It’s hard to explain just what the Yoga Book C930 is. It’s a laptop, but half of it has an E-Ink display in place of a physical keyboard with haptic feedback when you type. But “laptop” doesn’t quite fit because this is a very thin, small device that’s more akin to a folio than a full computer.
But it’s a full computer, too: it’s a Windows 10 device with 7th-Gen Intel processors that should be able to keep up with light computing needs. It has a 360 “watch band” hinge that allows you to flip it all the way around into a tablet mode, so it’s also a tablet. You can use it like any Windows tablet with support for a pen. You can jot notes on the E-Ink side or read and mark up PDF documents.
Once you get all the different things the Yoga Book C930 is trying to do, you can’t help but be intrigued. It’s a svelte, elegant device that seems like it belongs in a gauzy tech concept video — only it’s actually going on sale this October, starting at $999.99. We’re still awaiting pricing information for the upgraded model with a faster processor, as well as pricing and a release date for a model that will integrate LTE.
But before you get too excited, there are some hard realities to contend with. This isn’t the first go-round Lenovo has had with this form-factor. Last year’s Yoga Book had many of the same ideas, but its execution was lacking. Instead of an E-Ink deck, it had a weird pressure-sensitive thing you were supposed to put a pad of paper on. It had an atrociously outdated processor and was available in both Windows and Android variants.
Lenovo is fixing a bunch of those problems this year. The big improvements are the improved processor, a couple of USB-C ports, a fingerprint sensor, and, of course, that E-Ink display. Essentially, Lenovo decided to focus on making the Yoga Book a high-end Windows 10 tablet device instead of the weird mix of midrange Android and Windows models it had last year. (It was even considering Chrome OS.) But that doesn’t mean the new Yoga Book is fixing all of them or that it won’t introduce some new compromises.
Here’s a simple example: typing on a screen — even with haptic feedback — is still not as ergonomic as typing on a physical keyboard. But if you can get beyond that, you’ll find Lenovo has done some interesting work. The keyboard is expanded out to fill the entire 10.8-inch E-Ink screen with a little oval at the bottom. Tap that, and it expands out over a portion of the keyboard to become a larger trackpad; tap outside it, and it goes back into keyboard mode. That’s in addition to easy wins that a touchscreen makes possible, like offering keyboards in multiple languages. Sadly, there’s no emoji-specific keyboard option available. Lenovo just hates fun, I guess.
If you use the pen, you can do some other neat tricks with the E-Ink screen. Doodles and drawings can be copied and pasted directly into any Windows app. You can also use optical character recognition to translate your handwritten notes into straight text.
But for all those neat tricks, there are potential downsides. The display can’t show any arbitrary app, unfortunately. You can read and mark up PDFs with it, but that’s pretty much the extent of what you can put on the display. An e-reader this is not. Switching between modes on the E-Ink display took a few seconds on the prototypes Lenovo showed, but it’s possible that could be sped up on the final shipping product.
Simply as a piece of hardware, and especially as a concept, the Lenovo Yoga Book C930 feels futuristic. Lenovo added a clever knock-knock feature: rap twice on the lid when it’s closed, and it will pop open. Is it necessary? Nope. Is it neat? Sort of!
But whether the execution can live up to the ideas is another question entirely. The prototypes I saw were elegantly designed but had weird preproduction hardware quirks: some were too hard to open, had off-kilter vibrations, or experienced noticeable delays when copying E-Ink scribbles into Windows. The burden of proof is on Lenovo to show that those issues won’t appear in the final product. And starting at a thousand bucks, the execution had better be pretty great because that’s more expensive than a decked-out Surface Go.