When it comes to buying a laptop today, we are truly spoiled for choice. There was once a time when performance and mobility were mutually exclusive. Powerful hardware couldn’t fit in the slim and svelte ultrabook packages that most people demanded. Consequently, well-specced notebooks became niche products that demanded prices out of line with their performance.
Recently, an increasing number of mainstream notebooks have been augmented with extra hardware to set them apart from the run-of-the-mill ultrabook. Some of these extras include low- to mid-range GPUs, stylus input, flipping screens, or convertible functionality. A look at our CES 2018 overview of mainstream notebooks shows where the market is going. We haven’t stopped chasing maximum portability, but there’s clearly a shift towards delivering balanced computing power in an acceptably mobile package.
Shopping For A Notebook In 2017/2018
On observing this trend, I decided that late 2017 was the right time to replace my old faithful workhorse, a Lenovo X220. Like any Tom’s Hardware reader would, I began my shopping by first establishing what I wanted in my future notebook. After having lived for six years with the realization that a 12.5” screen is too small, I was ready to trade some weight for a larger 15” screen. I was also intrigued by the prospect of using a laptop as a lap reading tablet, so a 2-in-1 was on my mind. After I decided I wanted that aspect, I realized that a tablet screen wouldn’t be used to its full potential if I didn’t have a stylus, so I added good stylus support to my list of requirements.
The Lenovo Yoga 720 15” Is An Overlooked Powerhouse
One glance at its specs and you’ll know that the Yoga 720 15” is something special. The 2017 version has an i7-7700HQ--the same 45W quad-core processor you find in gaming notebooks--and a GTX 1050 graphics card, which is far more capable in games than the 940MX (or even its replacement, the MX150). The Yoga pairs them with an NVMe-enabled Samsung PM961 SSD up to 1TB (mine is 256GB), up to 16GB of DDR4-2133 (mine is 8GB), and an optional 4K IPS screen (mine is 1080p). Lenovo’s Yoga series of laptops all use Wacom AES stylus technology and are compatible with the Lenovo Active Pen 2, which has 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity. The pen wasn’t included, but with the laptop being $1,300 CAD--$700 CAD less than the lower-specced HP Spectre X360 15” that I was shopping against it--an additional $80 CAD for the pen seemed justified.
If I was to highlight a caveat with the Yoga 720 15”, it would be with its ports. It has two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, which is decent, but only one Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port that is unfortunately attached to a PCI-e x2 interface, instead of the usual x4. The USB-C port can’t be used for charging, so the laptop has a dedicated charging port. Otherwise, the laptop has no other ports.
Living With The Yoga
I haven’t bought a Thunderbolt adapter for video output yet, so there were a few times that I regretted not being able to hook the Yoga up to a friend or family’s television. I haven’t missed the loss of the ethernet jack, though. Having no ethernet jack, HDMI port, or SD card reader on-board is annoying, but that drawback wasn’t enough to steer me away from the Yoga’s value proposition.
So why is the Lenovo Yoga 720 15” so far ahead of its competition in value? Honestly, I have no idea. As far as I can tell--and reviews will agree with me on this--there isn’t a caveat in this laptop that can account for its low price. It’s not just surprisingly premium, it is well-built and premium--period. The hinges are stiffer than even most non-flipping laptops, so the screen doesn’t wobble unacceptably when you poke it. The battery will last for a good six or seven hours of work usage. The laptop isn’t loud or unacceptably warm. The speakers are the best I’ve heard from any mainstream laptop. And although the keyboard isn’t the dream that the old seven-row ThinkPad keyboards were, it’s still beyond complaint.
As for software, I realize that Lenovo has had a bad reputation in the past, but as a ThinkPad user--Lenovo’s ThinkPad software is different from its consumer notebook software--I’d never been exposed to it. I’m pleased to say that the Yoga didn’t come preloaded with bloatware, and Lenovo Vantage, the single program it does include, does its job of installing updates and accessing hardware settings well. As for the rate of updates from Lenovo, my Yoga was patched for the Intel ME vulnerability in relatively short order, and Lenovo recently supplied an update for Meltdown/Spectre. Other updates, including Intel graphics, on-board audio, and Wacom AES driver updates, have been regular, and I have yet to encounter any software bugs.
More Future-Proof Than Most
If it’s not clear by now, I’m extremely satisfied with the Lenovo Yoga 720 15”. I bought it in November 2017 being fully aware that new laptops with 8th-gen quad-core mid-range CPUs were coming. I decided to make my purchase anyway because I didn’t expect the new quad-core 25W “U” parts to match the i7-7700HQ. And yes, the Lenovo Yoga 720 does not run nearly as fast as other notebooks equipped with the same CPU, but it still outclasses newer i7-8550U-equipped notebooks.
Lenovo announced the 720’s successor, the Yoga 730, at MWC 2018, but we don’t have full specs for it yet. The starting prices, at least, don’t seem out of line with the 2017 version, which is still on sale.