Are 11-inch laptops, which we sometimes refer to as ultraportables, suddenly in vogue? You'd be forgiven for thinking so, because after a multiyear drought in which only a handful of models were even worth looking at, we've now got the recent flood, including the revamped 11-inch MacBook Air, Sony's Vaio Pro 11, and now the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S.
The Yoga 11S is one of the most anticipated laptops of the year, especially after the very warm welcome its predecessor received. That predecessor, the 13-inch IdeaPad Yoga 13, was one of the most talked-about Windows 8-launch laptops. Though it looked like a standard ultrabook-style laptop, the name "Yoga" hinted at the system's big selling point -- that the display can fold fully over to become a tablet.
At the time, a contemporaneous 11-inch Windows RT version of the Yoga felt like a bit of an afterthought, and the chilly reception Windows RT products have gotten since then proves that point. We all knew a full Windows 8 version of the Yoga 11 was coming, it was just a question of when. With a subtle single-letter addition to the name to account for the RT version, the Yoga 11S (for "super"?) was first shown off at CES 2013 but is only now going on sale, a full six months later.
The original 13-inch Yoga seemed to be everyone's choice for a great Windows 8 ambassador during the 2012 holiday season -- both Microsoft and Intel touted it as a best-in-class example, and Best Buy featured it in a television ad. Shrinking the design down to an 11-inch system creates a product that, in tablet mode, feels a lot closer to an iPad than any of the 13-inch convertible, aka hybrid, laptops we've seen.
If you haven't seen the Yoga in action, the real surprise hook is not the tablet mode (which is perfectly usable but leaves the keyboard exposed, sticking out from the back), it's the stand mode, which I sometimes call the kiosk mode. The screen is folded back about 270 degrees, turning the system into something like a small touch-screen kiosk. It's great for sharing video or presentations in a group setting, or just for getting closer to the screen while keeping the keyboard out of the way.
The 11-inch Windows 8 version of the Yoga runs processors ranging from a Core i3 all the way to a Core i7 CPU, but all are from the now-outdated third-generation of Intel Core i-series chips. The latest so-called Haswell chips, found in Sony's and Apple's newest 11-inch laptops, aren't much faster but offer a significant boost to battery life. Our review unit, with a Core i5 CPU, 256GB solid-state drive, and 8GB of RAM, is currently available for $999 from Lenovo's Web site, although you'll want to look carefully -- Lenovo's site is particularly confusing these days, with coupon codes and nearly identical configurations at widely varying prices.
If anything, the 11-inch Yoga feels like a better fit for the unique body design than the 13-inch version did. Only the outdated CPU (the company offers no guidance on when a Haswell version might be available) keeps me from giving it an unreserved recommendation.
|Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S||Sony Vaio Pro 11||MacBook Air 11-inch (June 2013)|
|Display size/pixel resolution||11.6-inch, 1,366x768 screen||11-inch, 1,920x1,080 touch screen||11.6-inch, 1,766x768 screen|
|PC CPU||1.5GHz Intel Core i5-3339Y||1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U||1.3GHz Intel Core i5-4250U|
|PC memory||8,192MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||4,096MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz|
|Graphics||32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000||1,748MB Intel HD Graphics 4400||1,024MB Intel HD Graphics 5000|
|Storage||256GB SSD hard drive||128GB SSD hard drive||128GB SSD hard drive|
|Networking||802.11 b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11a/c wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8 (64-bit)||Windows 8 (64-bit)||OSX Mountain Lion 10.8.4|
Design and features
By now you're hopefully accustomed to seeing some very nice design work from Lenovo's IdeaPad line of consumer laptops, often in sharp counterpoint to the dry ThinkPad line that still has echoes of laptops from many years ago (but which also has legions of fans in IT departments and elsewhere in corporate America). The IdeaPad line more often than not comes up with laptop designs that are slick and modern, but still work in a professional setting. Corporate casual, perhaps.
The fold-back hinge on the Yoga differs from what most hybrids (including ones from Lenovo) have tried to do. Those other convertibles have either a rotating center hinge that swivels around to let the device change forms, a screen that slides down over the keyboard, or a fully detachable screen that sheds its keyboard base entirely to become a standalone tablet. In the era of Windows 8 and touch screens, these hybrids are actually quite common, and we've seen more of them in the past nine months than the past several years combined.
Of all the different ways to create a hybrid, Lenovo's Yoga method is arguably the best, especially if you're interested in a no-compromise laptop experience. It's certainly better than the older rotating-center-hinge design, which acted as a single potential weak point in many hybrids. If you're more interested in a full-time tablet that's also a part-time laptop, however, then something such as Microsoft's Surface Pro may be more appropriate.
When the Yoga 11S is open in laptop mode, the minimalist interior is dominated by a large, buttonless clickpad and an island-style Lenovo keyboard. The flat-topped keys have a small curve along their bottom edges for easier typing, and as with recent 11-inch laptops from Sony and Apple, the keyboard layout makes good use of space and doesn't leave you feeling particularly cramped. Still, an 11-inch screen and keyboard aren't ideal for all-day use, so I wouldn't consider this the best choice for your main all-day, every-day machine.
As you flip the Yoga's screen back past 180 degrees, the physical keyboard and touch pad are automatically disabled. It's still, as with the 13-inch Yoga, somewhat disconcerting to feel the keys under your fingers if you're holding the tablet -- psychologically, it feels like you're about to start typing gibberish, even if that's not actually the case.
Some buttons have been moved to the sides so they can be accessed no matter how the system is folded -- for example there's easy access to a volume rocker along one edge and a rotation lock button along the other. But there's definitely some awkwardness to the exposed keyboard, and first-time Yoga users in my office invariably commented on it.
While the Yoga 11S makes for a thicker-than-most slate, I do especially like the stand or sharing mode, where the screen is folded back. An alternate mode, where the system is propped up like a table tent, seems less obviously useful.
With a smaller 11-inch screen, the Yoga 11S feels more at home in tablet mode than the original 13-inch version did. It's closer to an iPad, or even most Android and Windows 8 tablets, and it's possible to easily hold or carry in one hand. The screen resolution is only 1,366x768 pixels, which is quickly being phased out of many laptops, especially ones in this price range, but on an 11-inch screen it's forgivable for the moment. The IPS screen itself is bright and gives excellent viewing angles, and the touch response is quick and accurate, although that's been true of nearly every Windows 8 touch-screen system.
|Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone jack|
|Data||1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|