Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga review: tomorrow’s display in yesterday’s laptop

I haven’t used a Lenovo laptop as my main computer for years. In fact, the last time I touched a Lenovo laptop for more than a few hours was when I used to manage a fleet of them in a corporate environment before joining The Verge. Lenovo ThinkPads are the de facto laptops of the corporate world, and since I now work in a business where I can choose my equipment, I haven’t been compelled to try one as a result.

Lenovo surprised me at CES this year, though, with its latest X1 Carbon ultrabook. The surprise: it’s actually an X1 Yoga with a touchscreen, stylus, and 360-degree hinge, so you can flip the keyboard behind the display and use the laptop like a tablet. It’s about as far from a staid, corporate feature set as a ThinkPad has ever had. However, all of that is a distraction from the main addition: a 14-inch OLED display.

Over the past few years, I’ve witnessed laptop manufacturers experiment with crazy designs, touchscreens, and the latest advancements in tech to try and get ahead of Apple’s MacBook line with varying degrees of success. As notebook designs once again settle into a comfortable and familiar lull, laptop makers have been switching their attention to displays. Companies like HP are pushing 4K screens in tiny laptops, Dell wants to sell you an edge-to-edge display, Microsoft wants you to remove its display, and now Lenovo is placing the latest OLED panels into a 14-inch laptop.

Unfortunately for Lenovo, this beautiful OLED display is like cramming a stunning new TV into an outdated house.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga review 10

The moment I picked up Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga I had to check it wasn’t just a regular Yoga or an old ThinkPad. Though it has many modern capabilities and features, the X1’s design gives me flashbacks to ThinkPads from 10 years ago. Far from pushing the boundaries, Lenovo has played it safe for its business customers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but this notebook is dated and simply boring-looking, and an OLED display deserves more.

That OLED display is without a doubt the star of the show here. It’s probably the main reason you’d buy the X1 Yoga, and it’s by far the best laptop screen I’ve ever used. It’s Lenovo’s big change, and a bet on the future of laptop displays. You’ll pay a price premium for it, though, as X1 Yoga OLED models start at $1,869, but it’s by far the best part of this laptop. The blacks are so black that I kept moving the cursor up to the very edge of the bezels thinking that it was part of the dark Windows 10 interface at first.

OLED IS THE ONLY STAR OF THE SHOWAt a resolution of 2560 x 1440, it’s more 2K than 4K, but I’m constantly stunned by how good the colors look on this display. If you work with digital images or videos then color accuracy and reproduction is key, and the X1 display doesn’t disappoint here. I’ve fallen in love with it, and it really makes Windows 10 shine. The Vergehomepage looks more orange than ever before, and I’ve seen colors in apps that I didn’t even realize were slightly different shades. I actually preferred watching some Netflix episodes on the X1 instead of my TV because they just looked so good.

The only thing that would make this display better would be pairing it with smaller bezels. I’m still a big fan of Dell’s XPS 13 edge-to-edge display, and I could only imagine how stunning a laptop would be if you could have both. Lenovo also set the DPI level to 200 percent for some reason which makes the Windows 10 UI a little too big, and I found it much more comfortable to use at 150 percent. Either way, this display is the future of laptops, and I can’t wait for every notebook to have an OLED screen.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga review 9

Lenovo has stuck to its black matte finish with a mix of carbon fiber that’s been the hallmark of the ThinkPad line for a few years. I personally like this type of finish on a laptop as it feels smooth to rest your hands on and keeps unsightly fingerprint marks to a minimum. At 2.8 pounds and 17mm thick, it’s also nice and portable for a 14-inch laptop, keeping the weight below a MacBook Air. Lenovo has kept its familiar red TrackPoint nub in the middle of the keyboard, and the mouse buttons above a reasonably sized trackpad.

Unsurprisingly, typing on the X1 is great. Lenovo’s chiclet keyboard feels natural and comfortable, and the only complaint I have is key placement. I dislike the function key stuck in the lower-left corner, and a lack of media control function keys. Likewise, the trackpad feels really solid, although it does make a clicky noise as it travels. It’s a little smaller than it should be because Lenovo has decided to stick unnecessary buttons above it, but it was accurate during my testing. Those extra buttons were largely decoration for me, as the gestures in Windows 10 work well for navigation with the trackpad.

