Review

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 4 review: The first aluminum ThinkPad is a winner

At CES this year, Lenovo refreshed its ThinkPad X1 series, and the new Yoga is the first to be made out of aluminum. Previously, it came in black and was made out of carbon fiber and glass fiber. But while it was announced in January, it was another six months or so until it actually shipped. After all, even the CPUs that come in these devices weren't announced until April.

It also comes in a smaller body, and sadly, that comes with a sacrifice. The Lift and Lock keyboard is now gone, and I'll go deeper into that later. But the smaller body means that while it's made out of the heavier aluminum material, it's actually lighter than it was last year at 2.99 pounds.

But even without some of the features that I really loved about previous generations of the X1 Yoga, it's still the best Windows 10 convertible out there.

Specs

CPU Intel Core i7-8565U (1.8GHz)
Intel Core i7-8665U (1.9GHz)
GPU Intel UHD Graphics 620
Display 14” FHD (1920 x 1080) Touch
14” IPS UHD (3840 x 2160) Touch, Dolby Vision
Body 12x8.5x0.59in (323x218x15.5mm), 2.99lb (1.35kg)
RAM 8GB
16GB
Storage 256GB SSD
1TB SSD
Ports (2) Thunderbolt 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C/ Intel Thunderbolt 3
(2) USB 3.1, Type-A Gen 1 (1 always on)
(1) HDMI 1.4
(1) Microphone / Headphone Combo Jack
(1) Network extension for Ethernet/ side mechanical docking
Keyboard 6-row, spill-resistant, multimedia Fn keys, LED backlight
Battery 51Wh battery, supports Rapid Charge
Audio Dolby Atmos Speaker System
Security dTPM 2.0, Touch Fingerprint Reader (Match-in-Sensor), ThinkShutter
Navigation TrackPoint pointing device and buttonless glass surface
Microsoft Precision Touchpad Certified
Material Aluminum, magnesium bottom cover
OS Windows 10 Pro
Price $1,259.10
$1,880.10


Note that the prices listed are what's current on Lenovo's website, since there's always a sale running. No, really, there's always some kind of discount. The regular prices on those units are $2,609.00 and $3,809.00.

You'll notice that there are two sets of specs above, and that's because Lenovo sent me two units, just like it did when I reviewed the X1 Carbon. There's the 4K model, which is prettier, and there's the 1080p model for better battery life.

Day one

Design

The most notable design change in the ThinkPad X1 Yoga this year is that it's made out of aluminum. I've said this before when I reviewed the ThinkBook 13s, but I really like the way that Lenovo does aluminum business laptops. They come in this sort of gunmetal gray color with a clean design.

I also think that Lenovo wants to get away from traditional ThinkPads. The whole introduction of the ThinkBook was an example of that, ditching the TrackPoint, physical buttons on the trackpad, and building them out of aluminum. The aluminum X1 Yoga is another example, although it keeps the TrackPoint and the other features that make a ThinkPad a ThinkPad.

Lenovo is stuck in a weird place with the ThinkPad brand, which has something of a cult following. There are things that can't be changed because those features have a die-hard following. At the same time, there are other people that would really love these excellent PCs, but they hate the black carbon fiber look. The company did tell me that the reason that it went with aluminum this year is simply because people asked for it.

What's really cool though is that it's lighter this year, at 2.99 pounds, compared to last year's 3.08 pounds. Aluminum is actually one of the heaviest materials that you'll find in a laptop, so it took some engineering to get it down to this weight, especially considering that Lenovo didn't sacrifice quality. It still passes a dozen MIL-STD-810G tests like all ThinkPads do.

You'll notice on the image above that branding is a bit different too. A new color means a new logo, with a black ThinkPad logo that's not as glossy as it is on the black ThinkPads. And of course, there's the X1 logo on the bottom-right that debuted last year.

On the left side of the device, you'll find two Thunderbolt 3 ports, one of which can be used for mechanical docking. That mechanical docking port can also be used for wired Ethernet, if you've got an adapter. There's also a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port, HDMI, and a 3.5mm combo audio jack.

