Last month, I finally bought a new laptop with plans to replace my aging 2009 Macbook as my primary computer. It is a Lenovo Yoga 7i, purchased from MicroCenter. It is a switch from Mac, which has been my primary OS for pretty much since I’ve been using computers, but it has touch screen and I hope to switch to the open world of Linux.
I have long wanted to move to touch screen input. I’ve been intrigued by it since seeing Newton and Palm PDAs, touch screen restaurant kiosks, and Tablet PCs. Rumors about touch screen Macs coming out shortly before the iPhone released had me vow to not buy another Mac until they had touch screens. Necessity won out though and I got two (soon three) Macs since, still waiting.
I have long wanted to switch to Linux. I like the free and open source world. There have been too many times where proprietary apps have either stopped being made or had breaking or undesirable changes that have left me needing a different option, sometimes making me leave behind trapped data. With open source, I could at least theoretically take the working version and keep it alive. Or of the many apps that have things I dislike, I could change them.
I have been looking for a long time for a device that would work for me. I got two touch screen Windows devices in the past that were too weak and had problems with Linux as well as other things. I looked for years for a better option. There are several good looking Linux hardware manufacturers, but the touch screen options are very rare and not quite what I wanted. Some of the bigger manufacturers have Linux devices, but again, touch is rare, and the options are often more expensive than comparable Windows devices. They also seem to have much longer shipping lead times. So a Windows device with web evidence of success running Linux on it seemed like the way to go.
I had a lot of requirements for the device that even Windows laptops had trouble matching. I had to relax them a bit. Besides touch and Linux support, some hard requirements were:
- USB charging (went from mini to micro to C as tech progressed) so I could take a single charger on trips and easily replace it
- eye friendly screen to help with my eye fatigue problems
- a decent keyboard
- good battery life
- reasonable performance
Other sought after features were:
- greater than 8GB RAM for running virtual machines, future proof
- at least 256GB SSD storage
- light weight
- 12-14″ screen
- a reasonable number of ports
- convertible for ease of use in various positions
I set a budget of $1500, because:
- I’m “cheap” and have trouble spending a lot on things
- I’ve seen plenty of tempting options go for less over the years, especially through several Black Fridays
- A “cheap” friend got one for around there
As time went on and new tech was released, my minimum requirements increased with it. Getting the latest features seemed to make sense for longevity reasons. In my most recent search, 11th gen Intel processors were the current. Possibly due to Covid and the recent general chip shortages, 11th gen laptops were hard to find, often out of stock or with long lead times, sometimes as long as 4 months. There were lots of 10th gen available, but it seemed hard to justify going with the old tech, especially when 11th gen brought other features, such as Thunderbolt 4 (more guaranteed capabilities) and Xe graphics (supposed to be as good as low end dedicated).
The pure Linux manufacturers don’t seem to be big on touch and often are behind on tech. The bigger Windows makers seem to have mixed results on Linux support. Some have Linux specific machines now, but they’re often more expensive and / or harder to get. Lenovo seems to have the strongest support for Linux, so I looked more at them, but still had trouble finding something available, to my desired specs, in my price range.
During a sale weekend (Memorial Day), I bought a Lenovo Yoga 9i from the Best Buy website, but they ended up not having it in stock, so I cancelled the order. A little while later, I played with a 7i in the store. I had read its keyboard wasn’t great, among some other issues, so I had shied away from it, but it seemed good enough while trying it at the store. It was lower specced but also quite a bit cheaper. With so many better options still not available for a month plus or priced too high, I went for it, getting it from MicroCenter, which had it in stock that day.
I got the 12GB 7i with i7 processor. It seemed to be regarded in reviews as similar to the more premium convertible options for a less than premium price. It had quite a few things I liked:
- touch screen with 10 point touch and optional active digitizer pen
- 3 total USB ports
- 2 USB C / Thunderbolt 4 ports for new stuff as well as charging
- 1 USB 3 A port for existing peripherals
- 11th gen Intel processor with Xe graphics
- PWM free display (PWM can be bad for eyes)
- 512GB SSD storage
- all day battery life
- 14″ screen size
- reasonably light at 3.1 lbs
Though, for the cheaper price, it wasn’t quite as good as the 9i and other higher end devices. It has a glossy screen, which means glare under light, which can be bad for the eyes. It’s not quite as light, powerful, high of build quality, comfortable typing keyboard, wide of color spectrum screen, and doesn’t have as many ports as some of them.