IT’S TIME TO BRING THE THINKPAD INTO THE 21ST CENTURYBoth the eraser nub and trackpad buttons feel like they’re still here for legacy reasons to keep ThinkPad customers comfortable, and frankly, I wish Lenovo would just kill them. Trackpads used to be terrible on Windows laptops, but they’ve caught up and the nub just gets in the way now. At a time when Apple is trying to redefine the trackpad with Force Touch, it doesn’t feel like Lenovo is being daring enough here. It’s time for Lenovo to move on and bring the ThinkPad into the 21st century, both in design and features.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga review photos

Design aside, the X1 Yoga has most of the ports I’d expect to find on a Windows laptop. There’s HDMI and mini DisplayPort for your monitors, three USB ports for accessories, and even a SIM slot and microSD storage. The one big omission is no full-sized SD card slot. Instead, Lenovo has decided to bundle its proprietary OneLink+ port for connecting to its docks. That’s a bit of a miss if you were hoping to use this with a digital camera, and the microSD slot is hidden underneath the display so it’s not easily accessible. Lenovo has also added a fingerprint reader that supports Windows Hello. I would have preferred to log in with just my face, but the fingerprint reader never failed me and was always fast to use.

As this is a Yoga, you can flip the display over to twist it into a tablet. The keys retract slightly into the body when you use it in tablet mode, but I literally used this mode once during my entire time with the X1 Yoga. It works best as a regular laptop, and at times, I’d even forgotten you could actually turn it into a tablet. I almost forgot that the X1 has a stylus, too. It’s a tiny little thing that slots in underneath to charge automatically. As it’s so small and thin it feels a little awkward using it as a pen, and it’s tucked away underneath the laptop so most people wouldn’t even notice it was there.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga review tablet

Naturally, such a beautiful display has some drawbacks on battery life. While Lenovo claims up to 11 hours of battery life, I never got close to that. Most days I’d hit around five hours and have to reach for the charger, but on rare occasions, I’d get as many as seven hours — and I suspect the OLED display influenced that. When I was watching a movie the battery life seemed closer to seven hours, but using multiple apps and doing regular work knocked some life out of it.

Unlike HP’s EliteBook Folio I tested recently, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga showed no signs of performance issues during my usage. I tested a model with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage. It breezed through all of my daily tasks, and handled multiple apps well. You’re not going to be able to run the latest games on here, but as a work machine it’s more than capable.

A BEAUTIFUL WINDOW INTO THE FUTURE OF LAPTOP DISPLAYSAs I sum up my thoughts on Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Yoga, it reminds me that I still haven’t really found a perfect Windows laptop. I want a laptop that’s a laptop first and foremost, with a bezelless design, great trackpad / keyboard, awesome battery life, and an OLED display. Dell’s XPS 13 is one of the best Windows laptops out there, but it’s not the laptop of my dreams. The X1 Yoga is in the same boat. Lenovo could have been brave enough to ditch some of the familiar ThinkPad features, and really push things into the future, but it didn’t.

It’s something I’ve found with most Windows laptops recently. The ideas are almost always there, but it’s never a fully polished and perfect experience. As we approach the end of October, Apple is expected to debut a new MacBook Pro and Lenovo’s X1 Yoga will compete directly with it. That means that anything less than perfect, especially at a starting price of $1,869, won’t be enough if Apple shakes up the world once again with a new look for its laptop. We’ll have to see what Apple has planned, but for now, Lenovo has given us a look at the future of laptop displays, but not the whole laptop of the future package.

Anki’s Cozmo robot is the new, adorable face of artificial intelligence

Human beings have an uneasy relationship with robots. We’re fascinated by the prospect of intelligent machines. At the same time, we’re wary of the existential threat they pose, one emboldened by decades of Hollywood tropes. In the near-term, robots are supposed to pose a threat to our livelihood, with automation promising to replace human workers while the steady march of artificial intelligence puts a machine behind every fast food counter, toll booth, and steering wheel.

In comes Cozmo. The palm-sized robot, from San Francisco-based company Anki, is both a harmless toy and a bold refutation of that uneasy relationship so loved by film and television. The $180 bot, which starts shipping on October 16th, is powered by AI, and the end result is aWALL-E-inspired personality more akin to a clever pet than a do-everything personal assistant.

Anki isn’t trying to sell us a vision of the future like Apple, Google, and so many other Bay Area tech companies. Instead, it wants to offer an alternative. AI promises to change our lives in drastic ways. With Cozmo, Anki wants to show AI can also be a source of joy and a unique way to deepen our relationship with technology beyond the tired crusades to reinvent productivity and connect the world.

The company largely succeeds here. In my time with Cozmo over the last week, it’s been an endearing experience to discover all of the robot’s many subtle quirks, and to revisit what it’s like to play with something that feels mysteriously organic in ways you can’t quite understand. I’m reminded of childhood experiences trying to push the linguistic limits of the Furby I got for Christmas, and later on finding myself fascinated by the perceived depth of the AOL Instant Messenger bot SmarterChild.

