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Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11 review: A better laptop than tablet

The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11 is the best Windows RT device next to the Microsoft Surface RT. However, because of its nondetachable keyboard, the device functions as a better laptop than a tablet.

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Eric Franklin
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Eric Franklin

Senior Managing Editor / Mobile

Eric Franklin leads the CNET Reviews editors in San Francisco as managing editor. A 20-year industry veteran, Eric began his tech journey testing computers in the CNET Labs. When not at work he can usually be found at the gym, at the movies, or at the edge of his couch with a game controller in his hands.

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The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11's keyboard is permanently attached to the tablet section and when in tablet mode, it’s bulky, heavy, and awkward to hold. Thankfully, if you’d rather lay your tablet down flat or simply watch movies on it, the Yoga 11’s flexible, dual-hinge, $649 body gives you a few useful positions to choose from. Also, in laptop mode, it makes for a pretty cheap ultrabook, as long as you don’t mind being saddled with Windows RT.

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Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11

The Good

The <b>Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11</b> works as a laptop alternative, thanks to its always-attached keyboard and myriad useful ports, and its physical flexibility provides useful ergonomic options. Its battery charges quickly and depletes slowly. Brightness shortcuts on the keyboard unearth a normally buried option in Windows RT.

The Bad

As a tablet, the device is too bulky and heavy to hold in your hands, and its Web performance is slow. A full Windows 8 version with updated specs will be available soon for only $150 more.

The Bottom Line

The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11 is a great laptop alternative that's unfortunately too bulky to completely replace your tablet.

If the thought of buying a device with RT causes you to wake up in the middle of the night screaming, then you may want to wait for the Windows 8 version of the Yoga 11, called the Yoga 11S, coming this summer for only $150 more. The Yoga 11S will also include a higher-resolution screen and a faster non-ARM Intel Core i5 CPU. Or, if you find 11 inches of screen size to be lacking, the 13-inch Yoga 13 may be more up your alley.

Compared with the Microsoft Surface RT, the Yoga 11 is a better lap computer and offers more ports, including two full-size USB port and a full-size SD storage expansion slot. However, the Surface's Type Cover keyboard is more comfortable, its Internet performance consistently zippier, and it’s a lot thinner and a lot lighter as a tablet.

If you’ve made your peace with Windows RT’s offerings, the Yoga 11 serves as the best RT device next to the Surface. However, it’s a better laptop than a tablet, so its appeal will depend on what you're looking for.

The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11 gets into all sorts of compromising positions (pictures)

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Finding your center
Unlike all previous Windows RT tablets, the Yoga 11's screen can’t be detached from its keyboard. The two are permanently linked via dual hinges that allow the screen to tilt back 360 degrees, until the back of the screen lays flush with the back of the keyboard. In this position, the Yoga 11 is the closest it'll ever get to feeling like a normal tablet. That is, if you don’t mind the 2.6-pound weight, 0.7-inch thickness (at its thickest), or the feel of keys on the back of your tablet while you attempt to hold it with one hand, and read the morning’s news and sip your coffee with the other. No, the Yoga 11 doesn't make for the best portable tablet; it feels heavy and awkward to hold from this position. However, it works fine once it's laid down flat.

Sure, it's definitely a tablet, but it's one of the heaviest, bulkiest tablets I've ever held. What you can't see in this pic is the muscle strain. Josh Miller/CNET

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11 Asus Transformer Tab Infinity TF700 Microsoft Surface RT
Weight in pounds 2.6 1.32 1.5
Width in inches (landscape) 11.7 10.4 10.8
Height in inches 8 7.1 6.8
Depth in inches 0.70 0.33 0.43
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.8 0.8 0.8

You can also orient the Yoga 11 in three other ways. There’s Tent mode, or, as I like to call it, the downward dog position. OK, I don't actually like to call it that, but it feels appropriate. Here, the screen is tilted back about halfway past 90 degrees, then propped up on the top edge of the screen and bottom edge of the keyboard, with the screen facing the user. Not a bad position if using the tablet on a desk, but also not all that different from the third position that sees the keyboard lying flat, keys down, again with the screen facing the user. This was the ideal position for movie-watching, allowing you to easily tilt the screen back and forth to find the perfect position, with no keyboard futzing with your movie engrossment.

With the keyboard flat on the desk (and automatically disabled), this mode is great when watching movies and TV shows thanks to its easily tiltable screen. Josh Miller/CNET

The final position is also the one you’ll probably use most, laptop mode. From here the Yoga 11 is essentially an 11.6-inch ultrabook with a touch screen. That’s about 1.5 inches larger than most tablet screens and about an inch larger than the Surface RT's. Thanks to the larger screen, the Yoga 11 features a wider-than-usual keyboard compared with most tablets, and as a result is a bit more comfortable to type on. Thanks to its flat laptop bottom, the Yoga 11 is more conducive to typing from your actual lap; something I couldn't say about the Surface RT given its kickstand design. That said, however, the softer, wider keys of Surface RT's Touch Cover just plain feel better on my fingertips and is still my preferred typing tablet. One last useful note: adjusting the screen brightness on a Window RT tablet usually requires a couple levels of menu navigation, but the Yoga 11 thankfully features a brightness shortcut key that makes for a much less irritating task.

