The line between laptops and tablets is becoming blurred, but I was a sceptic. How could you possibly do any actual work on a tablet? Why would you want a device which compromises on both form factors to create something that underwhelms for both work and leisure?
I maintained this view until earlier this year, when I bought a bluetooth keyboard for my iPad Air 2. Much to my surprise I could sort-of see what the enthusiasts were getting at. Sure, it would never replace a laptop for video editing, coding or other marginal activities that only a tiny proportion of people do… but I could finally see how a tablet could work for, say, writing or managing emails.
The iPad though, was not a perfect machine. I still missed having a touchpad. And I missed “proper” multitasking. But I still like the idea of carrying a device with a much slimmer and lighter form-factor than my MacBook Pro.
So I was delighted when Lenovo offered to send me a Yogabook to try. Could this finally be the hybrid of my dreams? Could it finally square productivity with portability?
The "Ultimate" Creativity Tablet?
The Android version of the Yogabook has a 10.10” screen running at 1200x1920, and is powered by a 2.4ghz quad-core processor with 4GB of RAM. So far so ordinary, but what makes it special is the slate-like surface that attaches to the screen.
Lenovo is calling the device the “Ultimate On-The-Go Creativity Tablet” and this is because of what I’m going to call the slate, for lack of a better term.
This is designed for multiple purposes and operates in two modes: First, as a keyboard. Though there are no physical keys, a full-sized laptop-style “Halo” keyboard will light up - complete with trackpad area. This means that if you like, you can use your Android device like a laptop, and use a mouse pointer.
If you’d prefer to draw, however, you can simply hold down on the pen button for a second or so, and the keyboard will disappear. Instead, you can pick up the included stylus pen (which as per the industry trend, is more like a pen than a pokey stylus). And then you can use the same slate surface to draw and scribble.
The downside is that although it’s a neat idea, it doesn’t quite work.
The problem is that both uses are not particularly satisfying. The keyboard does not have tactile feedback, meaning that your fingers cannot intuitively glide across the keys like with a normal laptop keyboard. In fact, I found it even more annoying than an on-screen keyboard - because at least when you’re typing on a virtual keyboard on screen, your eyes are able to see in close proximity both the keys and the text you’re typing. Typing on the Yogabook, however, means focusing on the keys below - and not on how it is appearing on screen.
The touchpad functionality is also frustrating: Not only is the “pad” area small, but because of the lack of physical definition to the limits of the touchpad area, it is similarly tricky to intuit the limits of how far you can swish your fingers before whatever you’re doing on screen stops moving.
So what about drawing? This is where the device comes into its own.
Using the stylus on the slate surface isn’t a great experience - it still feels as though it lacks the precision of a real pen - and as a result, on-screen results aren’t particularly pleasing.
It was at this point that I was ready to write-off the Yogabook, and write a damning review, complaining about the useless lump of plastic that is stuck to the screen on a hinge. But then I tried out a real pen on slate.
Quick to the Draw
What separates the Yogabook from other devices that use a stylus is that it comes with a real paper notebook. It attaches to the slate using magnets, and you can switch out the nib of the stylus for a real ink nib. As you hover what has become a real pen over the paper, the little dot on the screen that shows where your pen is hovering will continue to appear - and as you scribble real pen on the real paper, pressure sensors in the slate will translate what you’re drawing on to the screen.
Frankly, I was hugely impressed with the technology. It seemed accurate, and being able to use it as a real pen made it easy to use - with no correction needed because a screen was involved. Nearly every nuance of my appalling penmanship was reflected on screen. It’s definitely a clever use of the technology.
However, I am left wondering: Who is this for? Looking at some hastily scribbled meeting notes, though it was neat seeing them on screen, I could probably have typed them out just as quickly. So I’m sceptical of the value of having a jpeg of scribbles instead of a text document.
If you’re an artist, it might make more sense. I imagine it would make life for the guy who draws Dilbert incredibly easy - as he sticks to relatively simple drawings. He could knock out a new comic in minutes, and have it automatically digitised and ready to send the publishers. And then he’d have lots more time to argue on the internet about how Donald Trump is actually good. So that’s one guaranteed customer.
But more broadly than that, I’m sceptical. The iPad Pro, for example, has mastered on-screen drawing with an accurate stylus - with no need for a flabby drawing slate (albeit at almost twice the price of the Yogabook). It might not be as “real” as using a pen, but it is the closest so far - and does a very admirable job. For example, on an iPad Pro you can lean your hand on the screen as you write, just like a real sheet of paper, which rather negates the need for a separate slate.
I’m also a bit nervous about the potential for having to keep buying stuff for the Yogabook. Though presumably any paper will work, it works best with Lenovo-endorsed notepaper. And the pen will require ink refills with some regularity. Yes, this is the same problem that regular pen and ink has - but it leaves you at the mercy of Lenovo and its supply chain in the future.
As a tablet, the device is decent. You could forget about the slate, and fold it around so it is flush with the back of the screen and be left with a fairly solid Android tablet. It has some annoying software quirks, and doesn’t feel particularly slick but hey, that’s Android. But ultimately, it is the screen that matters.
Is the Yogabook the “Ultimate On-The-Go Creativity Tablet”? It’s definitely an intriguing attempt - and in some very specific use cases, it could be perfect. If you’re budget can stretch to it through, you still might be better off going for an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil.
The Lenovo Yogabook is available now, starting from £429.99.