Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 Review: a well-built Windows 10 device

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 Featured

Pros:

  • Excellent design and build quality
  • Advanced security options
  • Versatility with traditional clamshell, tablet, tent, and presentation modes
  • Nice included ThinkPad Pen Pro active stylus
  • Matte screen that reduces glare and is plenty bright

Cons:

  • Widescreen format and huge bezels make for a poor portrait tablet experience
  • Battery life is middling
  • Screen lacks color pop

Summary: If you’re looking for a well-built traditional notebook where the screen can be reversed for presentations and the occasional movie, then the ThinkPad Yoga 260 is a good choice for any business professional. You’re paying extra for the ThinkPad’s durability, included pen, and extra security features, and probably a little extra for the ThinkPad name, but you’re getting a bit extra in the bargain. Make sure you shop around, though, because there are other competitive options at this price point.

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 Main Image

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260.

Introduction

As I mentioned in my Lenovo 700 review, I’ve never been a fan of the folding-style of 2-in-1 machines. I mentioned their thickness in tablet mode, and the oddity of feeling the keys on the underside of the “tablet.” The Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 is superior in this regard thanks to its disappearing Lift ‘n’ Lock keyboard mechanism. When you fold the display, the keys are sucked into the keyboard deck and held firmly in place. You can still feel the individual keys, but they don’t move, helping avoid the impression (no pun intended) that you’re going to inadvertently enter keystrokes.

Also, the Yoga 260 is a touch thinner and lighter than the Yoga 700, just enough that it’s comfortable enough for tablet use. I’ll comment more on the screen later, but the unit’s chassis and overall size is that much more comfortable. It’s still no Surface Pro 4 (or iPad Pro, although I don’t consider Apple’s tablet in the same class of machines), but I could see myself using the Yoga 260 as a tablet insofar as its size is concerned.

Lenovo-ThinkPad-Yoga-260-vs-Surface-Pro-4

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 vs Surface Pro 4 thickness.

Generally speaking, the ThinkPad Yoga 260 is an attractive machine outside of one major flaw. Here are the review unit’s specs:

  • Price as reviewed: $1,268.10, direct from Lenovo
  • 12.5-inch 1920X1080 IPS display
  • Intel Core i5-6200U CPU @2.30GHz
  • 8GB RAM
  • 256GB SSD
  • Intel HD Graphics 520
  • 720p HD Webcam, dual digital-array microphones, VoIP-enhanced, stereo speakers with Dolby Audio
  • 44 watt hour li-polymer battery
  • 2 USB 3.0, mini DisplayPort, HDMI, OneLink+, microSD
  • 12.2 x 8.6 x 0.7 inches, 2.9 lbs
  • Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC8260 (2X2), Bluetooth 4.1
Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 Left Side

Power, OneLink+, Mini-DisplayPort, USB port, Smartcard reader

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 Right Side

Power, volume, Pen Pro, headphone jack, SD and SIM card slot, USB port, HDMI port, Kensington lock port.

Design and Build

The Yoga 260 feels like the ThinkPad that it is, with a rubberized plastic coating that evokes confidence in handling and makes for a premium device. The “i” in ThinkPad lights up to indicate power states, blinking when the machine is in sleep mode, and that’s an elegant touch. The classic ThinkPad keyboard looks the part, as does the traditional red TrackPoint controller embedded in the middle of the keyboard. Overall, it looks and feels like a ThinkPad, and that’s a good thing.

In terms of durability, the Yoga 260 is built to MIL-STD-810G specifications, meaning it should be relatively resistant to temperature extremes, vibrations, altitude, and shock. The keyboard is resistant to spills, and so for someone like myself who has killed a handful of keyboards with spilled coffee, that’s a real plus. The display’s back is made of carbon fiber, and the chassis is magnesium alloy. The screen exhibited just a touch of flex, but otherwise the overall design and build is quite solid.

Screen

If the Yoga 260 has a flaw, it’s this: the widescreen display in this form factor is just bad. I mentioned the same with the Yoga 700, and this really applies to all widescreen tablets. For some reason, it just stuck out to me as worse on the higher-end ThinkPad Yoga 260. Maybe it’s because the screen has such huge bezels, proportionally, and when you use it in tablet portrait mode it looks and feels ridiculous.

