Lenovo Yoga 900S Review: A beautiful 2-in-1 Windows 10 ultrabook full of compromises

If you missed the initial unboxing, check it out before diving into the full review!

Lenovo has been refining its Yoga line of computers every year since the original was released in 2012, and the product of those improvements is the Yoga 900S. The 900S is the thinner and lighter sibling of the Yoga 900, keeping its design language in line with the 900 while making every effort to shave corners in the name of size and weight. What we’re left with is a highly competent, luxury device with a bit of an identity crisis. Is the Yoga 900S an improvement over the 900, or did Lenovo cut too many corners trying to differentiate the two?

TL;DR

Pros

  • 2.2 lbs (999 grams) overall
  • Fanless design with great heat dissipation
  • Support for an active stylus
  • Industry-leading 2-in-1 hinge design

Cons

  • Average keyboard with low key travel and curious button placement
  • Average battery life
  • Somewhat lacking choice in ports
  • Expensive starting price

Design

Equipped with a 12.5” display and coming in at .5” (12.8 mm) thin, 2.2 lbs (999 g), the Yoga 900S is one of Lenovo’s most portable ultrabooks. In hand, it’s remarkable just how light it really is. It’s almost unnoticeable in a bag and the screen is still large enough to not feel cramped during use. The enclosure is rigid and shows no give in the palm rest or the display enclosure. To sum things up, we can’t say enough good things about the build of the 900S.

The Yoga 900S comes in two shades: “Platinum Silver” or “Champagne Gold”. Both revisions are primarily black on the interior, with a nice soft touch coating on the entire interior surface. It is accented with your shade of choice, though, with the keyboard keys and other small touches sticking out from the black.

Our review unit came in gold, so while we can’t speak for the silver sibling, the gold at least is an acquired taste. Coming from the perspective of someone who goes out of their way to buy understated gadgets, the gold is a huge change of pace. That said, the shade of gold Lenovo uses is understated, not too bright or tacky, and it does give the unit a luxury feel.

The most striking design choice is also its most unique offering; the “watchband” hinge. It’s definitely not a new feature, being first introduced on the 2014 Yoga 3 Pro, but its inclusion is just as divisive with Yoga fans now as it was a couple years ago. The unique design allows for arguably the smoothest and most stable 2-in-1 hinge design currently used by any manufacturer, but it stands out. If you can’t get over the intricacy of a hinge like this, this may not be the computer for. The form is a matter of opinion, but we feel like you can’t argue with the results of the function.

If you’re a fan of the design of Lenovo’s Yogas of the last few years, especially the Yoga 900, you’re going to find a lot to love in the 900S. We feel like Lenovo did a great job overall of keeping some personality in a device as thin and light as the 900S.

Functionality

Though impressively designed, the Yoga 900S starts showing its compromises the more time you spend with it. Though not anemic, the overall utility of the 900S is hampered by Lenovo’s goal to shave as much as possible from the frame of the 900.

The keyboard in the 900S is a modified design from the one used in the 900, offering limited key travel compared to what most people are used to. We wouldn’t go as far as calling the 900S’s keyboard bad, but it has taken longer than expected to get used to typing on it. It feels like the key travel is about half what we would expect from a “normal” laptop keyboard, and that will be a deal breaker for some.

We felt like it was worthwhile mentioning a couple odd decisions with the placement of some keyboard keys. Lenovo made the arrow keys all full size, but at the expense of the right hand shift key. It’s about half the size of a normal key on the keyboard and farther to the right than we’d expect, which is a pretty huge adjustment if you don’t normally use the left-hand shift. Also, there are no play/pause keyboard shortcuts to be found anywhere on the keyboard.

The trackpad fares better than the keyboard in our day-to-day use, thankfully. It’s a fine trackpad, with no glaring issues or omissions. It’s not a Precision Trackpad but does have full support for a suite of gestures that work a majority of the team. We never had any issues with ghost gestures or accidental taps, but it would miss triggering from time to time. The trackpad is one piece, made of plastic and contains no separate buttons. The surface is smooth enough and the clicking mechanism is quite satisfying. It never blew us away with its accuracy and it can be hard to trigger gestures from time to time, but it left an overall good impression.

