Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga: 6 month impressions

I’ve now had my Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga laptop for about 6 months, so I thought I’d provide a quick update about how it’s going to use this laptop every day with openSUSE Tumbleweed running KDE Plasma. Let’s explore what’s changed since then:

Keyboard

Initially, I complained about some aspects of the keyboard layout, but I’ve gotten used to the Home/End/PageUp/PageDown positioning, and the swapped position of the Fn and Ctrl keys. These are fine now. Lack of media keys is okay too since I’ve used the Shortcuts KCM to set my own. However I just can’t get used to the PrintScreen key being between the right Alt and Ctrl keys. I probably press it by accident 10 times a day and bring up Spectacle when I don’t mean to. One of these days I should get around to using xmodmap or something to turn it into a right Meta key, and they maybe make the F11 key which currently does nothing be the new PrintScreen key.

Speakers and audio

In my initial review, I had some complaints about the speakers and audio configuration. It turned out there there were issues both in the Kernel and PulseAudio that prevented the speakers from reaching their full potential, and all of those issues have been resolved now. The speakers sound awesome (for a laptop, of course). In addition, all the software issues in Plasma are fixed too. Everything audio-related is now perfect. I love listening to music on the machine. It sounds so good!

Camera

The camera’s lag has gone away due presumably to improvements in some layer of the software stack beneath KDE. The quality is still not fantastic, but that’s generally what you can say about any laptop webcam these days. It’s sufficient for Zoom and BigBlueButton meetings.

Power Management

Over the last 6 months, power management got worse and worse. Battery life continually declined and then eventually the battery started spontaneously reporting its charge percent as 0% while unplugged. At other times it would refuse to charge. This was a disaster for, well, actually using it as a laptop!

I called for warranty service and a technician replaced the battery recently. The issues immediately disappeared. I haven’t experienced any more buggy behavior, and the battery life has increased to about 6 hours with real use, which is probably acceptable given the fancy 4K screen. Hopefully there are more wins to be had through additional kernel optimizations in the future. I guess my original battery was just a lemon.

Finally!!!!

Screen/Graphics

I love the 4K screen! Everything is so sharp and crisp!

..a little bit too much so, perhaps.

4K turns out to be kind of overkill for a 14″ screen. Its resolution of 3840×2160 pixels effectively becomes 1920×1080 with 200% scaling, but the thing is, 1920×1080 makes everything rather too small on the screen. It would be ideally suited for a larger 15.6″ screen, but at 14″ and even 13.3″, you need to use fractional scaling or increase the font size to make things big enough to be legible. So that’s what I’m doing: I currently have the scale set to 200% and I use 11pt fonts, making everything approximately 10% larger with no blurriness since it doesn’t scale icons, lines, or pixmaps. It’s as if I had an effective resolution of 1745×981.

Lenovo offers this laptop with a 1440p screen option, but that’s not right either: its 2560×1440 resolution, when scaled to 200%, gives you only an effective resolution of 1280×720, which is much too low and everything on the screen becomes comically large! Well maybe not comically large, but too large for my tastes, at least. 🙂 All windows need to be maximized, and even then, they will feel starved for space. This might be an acceptable resolution for a 12-13″ screen, but not 14″.

I think the ideal high DPI resolution for a 14″ lies between 1440p and 4K; something like QHD+, which is 3200×1800. You’d have effectively 1600×900 with 200% scaling, which would be perfect. 4K should be saved for the 15.6″ screen laptops which will have room to fit an enormous 90+ Wh battery required to provide adequate endurance with such a power-hungry panel.

There’s one more problem with the 4K screen: it’s driven by an integrated Intel UHD 620 GPU which simply cannot push the pixels fast enough. I regularly experience dropped frames and choppiness in full-screen GPU-accelerated animations. Even worse, full-screen CPU-bound rendering (like YouTube videos in Firefox) will kick the CPU into overdrive and massacre the battery life. Gaming? forget about it.

The situation would be improved with either Intel’s 11th gen architecture or AMD’s Ryzen CPUs, both of which feature radically better integrated graphics capabilities. But I’m stuck with the old Intel UHD 620 which is pathetically underpowered for the hardware that’s being thrown at it. Oh well. Lesson learned.

On a happier note, the touchscreen now works out of the box due to distro patches for the problem I mentioned in the initial review. However I still haven’t managed to get the 10-bit color support working.

High DPI scaling

Every single scaling issue I found is now (or already was) working on Wayland!

On X11, all the major issues I ran into are fixed, but there are still a lot of minor rough edges. Many are virtually unfixable, sadly. Ultimately Wayland is the future, so it’s good that it’s been selected as an official KDE goal and is improving at warp speed right now!


