The Lenovo Yoga C630: A Snapdragon 850 Powered 2-In-1 Laptop Convertible
On paper, the Lenovo Yoga C630 WOS (Windows on Snapdragon) laptop doesn't seem to stand out much, save for perhaps the somewhat unique system processor under its hood. Regardless, as an affordable, always-on, always-connected convertible PC with middle-of-the-road specs and benchmark scores (more on this later), you might be forgiven for thinking that there's little reason for this machine to be remarkable in any significant way. And yet, the Lenovo Yoga C630 is impressive indeed.
This machine is always connected (with a mobile data plan), it boots up (and shuts down) almost instantly, it breezes through typical office tasks, streams YouTube and Netflix videos with nary a stutter (on both Wi-Fi and via any decent LTE connection), and will literally run all day long on a single charge. It'll even handle relatively simple games, and has no trouble at all with Windows Store apps, though there are a few software caveats we'll step through later. For the money ($899 on Lenovo's site, though it should soon be returning to Best Buy's site, priced at $799 without activation and $699 with), the Lenovo Yoga C630 has the makings of a competitive offering, even though you can find a number of Intel-based machines with similar specs and price points. However, as you'll note on the pages ahead, this always-connected machine with its killer battery life is a different sort of animal.
In terms of base features, the Yoga C630's integrated fingerprint reader is a common feature that has become standard issue these days on Windows machines, but the C630's complete silence is rarer; there are a sum total of zero fans on board this slice of mobile technology. To round things off, its stereo speakers fire upward and the C630's 720p webcam is at the top of the display in a thin bezel, as the computer gods intended. As opposed to, you know, sending sound uselessly off beneath the machine, and/or having a webcam that peers up at one's nose hairs.
Of course, the Yoga C630 is not perfect for every use case. The C630 -- in fact, all WOS systems -- currently fall a bit short in two primary areas: performance and software compatibility. The computer is, after all, running what amounts to a souped-up mobile processor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 with integrated Adreno 630 graphics. This, like many things in life, has its pros and cons.
While the Snapdragon 850 is quite an improvement over its predecessor, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, we're still talking about a machine that will be running many of its apps in emulation mode and on a processor that doesn't offer the horsepower of Intel's latest mobile processors. To be clear though, Microsoft's Windows on ARM initiative allows the Windows 10 OS to run natively on this machine, as well as many of the built-in Windows apps. And do you really need that much power? All the time? Or is battery life and better connectivity just as important?
So, how about a more reasonable comparison? We recently reviewed another always-connected laptop, HP's Envy X2. It's a fine machine, running an Intel Core i5 Y-series processor at 1.6GHz. We gave the machine relatively high marks, and the Envy X2 ran everything we threw at it at the time. However, it's also about $400 more than the Lenovo Yoga C630, though it's the proper class of machine to compare it to.
One can get by on limited power if your needs are modest, but by far the biggest potential hurdle with this and other WoS systems is its initial lack of software compatibility, though frankly this should improve over time.
Regardless, in spite of our reservations about the system's ability to natively run 3rd party software without emulation, it does well with many standard Windows applications, including Office apps and popular media programs, such as Audacity, Photoshop Elements, and VLC. If you were thinking that the Snapdragon 850, being the newest iteration of Qualcomm's Snapdragon processor, would run full-blown 64-bit Win10 apps without any problem, that's a different picture. At least, not always. The SD 850 does quite well with many standard apps but sometimes flails away at 64-bit programs, occasionally refusing to run (or even install) them. It is, after all, running an emulator; it's not going to get everything right, even when it makes a valiant attempt to run your native Win10 app. This is the problem we encountered with several Win10 benchmark apps; most wouldn't run at all, some ran but generated erratic (or null) results. In short, the more low-level system calls your application makes, the more likely you'll run into problems.
Many Windows applications run fine out-of-the-box (which is to say, downloaded from the Windows Store), others (such as Chrome) will run fine in emulation mode. However, the Windows on ARM ecosystem is still developing, so don't assume that a particular piece of Windows software will work on the C630 without checking first. If it's a must-have app, confirm that it'll run before you consider a purchase.
Still, we ran a large selection of apps with no problem at all, including Photoshop Elements, Microsoft Office, Google Earth Pro (in DirectX mode), the Windows Kindle app, Spotify, Slack, and Skype. Media enthusiasts will be happy to know that we had no trouble with VLC or Audacity, and browser-based CAD/CAM apps, including SketchUp and 3D Slash, seemed to work with no trouble. Premiere Elements, on the other hand, failed to install, let alone run. By and large, we had few problems, and all of the basics seemed to work just fine, which is more than could be said a few years ago when Qualcomm and Microsoft launched the always-on/always-connected PC initiative. On the other hand, if you're a Windows-based desktop coder looking for a cheap portable system, keep looking; Visual Studio installed but ran erratically, with the IDE and compiler locking up repeatedly.
Next, let's take a look at some specifics about the Lenovo Yoga C630, beginning with its design, setup, and usability.