I find the device quite nice for web browsing, but am far from moving over to it as my primary device. I’ve had trouble getting set up and comfortable in either Windows or Linux for things other than browsing, in particular web development. I’ve had trouble installing many Linux distros. And I’ve had problems with Windows crashing for yet unknown reasons.
The only distro I was able to install so far was Fedora. It does look cool, but I would’ve preferred to start with a Ubuntu / Debian based distro. Other distros seemed to have trouble with UEFI (seemed to want legacy boot mode), keeping secure boot enabled, and installing on a partition later on the drive. Ubuntu kept giving me an error during the install. A couple, I couldn’t get the installer to run. With Fedora, I had no problems getting it installed with UEFI, keeping secure boot enabled, and in my desired LUKS encrypted setup.
I’m not sure what I want to do for my setup as far as separating activities for security purposes. I’m not used to Linux security for desktop type use cases or Windows security in general. I plan to create several users and possibly use virtual machines as well, but have to figure out how to do that in a way that I’m comfortable. I’m not totally sure about what to trust with installing apps from different locations.
I’m still figuring out what app options are available as replacements for the non-cross-platform apps I’ve used in the Mac world, particularly with development stuff. In Windows, I imagine I’d want to get WSL, but it’s a little confusing. I’ve had trouble with some of the apps in Fedora’s app store, and alternatives look like I will have to add repos for. Atom, my primary text editor, seems to need to be installed per user and has no touch scrolling capabilities.
I really like touch screen when it works well, and use it frequently. It’s just easier for me to reach out most of the time and actually touch what I want to than to pilot a pointer to do it for me. I sometimes find myself touching the screen on my Mac or wishing I could. But the touch does still have user experience problems in both Windows and Fedora. In Windows, most of the gestures that the trackpad has don’t work on the screen, making things take more effort. In Fedora, some gestures work, but they’re much more limited in what they can do. Both have problems in some apps with touch screen not working or having undesirable or difficult to use behavior. Both can have small touch areas and difficult scrolling in certain cases. Both, especially Fedora, can have undesirable behavior with the touch keyboard. Both, though probably more Fedora, can have things that are just impossible to do with touch only.
USB C charging has been really nice so far, since my phone and a few other devices charge with it now. I can share the charger and use one of my many small but weak chargers in a pinch if needed.
The device seems like it has plenty of power, RAM, and storage to do what I will want from it. If I can get comfortable in Linux or Windows for development, it should be able to handle what I throw at it, including capacity for virtual machines. It should be able to handle any of the games I have without a problem and probably any I’d consider getting if I got more into gaming.
I’ve had problems with hard crashes or freezes in Windows. I haven’t been able to figure out much of anything about the cause. I looked at some logs, but don’t know my way around Windows well. I worry that it’s hardware related rather than software. I ran some stuff to try to fix it if it’s a software problem, and will keep monitoring. If it happens again, I will probably contact Lenovo. If it’s hardware, I hope I can get it resolved via warranty.
The glare on the screen is a definite problem, noticeable and bothersome with most any amount of light behind me. I bought an anti-glare screen protector for it, but have yet to apply it. Those things are hard enough to apply on a phone screen, so will be really tough for a laptop. I want to try a poor-mans clean room with a steamy bathroom. Hopefully I can get it on there well enough and it will significantly reduce the problem.
The keyboard seems good enough. I may use an external one for all day working. I really like the backlight, though it can be a bit bright if it’s dark, even causing a glare on the screen.
I worry a bit about durability. It seems so thin compared to my MacBook, and a bit flexible. It’s crashed once or twice while lifting it. I can’t guarantee the lifting was the cause, but it does worry me.
I will continue to work on figuring out how to set things up the way I want them. I will continue looking for apps to replace what I have on the Mac and learning about working in the OSs. I hope some of the Linux support problems are because it’s a fairly new device and that things will improve. I will try more distros as new versions come out. I hope eventually I can find a setup that I am comfortable in and pleases me enough to move over to it as my primary device. But that may take a while.