Lenovo Yoga 9i 14in (Shadow Black) review: Betrayed by its own ambitions

The excellent 4K display and bass-boosting soundbar lift this convertible from the crowd, but it has flaws

Price
£1,416 exc VAT
  • Outstanding display
  • Capable performance
  • Clever design
  • Frustrating trackpad

Lenovo has a bit of a spotty record when it comes to laptops. Its ThinkPad range is rightly lauded as a peerless powerhouse of portable productivity, but its other clamshells and convertibles can be hit-and-miss, such as the underwhelming ThinkPad T14s.

This hybrid device aims for the sweet spot between performance and portability, and tops it off with a high-quality 4K display, but while there's a lot to take note of here, the Yoga 9i is marred by some questionable design choices. 

Lenovo Yoga 9i 14in (Shadow Black) review: Design

Firstly, this convertible isn't exactly petite, especially when compared to the likes of the Asus ZenBook Flip S UX371. In part due to the Yoga 9i's larger 14in screen, it looks and feels portly by comparison: vital stats of 318 x 211 x 16.4mm (WDH) and 1.35kg mean it's not comfortable in one hand for a prolonged time.

It's also plain. This even applies to the special edition "Shadow Black" version here, which includes a leather cover on the lid. This adds visual interest but feels like plastic – not the intended effect. The screen bezels could be slimmer too: 5mm at the side is great, 8mm at the top is okay, but 13mm at the bottom is simply archaic. 

Lenovo Yoga 9i 14in (Shadow Black) review: Display

The 14in 3,840 x 2,160 IPS touchscreen display, however, ticks all the right technical boxes: a 489cd/m2 maximum brightness, 99% sRGB coverage, 1,574:1 contrast ratio and an average Delta E of 0.33 are all suitably strong for a premium laptop. It may not have the pop of the ZenBook UX371's OLED panel, but it supports Dolby Vision to ensure HDR-compatible programmes look their best.

It's also perfectly capable of handling applications where visual accuracy is paramount, such as creative or graphic design tasks. A 4K resolution is often overkill (and can have negative implications for the battery life) but the fidelity of this screen can't be quibbled with.

Lenovo Yoga 9i 14in (Shadow Black) review: Keyboard and trackpad

This being a Lenovo, it's also no surprise that the keyboard has a precise, firm action, but if you're used to ThinkPads you'll miss their keys' deeper travel. But what everyone will miss, if they buy the Shadow Black model, is a normal trackpad. The entire width of the Yoga 9i's palmrest is made from a single piece of tempered glass, which means you can't feel the boundaries of either the trackpad or the fingerprint scanner and, thanks to both being marked by a shiny black line against a matte black background, you can't see where they are unless the light is reflecting off the palmrest just so. 

Even once you've found the trackpad, you may not like the click action. It's haptic – like the Force Touch pad on modern MacBooks – but gives a vague, unnatural-feeling buzz when pressed. Perhaps familiarity will eventually soften our negative opinion, but we'd rather have a boring touchpad that just works. Luckily, you can have this if you don't buy the Shadow Black version. 

Lenovo Yoga 9i 14in (Shadow Black) review: Specs and performance

This £1,700 Shadow Black model adds not only the leather cover and dubious touchpad but also a 1TB SSD, so it's a shame Lenovo sent our sample with a 512GB SSD. It's a WD SN730 unit that returned strong read and write speeds of 2,785MB/sec and 1,464MB/sec respectively, and we'd expect a smidgen faster results from the 1TB version.

An Intel Core i7-1185G7 quad-core processor runs the show, with the help of 16GB of soldered LPDDR4x 4,266MHz RAM. This powerful combination meant the Yoga 9i just shades the impressive Razer Book 13 in our benchmarks, with 132 versus 124, meaning it'll crunch through basically any office workloads with relative ease.

Squeezing powerful chipsets into thin laptops can cause problems with heat management, but the dual fans in the Yoga 9i do a sterling job of keeping things cool, even if they're loud at full speed. As for battery life, the 60Wh battery inside lasted 11hrs 35mins in our video-rundown test, which is excellent considering the 4K display. It also compares well to the 9hrs 8mins offered by the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1.

Lenovo Yoga 9i 14in (Shadow Black) review: Ports and features

One advantage the Yoga 9i holds over other convertibles is that its bundled Lenovo Active Pen is garaged in a slot at the rear behind the power button. The slot is unobtrusive and secure, while the stylus itself supports 4,096 pressure levels and, according to Lenovo, a 15-minute charge will keep it powered for 90 minutes. We found the pen capable but slender, making it harder to hold than thicker pens. 

In a further masterstroke of design, Lenovo has cleverly built the speaker array into the lid hinge so it faces towards you in laptop mode and points up when in "tent" or tablet mode. Lenovo calls this speaker assembly a "Rotating Soundbar", and it's not pure hyperbole because, unlike so many laptops, the Yoga 9i packs plenty of bass and pushes up to respectable volumes. That's handy for video calls, and for once the (non-Windows Hello) 720p webcam here shoots decent video; note the privacy shutter, too. 

Rounding things out are a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports, a USB 3.1 Gen 2 port, Bluetooth 5.1 and Wi-Fi 6 compatibility. There's no HDMI output, but that's becoming less of a priority thanks to the ubiquity of USB-C.

Lenovo Yoga 9i 14in (Shadow Black) review: Verdict

There's a lot to like about this laptop, then, but it's not without its problems. The trackpad is an attempt at innovation that ends up holding the Yoga 9i back, and you'd be well advised to pick up one of the configurations with a more traditional version.

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You'll save money too. The updated Yoga 9i 14in range, which features 11th-generation Intel silicon, starts at £1,099 for the Core i5 model with 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and a Full HD display. If you want a Core i7 then prices start at £1,469, but this includes a stingy 256GB SSD. The £1,549 model makes much more sense, with a 512GB SSD, 16GB of RAM and a 4K panel.

As a result, this laptop only narrowly falls short of an award; we found the trackpad and fingerprint scanner just too irksome. Its strongest argument when placed against its rivals boils down to the excellent combination of speaker and screen, but that's not enough to compensate for its weaknesses.

Lenovo Yoga 9i 14in (Shadow Black) specifications

Processor

Four-core 3GHzIntel Core i7-1185G7 processor 

RAM

16GB LPDD4RX RAM (4,266MHz)

Graphics adapter

Intel Iris Xe graphics

Storage

1TB M.2 PCIe SSD 

Screen size (in)

14in

Screen resolution

3,840 x 2,060

Screen type

IPS

Touchscreen

Yes

Memory card slot

N/A

3.5mm audio jack

Combo

Graphics outputs

2 x Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C)

Other ports

USB-A 3.1 Gen 2

Web Cam

720p

Wi-Fi

2x2 Wi-Fi 6

Bluetooth

Bluetooth 5.1 

NFC

N/A

Dimensions, mm (WDH)

318 x 211 x 16.4mm

Weight (kg) - with keyboard where applicable

1.35kg  

Battery size (Wh)

60Wh battery

Operating system

Windows 10 Home

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