Review: Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga 11 is convertible, portable, and…it runs Windows RT
At a Glance
Microsoft’s vice president of Windows planning may be confident that Windows RT is destined for great things, but I—and the rest of the world—have some doubts. The ARM-based operating system has limits (such as the inability to install legacy apps, or apps from outside the Windows Store) that just don’t belong on laptops.
A laptop you'll flip over
And while Lenovo’s $799 IdeaPad Yoga 11 may be trending toward tablet status, it’s still very much a laptop. In fact, the Yoga 11 is much more of a laptop than some of its competitors, such as the Dell XPS 10 and the Asus VivoTab RT. The XPS 10 and the VivoTab RT have detachable keyboard docks, while the Yoga 11 has a more unique form factor: Its keyboard doesn’t detach, but you can flip the entire screen around 360 degrees to have a slate-like experience.
So for all intents and purposes, the Yoga 11 is a laptop, not a tablet, but it’s running a tablet’s operating system. As you can imagine, this creates a few issues: You can’t download a third-party browser, for example, nor can you install some of the older applications you’re used to working with. You’re limited to apps that you can download in the Windows Store, which might not be a great thing considering Windows 8 app development has slowed in recent months. All of this is pretty unfortunate, because the Yoga 11 is an otherwise well-made product with potential as a replacement for your 15-incher and your tablet.
Stylish design, easy to use, and yes, very convertible
The Yoga 11 is the younger, lesser-equipped brother of Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga 13, which, as you may remember, I liked…a lot. The Yoga 11 features the same silver-gray rubbery finish, black chiclet-style keyboard, and moderately thick bezel surrounding its smooth glass touchscreen, as its predecessor. Its 11.6-inch capacitive touchscreen has a native resolution of 1366 by 768 pixels, and features bright, crisp colors. It’s a great touchscreen to use, too: accurate, smooth, and as similar to a tablet experience as you’ll get on a laptop. The touch sensitivity appears to extend just beyond the bezel, which makes certain Windows RT gestures (such as swiping from the right side to see the menu) very easy and intuitive.
The Yoga 11 lives up to its name: It’s super, super flexible, both literally and figuratively. You can use it in traditional clamshell mode (keyboard in front, screen at a 90- or near-90-degree angle), or you can bend the screen 360 degrees around the hinge. There are four modes that Lenovo sanctions: the aforementioned clamshell laptop mode, tablet mode (the screen folded all the way back so that the keyboard is now on the back), tent mode (the screen folded back so that the laptop is propped up on its edges), and stand mode (like reverse clamshell—this time, the keyboard is behind the screen and facing downward, while the screen is at an angle so you can watch movies or play games).
Impressively good keyboard compared to other laptop-tablet hybrids
The Yoga 11’s biggest advantage over other laptop-tablet hybrids is its built-in keyboard. Not only is the keyboard built-in (so that’s an inherent advantage over plain tablets), but it’s actually a really, really good keyboard. It’s full-sized, with island-style keys and a small glass touchpad. The keys offer excellent tactile feedback, and they’re very comfortable and easy to type on for long periods of time. For a small system, the keys have just enough weight to ensure accurate typing. I honestly like this keyboard better than the one on the 11-inch MacBook Air (and that’s my primary laptop, at the moment).
It’s also got great battery life: In our tests we managed just shy of nine hours.
The Yoga 11 has a couple of disadvantages worth noting (aside from Windows RT). Our review model comes with 2GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage, both of which are a little weak in this era of computing. You already know it runs on an ARM processor (an Nvidia Tegra 3, to be exact), and its speakers are a little on the quiet side. It’s also got only two USB 2.0 ports—no USB 3.0 in sight. So it’s still more tablet than laptop in some ways.
Windows RT has limitations that can't be ignored
I’ve been a big fan of Lenovo’s Yoga series from the start, and I love laptops that can fit in my purse…so the Yoga 11 is pretty tempting. But it’s not thin enough (0.61 inches) or light enough (2.8 pounds) to justify its tablet OS, and Windows RT has too many limitations for this to be a viable work computer. So, unlike its big brother (which was too heavy to be a tablet, but powerful and usable enough to be a laptop), the Yoga 11 is stuck somewhere in the middle.
The Yoga 11 has a unique, easy-to-use design and a great keyboard. The Windows RT and its dwindling app selection, however, will make me wait until Lenovo decides to release a full Windows 8-equipped 11-incher.