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Lenovo Yoga 13: Major League Hardware, Whiffle Ball OS.

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A little over three months ago I picked up a Lenovo Yoga 13 to replace my small-ish Acer 11.6″ TimelineX.  My college-aged son needed a new laptop on which to do game design studies, so I gave him my 15″ Macbook Pro and decided it was time to head in a new direction.

I know.  I’m weird.

Who in their right mind would give up a perfectly fine, super-fast, super-durable, 15″, non-Retina, unibody Macbook Pro for anything but another Macbook Pro or say a Macbook Air?

I thought about the Air, really I did.  I even considered the super cool, ultralight, 11.6″ Macbook Air.  I even bought one as a super duper open-box buy at BestBuy.  I liked it.  A lot.  Very snappy.  Very sleek.   Instant on.  I mean, hey, it’s a Mac!  Duh!

And then I tried to lay the display back a little bit further than Apple decided a display should move.  No joy.

And then, because I’m spoiled by my iPad and my Android tablets, I tried to touch the screen to move around some document elements with my fingers.  No joy.

So I decided to think out of the box.  WAY out of the box.  I stumbled upon the Lenovo Yoga 13 at BestBuy and immediately fell in love.  You remember that old song?  I think it was Fred Astaire who sang, “Heaven…  I’m in Heaven…”

At first, it was a joyous engagement.

Then…  Well…

Great hardware can only do so much to mask so-so software.

Read on for the details.

Lenovo Yoga 13 – The Macbook Killer?

On so many levels, the Lenovo Yoga 13 is almost a Macbook Air killer.  It’s thin.  It’s light.  It’s sturdy.  With the Core i5 processor it’s quite fast.  It boots in a heartbeat.  (I clocked it at 3 seconds yesterday.)  The keyboard is pretty nice to type on for extended periods.  (Though I have a few nagging complaints which I’ll share in a minute.)  The touch screen is vibrant and responsive.  At 1600 x 900 it’s pixel dense and easy on the eyes.

Oh yeah, and it turns into a tablet.  The display flips all the way around to create a nice, flat, Windows 8 tablet.

The Lenovo Yoga 13 is what the Macbook Air could have been if Apple decided to actually innovate for a change.

Yeah, I said it.  The Apple fanboi just dissed the Cupertino Crowd.

I’m not feeling the love for the latest refresh of the Macbook line.  Are they thinner?  Check.  Lighter?  Check.  Innovative?

Uhhh…  Not so much.

I mean, the Retina display is to die for.  One look at a Macbook Retina display and you’ll fall in love.  But…  Really…  You guys at Apple haven’t figured out that a “touch” Macbook Air is the next logical evolution of the laptop?  You actually LET Lenovo beat you to this milestone?

Tch, tch, tch.

Oh yeah, I said the Lenovo Yoga 13 is, “almost a Macbook Air killer.”

If I’m no longer all gooey for the Macbook Air hardware, I’m definitely not all GUI for the Win8 OS.  It’s just not all that and a bag ‘o Spicy Cheetos, ya know what I mean?

Look, I can sum up this journey in one word.

“Ambivalence.”

The Lenovo Yoga 13 is fabulous hardware with a pointless, snoozeville OS.

Okay, so you would feel shortchanged if this blog post didn’t include a little more than just the word “ambivalence,” so here comes a quick bullet list of the things I love, like, and loathe about the experience thus far.

Things I Love (Win8)

(Really, there are some things I actually “love” about Win8)

  • The Live Tiles interface is actually kind of cool.  Once you get used to it, it is actually more robust and useful than Apple’s LAME icon-only interface on the iPad series.  It’s nice for a change to see an OS that lets you get “live” results on your icons without resorting to jailbreaking the blasted software.
  • The Charms Bar is kind of cool.  It’s a nice way to get under the hood and tweak.  Seems weird, though, that there isn’t a clock option for the charms bar.  I’m just sayin’.
  • Boot up times are BLAZING fast!  From boot to use in under 7 seconds!  INSANE!
  • WiFi reconnects are BLAZING fast!  More often than not I’m back on the network as soon as I reopen the lid on the laptop.  (Though there are some reports out there that some folks are having WiFi reconnect headaches.)
  • More attractive visuals.  Thank GOD they got rid of the old, CPU hogging, Aero visual tweaks.  Who woulda thunk it?  Jimcracky see-through visuals are so Vista.
  • It’s pretty stable.  No crashes, no hangs, just general system response smoothness all around.
  • Better searching, totally integrated.  You say you can’t remember where you left the Notepad, just type “Notepad.”  (Oh yeah…  I almost forgot.   Apple put this functionality into OS/X 6 years ago!!!  Way to play catch-up Ballmer.)