Lenogo ThinkPad Yoga 260 Portrait Tablet

I’m sorry if I come across as harsh here, but I just can’t understand why Lenovo wouldn’t have figured out a way to stick in a 3:2 ratio screen. There’s more than enough space, and it’s not like there wasn’t precede–Microsoft had already shown the way by adopting 3:2 starting with the Surface Pro 3, which makes the screen in portrait mode feel like a piece of 8.5″X11″ paper.

The Yoga 260’s widescreen display in portrait is tall and thin, however, and surrounded by that massive bezel. The Lenovo feels like I’m using my 8″ Dell Venue 8 Pro, only with a relatively massive 12.5″ screen and–I’m repeating myself here–those huge bezels. Everything just feels wrong, and so I can’t imagine ever using it in portrait mode for taking notes or reading PDFs–or generally any of the ways that I use a tablet in portrait.

Outside of the unfortunate aspect ratio, the screen is also disappointing in terms of color and contrast. Nothing particularly pops, and it’s simply less than I’d expect on a relatively high-end machine. It’s passably bright, I suppose, and so that’s a positive. Once again, I think I’m terribly spoiled by the excellent screen on my Surface Pro 4, and judging by that standard the screen is pretty poor. This isn’t a $500 notebook, it’s a $1200+ ThinkPad, and Lenovo has done it a real disservice by sourcing this particular panel. The screen’s only real positive is that it’s matte, meaning glare is minimized.

 Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 Presentation Mode


Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 presentation mode.

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 Tent Mode

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 tent mode.

I’ll make note of a specific issue I ran into on my review unit: no matter what I did, I couldn’t get auto-rotate to work. Whether in tablet mode or desktop mode, I was forced to go into the display settings and manually switch from landscape to portrait or back again. The option to set automatic rotation was nowhere to be found. I managed to hunt down and install a Lenovo utility that is supposed to enable auto-rotation, but I couldn’t get that to work, either. This is either a bug with my review unit or an unfortunate omission on a machine that’s intended to double as a tablet.

In terms of touch, the Yoga 260’s display was perfectly responsive. Touch actions were crisp and accurate and multitouch gestures work perfectly well. In any of the machine’s multiple formats, the touch screen made for a good experience.

Performance

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed in working with modern notebooks, the combination of a 6th-gen Core processor (a Core i5-6200U CPU in this case), 8GB of RAM, and a speedy SSD naturally results in a well-performing machine that’s more than capable of handling most professional and consumer requirements. Yes, you’ll have trouble rendering the next Pixar feature film, and you won’t want to play Rise of the Tomb Raider on the Yoga 260, but for just about everything else the machine should offer more than sufficient performance.

I found thermal management to be adequate, but the machine does vent hot air towards the bottom rear. The vent doesn’t point straight down into your lap, but the hot air can get just a touch uncomfortable at times. It’s superior to the Yoga 700 in my opinion, but once again Microsoft’s Surface design with the vents blowing out of the top of the screen is a superior implementation. Compared to the traditional notebook, though, I didn’t find the Yoga 260 to be any better or worse in terms of heat production.

Battery life

I used the Yoga 260 as I would any other productivity machine, including browsing, taking notes, writing copy, and editing some photos. I also watched a bit of YouTube video and played some casual Windows 10 games. All in all, I enjoyed about six hours of work before getting a low-power notification. Unlike competitors such as Dell’s XPS 13 and Apple’s MacBook Air, the Yoga 260 likely wouldn’t get me through a full 8-hour workday.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The ThinkPad Yoga 260 has the traditional ThinkPad keyboard that it looks the part. However, it’s also the first ThinkPad keyboard I’ve used in years, and I can’t say it feels the way I remember a ThinkPad keyboard feeling. It’s a good keyboard, certainly, with sufficient key travel and spacing. The keys are sculpted like ThinkPad keyboards became in later generations. But it’s a little spongier than I remember from past ThinkPad keyboards experiences, and less clicky.

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 Keyboard

I simply didn’t find myself blown away. Is that because other manufacturers have caught up with Lenovo (or, rather, the ThinkPad) in designing excellent keyboards? Perhaps it is, because competing systems like the Dell XPS 13 are just as good if not better.