On the right side, there's another USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port, along with the power button. You'll also see that there's a pen built into it. This is one of my favorite features of the ThinkPad X1 Yoga lineup. Some PCs come with a pen loop, some attach pens with magnets, and they all have shortcomings. With the built-in pen garage, the pen is always with you.

I'm not a big pen user, although it does come in handy from time to time. I like to take handwritten notes, and I might need it to sign a PDF or something. It's not something that I'd opt to take with me, but having it with me by default, not taking up extra space, is incredibly handy.

The bottom panel is the only part of the chassis that's not made out of aluminum, as it's magnesium, a much lighter material. You can remove the bottom panel with just five Philips-head screws. You'll also find a pair of speakers down there, along with the speaker bar that's above the keyboard.

Display and audio

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 4 comes with four display options. The two that were sent to me are the 1080p model at 380 nits, and the 4K Dolby Vision model at 470 nits. There's also a 280-nit 1440p model, and a 380-nit 1080p model with the PrivacyGuard technology.

This is notable, because this year's X1 laptops are the first 14-inch ThinkPads to be offered with 4K displays. Previously, the Dolby Vision option was on the 1440p model, and now it's exclusive to the 4K one. I'm not a fan of this choice, since 4K uses more battery and offers minimal visual improvements given the 14-inch screen size.

I also want to point out that two years ago, the 1440p model came in an OLED flavor. It wasn't until last year that Lenovo went with Dolby Vision. That ThinkPad X1 Yoga from two years ago with the OLED display is still my favorite Windows 10 convertible ever. I do feel like one-by-one, Lenovo is taking away all of the features that I love about what was my favorite convertible. We'll talk more about that in a moment.

Both displays are nice, but the 4K Dolby Vision one is absolutely beautiful. Streaming video content on both side-by-side shows a marked difference. The bezels are smaller as well, making for a more immersive experience.

And speaking of an immersive media consumption experience, the audio continues to improve. And let me say, that model from two years ago that I just praised had awful audio quality. It's gotten so much better, with a soundbar above the keyboard and two speakers underneath the device. They're also positioned in a way so that no matter which orientation you're using the device in, there are speakers pointing at you.

I do wish that the speakers were a bit louder, although I wouldn't call this a pain point in the slightest. The quality is crystal-clear. But if you jack up the speakers to 100%, it's not going to be uncomfortably loud, and speakers kind of should make your ears uncomfortable when turned up to 100%.

Keyboard, TrackPoint, and trackpad

Before I start attacking Lenovo for its choices here, I just want to be clear that the keyboard is awesome. ThinkPads always have the best keyboards on the market, and it's no different on the X1 Yoga. In fact, it's probably even better than on a lesser ThinkPad. The keys are precise and sturdy, and they have comfortable depth and resistance.

What upsets me is that the Lift and Lock keyboard is gone. This was a feature that lifted the keys into the keyboard deck when you folded the display back to use it as a tablet. It made for a comfortable experience, with the keys flush with the deck. Here's how Lenovo described it in a 2017 blog post:

"An engineering feat in itself, a tray surrounding the keys lifted and locked into place when the lid was rotated through 360 degrees. This provided a comfortable flat surface to use the device in tablet mode and protected the keys from accidental damage."

I was told that the reason that Lift and Lock is gone now is because Lenovo wanted to shrink the footprint, and that there wasn't room for the additional components needed. I was also told that it had nothing to do with the switch to aluminum and having to engineer it to still be lighter than carbon fiber. I do appreciate a smaller footprint, and how that makes the machine more portable. But like I said above, I feel like Lenovo is gradually taking away the things I love about the X1 Yoga. If the built-in pen garage is gone next year, I'll be even more upset.

But now, if you use the ThinkPad X1 Yoga as a tablet, the keys do get in the way of your fingers. And to be fair, that's the same case as with any other convertible. I just always think of the X1 Yoga as being a step above other convertibles.

