Lenovo Yoga Book 9i hands-on: the dual-screen future

I will admit that I was skeptical when I first saw pictures of Lenovo’s new dual-screen Yoga Book 9i. I’ve tried foldables and dual-screens aplenty, and while many are usable, many also have serious limitations. But this is the first dual-screen laptop I’ve ever tried that I could see myself actually buying. And that’s because Lenovo has clearly done the software engineering necessary to make sure it can address many of the somewhat… obvious concerns that shoppers might have with such a device.

This butterfly flaps its wings when you open and close the laptop, by the way.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

The first objection is an obvious one: there’s no visible touchpad on the Yoga Book i9. That’s what first jumped out at me when Lenovo announced the device, which is a laptop-sized spiritual successor to Microsoft’s Surface Neo — essentially two 13.3-inch, 16:10, 2.8K OLED screens stacked on top of each other with a hinge in the middle and a detachable keyboard. “How on earth will one navigate this?” I wondered as I watched the keynote.

It turns out there are a bunch of ways, and they all seem to work. First, you can touch the screen. Second, you can use the stylus (which lives very sturdily in a sleeve on the back of the device). And third, in Lenovo’s software settings, you can pull up a virtual touchpad right onto the screen. This touchpad has haptic buttons that, with their physical feedback, actually feel decently similar to real buttons. You can resize this touchpad. You can move it around. The world is your oyster. It felt odd at first to be touchpad-ing on a screen, but it’s something I imagine you’d get used to.

The stylus on the back of the Lenovo Yoga Book 9i kickstand.

That’s where the stylus is.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

You can also fold this device at 90 degrees and use it like a regular 13-inch laptop. This is a feature of single-screen foldable devices as well, but the deal with those is that it usually makes the screen you’re working with much smaller (since you’re taking a screen you’d previously been using horizontally and halving it lengthwise).

Folding the Yoga Book into clamshell mode obviously decreases your available screens from two to one, but the size change does not feel nearly as drastic as it does when you fold, say, Asus’s Zenbook 17 Fold in half. You’re still looking at one standard-sized 13.3-inch laptop screen with the same aspect ratio as it had before. (The bottom half, where the keyboard attaches, is also not particularly cramped, another frequent issue with foldables.)

Anyway, when you fold the Yoga Book 9i into clamshell mode, a virtual keyboard and touchpad automatically pop up in the places you’d expect them to be. This touchpad is also haptic, and while I generally hate using onscreen keyboards, this one is probably the most clicky and comfortable one I’ve ever used. You can also place the physical keyboard right on top of the virtual one, with the touchpad remaining in the same place if you do so.

These all seem like very workable solutions to the problem of the missing touchpad. OEMs have struggled with the question of where to put touchpads on dual-screen laptops since time immemorial, and we’ve seen a number of front-mounted keyboards and teensy, crappy touchpads in the space. In previous reviews of Asus’s dual-screen models, I’ve suggested that their trackpads were so terrible that Asus would be better served ditching them all together. Lenovo has taken that leap, and, frankly, I respect it.

The Lenovo Yoga Book 9i folded into laptop mode with the keyboard attached.

That’s the touchpad, right below the keyboard.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

The Yoga Book doesn’t use a special version of Windows 11 (RIP Windows 10X), but with all the various gestures Lenovo has added to optimize interactions for the dual-screen form factor, it feels like it could be. There are many ways to move your windows and applications around, and it all takes approximately four seconds to master.

My favorite is the flick. Press and hold on any app or browser tab, then flick it, and it flies to the other screen. There’s also a snap layout feature customized for this device, which will probably be much more useful to many people in the Yoga Book’s form factor than it is on standard Windows laptops.

A five finger tap on your tab or window also expands it to fill both screens, in the aptly-named “waterfall mode”. I can see this being fun to use, though having a giant hinge in the middle of your waterfall hinders the aesthetic somewhat. If you’re using the laptop in clamshell mode, tugging the keyboard down with eight fingers pulls up a little control panel with quick access to weather forecasts, CPU usage and performance statistics, Outlook, and other applications. (This, though, gets rid of the touchpad that’s down there, so it’s more of a quick-reference thing than something you’d want to leave open — unless you have a mouse plugged in.)

The Lenovo Yoga Book 9i in horizontal mode with the keyboard attached.

Here’s what it looks like when you put it sideways — a bit like a book.
Photo by Monica Chin / The Verge

I’m sure there are a thousand more cool things that Lenovo has built in here. (Lenovo’s representatives were eager to show us more tricks, but our time slot was limited.) I’m also sure I haven’t figured out every possible position in which you could use this device, and that purchasing this would require some exploration at the start.

I have specifically gotten a lot of questions about horizontal mode, and whether you can use the two screens side by side. The answer is that yes, you can, but it’s a little bit odd. As you can see from the picture above, the screens are tall and thin when placed this way, and the result looks a bit more like a storybook than a work setup. It is something you could do, but it might require some getting used to (and, at times, creative resizing).

Another question I heard a lot of: does the Yoga Book wobble? The answer is: yes. If you’re tapping the screen and the laptop is fully vertical, the top screen is a bit wobbly. I don’t see this as a huge problem, however, because I imagine I’d want to do most of my navigation on the non-wobbly bottom screen, which would be closer to me and more comfortable to reach.

And finally: How powerful is the thing, and can you edit video on it? The processor inside is a 13th-Gen Intel Core i7 U-series chip, and you know what, that’s not terrible. It’s designed for thin and light devices, so you won’t have an incredible editing experience, but you could probably complete a project on it if you were out and about.

It is true, though, that whether this device ultimately succeeds will depend on Lenovo’s ability to create an excellent software experience. The company didn’t quite succeed there with the ThinkPad X1 Fold, which was fairly glitchy to use. The Yoga Book 9i feels better, though my test time was limited. I didn’t have any problems with navigating the internet or jumping around in tabs during my brief time with the device; and though there have been reports of the device blue-screening during other folks’ testing, I didn’t experience that myself. I’ll have many more impressions when I get my hands on a final unit.

But my main impression is that I think someone may finally have figured out the right way to do a dual-screen device. This is a really neat idea. It’s managed to combine the portability benefits of foldables with the fun versatility of dual-screens without many downsides that I can see. Though you need to be okay with a hinge in the middle of your workspace — and with coughing up at least $2,000, which is just the starting price.

Originally appeared on: TheSpuzz