Sticking with the whole "whisper: I'm really a laptop..." motif, the Yoga 11 is packed with ports. Along its left edge sits a headphone jack, a full USB port, a full HDMI port, followed by a speaker grille, and volume rocker. On the front edge is the power/sleep button, and on the right edge is a charging port, a full SD card slot, another full USB port, and another speaker grille.

It's good for using as a tablet on a desk, looking distinctive among other tablets, and when giving couch presentations. Josh Miller/CNET

Windows RT is still Windows RT
Windows RT is essentially the light version of Windows 8, designed specifically for ARM processors like the Tegra 3. RT gives you access to the complete Windows 8 "Metro" touch interface, including all ARM-based apps from the Windows Store. You also get full Windows 8 versions of Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer, run through what looks like a traditional Windows Desktop interface.

What you don't get is the ability to run any other normal Windows programs. You won’t be downloading and installing Firefox, Far Cry 3, or Photoshop unless there are versions made specifically for the Windows Store.

Here you can get an idea for how thick the Yoga 11 is in tablet mode. You can also see some of the full-size ports, including SD storage expansion. Josh Miller/CNET

One recent RT change worth mentioning however is that Windows RT’s version of Internet Explorer 10 now supports Flash out of the box. Previously, only Microsoft-approved sites were allowed to use Flash, but the shackles have now been removed and the vast majority of sites are now Flash-capable under IE10.

The Surface RT review has more-detailed information on Windows RT and reflects my current feelings on the OS, but I'll sum up here anyway. Microsoft needs to drop legacy desktop support and integrate its Office and all control panels into its Metro touch interface. At the same time, more-typical tablet options (like shutdown confirmation and an always onscreen battery meter) need to be unearthed.

Yep. Pretty much a full-size keyboard. Kind of difficult thinking of the Yoga 11 as a tablet when there are pictures of it like this on the Internet. Josh Miller/CNET

Performance
The Yoga 11's screen was responsive to swipes and taps for the most part and apps opened as snappily as they did on the Surface RT. App launch times, however, still feel a bit slower compared with similar apps on the iPad or top Android tablets like the Nexus 7.

I also tested Wi-Fi speed using the synthetic benchmark, PC Benchmark, and saw speeds in parity with the Surface RT; however, real-world Web speed was a different matter. The Yoga 11 was consistently about 5 to 10 seconds slower than the Surface RT when loading the sites I tried. These include, but are not limited to: CNET.com, GameSpot.com, Collider.com, and Comicbookmovie.com. This held true over two different Wi-Fi networks. I’ll be sure to update the review if anything changes or if I get an explanation of the discrepancy from Lenovo.

Tested spec Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11 Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700 Microsoft Surface RT
Maximum brightness IPS mode (Super IPS) 232 cd/m2 422 cd/m2 (644 cd/m2) 391 cd/m2
Maximum black level, IPS mode (Super IPS) 0.14 cd/m2 0.34 cd/m2 (0.53 cd/m2) 0.27 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio, IPS mode (Super IPS) 1,657:1 1,241:1, 1,215:1 1,448:1

More full-size ports, from left: headphone jack, USB, and HDMI. Josh Miller/CNET

Like with the Surface RT, the tablet houses an Nvidia Tegra 3 processor and demonstrated identical gaming performance. Riptide GP runs at a smooth clip, but the graphics are pixilated and unfortunately, a setting to adjust the game's resolution isn't available in the Windows Store version.

Speaking of which, the Yoga's 11.6-inch display features a 1,366x768-pixel resolution, and though that matches the Surface RT's, the Yoga 11's extra inch in screen size means lower PPI resulting in slightly rougher text on Web pages. This is only really noticeable when zoomed in, however. The 1-megapixel camera is as you might expect: fine for video chatting, but not much else. There is no back camera.

The Yoga 11's battery lasted 12 hours and 40 minutes during the first iteration of CNET's video battery test. An impressive number to be sure, but even more impressive was how quickly that battery recharged itself. In just under an hour, it had regained over 80 percent of its full capacity.

Conclusion
The Yoga 11 comes with 64GB of storage for $649. That price includes a larger screen than most tablets and a built-in keyboard. The Surface RT is a better all-around tablet, but the Yoga 11's keyboard flexibility and many full-size ports will make it appealing for those looking for a productivity laptop with a capacitive touch screen. However, with a full Windows 8 version of the tablet coming this summer for only $150, you'll want to think twice before dropping a few hundred dollars this early in the game.

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Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 6
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