For several months I’ve been eyeing a replacement for my aging Surface Pro 2. Although I’ve been pretty happy with this tablet PC, it’s got a few limitations – most notably, it doesn’t have enough horsepower to run most of my demos. Because I do a lot of travel and presenting on the road, I really need to have a full-featured backup machine in the event that my primary laptop goes belly-up before or during a presentation. To date, I’ve been carrying both of my full-size laptops (one of them a modest 15” Dell, the other a gigantic 17” mobile workstation) when I do training days or presentations. In fact, I’d sometimes even pack my Surface Pro 2 in addition to those two, so I could have something to use on the plane in case I found myself in the sardine-like cheap seats of coach air travel. Even without the Surface, carrying two full-size laptops is a literal pain in my neck (and back, and legs).
To Surface or not To Surface?
To get around this, I had all but decided to go for a new Surface Pro 4. With up to 16gb of RAM and 1tb of SSD storage, it had similar specs as the smaller of my laptops, which would provide a decent backup machine for presentations. However, the asking price on the loaded Surface Pro 4 was $2699, with the 512gb model noticeably less but still high at $2199. Even worse, the keyboard isn’t included in that price, which means I’d had to add another $150 to either of these. I don’t mind spending some cash on good gear, but dropping that much coin for what would effectively be a backup machine was going to hurt. I also looked briefly at the Surface Book – I actually prefer its form factor over the Surface – but its sticker price was even more shocking than the tablet.
I looked around a bit at options. Not many tablets had the minimum specs (i7 processor, 16gb RAM, 512gb of SSD storage) that I wanted, but I was intrigued when I ran across the Lenovo Yoga 900. This is a new model in a mature line, and the early reviews were overwhelmingly positive. Best Buy was running a great deal on the i7/16gb/512gb model, which turned out to be hundreds cheaper than even the popular online retailers. I stopped by the local store to check one out (I won’t buy a laptop with out first laying my hands on one, no matter how good it appears to be) and was impressed with the form factor, keyboard, and size. It’s a fully convertible laptop/tablet, with the screen folding completely backward like the Surface Book. Though the Yoga didn’t offer a 1tb SSD option like the Surface Pro 4 I wanted, its 512gb model was about half the price of a similarly configured Surface. Right there in the store, I talked myself out of the Surface Pro 4 and picked up a silver Yoga 900 along with a soft padded carrying case.
Like any good geek, I nuked the preinstalled OS and reinstalled from scratch to eliminate the manufacturer-installed crapware. I was pleasantly surprised that I only had to install one driver – for the wireless network card – and Windows 10 automatically detected the rest. I spent much of the day installing the rest of the apps and getting the configuration set up to my liking. I’m still getting used to Win10 – in fact, this is my first work PC with it – but it was a nonissue on this machine. The apps are very snappy, startup is fast, and I had no issues installing or configuring it. The big test was when I installed VMWare Workstation and cranked up one of my presentation virtual machines. Although I noticed that I was a bit slower than on my big laptop, I could easily run a virtual machine (perhaps a couple) for a presentation on this gear.
Just after I finished setting it up, I had to spend a day on a plane flying to Boston and back. This was a great opportunity to stretch the legs on this machine, and I was not disappointed here. The battery life is excellent given how powerful the machine is. It’s hard to know exactly how long the battery life is, since I went through several power configurations (fully bright screen while my seatmate had his window shade open, darkened screen during the darker morning portion of the flight) but I’d expect that I could get at least 6-7 hours out of it even with the wireless card turned on. The charger was small and easy to carry with me, though the shape and size of it was a bit awkward for plugging into an airplane AC adapter. The Yoga was easily small enough to fold into tablet mode and keep using during takeoff and landing, but was big enough that even my old and myopic eyes could see the screen without strain.
Taking this machine on the road was a breeze. At about 3 lbs (approximately the weight of just the power brick for my Dell M6800), this little giant is a back-saver. Even with the charging adapter and cable in tow, this thing is a featherweight, particularly when you consider its power. It’s about the size of a couple of pads of paper, so it fits in nearly any bag or backpack. I can imagine taking the Yoga 900 as my backup machine, with the smaller of my Dell laptops as my primary, and subtracting 15 lbs or more from my laptop bag!
In fairness, there are a few features I haven’t yet tried. I’ve not used the integrated webcam at all – I’m more of an external webcam guy anyway. More importantly, I haven’t pushed the limits of the video output, which is always a big concern on laptops (especially small ones). The Yoga 900 does not have a dedicated video output, instead owing to the native video output in the USB-C port. I bought adapters for USB-C to both HDMI and VGA, and they worked fine when displaying to external monitors in my home office. However, I don’t yet know how the Yoga will respond when connecting to some of the wonky video projectors that still use 4×3 aspect ratios or low resultion.
As noted, the Lenovo Yoga 900 is a descendant of a mature line, but it is a relatively new model. Long-term reliability, including battery life, is still yet to be determined. Interestingly, there is a vague reference to replacing the hard drive in the Yoga 900 service manual, which leads me to believe that the hard drive – and perhaps the battery as well – is user-replaceable. If so, that could extend the life of this machine by an entire generation.
This is a bit of a gamble, given that I’ll be relying on this unit as my backup presentation machine. However, with the history of the Yoga line, the strong reviews it’s already getting, and the potential serviceability, I think it’s a safe bet. I’ll post again once I’ve logged a few more miles on it.