It’s been a while since I reviewed my last notebook, and now my Sony VAIO is slowly dying. It takes forever to startup sometimes. Basic internet surfing pauses frequently. Black spots have started to appear on my display. It’s time for a replacement, but like last time, it’s so hard to find the perfect one.
I really wanted to love the 2016 Apple Macbook. It was a top contender. But it’s relatively expensive. And there’s no touchscreen. And minimal connectivity.
I also liked the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. The base model was in my price range and the display is beautiful, the best one I’ve seen in this class. I just wasn’t completely sold on the kickstand and typecover arrangement.
The new HP Chromebook 13 is a relative bargain. The Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Tablet also looks very interesting. Neither of these was available when I was buying. So what’s the ideal portable for this blogger, to be used mostly for home office applications, internet publishing and surfing the web?
I had a few requirements:
- Fanless. For quiet rooms or when wife is asleep.
- Laptop. Actually comfortable on a lap when needed.
- Backlit keyboard and/or touchscreen to work in low light.
- Lightweight and portable.
Just these requirements weed out a huge number of systems. Finding one with enough power to avoid slowdowns was tougher, as this eliminated most older and lower priced models like the Surface 3. My VAIO lacks this power, lacks a backlit keyboard, lacks a touchscreen and has a quiet but audible fan. It’s a 13.1″ notebook that weighs about 3 pounds, and that is about the limit I would accept for its replacement. Finding something that checks all the boxes isn’t easy.
Thanks to the miracle of other bloggers, I happened upon the Lenovo Yoga 900S-12ISK. It not only met my requirements, but had a few bonuses, too:
- Just 1/2″ thick, only 2.2 pounds
- 12.5″ QHD Touchscreen (2560×1440)
- 2-level backlit keyboard
- Looks sharp!
- Digitizer pen compatible.
- Intel mobile Skylake CPU + PCIE SSD drive
- Very long battery life for office productivity
- Not too difficult to replace battery or SSD
- USB 3.0 Type-A and Type-C with video connectors that can be used while charging via USB 2.0 charge port
- Perhaps best of all, it’s very flexible: Laptop, stand, tent or tablet mode
On paper, it seemed like a no-brainer. It was more powerful than the entry level Macbook or Surface Pro 4. MSRP is $1299 for the Intel Core m7 Yoga 900S with 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD. That’s $300 less than the Macbook with Core m5, 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD. Unlike Macbooks, the Yoga 900s is often on sale at the Lenovo website for $100 off and I had a 15% email code offer, making it only a little more expensive than the much lower powered fanless Surface Pro 4 (Core m3, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD) with optional typepad cover. Battery life is claimed to be over 10 hours. In limited use, I find it to be only slightly lower than that, usually 8-10 hours for home office use such as Microsoft Office, YouTube, surfing and blogging.
So great in theory, but how is a retail version in real life? Not a lot if info out there about this new machine when I was buying, so I put some comments and benchmarks into a video:
It was hard to find major drawbacks on paper, but it does lack a few conveniences. There is no SD or MicroSD card slot, but of course you can use a USB to SD adapter. It has a 720p webcam, but because of the clamshell design there is no outside camera/flash like you might find on a true tablet. For those looking for a business class machine, this model lacks Windows 10 Pro, vPro, TPM, fingerprint detection and other business features. The USB-C port does not appear to be ThunderBolt 3 enabled, a shame for a new Skylake design. Finally, you’ll need a USB-C adapter to drive large screen that has VGA, HDMI or DisplayPort.
Some owners posted usability concerns in the Lenovo forums. For example, keyboard is small, flat and has an unusual layout, especially in regard to the right shift key. The keyboard key travel is also shallower than larger notebooks, but similar to other ultra-thin portables. Some comment that the display is not as bright or vibrant as top competitors. Others find the trackpad software is quirky. The biggest drawback to me seemed to be that even though the 900s has been available from Lenovo for some time, none of the biggest computer websites have a review yet, other than previews from January at CES. It would have been nice to see some test results and more expert commentary at the major technology review websites.
I have a couple more weeks to make up my mind, but so far I think it’s a keeper!