Conclusions

I’m happy with this laptop now. It does what I need and it’s a pleasure to use. Here’s what’s great about it:

  • Build quality
  • Quality of input and output devices: keyboard, touchpad, screen, and speakers
  • Uses LVFS for firmware updates (and this actually works)
  • Two full-size USB ports and a full-size HDMI port
  • Rechargeable pen that lives and charges in its own little garage

What would make it perfect:

  • Move the dang PrintScreen key to somewhere on the top function row, and maybe put a second Meta key in its current location
  • AMD Ryzen 4800U CPU for faster software compilation times and better integrated graphics
  • QHD+ screen resolution instead of 4K, for diminished power consumption and perfect 200% scaling
  • Even larger battery capacity; 51 Wh is not very impressive in a 14″ screen laptop anymore
  • USB-C ports on both sides so you can charge it from the left or the right

26 thoughts on “Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga: 6 month impressions

  1. Based on your report I also bought this notebook. I am very satisfied in everything. The only annoying problem is the external screen, which I connected via USB. When it goes to sleep, it doesn’t wake up with mouse or keyboard. You have to switch it on again each time.

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  2. Oh man.. I feel this highDPI pain so much, and happy to hear Wayland fixes much of it. I’m on a Lemur Pro with a 1080 screen and have the same issues..

    Also feeling that pain with the 27” 4k monitor I have. At 200% everything is TOO BIG.. but at 100% it’s tiny. Makes me think we should rate monitors with physical DPI, or like resolution per inch..

    Anyway… cheers and wonderful work on all this. As an Linux hobbiest that is FINALLY ready to leave MacOS for good, these are great to hear!

    Cheers, Mike Kelly MemberVault CTO and Co-founder Get your FREE account now!

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  3. How is the stylus experience? Does it report its battery correctly? How much does it lag? How smooth is the pairing/connecting procedure, does the laptop pick it up instantly? Are the different pressure levels working correctly?
    What apps does it work with? Krita? Blender?
    How is the touchscreen experience, and the touchscreen and touchpad gestures?
    Does KDE have plans to properly support stylus functionality, or is that super low priority right now?

    I am glad that there is someone evaluating hardware from a KDE standpoint, and what hardware features work and what don’t, and after six months of using it, not just initially. Please consider making more hardware reviews in the future, I am sure many readers of this blog would appreciate it.

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    1. The stylus isn’t Bluetooth, so there’s no pairing or charge level reporting. Lag is pretty minimal. I don’t know about pressure levels as I don’t use it for art, sorry.

      Touchscreen experience is very good now. Plasma’s touch support is excellent, and a bunch of the core QWidgets-based KDE apps now have touch support, including Dophin, Gwenview, and Okular. Using it in tablet more for reading a document in Okular works very well. There’s no getting around the fact that in tablet mode it’s a huge 3 lb laptop, so it’s never going to be a very mobile tablet. But it does work.

      And I will definitely do more hardware reviews in the future!

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  4. > I just can’t get used to the PrintScreen key being between the right Alt and Ctrl keys. I probably press it by accident 10 times a day

    Had the same problem (I have a Thinkpad too), solved by simply rebinding Spectacle to CTRL+PrintScreen

    > full-screen CPU-bound rendering (like YouTube videos in Firefox) will kick the CPU into overdrive and massacre the battery life.

    Firefox has now VAAPI support, have a look at that! 😉

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    1. Firefox has now VAAPI support, have a look at that!

      I’m pretty sure I have everything turned on, yet I’m still seeing very very high CPU usage while playing YouTube videos.

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        1. `vainfo` seems to indicate that hardware acceleration is working. I have a feeling the problem is just that the graphics hardware is underpowered for a 4k screen, and the CPU needs to make up the difference.

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  5. Thanks for your feedback and your work! I’m glad that people like care to improve Plasma and the Linux desktop to be excellent. And it’s great to hear that you find a machine that works for you (mostly).

    It’s certainly nice to hear about things that Wayland handles better than X11; did you notice a difference of battery usage on Wayland?

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  6. I feel like it’s not fair to knock the screen for being too good because it’s the job of the operating system to make sure everything is displayed properly no matter the hardware (within limits, of course). Having a high DPI on any screen should only ever be a plus!

    As someone who uses KDE, GNOME and Windows 10 regularly (gaming…), KDE is still somewhat lagging behind Windows 10 and GNOME. Both, despite their other many shortcomings, do well with HiDPI and multi-monitor setups.

    I am wishing the devs and community good luck with the Wayland improvements! As it is it already feels like a great step up from X so I can’t wait to see what’ll happen in the future.

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    1. Well sort of. There comes a time when more resolution isn’t really helping anything because your eye can’t tell the difference anymore, but it is consuming extra power which hurts your battery life. The goal is to reach a resolution that makes the pixels too small to distinguish, so everything looks beautiful and crisp. Increasing the resolution beyond this point is overkill from a visual perspective; the improvement is unnoticed and wasted. The only reason you’d want to do it is to align the on-screen appearance better with technical constraints that the OS is working for; things on screen are always going to be designed for certain resolutions. Yes, it’s the job of the OS to display everything properly, but this is far easier said than done!

