It's no secret that Windows 8 hasn't exactly struck a chord with every desktop user. It makes sense, though, that the dual-natured operating system would be much more at home on dual-natured devices. You know, the kind that sit at the intersection of the desktop and mobile, like the Lenovo Ideapad Yoga. Join Gizmag as we put the new 11-inch model, the Yoga 11S, through its paces.
Bendy flexy fun
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The Ideapad Yoga 11S follows Lenovo's 13-inch version, which debuted late last year, and the Yoga 11, which runs the limited Windows RT. This new version combines the smaller form factor of the RT version with the full Windows 8 experience of the original.
The appeal of the Yoga series is evident in its branding. Like a yogi practicing the camel or the downward dog poses, the Yoga can stretch from Notebook Mode to Tablet Mode. And just as no respectable yoga practitioner would limit themselves to just two poses, the Yoga can transform into a couple other positions along the way.
The biggest advantage of this kind of device is that there are basically no compromises when used as a laptop. Unlike the flexible keyboard cover on the Surface Pro, the Yoga gives you that solid base on your lap that you'd expect from an Ultrabook. In fact, the Yoga essentially is a touchscreen Ultrabook, albeit one with a 360-degree hinge.
In Tablet Mode, the Yoga 11S gives you a spacious, but not too unwieldy, 11.6-inch screen. It's nice to be able to convert it into a tablet so easily, but the tablet experience is somewhat compromised. It's a strange sensation to feel the device's physical keyboard on the back when using it as a tablet. The keys are unresponsive when it's folded back beyond 190 degrees, but your fingers are well aware of those moving keys. It makes it damn near impossible to forget that this isn't a dedicated tablet.
The other positions are Stand Mode (below), which is like laptop position in reverse, and Tent Mode, which flips the device upside down to stand itself up like, well, a tent. These positions are probably most useful for watching videos, reading recipes while cooking, giving presentations, or setting up some sort of touchscreen demo for others.
That 11.6-inch multitouch screen is a great size, and we appreciated the extra space it provides over smaller devices like the Surface Pro (the Yoga gives you 20 percent more real estate than the Surface). At 1366 x 768, the Yoga's resolution could be sharper, though, and at 135 PPI, it doesn't look nearly as sharp as some competing devices.
The Yoga 11S is sturdy and rugged. It's outer shell is made of a magnesium aluminum alloy. The device's almost rubbery-feeling chassis is a pleasure to hold. It weighs 3.08 lb (1.4 kg), which puts some significant heft in your hands (it's 114 percent heavier than the iPad). But we didn't think it felt too ridiculously heavy in Tablet Mode. At 11.73 x 8.03 x 0.67 in (29.8 x 20.4 x 1.7 cm), it's a pretty large device, so that weight is spread out much wider than on most other tablets or hybrids.
The Yoga sports two USB ports (one 3.0, the other 2.0), and that second one is a welcome addition. It has an HDMI port for video out, and an SD card slot (full-sized, not microSD).
The Yoga has a terrific keyboard, and an equally great trackpad. Keys are as responsive as you'd need them to be, and are curved to maximize comfort. Even the "leather-touch" (it's plastic, but feels kinda like leather) palm rest is uncommonly comfortable.
The plastic multitouch trackpad is spacious, and works exactly how you'd want it to. Lenovo even threw some palm rejection in, so you won't accidentally trigger the trackpad while typing.
But there is something missing here. With the Surface Pro, we found that its stylus was a great addition for navigating through the desktop. The Yoga, however, doesn't come with a stylus, and it doesn't even support Wacom stylus input. You can grab the kind of stylus that works with nearly any multitouch screen (often sold as iPad compatible), but don't expect fine pen input or pressure sensitivity. When switching from the Surface Pro to the Yoga, this was the biggest thing we missed.
The version of the Yoga we tested runs a dual core third-generation (Ivy Bridge) Intel Core i5 processor, clocked at 1.5 GHz (the cheapest base model features a Core i3 clocked at 1.4 GHz). It also has a nice 8 GB of RAM (the cheaper model only has 4 GB) and a 128 GB SSD. The i5 Yoga's performance is in the same general ballpark as many other Windows Ultrabooks and hybrids released in the last year, packing plenty of punch for most desktop apps, and blazing through mobile (Windows Store) apps with ease.
In terms of benchmarks, the Yoga scored a 5,421 in Geekbench. That's a significant drop from the Surface Pro's 7,219 score in the same test. Similarly, the Yoga yielded a 4.6 on the Windows Experience Index, while the Surface Pro hit 5.5 (both devices' scores were held back by graphics performance). The Surface's higher results can probably be traced back to its faster third-gen Intel Core processor (it's clocked at 1.7 GHz, next to the Yoga's 1.5 GHz).
Gaming on the Yoga stayed in line with what we'd expect from the hardware and those benchmarks. We ran Batman: Arkham City, and needed to change the settings to 720p (lower than native resolution) with low detail settings to make it run somewhat smoothly. Even with this configuration, though, there was still a fair amount of lag and stuttering. The Surface performed much better in the same test, and is probably a better choice for PC gaming.
Of course most of these Windows 8 tablets and hybrids don't have dedicated graphics cards, so you shouldn't buy them expecting to play Skyrim on Ultra-high settings. You'd be wise to view desktop gaming as more of a nice bonus than a core function of mobile PCs like the Yoga.
Like other pre-Haswell Intel Core Ultrabooks and hybrids, battery life isn't great. We tested its 42 Wh battery by playing Netflix videos with brightness set at 50 percent. In this test, the Yoga lasted four hours and 45 minutes.
That's 35 minutes longer than the Surface Pro lasted in the same test, but, unfortunately for the Yoga, much of that is due to 50 percent brightness looking much dimmer on it than it does on the Surface. The Yoga's screen, however, is very bright on the highest settings, so that's more a sidenote for the battery test than something to worry about in itself.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S is one of the most intriguing Windows 8 hybrids you can buy. It takes its 13-inch sibling's versatile flipping-folding nature, and puts it in a more portable package. And though its screen could be sharper, and the backside keyboard makes Tablet Mode a little awkward, the 11S is uncompromised as a laptop. In fact, we'd recommend taking a long look at the Yoga before throwing down for any dedicated, non-convertible Ultrabook.
The price isn't bad either, relatively speaking. The Yoga 11S starts at US$750 (including an instant coupon from Lenovo) for the Intel Core i3, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB storage model. That's $380 cheaper than the Surface Pro + Type Cover combo with the same amount of storage, but that base model of the Yoga does have some inferior components. That starting price is also $50 less than the 128 GB iPad, which doesn't have a keyboard or run any desktop applications. The review unit we tested (Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB storage) sells for a cool grand.
The biggest reason to think twice about the Yoga may be all in the timing. Intel just launched its fourth-generation Core Haswell processors, which dramatically improve battery life in portable PCs. Though it's unconfirmed, we'd expect Lenovo to eventually release Haswell-based versions of its Yoga series. We might be looking at three or four (or more?) extra hours of battery life on such models, based on benchmarks from other Haswell devices. Other Windows 8 PCs, like the Surface, will likely get fourth-gen Intel Core updates within the next year, too.
But if you're looking to buy right now, you can do much worse than Lenovo's Yoga 11S. This form factor isn't for everyone, but if you can put up with a few compromises, it can potentially replace both laptop and tablet for many users.
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