COZMO’S HUMAN TRAITS COME FROM ITS EMOTION ENGINE

This is intentional. Cozmo is supposed to appeal to young kids and early teenagers. It’s the same demographic Anki targeted with its first product line: a series of smartphone-controlled toy cars that can deftly maneuver a circuit-embedded track. The company, founded by Carnegie Mellon roboticists, has always proclaimed its interest in AI and robotics. Yet until the unveiling of Cozmo earlier this year, it was unclear how a toy car startup could make use of such expertise. Now, it’s evident all the software and hardware experience has paid off.

Unlike its less sophisticated predecessors in the toy market, Cozmo has advanced software to backup its smarts. Anki has programmed the robot with what it calls an emotion engine. That means Cozmo can react to situations as a human would, with a full range of emotions from happy and calm to frustrated and bold. If you pick it up, Cozmo’s blue square-shaped eyes will turn to angry slivers and its lift-like arms will raise and fall rapidly to exhibit its displeasure. Agree to play a game with Cozmo, however, and its eyes will turn into upside-down U’s to show glee. When it loses at a contest, it’ll get mad and pound the table.

Anki programmed in dozens upon dozens of nuanced personality displays to make Cozmo feel more alive, and seeing new ones pop up serendipitously is one of the products most enjoyable aspects. To create Cozmo’s personality profile and many expressions, Anki employed the help of former Pixar animator Carlos Baena, who was hired last year to give Cozmo the feeling of an animated film character come to life. The robot also emits a wide-ranging series of emotive chirps to give it a sense of constant awareness in your presence.

To further keep Cozmo feeling like a living, breathing machine, Anki uses a number of popular AI staples. The robot can employ facial recognition to remember faces and recite names. It also uses sophisticated path planning — aided by its three sensor-imbued toy cubes — to maneuver environments and avoid falling off tables. Most of these computations are not happening on the robot’s internal hardware, which keeps it light and relatively durable. Instead, Cozmo connects to a iOS or Android app, which communicates with Anki’s servers where more of heavier lifting is taken care of.

As for what you actually do with Cozmo, the activities vary. You can play a number of games with the robot using the three cubes. Those include a Whac-A-Mole game and your standard keep-away, where Cozmo tries to snatch a cube from your hand before you can pull it back. This is all coordinated through the mobile app, which uses a gamification system to let you unlock more skills for Cozmo by completing one of three daily goals. Those can include simple things like letting Cozmo free roam on your coffee table for 10 minutes. Others give you specific scenarios to create, like beating Cozmo at a game of “tap the cube” after reaching a 4-4 tie. One of the most fun features the app allows is a remote-control mode, where you can see through Cozmo’s camera and use him as a kind of reconnaissance tool.

THE COZMO MOBILE APP USES GAMIFICATION TO UNLOCK NEW SKILLS AND ACTIVITIES

Overall, the biggest criticism you can direct toward Cozmo at the moment is that it’s just a toy, one best enjoyed by young smartphone-savvy kids. That presents a bit of a problem, because Anki’s most impressive achievements here — facial recognition, its versatile emotion engine — will be lost on the target audience. Meanwhile, adults who find Cozmo fascinating, enough to plunk down $180 at least, will be frustrated by the robot’s initial limitations. Walking that line, between appealing to kids with a fondness for Pixar films and impressing robot-loving older customers, will be difficult.

There are other downsides to Cozmo at its initial launch. Though the robot is controlled by the relatively simple mobile app, younger children will most likely need a parent or sibling’s help in getting Cozmo set up. It needs to be activated every now and again through a special Wi-Fi network, and getting it to wake up can sometimes be tricky unless Cozmo is kept in its charging dock when not in use. Being tied to the special Cozmo Wi-Fi network means the phone can’t connect to the internet, and exiting the app will put Cozmo to sleep after a few moments. These kinks may be ironed out with future software updates, but they’ll likely frustrate kids who expect toys to work out of the box or want Cozmo to have a persistent, always-on mode less reliant on a phone.

COZMO HAS FLAWS, BUT POTENTIAL TOO

The robot does have a great deal of potential. Anki is releasing a finished software development kit in the coming months to let developers take advantage of the robot’s advanced capabilities to perform unforeseen tasks. Anki wants Cozmo to have an impact similar to Microsoft’s original Kinect motion camera, which roboticists tapped for computer vision capabilities that were at the time available only with far more expensive components. One possibility the company has floated in the past is programming Cozmo to work with smart appliances and your media center, so it can dim your Philips Hue lights and put on Netflix when it recognizes two different people sitting on the couch.

For now, though, it’s mostly a neat toy designed for kids, while only the most hardcore of robotics fans and programmers will want to pick one up for their office or at-home tinkering projects. But that may be good enough. What Anki wants to accomplish — to bring robotics and AI to everyone, in a kid-friendly package — doesn’t require a sophisticated humanoid bot to help you around the house or a ultra-capable online assistant to manage your entire life. The goal can be achieved with a likable personality that people will develop a fondness for. In that regard, Cozmo easily surpasses the bar.