There's still a TrackPoint between the G, H, and B keys. You can use this to move the pointer around the screen, and if you don't like it, you can ignore it. There are also physical keys above the Precision trackpad, which you can use with the TrackPoint. I actually like to use those buttons with the trackpad itself. It makes drag-and-drop operations a lot easier.

Performance and battery life

As I mentioned earlier, Lenovo sent me two models. One of them has a Core i7-8565U, 8GB RAM, and a 1080p display, while the other has a Core i7-8665U, 16GB RAM, and a 4K display. The two CPUs are pretty much the same, except that the latter is the vPro variant, so you get things like Intel Management Engine and all of that good stuff for businesses. But there's a difference in both performance and battery life between the two models.

Also, I want to point out that this section is largely irrelevant, since Lenovo has already announced a refresh of these PCs that should be available by the end of the month. They're soon going to ship with Intel's 10th-generation 'Comet Lake' CPUs, including the new hexa-core Core i7-10710U. To be clear, Comet Lake is the 14nm family, as opposed to the 10nm 'Ice Lake' family. The refresh is a strange one, since the eighth-gen models were on the market for a very short time before the new ones were announced, probably why they're still called Gen 4. In fact, review units were seeded less than two weeks before the announcement.

But the review remains the same, and I'd probably be writing the same thing if these had 10th-gen chips. After all, the story doesn't really change with an ultrabook that has a 15W U-series processor and integrated graphics. It's great for productivity, and can handle more powerful tasks in a pinch. It might be better with six cores instead of four cores, but I haven't gotten my hands on any Comet Lake PCs yet to know how that will affect real-world usage.

As far as battery life goes, just as you'd expect, it's much better on the FHD model. Streaming Stranger Things on Netflix, I got about four hours on the 4K model and about nine hours on the 1080p variant. While slightly lower, it's similar to the results I got when I reviewed the X1 Carbon, where I also had both models. Note that Stranger Things is 4K on the 4K model, and 1080p on the 1080p model, where you'd get better results on the 4K machine if you stream something that's coming in at 1080p.

I still think that 1440p is the best balance between a high resolution and battery life, and I don't think that 2160p (4K) makes any kind of meaningful difference at the 14-inch size. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten to review the 1440p model, and I've already expressed my displeasure at there being no 1440p Dolby Vision variant, like there was last year.

For benchmarks, I used PCMark 8 and PCMark 10. PCMark 8 has three teats: Home, Creative, and Work, while PCMark 10 has an all-in-one test.

1080p 4K
PCMark 8: Home

PCMark 8: Creative

PCMark 8: Work

PCMark 10


Again, the performance on both of these is great, but you'll see a big difference in benchmark scores between the FHD and the 4K UHD model.

Conclusion

Yes, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga is still my favorite convertible on the market. I really love the new aluminum design, and I appreciate the smaller footprint. It maintains its stellar keyboard, and the Dolby Vision display is still beautiful. I love the built-in pen, being there when I need it and not getting in my way when I don't.

I just miss the features that have been removed over the last two years. Last year, I was so pumped for the OLED model that would have a quad-core processor, only to find that there was no OLED anymore. And this year, it's the Lift and Lock keyboard that's removed. Like I said earlier, these are things not found on your average convertible, but I hold the X1 Yoga to a higher standard. I never consider this to be an "average convertible".

Judging it against the competition, it's still the Windows 10 portable PC that I'd choose. It's just a great all-around experience, for those reasons mentioned above. It has a pretty screen, and the keyboard is just too comfortable to type on. It's lighter now, it's more compact, and the audio quality is great. But also for the reasons stated above, the X1 Yoga is getting a 9.0 rating this year, rather than the 9.5 that I have given it for the last two years.

Oh, and the current pricing is phenomenal. As I mentioned, those prices do fluctuate, so you may want to grab one from Lenovo.com at these prices while you can. You can find it here.

 

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