There’s something reassuring about a ThinkPad. In some ways, little has changed for decades: the staunchly unfashionable design and retro logos hark back to the devices of IBM days, and even the name has its origins in the IBM of the 1920s – it was born from the company’s early slogan, “Think”. Now, in 2016, the ThinkPad Yoga 260 marries that past with the technological cutting-edge.
Following in the footsteps of HP’s rather lovely EliteBook Folio 1020, the ThinkPad Yoga 260 delivers its compact business thrills in a 12.5in-screen package. That in itself gives it a slight edge over the myriad 13.3in devices on the market. It’s just that tiny bit smaller and easier to wield in one hand, even if it’s no lighter than most, weighing an unremarkable 1.33kg. It is a certified hard nut, though. While there’s a little flex in the Yoga 260’s body, the MIL-STD-810G certification suggests this is a device that will bounce more often than it breaks.
The ThinkPad Yoga 260 boasts a now-familiar party trick. Its flexible hinge allows it to contort itself from a standard laptop and pirouette through tent, stand and tablet modes. Where the 260 deviates from the usual Yoga formula, however, is that it also squeezes in a powered stylus that slots into its right-hand edge. Neatly, the stylus charges its internal battery while it’s slotted home and, in a further sleight of hand, the keyboard’s keys automatically recede as you fold the screen back past the halfway mark, which neatly avoids that weird feeling of pressing keys when the device is used in tablet mode.
It’s business as usual elsewhere. While you’d reasonably expect some compromises, given the Yoga 260’s size, Lenovo has done a great job of cramming in all the connectivity and security options you’d expect from a device destined for the office.
The presence of two USB 3 ports, HDMI, mini-DisplayPort, and a microSD slot isn’t especially remarkable, but the proprietary OneLink+ port is. An adapter in the box uses it to add Ethernet and a VGA output, but it’s also possible to hook up one of Lenovo’s docking stations, which add up to six more USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet, extra DisplayPort and DVI video outputs, as well as charging the internal battery.
Wireless networking is well catered for, with the choice of a Broadcom or an Intel 802.11ac chipset (the latter of which comes in both standard and vPro flavours), and you get Bluetooth 4.1 and support for NFC regardless.
Curiously, although there’s a SIM slot, our review unit wasn’t equipped with a 4G adapter, and there was no sign of it being an optional extra on Lenovo’s website. I chased Lenovo for an answer to this puzzle, and it claims that 4G-enabled versions of the Yoga 260 are coming in March 2016.
Last but not least, security options are on the money. A fingerprint reader and TPM 2 are equipped as standard, and you can also add a full-sized smart card reader. So far, so very good.
Inside, the Yoga 260 blends the usual high-end concoction of Skylake CPUs, DDR4 RAM and M.2 SSDs. Buy the $1,699 entry-level model and you’ll get a Core i3-6100U with a 192GB SSD. Bump your budget up to $1,799 for a Core i5 with a 256GB drive, and the range-topping $2,899 model is equipped with a Core i7 and 512GB of speedy storage. All the models are highly configurable, though, and it’s worth noting the various upgrade prices are very reasonable. For instance, going from 8GB to 16GB of RAM costs only $205.
Lenovo sent us a Core i7 model with a 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM, which costs $2399. The only disappointment is that our Yoga 260 was equipped with a standard SATA M.2 SSD – the model I saw last year at IFA had a super-quick NVMe SSD. With sequential read speeds of around 450MB/s, the Lite-On drive is around half the speed of its NVMe cousins.
I had hoped upgrading to the 512GB drive on Lenovo’s website would yield an NVMe drive, but no. Lenovo says “certain”models will come with NVMe but I couldn’t find any when searching online retailers. If you’re ordering in bulk, though, try asking for NVMe SSDs as part of your specification.
Minor qualms aside, the Yoga 260 is more than capable of hammering its way through most multitasking tasks. In fact, it nudged ever so slightly ahead of the Dell XPS 13 (which did have an NVMe SSD) in our benchmarks, scoring 47 to the Dell’s 46. Subjectively, it doesn’t feel quite as quick due to the slower SSD, but apart from a slightly longer boot from cold, it’s not going to have a huge performance impact.
Lenovo claims up to ten hours of battery life, which seems a tad optimistic. In our video-rundown test it lasted a respectable 5hrs 59mins, but bear in mind that our battery tests have the screen calibrated to a rather bright 170cd/m². That’s far brighter than you’d need under most office lighting conditions, so depending on your usage and settings you can expect somewhere between six and nine hours of life.
Display and touchscreen
While the cheapest Yoga 260 slums it with a 1,366 x 768 touchscreen, the pricier models come with a 1,920 x 1,080 IPS panel. And, in a move that will doubtless please many business customers, Lenovo has opted for a matte anti-glare finish, so overhead lights cause no annoying reflections at all. The downside is that images look a touch grainy.
Coming after the luscious
high-DPI screen on the Dell XPS 13, the Yoga 260’s image quality is a tad lacking in other areas too. Colours aren’t anywhere near as saturated as most rivals at the price, and this is borne out in our display tests: the sRGB coverage of 61.8% is poor. Brightness hits a respectable 380cd/m², and a contrast ratio of 1,255:1 is similarly competent, but it’s a shame Lenovo couldn’t have squeezed a more vibrant palette out of the Yoga 260’s panel.
The Yoga 260 does make amends with its stylus support, and this is arguably more important to its target audience than vibrant photos. The ThinkPad Pen Pro trumps many of its rivals solely because it docks into the laptop itself (take that, Microsoft Surface Book), but it’s also technically sound, delivering 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity. I found that it wasn’t as comfy as Microsoft’s Surface Pen to use, purely because it’s thinner and shorter, but for the brief bursts of note-taking that styluses are routinely used for, it’s absolutely fine, providing smooth, sensitive inking action.
Keyboard and touchpad
The keyboard and touchpad are routinely the high point of ThinkPad devices and the Yoga 260 is no exception. The backlit keys have had to shrink a little to squeeze into the compact chassis, but the wide channels and slightly concave, matte key caps feel lovely to type on. This might be a small laptop, but there’s almost as much movement to each keystroke as on a full-sized desktop keyboard.
Fans of the ThinkPad touchpoint and touchpad combination will be happy to see them on show here. The buttonless touchpad may not be to everyone’s taste, but you can always reach upwards to use the touchpoint’s discrete buttons if it bothers you at all. I had no qualms with either, however. The touchpad presses down with a crisp click, and the touchpoint provides accurate, reliable cursor control.
The ThinkPad Yoga 260 tugs at my purse strings in a way that few other business laptops do. It’s a great size and weight for carrying around every day; it doesn’t compromise with a rubbish keyboard or touchpad; and the combination of the ingenious Yoga design, ThinkPad build quality and a decent stylus make for a fantastically versatile machine.
There’s only one major flaw with the Yoga 260 and that’s its display. The limited colour palette means it simply isn’t good enough for photo editing or design work, which may be a deal-breaker for some people. If that doesn’t bother you in the slightest, though, then break out the company credit card with confidence. The ThinkPad Yoga 260 is a tough, versatile and compact hybrid that’s worth every cent.