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      1. I’m honestly a little surprised by all the problems that people seem to run into. Granted, I’m only running on 1080p (both 14″ work laptop and 12.5″ personal), but a little variance in icon sizes doesn’t really hurt unless you end up with half the intended size or something, right? At that point, 200% makes it okay again, plus KDE has independent options for toolbar icon sizes and whatnot. Icon nitpicking apart, the real hard-hitting sizing issues can all be resolved with font size changes.

        Or they should be. Anything that’s pixel-based instead of font-based is likely done wrong or a bitmap editor. Websites being the popular choice here, but then browsers offer all kinds of size adjustments as well even for what websites call “pixels”, but haven’t been for a long time in practice.

        Maybe I actually need to find a 4k laptop to experience the pain first hand. 4k on 27″ monitors is basically just the same as 1080p on 13″ laptops, which honestly hasn’t been an issue since at least five years ago.

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        1. There isn’t really much pain here at all. Most of the visual glitches re extremely minor. It’s more that we want to be able to 1) ship a good experience out of the box without demanding that users tweak sizes everywhere and 2) avoid blurry monochrome line-art icons.

          #2 is mostly only a problem with a low-ish DPI screen like FHD that uses fractional scaling. You don’t really notice much blurriness if, say, you scale a 4K screen to 250%. The extra resolution hides a lot of that, even though it is still there.

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      2. That’s fair! Your screen seems to have PPI of ~314 which is extremely high and on par with flagship phones (though you look at those from a much smaller distance so it might be warranted). High-end screens from Apple and Dell are ~215 so that’s probably a good goal to strive for in laptops. Personally I have 27″ 4K Dell screen (~163 PPI) which seems to be already really, really good.

        And sorry if I seem to have implied that getting it right is easy, it’s definitely not and I am grateful for the work that everybody has done to improve the situtation! However ideally we wouldn’t need to avoid certain scaling factors because the visual experience is worse. Here’s hoping!

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        1. It is quite complicated indeed. I didn’t realize just how much so until I got one and started trying to fix HiDPI issues. 🙂 I’m just a bit miffed that the manufacturers sell hardware with silly combinations. A 4K 14″ screen driven by an Intel UHD 620 integrated GPU and a 51 Wh battery is a silly combination. It’s too much screen resolution paired with not enough graphical horsepower and battery capacity. They should know better so the consumer doesn’t have to!

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          1. It is a silly combination for sure but hardware accelerated video playback of the supported codecs on UHD 620 should be completely smooth, unless the bitrate of the video is something ridiculous.

            According to this page: https://en.wikichip.org/wiki/intel/uhd_graphics/620, the UHD 620 supports the x264, x265 and VP9 codecs up to 4K resolution. In my experience, as long as it _actually_ is hardware accelerated, there should be no choppiness and CPU load should stay low.

            Getting video hardware acceleration work on Linux is sadly not streamlined yet and sometimes even not supported (I believe Firefox support was added somewhat recently while Chromium et al. still don’t have it).

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          2. I am not so sure about that, at least when it comes to Windows. Too bad that you don’t seem to have that running to be able to compare performance and battery life. It might turn out that the combination actually runs pretty well there and that Linux just has some shortcomings causing your problems.

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          3. I have no doubt that the performance is a bit better on Windows due to better optimized drivers. However that still doesn’t change the conclusion that it’s an inappropriate combination. Even if better drivers can improve the experience, the little GPU is still obviously at the very edge of its performance envelope.

            All of this is somewhat academic now, as the newer 11th generation of Intel CPUs include a much more capable integrated GPU that I don’t expect would have the same issue.

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          4. Hm, I don’t know much about that GPU, but I think it is a bit exaggerated that it is at its edge of performance (of course not talking about Linux).

            My point basically was that you called the combination “silly” probably mostly based on your experience (on Linux) and not based on reviews or benchmarks (please correct me if that is wrong). I argued that the combination might be perfectly fine when used with Windows and might not be silly at all.

            That being said, I’d really welcome you running a dual boot with Windows to test performance differences (and to maybe get some incentives or ideas to move things forward on the Linux side to be on par with Windows if you haven’t already).

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  7. Hope I’m not asking the obvious, but regarding your thoughts on scaling: why not just set it to 150% or so? 😅 Surely that’d be the perfect size for an ‘inbetween’.

    For me battery life is everything and the jump from 1200p to 4K reduces battery (speaking for the Dell XPS) by up to 30%. It’s a hardware level thing though with the number of pixels – but then, you wanted to have this as a testbed for KDE so I still think 4K was the right choice.

    In any case, would be interested in hearing your thoughts about my scaling suggestion.

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    1. Fractional scaling makes anything that’s pixel-aligned look slightly blurry. This includes monochrome icons and single-pixel lines between views or in frames. It’s a minor cosmetic issue and not really a problem, but it shows that you’ve got too much resolution. Reducing it would eliminate the blurriness problem and conserve battery life.

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  8. Thanks for the tip, works like a charm! Now I have a right-side Meta key so I can do tiling shortcuts with one hand. Awesome.

    We should have a GUI for this kind of re-mapping! That would be so nice.

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