Lenovo's First 5G Notebook Pioneers a New Age of PCs

eWEEK NEWS ANALYSIS: While Lenovo's 4G Yoga notebooks get good battery life and have an impressively low carry weight, they still can’t fulfill the promise of having a portable workstation or gaming machine until their 5G younger sibling launches--which is very soon.


Qualcomm this month had a massive 5G update, and things are coming along swimmingly with advancements in deployment well ahead of what we saw with 4G. This speed is because 5G comes with a bunch of improvements that only start with bandwidth and cover security, reliability and provide an opportunity for Cell phone carriers to replace cable and landline internet providers. After all, 5G provides upload and download speeds equivalent to what many now get with fiber connections.

But this performance opens the door further to that class of computers that Qualcomm and Microsoft jointly created called Always Connected PCs; Lenovo is the first vendor to bring out a 5G notebook using Qualcomm’s new higher performance PC solution (8cx) with its Yoga 5G, which is due to start shipping in a few weeks.

Now I’ve been using the prior 4G product from Lenovo on and off for some time, and several of my analyst friends use it as their primary notebook. But it is limited to 4G performance, which has significantly lower bandwidth and higher latency than 5G. So, while it did get good battery life and have an impressively low carry weight, it couldn’t yet fulfill the promise of basically having a portable workstation or gaming machine until its 5G younger sibling launched.

Let’s talk about who should be looking at this new notebook.

5G Deployment Update

A 5G product won’t do much good if there aren’t any 5G networks that the users can access. But, according to Qualcomm, there has been a ton of 5G activity in the last few months with more than 50 operators having deployed 5G networks; more than 45 phone OEMs have launched 5G phones (most, I expect, will show up around the time this laptop does) in spring.

What is interesting is a lot of the applied technology allows these carriers to use 4G bands in aggregate to provide 5G performance, which is one of the reasons the deployments seem to be going as quickly as they are. Another reason was shared by Rakuten, which showcased what looked like a cell site in a box from a company called Altiostar. Setting up one of their sites takes something like 8.5 minutes, which, you must admit, is a huge change from three full days.  

Rakuten also shared that by deploying an aggressive OpenRAN virtualized cloud-native 5G solution, it can run a network the size of Sprint with only 130 people--or a fraction of what more traditional networks need vastly speeding deployment.

With this kind of a deployment speed advantage, new companies like Rakuten can move into the market at speeds we’ve never seen before. This is only one showcase of why 5G is an industry game-changer.

The 5G Difference

What 5G brings to a notebook is the ability to connect, with very high bandwidth and very low latency, to a cloud back end and run the related apps remotely, as if they were running on your local laptop. This advancement means that this laptop is ideal for those who want to do exactly that--but not for those who don’t, because there are still some compatibility problems with this Qualcomm-based solution.

This laptop is for people who want an extremely portable laptop but need to run applications such as computer-aided design, photo or film editing or a Triple-A game off one of the many cloud-based gaming services.  

The experience, when connected to a well-provisioned 5G network, should be like your little laptop suddenly gained superpowers, because through a service like Microsoft Azure or AWS, you’ll be able to launch and interact with this class of resource-heavy application as it if were running on your local machine.

Ideally, this laptop is for people who already do this and want a mobile solution. This is because the packaging and delivery of the related services is still relatively difficult to do. Eventually, getting access to these web services will be as easy as turning your PC on. We aren’t there yet, but for those who are doing this, the coming class of 5G-enabled “always-connected” PCs will be a godsend.

Wrapping Up: Anticipating The Cloud Connected Future

The always connected PC initiative anticipates our coming cloud desktop future. It is sort of a cart-and-horse thing right now, because you need all three components to make this viable: the cloud service, the high-speed wireless network and the client hardware. This Lenovo Yoga 5G marries the high-speed network rollout with the desktop hardware; now, the cloud services need to step up to the requirement of being a lot easier to use.

For the right person who uses these services today and works and lives in a 5G coverage area, this laptop is the perfect mobile solution. For the rest of us, it represents the future to which we will move in the next five years, but it is unlikely most of us will make that move this year. Once there, we will return to a world where others worry about updates and patches, and we worry about getting our job done.

That was the way it was with mainframes and terminals at one time. This coming new world is a blend of the advantages of mainframes and PCs; it may take a bit of time and effort to get that right.

Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is a nationally recognized analyst and a longtime contributor to QuinStreet publications and Pund-IT.