On the plus side, the keyboard deck has minimal flex, which is always a positive in my book. The keyboard layout is fairly standard, and so I was quickly up to my typical 80+ wpm. Ultimately, I was both satisfied with the keyboard and underwhelmed by it. I suppose I simply expected better, for right or wrong.

The touchpad is large and comfortable, and the more I use modern Windows touchpads, the more convinced I am that Apple’s lost their advantage in this regard. Movements were smooth and controlled, multitouch gestures worked reliably, and palm rejection was perfect.

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 Touchpad

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 touchpad.

I didn’t use the TrackPoint controller much, having never liked the ThinkPad’s reliance on this controller. This one works as usual, and you’ll either love it or hate it like all similar nubs. And as usual, the inclusion of a set of buttons above the touchpad seem odd to me. Nothing that would get in the way of getting work done, mind, you, they’re simply an extraneous bit that I could just as easily do without.

Pen

The Yoga 260 comes with a ThinkPad Pen Pro, a small active stylus that feels more like the one that ships with Samsung Note phablets than Microsoft’s Surface Pen. It’s a Wacom device, and it offers 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity, which bests the 1,024 levels of the Surface Pen. The pen feels good in the hand and I found that I could write as well with it as I could on my Surface Pro 4; I’m no artist, however, and can’t really attest to how will-suited it is for electronic drawing.

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 Pen Holder

The pen’s diminutive size does support one nice feature: the pen slips into a port in the Yoga 260’s base, where it’s recharged. That means that the pen is less likely to get lost, and it’s more likely to remain charged and ready to use as well. By Lenovo’s measuring stick, the ThinkPad Pen Pro should last 19 hours on a single 20 second charge, and while I didn’t use it until it ran out, I don’t have any reason to doubt Lenovo’s claims.

The included WRITEit app adds the ability to handwrite in any window and have the transcribed text copy over to another application. It’s not so easy to use the app for entering information in small blocks (say, entering a URL in a browser), but it’s likely a decent enough solution for handwriting information into text editors and such. Of course, the pen supports direct handwriting in apps like OneNote and Edge that support inking in general, and for that purpose the Pen Pro is perfectly acceptable. Not to beat a dead horse, but again it’s too bad that Lenovo didn’t make use of the available room for a 3:2 screen–taking notes on such a thin strip of screen felt unnatural.

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 Edge Writing

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 handwriting in Edge.

Speakers

The dual speakers are mounted in the hinge, and didn’t get muffled in pretty much any placement. Volume was fine, for watching movies in a relatively quiet room, but I wouldn’t expect to entertain guests with any thumping soundtracks. I’d rate the speakers as acceptable but a little tinny and lacking in bass, but passable for notebook speakers. Lenovo ships the machines with Dolby Audio on-board, and by tweaking things the sound quality can be improved just just a touch.

Additional Features

The Yoga 260 is equipped with a few additional features. Mainly, security is exceptionally well-ccovered with TPM encryption, a smart card reader, and a fingerprint sensor. Bundled software includes the aforementioned WRITEit! Software, Lenovo Companion (update utility), Lenovo Settings (configuration utility for hardware buttons), and Lenovo ID (exclusive Lenovo features).

Conclusion

The Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 260 is an odd beast. It has much of what makes a ThinkPad a special machine, such as a very good (although not great) keyboard, the choice of two different finger-based input methods, tons of security, and a very solid build. It’s well-spec’d and fairly competitive within its price class in terms of overall performance. The ability to switch between traditional notebook, tablet, presentation, and tent modes makes it a versatile option.

However, the screen’s poor colors are disappointing. In addition, the choice of a widescreen display rather than the much more comfortable (for a tablet) 3:2 aspect ratio severely limits the Yoga 260’s experience as a tablet in portrait mode. Seriously, those huge bezels look downright silly on such a high-end machine.

In the final analysis, if you’re looking for a well-built and comfortable traditional notebook, and want the versatility to use it in presentation mode, then the Yoga 260 is a solid choice. If you want to use a machine as a tablet in portrait mode, then the machine becomes a less-than-optimal solution. It’s light and thin enough that it would be perfectly acceptable for reading and annotating, but screen’s aspect ratio severely limits it’s functionality in this regard.

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