PC

Dual-screen Yoga Book not ready for prime time

The Yoga Book C930 comes with an E Ink screen and a high-resolution touchscreen.
The Yoga Book C930 comes with an E Ink screen and a high-resolution touchscreen.PHOTO: LENOVO

Lenovo's new Yoga Book C930 is a high-concept device that takes one idea - dual screens - and goes wild with it.

Having two displays is unusual enough, but Lenovo doubles down by having an E Ink screen paired with a normal high-resolution touchscreen. This combination lets the Yoga Book function as a laptop, a tablet, a sketch pad and even an e-book reader.

To top it off, it is as thin as a smartphone and looks elegant enough to be mistaken for an upscale paper notebook.

It certainly sounds like an improvement over the original Yoga Book. Launched in 2016, that was an awkward melange of paper and pen with an electronic device.

But the new version still falls on its face when it comes to actual use. It feels slow, clunky and, at times, downright buggy.

The first thing that irks me is the hassle in the seemingly simple task of opening its lid. Lenovo decided against the usual notch at the front of laptops to help users open the lid and plumped for magnets instead.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $1,999

    PROCESSOR: Intel Core i5-7Y54 (1.2GHz)

    GRAPHICS: Intel UHD Graphics 615

    RAM: 4GB DDR3

    SCREEN SIZE: 10.8 inches, 2,560 x 1,600 pixels

    CONNECTIVITY: 2 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C, microSD slot, nano-SIM slot

    BATTERY: 35.8 watt-hour

  • FEATURES: 3/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    PERFORMANCE: 3/5

    VALUE: 2/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    OVERALL: 3/5

Rap the lid twice with your knuckles and these magnets reverse polarity to repel instead of attract, thus popping the lid ajar.

This feature probably looks good in a demo. But it feels unnecessary, especially when I cannot get it to work consistently.

Perhaps Lenovo realises this because there is an alternate method: Press and hold the volume rocker at the side to pop open the lid.

Of course, the last resort is to use your fingernails to pry apart the two halves of the Book, which is connected by the distinctive watchband-like hinge used by Lenovo in some older Yoga devices.

But this is only the first of my frustrations. As mentioned earlier, it has two 10.8-inch screens that are very different in nature. The touchscreen is the usual in-plane switching display that looks bright with good viewing angles.

Where you would expect the physical keyboard to be is the E Ink screen. This versatile screen becomes a virtual keyboard, though it is flat with no ridges to help with touch typing.

It has haptic feedback - keys vibrate when tapped and momentarily turn from the default white colour to black. But my fingers are still banging on a flat surface, which gets tiring after a while.

Being a virtual keyboard, it takes just a few taps to switch from the default English version to another language.

It can do more than that though. Opt for the modern style keyboard in the settings and the virtual touchpad shrinks to a small pill. Tapping on this pill brings the touchpad back to its usual size. The space freed up by this layout is used to make keys slightly larger.

But I can already see the biggest drawback of the E Ink screen while fiddling with the keyboard settings. Its slow refresh rate means it can take up to 20 seconds to switch from one keyboard layout to another.

Naturally, the E Ink screen can be used as a display for reading e-books. But it takes up to three seconds just to switch from portrait to landscape orientation.

More inexcusable is the fact that the built-in e-reader supports PDF files, and not the popular EPUB format.

The E Ink screen can also become a sketch pad that works with the bundled Lenovo stylus. Up to 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity are supported, which is the current norm.

The pen itself exhibits a slight latency when writing. This sluggish feel is amplified when I am erasing my notes as the screen is not the most responsive. On top of that, I could see faint outlines of my scrawls on the screen after erasing them.

But a nice touch is that the pen can be secured magnetically to the lid at three locations.

Of course, the E Ink screen has some advantages. It draws much less power and can be used in direct sunlight.

My biggest frustration, though, is when I am switching between the dual screens. It cannot read my intentions, so there are times when the screen is oriented wrongly, or when the E Ink screen continues to show the sketch pad instead of the keyboard.

Another feature that probably looks better on paper is its optical fingerprint sensor. It is slower than a normal fingerprint reader. I also had to exert more pressure on the reader before it worked.

It has only two USB Type-C ports, which is somewhat understandable because the device is too thin to accommodate a standard USB port. This is also the likely reason for the omission of the audio jack. On the other hand, its nano-SIM slot is useful for road warriors who need to be connected all the time.

For this sequel, Lenovo has upgraded the first Yoga Book's low-end Intel Atom processor to a faster Intel Core i5 chip. But it is a slower model than the typical processor found in most laptops.

Making things worse is its paltry 4GB of RAM; my smartphone has more memory in comparison. As a result, its PCMark 10 score of 2,358 is much lower than typical laptops that score in the 3,000 to 4,000 range.

Given its slim profile and modest battery capacity, it is not expected to have much battery stamina. It lasted a middling 5 hours 11 minutes in a video-loop test.

• Verdict: Give Lenovo credit for trying to create something new, but the Yoga Book C930 needs further refinement, especially at this price.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2018, with the headline 'Dual-screen Yoga Book not ready for prime time'. Print Edition | Subscribe