Yoga 3 Pro review: Intel's Core M processor delivers for this hybrid laptop

Lenovo's versatile Windows tablet/laptop offers a new low-power processor and great display.

yoga 3 pro laptop
Credit: Lenovo

With a new low-power processor and a sleek convertible design that delivers five different computing modes, Lenovo's Yoga 3 Pro is a hybrid Windows tablet/laptop with an enviable combination of size, weight, battery life and one of the best screens this side of a desktop computer. But is it worth $1,300?

That depends on whether you want to have Intel's latest Broadwell technology under the hood. The Yoga 3 Pro is the first to use the Core M processor (although other vendors, including Acer, Asus, Dell and HP, will follow quickly with their own products).

The Core M processor

A downsized version of the 22-nanometer fourth-generation Haswell Core chips, the Core M uses Intel's 14-nanometer process and low-power 3D transistors. It has 1.3 billion transistors, up from the 960 million used by Haswell Y models, in a package that is half the size.

Many of those extra transistors are for the HD Graphics 5300 video accelerator, which takes up roughly two-thirds of the chip's surface. The graphics engine runs at 850MHz and can deliver up to 3840 x 2160 resolution.

The Yoga 3 Pro's dual-core Core M 5Y70 operates at 1.1GHz but with TurboBoost technology can sprint as fast as 2.6GHz. There are other Core M versions coming with business-friendly vPro security enhancements as well as ones that range from 800MHz to 1.2GHz.

A key differentiator is that the Core M processor uses 4.5 watts -- about the power draw of a child's nightlight -- 60% less than the 11.5 watts that the 1.6GHz Core i5 4300Y CPU uses. That reduction is enough so that the Yoga 3 Pro requires only a small cooling fan.

On the outside

That small fan helps the Yoga 3 Pro squeeze into a case that's only 0.5 in. deep -- 0.1 in. thinner than Lenovo's Haswell-based Yoga 2 Pro. At 12.9 x 8.9 in. and 2.6 lb., it's also about 10 oz. lighter than the Yoga 2 Pro. If you're carrying its two-prong AC adapter as well, the Yoga 3 Pro has a total weight of 3 lb., less than the Yoga 2 Pro weighs on its own.

The system feels good in the hand and has an aluminum base and plastic screen lid. It's available in silver, gold or bright orange.

lenovo yoga 3 pro hinge Lenovo

The Yoga 3 Pro has five computing profiles, thanks to Lenovo's innovative watchband-style hinge.

It has five computing profiles, thanks to Lenovo's innovative watchband-style hinge. Made from 800 stainless steel parts, the hinge attaches the screen to the base at six places and makes it easy to smoothly rotate the screen 360 degrees.

This is about as versatile as a mobile system gets. In addition to being used as a traditional notebook, you can flip the Yoga 3 Pro's screen all the way over, transforming it into a tablet. In between, it can be set up with its keyboard facing down for presentation mode or in tent mode looking like an inverted "V." The system can even be opened flat on a tabletop. Its hinge keeps it stable with only a little wobble.

I found that the Yoga 3 Pro was comfortable to carry and converted between modes quickly and easily. On the downside, it's a little heavy to hold as a tablet for more than a few minutes. It's best as a traditional laptop with occasional forays as a tablet or standing up to show a movie or presentation.

Stunning display

The system's 13.3-in. QHD+ display is a stunner that can show 3200 x 1800 resolution. Its Graphics HD 5300 video accelerator has no dedicated graphics memory, but can grab up to 3.9GB of system RAM.

Overall, the Yoga 3 Pro's display was rich and sharp; it played 4K video clips with class-leading detail. However, it isn't as bright as other touch systems; for example, I measured its brightness at 265 candelas per square meter, well behind devices such as the Lenovo ThinkPad 10 tablet, which comes in at 353 candelas per square meter.

Above the screen is a 1280 x 768 webcam; there's no camera on the screen lid's back. Below the screen is a Windows key (to bring up the Start screen) that didn't always work for me on the first try.

As far as the keyboard is concerned: The Yoga 3 Pro's 18.6-millimeter oval-shaped keys are comfortable to use and backlit, but there's only one light level available. There's a 3.5 x 2.4 in. touchpad, and the keyboard deck has a grippy plastic coating. The system's JBL speakers are mounted underneath the keyboard so that the sound is somewhat muffled when you're working with it as a laptop.

Other specs

The $1,300 Yoga 3 Pro model I reviewed has, besides the Core M 5Y70 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid state storage space. The only upgrade available is 512GB of storage capacity for an additional $200.

The system comes with one USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, one of which doubles as the power connection. The system also has a micro-HDMI port, a headphone jack and a flash card slot for adding storage capacity.

Oddly, for a flagship system it falls short on security. It comes with neither a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) for fail-safe remote authentication nor a fingerprint scanner. It also lacks an Ethernet port, but comes with Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

Balanced performance

Overall, the Yoga 3 Pro balances speed with battery life. Its score of 1,455 on the PassMark PerformanceTest benchmark is just ahead of a similar convertible, the Dell XPS 11, which is based on the Intel Core i5 processor and which scored 1,311. It isn't as fast, however, as the still-impressive Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Touch, with its score of 1,938.

Over a week of daily use, the Yoga 3 Pro never got more than warm to the touch. When I continuously played HD videos on it from a memory key, its 5,200mAh battery lasted for 6 hours and 49 minutes -- more than two hours longer than the Dell XPS 11's score of 4 hours and 35 minutes. With some judicious power management, this should translate into enough for a 13-hour trans-Pacific flight of on-and-off computing.

The system comes with Windows 8.1 Pro, a 30-day trial of McAfee Live Safe and Lenovo's Motion Control software, which lets you do things like advance a presentation's slides by waving at the webcam.

It comes with a one-year warranty that can be extended to three years for a reasonable $99.

Bottom line

Beautifully designed, the Core M-powered Yoga 3 should suit buyers in search of a top-shelf convertible. At $1,300, it's $250 more than a similarly equipped but thicker Yoga 2 Pro that doesn't last as long on battery.

If you have to have the latest in mobile technology and are willing to break the bank, Lenovo's thin, light and flexible Yoga 3 Pro has the best of everything.

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