Before I get into the meat of it I should give you, the reader, some context. I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tablet in 2014. It was the 2014 model with the S-Pen, and I’d had a good fiddle with it in the shop and was impressed enough to pick it up. I’d read all the reviews, and everyone seemed mighty impressed by this tablet that could ‘do it all’. It was heralded as the tablet that could replace your laptop. Bollocks. That was absolute bollocks.
It was my first and likely my last tablet (of the standard variety). See, a tablet is really only as good as the apps on the marketplace. The Galaxy Tablet was a heavy hitter, there were plenty of apps on the marketplace which would run steady on my then new piece of tech, but problems arose when you had to share things across to a new machine, or into a new app. Then it all became tricky. Oh, and did I mention that the Galaxy Tablet hated any and all bluetooth keyboards? Laptop replacement my arse…
It turned into my Twitch and Netflix machine. In the end that was all it was good for. Tapping away at the onscreen keyboard was only comfortable for a few short minutes. Eventually I found a way to wire a wired keyboard in through the micro USB, but it was putting an unhealthy amount of pressure on a port that doubled as the only charging port. But that’s not it. I loaded my 130,000 word document through a Google Doc and tried to edit on said tablet. It chugged. I tried a number of other dedicated simple writing apps, and still, it chugged.
To this day I cannot understand what was wrong, and I wasn’t the only one having problems. I regretted my purchase. I swore I would never purchase another tablet device.
Battery life is amazing in these machines. It’s one of the main reasons I picked up the Galaxy. It was small, would slip in my bag easy, it could take a little bouncing around, so I could cycle into nowhere with it knowing it would have enough charge for a few days in the sun. I started looking at the Surface, another device touted as a ‘laptop replacement’. But the resolution killed the battery life, and it was a hefty piece of kit in truth. Far too expensive too.
So, we come to the Yoga Book.
Light, hardy, longer battery life than a laptop, more portable than a netbook, dedicated space for a keyboard, can be used both for writing and entertainment – Netflix, Twitch. It sounded great. Plus, digital copies of handwritten notes anyone? It’s a fucking writer’s dream. I read all the reviews, I popped into the shop an ungodly number of times to pick it up, feel it in my hands, check out the system settings. I wasn’t sold on it – that keyboard, could I really use something like that?
Reviews had it that the Android OS was a better option than the Windows 10 equivalent, largely due to the bulky nature of Microsoft’s OS. However, opting for Android would leave me at the mercy of the apps on the Play Store. There were pros and cons to both systems, but in the end I sided with Android. This was my writing machine, I wasn’t going to be flicking between programs every few seconds. I needed something that could go full-screen and leave me to my typing.
It came in a white box, wonderfully packaged. A stylus pen, a pad of paper, charger, manuals, pen nibs. After a full charge I started it up and was hit with a system update. Nae bother. An hour later I sat down to type and, well, it was weird.
As you open the Yoga Book into laptop mode the black slate half of the devices lights up with the Halo Keyboard. It’s a flat digital keypad, not dissimilar to the onscreen keyboard you’ll find on a smartphone – but don’t be fooled, the halo keyboard is not an ‘on screen’ keyboard. The black slate base cannot become a screen, and when the keyboard is off and in direct light you can see the outlines of the keys. This means that other keyboards cannot be installed via software which is a bit of a shame; but there are positives. Having two displays would kill the long battery life, and it would mean typing on glass. I don’t know about you, but I hate typing on glass. Fuck. That.
The Halo Keyboard is not as tactile as the physical equivalent. Touch typing is near impossible, as you can’t glide your fingers across the keys to get a sense of place. On Android this isn’t so much of an issue, as there are plenty of predictive keyboards on the Play Store with adaptive settings for external keyboards. There was a pretty good keyboard installed from day one; TouchPal, which had predictive options and also a super handy hotkey mode. Essentially, your predictions appeared on the screen with an associated number, hitting that number on the Halo Keyboard would input the text. Sounds great, right? Problem numero uno – you write a sentence and then need to put in a number. Numbers 1, 2 and 3 are all mapped to predictions coming up on screen. Shit.
There are ways around it, but none of them are satisfying. Turning off the prediction for the next word meant that the onscreen keyboard would hide every few seconds, causing the app behind it to jump down to fill the new space. When the keyboard jumped back up the app would adapt again, shifting up, and all that motion was giving me the sickness. I downloaded SwiftKey, and that too struggled. In the end I found it simpler to turn off prediction altogether.
But you can get used to it. Once you’re fingers have adjusted to the keyboard layout you can hit a steady speed. There’s haptic feedback and typing sounds to help you identify if you’ve hit the right or wrong keys, but the former I found unhelpful. The latter, however, is excellent. I’ll likely never be as fast as on physical keys – but this is the Yoga Book. It’s damn tidy, it’s portable, and I can WRITE ON IT WITH A PEN!
I love writing long hand. Unfortunately, my writing looks awful and even I have a hard time trying to read my own notes. It doesn’t help that I’m often scribbling things down whilst on the move. When I signed up with a new doctors a couple of years back they noticed my writing and asked, ‘with a hand like that, you must be a doctor.’ I said no. ‘I’m a writer.’ Cue chorus of laughter.
