The half-E Ink Lenovo Yoga Book C930 may be the most unusual laptop of the year

There are a lot of perfectly fine, highly portable, premium laptops to choose from, but let’s face it: at the end of the day, they’re more alike than different. The Dell XPS 13, Acer Swift 7 ($886 at Amazon), HP Spectre or MacBook Air ($900 at Walmart) all have a clamshell hinge the connects a color LCD display to a physical keyboard and touchpad. Some have touchscreens, some have different ports or LTE antennas, but when was the last time you saw a portable PC that was really fundamentally different?

The Yoga Book C930 from Lenovo is certainly different. Whether those differences are for the better is up for debate. But it’s hard not to like a laptop that so gleefully takes industry conventions and tosses them right out the window. What makes the Yoga Book ($269 at Amazon Marketplace) stand out is that it combines one LCD touchscreen with a second E Ink touchscreen, sharing a 360-degree hinge between them. The single available configuration is $999. International price and availability isn’t available yet, but that works out to £770 or AU$1,400. 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Lenovo Yoga Book C930

Price as reviewed $999
Display size/resolution 10.8-inch 2,560×1,600 touch display
CPU 1.2GHz Intel Core i5-7Y54
Memory 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz
Graphics 128MB Intel HD Graphics 615
Storage 128GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.2
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

On-screen, on-demand keyboard

How does one type on such an unusual device? The E Ink display is considered the lower half of the clamshell. There, a monochrome on-screen keyboard appears on demand, complete with a touchpad. An options menu offers a couple of different keyboard layouts and levels of both fake keyboard clacking sounds and haptic feedback (but it’s very generalized buzzing, not specific to the key you’re pretend-pressing).

The keyboard choices are a standard design with a full-time touchpad zone, and a version with larger keys plus a touchpad that only pops up when summoned. That larger version certainly makes for a better typing experience, or at least it’s more forgiving considering the lack of tactile feedback. 

Lenovo says software behind the keyboard app will adjust to your haphazard typing on the totally flat keys. But my biggest issue was that I could never get quite used to calling up and dismissing the touch pad. It led to too many instances of tapping the space bar when was trying to click a button, or else fumbling around when my finger went to where my brain expected the touchpad to be (hitting any letter on the keyboard sends the touchpad away and brings back the space bar).

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Actual typing, including most of this review, was surprisingly better than I expected. I’m no expert typist, but I move into a new laptop at least once a week, so I’m pretty good at acclimating to new keyboards. It helps that the keys are generally in the right place with good spacing. But, you also have to keep an eye on the keyboard while you type.

The touchpad is tougher to use. It’s way too easy to let your finger slide off the touchpad outline onto the keys, and the auto-hiding version of the touchpad feels like it’s never there when you need it, but always there when you don’t.

Windows 10 ($99 at Amazon) is still much easier to use with a keyboard and touchpad than with touchscreen controls, so not having a great keyboard/touchpad experience is a mark against this otherwise  very clever PC.

Second chances

The idea of a laptop with an onscreen keyboard is rare, but it isn’t new. In fact, this is the second generation of the Yoga Book line. The 2016 original (available in both Windows and Android versions) had two LCD displays, one as a primary screen, the other as either an on-screen keyboard, drawing tablet or secondary screen. The typing experience was subpar, but the idea of being able to use either screen for any app or browser window was great. It was also held back by a sluggish Intel Atom processor. True old-timers will remember the similar Acer Iconia, also with twin LCDs, which I reviewed back in 2011.

Because this new version swaps the bottom LCD for E Ink, it gets some of the battery and readability benefits of E Ink. Flip the screen around to “tablet” mode, and one can use only the E Ink display, which any Kindle owner will tell you is a real battery saver. But with the LCD running streaming video, battery life ran only around six hours, which is poor for a superthin, superportable laptop that’s supposed to travel with you.

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