, it is firm enough to not wobble when you tap and drag directly on the screen.
The downside of this setup is that the electronics required to power this screen have to go somewhere, and that somewhere is at the bottom of the screen. The bezel there is massive, and though I suppose it’s nice to have the screen elevated, it’s still a big, black hunk of glass that I wish could be lit up with pixels.
It’s also the location for the webcam — and here we get to the first of many little things that show that the Yoga 910 has all the right ideas but not the right implementations. Like Dell’s XPS 13, a bottom-positioned camera seems custom designed to showcase your nostrils instead of your face. (It also doesn’t support facial recognition, but that’s a minor complaint since the Yoga has a Windows Hello-compatible fingerprint sensor.)
I am pleased with the overall, premium build quality of the Yoga 910. It’s all aluminum and glass, with fairly tight tolerances. It’s more than just a pretty hinge; the whole thing feels solid and well-built. It doesn’t quite have the micron-level attention to detail you get on a MacBook, but it’s better than many laptops in this price range. The touchpad, for example, isn’t massive but it has the right feel and click to it — and praise be, it’s completely accurate and totally responsive. It’s also a Microsoft Precision Touchpad, so it will get new features and gestures as Microsoft adds them to Windows 10.
But despite that nice build quality, the theme of “right idea, wrong execution” pervades the whole experience of actually using the Yoga 910. Take the processor, a seventh-generation Intel Core i7 Kaby Lake: it’s the latest and greatest, offering speeds that are slightly faster than what you could get last year. While I haven’t used the laptop for anything wildly intensive like 4K video editing, I’ve been running multiple apps and have kept an ungodly amount of both Edge and Chrome browser tabs open, without any problem.
But that power is not well-contained inside this shell. Even when I’m only using a few apps, the fans spin up with a whine that isn’t god-awful, but is noticeable. And the whine is persistent: I don’t think I’ve used the Yoga 910 without hearing the fans running for more than a few minutes at a time over a couple weeks of testing.
Another example of less-than-ideal execution: the ports. I’m going to go ahead and grudgingly give the Yoga 910 a pass on not including an SD card slot because Lenovo opted to include both the new USB-C ports and a single, traditional USB-A port. I’m less enthused that there’s no support for Thunderbolt 3, given that this is ostensibly a premium machine. But even after you get past that, the ports still manage to aggravate. The USB-C ports on the Yoga 910 look the same, but have wildly different capabilities. For all the kvetching about USB-C on MacBooks, they at least all do the same basic things (with a couple caveats).
The backmost port on the Yoga 910 is used for power, while the frontmost one acts as a more traditional USB-C port and can power a display. But you can’t plug a power cable into the front port, and the back port won’t power a display. In fact, I couldn’t get the back USB-C port to do anything at all except work as a power jack — and even then, it works best with the USB-C power adapter and cable that come with the laptop. I’ve had mixed results with other USB-C adapters and cables.
So you can’t live the USB-C dream of a single plug to dock your laptop with power, display, and USB peripherals. But more than that, a plug that looks and feels like a universal standard acts like something else entirely: a proprietary mess.
The last but certainly not the least of my “right idea, wrong execution” gripe list is the keyboard. For the most part, the keyboard on the Yoga 910 is good. There’s plenty of key travel, they keys are well-spaced with a curved bottom edge that makes them feel like they’re even bigger targets. But take a gander at the right-hand side, where you’ll find the Enter key has been weirdly split in two to fit a backslash.
All the little mistakes add up over time
Take a look at the right shift key above: it’s half-sized and squished over to the right of the up arrow. Count the number of capital letters in this review — now imagine accidentally hitting the up arrow instead of Shift for Every Single One, moving your cursor into the wrong spot and messing everything up. It’s awful; it’s taken me two weeks to figure out how to stretch my pinky out to hit it and I still get it wrong half the time. How on planet earth has a company not figured out how to arrange the keyboard, the oldest computer input device still in use today? It’s the sort of gripe that makes you feel petty for dwelling on it but you nevertheless are annoyed by it on a daily basis. Actually a minute-to-minute basis.
With all these little mistakes adding up, you’d expect that Lenovo must have done something unconscionable to the software. But no, it’s a relatively clean version of Windows 10 Home edition with just a small handful of ignorable Lenovo utilities sprinkled in. Thank goodness for this restraint.
Battery life doesn’t quite live up to Lenovo’s nine-hour claim, but it’s still pretty good — especially for a 4K laptop. It ought to be: Lenovo crammed a huge 78Wh battery into the case, more that 25 percent larger than its predecessor. I am getting close to seven hours in regular use and could imagine creeping up to nine if I ratcheted screen brightness down and forewent using a few power-hungry apps (hey there Google Chrome). On our looping website test, it pulled a respectable 7 hours and 44 minutes. If you opted for the cheaper, 1080p version, I suspect you’d get even more out of it.
Whenever you buy a laptop, you end up wrestling with your expectations. Are you expecting yet another middle-of-the-road Windows convertible laptop, or are you expecting the next great thing that consistently surprises you with its qualities? Is it going to be a utilitarian thing that you barely think about or a beautiful object that makes you proud to use it (even if it is a little shallow to feel that way)?
Aims for greatness, but just misses the target
My biggest problem with the Yoga 910 is that it looks like it’s going to be that special kind of laptop, but acts more like the average kind. It’s not for Lenovo’s lack of trying or because the specs are weak; it’s very fast, it’s very capable, it’s very pretty. But it’s also burdened with confusing ports, an annoying webcam, a weird keyboard layout, and a fan that just won’t quit.
The Yoga 910 is a good laptop, maybe even a very good one. But it’s not a great one. This isn’t quite the Best Default Laptop For Everybody, and it’s starting to feel like that’s the theme for this season’s crop of laptops. Set your expectations accordingly.
Photography by Vjeran Pavic.