Things I Love (Yoga 13 Hardware)

  • Great screen resolution (1600 x 900).  Not too dense, not too sparse, just right and perfect for side-by-side document comparison work.
  • VERY thin and light!  My chiropractor says thank you, Lenovo, for cutting down on her business.
  • Instant on (or should I say as “instant on” as a Macbook Air).
  • Flip-around screen turns it into a serviceable tablet.  This thing hangs in the crook of my elbow comfortable and I can meander around a room when I give presentations without the extra weight hanging solely on my hand and wrist.
  • Decent, tactile keyboard (though the location of right column keys are poor).
  • Solid battery life (some say 5.5hrs, I routinely get 6.5).
  • It runs quietly.  It has a little bit of fan noise, but almost unnoticeable.
  • It runs cool to the touch.  It never becomes hot on my lap.
  • It sports a solid, professional grade level of construction.
  • It’s “fast enough” with a Core i5 processor, 4Gig RAM, and 128Gig SSD.
  • The BEST non-Apple power connector on the market.

Things I tolerate (Win8)

  • Confusing on-screen gestures.  It feels like someone at Microsoft said, “Let’s put more gestures into it than the iPad.”  So they did.  They just didn’t think it through.  Some of the new gestures are completely forgettable and you find yourself resorting way too often to the touch pad and mouse.
  • Pull down here, pull out there, press long here, press short there.  I’m getting used to it, but not I’m not getting happy.
  • I can’t arrange Live Tiles the way I want.  They keep rearranging automatically like icons do on the iPad.  C’mon, guys, this is 2013 and I shouldn’t have to jailbreak my machine to modify the layout of the “Start” screen.
  • No “Start” Button?  No problem!  I just downloaded “Classic Shell” and voila!  I have a “Start” button and I can bypass the tiles.  But WHY?  Why no “Start” button, eh MSoft?

Things I HATE (Yoga)

  • Would someone PLEASE tell EVERY PC MANUFACTURER that the TOUCH PAD belongs DIRECTLY UNDER THE SPACE BAR!  NOT to the right.  NOT to the left.  DIRECTLY UNDERNEATH!  Why?  BECAUSE NO MATTER HOW MUCH SOFTWARE YOU THROW AT IT, YOU CAN’T DESENSITIZE THE TOUCH PAD TO PALM BRUSHES!   Every time I try to type on this thing, even with the Palm sensitivity turned down, my cursor jumps around the screen.
  • Spotty quality control on the software that controls keyboard deactivation when the display is flipped around.  It almost always turns off the keyboard, but it rarely brings it back to life.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to reboot the thing to bring the keyboard back to life.  No fix – as of this writing – from Lenovo.
  • The keyboard layout is silly.  I thought we moved beyond stuffing a narrow strip of navigation keys down the right side of the keyboard.
  • The Yoga I bought had an ABSURD 7-partition disk scheme that took me an hour to fix.  Later Yoga’s let you get more efficiency out of the 128Gig SSD, but the unit I own didn’t.  Imagine my disappointment when I popped the lid and had 60Gigs free BEFORE I loaded any software.

Things I HATE (Win8) (LISTEN UP MICROSOFT!)

  • ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  Microsoft shipped this OS with a FORCED interface that says, YOU WILL USE TILES!   ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  No WONDER Windows8 systems are stalling on the shelves!  Win8 is a TOUCH-centric, tablet-focused interface and – with the exception of the Yoga and a small handful of other touch-enabled laptops – it is foisted most frequently on non-touch hardware!  On the Yoga, Win8 is “tolerable,” though I find myself most often working on the old-fashioned “desktop.”  On non-touch hardware, Windows 8 and it’s horizontal scrolling is a HORRIBLE INTERFACE!  FIX IT!
  • ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  You can’t scroll this “Start” Screen vertically?  ONLY horizontally?  THIS IS 2013!  FIX IT!
  • ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  Just TWO sizes for tiles?  Square and double-square?  FIX IT!
  • ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  Tiles that aren’t “sticky”?  You mean I can’t put a tile somewhere and have it STAY there?  If I want to put all the tiles in a large square with a big open center, WHY CAN’T I DO IT?  HUH, Microsoft?  WHY?  FIX IT!
  • ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  You guys figured out how to create a tile interface, and you figured out how to let people move tiles around, but you ship the OS with 7 pre-defined “groups” on the “Start” screen and you don’t let us manage the groups or their sizes.  FIX IT!
  • You’re telling me that on the Start screen if I, say, load up a browser and want to listen to streaming audio, if I put that browser into the background the stream stalls?  REALLY?  FIX IT!
  • ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  You actually used the word “START” on the main window?  GET RID OF IT!

Oh, I could go on, and on, and on, and on, and on…

But I won’t.  I’m not trading in my Lenovo anytime soon.  This is probably the “best” laptop I have ever owned and – if it holds up – it’s probably the last one I’ll need to buy for many years.  It is that for which I have yearned, a single laptop that also turns into a tablet, is thin enough and light enough to carry with me anywhere, has enough power to do credible work, and doesn’t require me to mortgage my kids’ college savings fund to buy.  Like my Samsung Galaxy S3 this is a piece of hardware I will probably live with for many years to come.  It’s close-enough to perfect that I actually love opening it up and getting to work.

Now…

If Microsoft would just bite the bullet, realize Win8 is artificially crippled, and put a BLASTED START BUTTON back into the thing IN ADDITION TO letting the user decide whether they want to run the NEW interface or the OLD one, I would be more complimentary.

Until then…  I’ll hold my nose over the OS, cuddle the hardware, and bask in the happiness that is the Lenovo Yoga 13.

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