The first and second generation of Chromebooks we reviewed nearly all followed the same general formula. A flimsy plastic body, small, low-resolution screen, underpowered Intel or ARM CPU, and few if any frills. Paired with Google's Chrome OS, essentially an online-only operating system where tools and features are accessed through the Chrome Web browser, it was an effective, if unexciting low-cost way to get a clamshell laptop.
The next wave of systems started to change it up a bit, with Chromebooks such as the Acer Chromebook 13 switching to an Nvidia processor and GPU, and Lenovo adding flexible designs, from the N20p, with a 300-degree hinge for a kiosk mode, to this model, the ThinkPad Yoga 11e.
As it shares a 360-degree fold-back hinge with the rest of the popular Yoga line, one might say the Yoga 11e is the first Chrome OS tablet we've tested, as its screen folds back to form a thick, chunky slate, while also stopping halfway in a kiosk or presentation mode.
If that were the system's only notable feature, that would be enough, but this is also a Chromebook designed for education use, and is therefore hefty and rugged, exactly the opposite of most other Chromebooks. It feels great in the hand, although very heavy for an 11-inch laptop.
This system is currently available in only one configuration, a $455 build with an Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM, a 16GB SSD, and a 1,366x768 display. That's a premium over other Chromebooks, and close to what you'd pay for Lenovo's excellent 11-inch Yoga 2, which has a full 500GB hard drive and Windows 8. In the UK, the Chrome version of the Yoga 11e is listed as "coming soon," but the Windows version is £410, while the Australian version, with Chrome OS, costs AU$740.
Also note that this education-targeted rugged body is used for more than just a touchscreen Chromebook. Lenovo is also using it for a non-touch/non-Yoga Chromebook, as well as for Yoga and non-Yoga Windows 8 versions. That said, the Yoga-style Chrome OS version is by far the most interesting.
Chrome OS isn't touch-optimized like Windows 8 is, so there's less obvious utility for a touchscreen, although it comes in handy when scrolling down long webpages, especially when the system is folded into its various non-clamshell shapes.
The ThinkPad Yoga 11e feels more upscale and well-thought-out than most other Chromebooks, which are aimed clearly at the bottom end of the market. But with essentially the same internal components as those systems, and the same productivity limitations of Chrome OS, it's also hard to justify the higher price unless you have a specific need for a Chromebook with an especially rugged design, flexible hinge, or a touchscreen.
Lenovo Yoga 11e Chromebook
HP Pavilion Chromebook 14
Acer Chromebook 13
Price as reviewed
11-inch, 1,366x768 touchscreen
14-inch 1,366x768 screen
13-inch, 1,920x1,080 screen
1.83GHz Intel Celeron N2930
1.1GHz Intel Celeron 847
Nvidia Tegra K1 (armV7)
PC Memory/HD amount
4GB RAM/16GB SSD
4GB RAM/16GB SSD
2GB RAM/16GB SSD
Design and features
Semi-rugged laptops turn up every once in a while, typically targeted at either industrial users, the education market (where hardware needs to be student-proof), or especially clumsy types who drop their laptops or spill coffee on them regularly. But until now, we have not seen any rugged versions of the current generation of ultraportable hybrids, nor of the growing roster of Chromebooks.
In this case, the screen bezel is wider, the rear panel is stronger, and the hinges have been reinforced. That makes the Yoga 11e well-suited for active on-the-go types who are especially rough on their hardware. But, it also makes the system thicker and heavier than one would expect from an 11-inch ultraportable or Chromebook. The Yoga 11e is 0.87 inch thick (22mm) and weighs 3.7 pounds (1.7kg), without its A/C adaptor. In comparison, Lenovo's other Chromebook the N20p is 0.7 inch thick (18mm) and weighs only 2.8 pounds (1.3kg).
If you've seen or played with (or owned) any of Lenovo's other Yoga products, you'll have a pretty good idea of how the hybrid hinge works. Unlike normal laptop hinges, which stop somewhere between 90 degrees and 180 degrees, the hinge on a Yoga folds all the way back, a full 360 degrees. That allows you to fold the screen down flat, then keep going.
Stop at around 270 to 300 degrees and you get what we call a kiosk mode, with the screen pointing out from the rear of the system, and the keyboard tray pointed down, facing the table and acting as a stand. That's a good mode for presenting a video or PowerPoint file, for example.
Fold the screen all the way back, and you have a slate-style tablet, albeit a thick, chunky one. The keyboard the touchpad are exposed, sticking out from the back of the slate in this mode, but deactivated. Some people find this distracting, but it hasn't slowed down the steady flow of new Yoga models or knockoffs from other PC makers.
This is an especially notable feature here, because while we've seen a few other Chromebooks with touchscreens, this is the first Chrome OS system we've tested that works as either a hybrid or tablet. We don't expect many Chrome OS tablets in the near future, but it's an interesting idea, one which depends on just how touch-friendly the websites or Web-based tools you're using are.