Digitising my notes seemed logical. Having them on a screen would surely help practicality, no? Plus, it’s a virtual backup. Handy when you spill a coffee or the like. But it didn’t really come together. The Yoga Book comes pre-installed with a Lenovo Note App. Hitting the small pen icon on the keyboard dims the keyboard untick it can no longer be seen, and a note square pops up onscreen. It interrupts nothing, which is super when you want to jot down a note whilst watching your favourite TV show. You can then open your note up in full and navigate to full app, where you have all the normal gear – choice of pens, colours, background styles.
It gets smarter. With the device on and in tablet mode you can use the Yoga Book as a kind of digitiser clipboard. Slip on your paper, hit the pen key, and anything you write on that surface will be recorded in the notes app. It’s smooth as silk, saves you tons of battery if you only want to use the digitise function (the screen remains off whilst in this mode), and it’s so very intuitive.
But for writing it doesn’t really work. Sketching – sure. Digital art, maybe. The problem isn’t specific to the Yoga Book specifically, but to technology generally. Handwriting to text conversion is very, very difficult – Google have tackled it in recent years, and they’ve done a fine job. Thing is, there’s little interaction and understanding across apps as to how handwriting to text input should function. Now, in the case of the Yoga Book the Google Handwriting app would be perfect if it detected and converted handwriting across the entirety of the slate surface, but it’s not built for a device as unusual as this, it’s made for tablets and phones. Consequently, handwriting to text conversion on the Yoga Book is limited, and that pains me.
It feels great though. With the pen straight on the slate it feels almost like paper. Switch the nibs and place down the magnetic paper and it feels like a regular notepad. Writing appears immediately on the screen as you pen across the paper. It’s a beautiful thing. It can take some time trying to get things back in line if you remove the paper, attach it later, and then try to continue where you left off. I’ve written over my own notes a few times. It’s infuriating.
But until there’s a solid handwriting-to-text solution I won’t be using this aspect of the Yoga Book often.
Battery, Performance & Manoeuvrability
I travelled home a few days ago, which provided me with the perfect opportunity to test battery performance. It’s an 8 hour train journey – no short trip – and the Yoga Book was playing video, audio, and being used as a kindle the whole way. Games are a bit heavier, and I found a couple of hours in Polytopia sucked a solid 30% or so in battery. On the return journey I managed a solid six episodes of Fargo before I fell asleep – the Yoga Book, unlike me, was still wide awake when I came to.
It was also still on my lap. I put it in the heading because for me it felt worth noting – the ability to fold, flip and turn this device makes it gloriously handy in a tight spot. You can sit with it in laptop mode, or fold the keyboard 180 degrees and turn the keyboard into a stand – that motion switches it to tablet mode. You can fold it fully flat so it appears like your Galaxy tablets, or iPads, then turn on its side like a book. My legs were uncomfortable for the whole of the train trip, but the Yoga Book was happy as can be. However, if you’re a folded-legs laptop user you’ll find this device pretty tricksy – it’s too small and light to work on something as uneven as folded legs.
In the last few months with solid use I’ve not yet seen a drop in performance. There’s been some app crashes here and there, and some programs don’t know what to do with the smart little task bar on the bottom of the screen (making Android seem more Windows, which in this case is no bad thing). Most writing and sketching apps recognise the pen when the keyboard is switched over to sketch mode. I’ve often been running four or five apps at a time, and the device holds itself steady. That said, I have a feeling that this isn’t the kind of device you can wring a lot of power out of. It’s neat for writing, great for sketching, perfect for movie watching, suitable for casual gaming – but it’s a tablet, don’t come at this thinking you can edit video easily.
The Lenovo Yoga Book is a tidy little device that will appeal to writers and artists, but also casual users too. Behind the minimalist chic is a competent machine capable of recording notes, taking down sketches, serving as a source of entertainment for long trips, and a great tool for those looking for a full screen uninterrupted writing experience. It’s as light as a feather and slips easily into a small shoulder bag.
But it’s not a perfect machine. The halo keyboard is something that will take getting used to, and I wonder whether I’ll ever be able to type on the device as quickly as I can on a physical keyboard. It’s also an unusual device, which means that like my experience with Google Handwriting some apps will struggle to understand how the device functions – or simply won’t function at all.
Yet the Lenovo Yoga Book fulfils all the fantasies I had when I picked up the Galaxy Tablet all those years back. A machine I can take out into the world and type on, a device with plenty of battery, enough power, and capable of a bit of procrastination on the side. Wonderful.
- 4.05 mm thin, 1.5 lbs (690g) in weight
- Up to 12 hours battery on one charge
- 10.1″ Full-HD display & Dolby Atmos speakers (1920 x 1200)
- Intel® Atom™ x5-Z8550 Processor (2M Cache, Quad-Core, Up to 2.4 GHz)
- Android 6.0 OS
- 4 gb LPDDR3 RAM
- 64 gb ROM
- MicroSD card slot
- Touch screen, create pad (EMR pen technology)
- Rear camera: 8 MP and front camera: 2 MP