The display comes in two flavors: one at 1920 x 1080 and one at 2560 x 1440. Our review unit was equipped with the higher resolution display, but based on Lenovo’s specs the displays are otherwise identical; They both are equipped with glossy, IPS touchscreens. The review unit’s display hit all the right marks and left us impressed from the first time we opened the unit up. Colors are rich without being oversaturated, the white balance is comfortable so the display isn’t tinted too heavily with a particular color and the display gets bright enough that it can be comfortably viewed in bright light. The resolution isn’t as high as the Yoga 900’s 3200 x 1800 display, but I had no complaints with the 235 PPI display of our review unit.

One thing the 900S has over the 900 is full stylus compatibility, supporting the Lenovo Active Pen with 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity. The pen isn’t included with the 900S and we weren’t provided with one for the review, so we won’t be speaking on its quality, but it’s worth a mention.

Port selection is where the 900S is hit hardest compared to the 900. While it does have a USB 3.0 capable USB-C port, a full sized USB 3.0 A port, a combo headset jack and a USB 2.0 A port, it’s missing the SD card and extra USB 3.0 A port in the Yoga 900. It still has enough ports for most situations, but with the 900 and 900S being in the same price range it’s a shame to not see the extra ports. One interesting note is that the USB 2.0 A port doubles as the charging port, keeping it from needing a dedicated charging port. It’s always nice to consolidate ports, but we would’ve preferred another USB C port to charge with over a custom USB 2.0 port.

Using the Yoga 900S is going to be a mixed bag for people; Some will enjoy it and others won’t. Being a 2-in-1, it’s going to try to be everything for everyone but we’re still waiting to see one do it successfully. With its thin design and fantastic hinge, using the 900S is a mostly good experience if you need your laptop to also be a tablet. It is still primarily a laptop, and the widescreen aspect ratio just makes it awkward to use in your hands. If you’ve used a 2-in-1 and never used it as a tablet, there’s probably nothing about the 900S that’s going to change your mind.

Performance

The other big trade-off made to get the Yoga 900S to be as thin and light as possible is the CPU. While the Yoga 900 gets a full Core i CPU, the 900S uses the Core M series. Our review unit was equipped with a 1.2 GHz Core m7, and though it performs well it’s in a totally different league than the Core i series for CPU intensive though workloads. This does give the 900S a fully fanless design, something we appreciate immensely and it will be a worthwhile tradeoff for some.

In day-to-day use, I was actually quite pleased with the 900S’s overall performance. It had no trouble punching through 20+ tabs in Chrome, several documents and chat clients, video playback and some extremely light gaming (primarily older titles from Steam). Our review unit is equipped with 8 GBs of LPDDR3 RAM and a zippy 256 GB PCIe SSD (though it can also be equipped with 4 GBs of RAM and a 128 GB PCIe SSD) and we were never left waiting unrealistically for the unit to catch up to what we were doing.

Battery life is acceptable in real world usage, though very average when compared with other units in the same class. Lenovo states 10.5 hours of usage with wifi disabled and brightness at about half, looping locally stored HD videos. In our usage, though, we would see about 5-6 hours with brightness at half, wifi enabled, and doing word processing and web browsing with off and on video watching. That number is extremely subjective of course, seeing that everyone’s usage will be under different circumstances, but it’s at least in line with some of the other units with similar specs we’ve run across.

As a side note, we were extremely impressed with the heat dissipation in the 900S. Without any fans powering the unit, it managed to be one of the cooler units we’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. We were able to comfortably work with the 900S directly on a lap without any significant discomfort, even over time or under heavier loads.As well, the initial partitioning of the SSD is a little curious. Even though our unit came with a 256 GB SSD, only 192 GB of it is usable (before accounting for the space taken up by Windows itself). There are several partitions used for the OneKey recovery system and a curious 25 GB partition that is accessible from Windows Explorer.

Final Thoughts

All things taken together, we think that the 900S is a well manufactured and designed machine that has a bit of an identity crisis. Starting at $1099 for a 1080p display, 4GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD definitely puts this unit in the luxury category, and there is a lot of competition in this price range. Even Lenovo’s own Yoga 900 starts at $1199, has a nearly identical design language, and comes with a 3200×1800 display, a full Core i series CPU, 8 GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD, and extra ports that were left off the 900S all for just $100 more. The 900S’s saving graces are its lower weight, support for an active stylus, and slightly longer rated battery life, but is that enough? Whether those are worth it compared to the Yoga 900 and some really great options by HP, Dell and Microsoft is up to you.

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