CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
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||$459||$329||$299|
|Display size/resolution||11-inch, 1,366x768 touchscreen||14-inch 1,366x768 screen||13-inch, 1,920x1,080 screen|
|PC CPU||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|
|Operating system||Chrome OS||Chrome OS||Chrome OS|
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.Of course, you should also be aware of what a Chromebook offers, and what it doesn't. This is essentially an online-only operating system that gives you a window to many Web services via the Chrome browser, but little more. There are a handful of offline tools for photo and file management, but no ability to download, install, or run traditional Windows .exe files. We've written extensively about the advantages and compromises of using a Chrome OS computer, and it's best suited as a secondary PC for those who are comfortable using online tools such as Google Drive, Gmail or other webmail services, Netflix, etc.
The keyboard and touchpad are standouts for a Chromebook. While most Chrome OS laptops have shallow, clacky keys and tiny touchpads, here we get the benefit of Lenovo's deep investments in system design. The keys (stamped with lowercase letters in Chrome OS style) are hefty and satisfyingly solid, while the glass-topped touchpad offers excellent two-finger scrolling.Like most other Chromebooks (outside of a handful of higher-end models), the display in this case isn't a real stunner. It's an 11.6-inch 1,366x768 screen that's clear and bright enough, and has good off-axis viewing angles (practically required for tablet use), but the screen overlay is also extra glossy and picks up plenty of glare. Lenovo says the glass isn't scratch-resistant Gorilla glass, but a similar-sounding product called Dragontrail glass, and six times stronger than conventional laptop glass. We didn't drop the system off a table to test this, but the narrative fits in with the rugged design of the rest of the chassis.
|Audio||Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack|
|Data||1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
I'm not sure what you think you're going to plug into the USB ports of this Chromebook, but it has both USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports. Most wireless computer mice actually work fine in Chrome OS, but this is intended to be a fairly self-contained system. The inclusion of faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi is a nice extra, however.
Chromebooks can run a wide variety of internal components, from the Intel Celeron chip used here to faster Core i3 CPUs to ARM chips such as the Samsung Exynos and Nvidia K1. In surfing and using most online tools, we've never felt there was a huge experiential difference in Chromebook configurations, but in this case the higher-end Celeron chip in our HP Chromebook 14 was faster in some tests, while the GPU-heavy Nvidia K1 in the Acer Chromebook 13 was faster in a 3D graphics test. Despite being middle to rear of the pack, the Yoga 11e performed fine for Netflix playback, working on productivity docs, and even playing a few simple online games.Battery life was another area where the Yoga 11e was middle of the pack, running for 5:36 in our online video streaming playback test. That's over 2 hours less than the Acer Chromebook 13, but much better than HP's Chromebook 14, which didn't even hit 3 hours. Chromebooks are low-power, portable devices designed for on-the-go use; but without access to extreme battery life gains traditional laptops have gotten in the past few years from Intel's Core i-series platforms, we're still not seeing all-day, no-compromise numbers.
Lenovo's Yoga 11e is unique among Chromebooks, combining a touchscreen, rugged body, and hybrid hinge design. For students and teachers, it may be exactly what they're looking for, and also makes a compelling case for cloud-heavy use on the road -- if that road involves a lot of bumps and bashes.
For everyone else, it's more of a mixed bag. The Yoga 11e is very well-made and does things no other Chromebook does, making it hard not to like. But it's heavier than other 11-inch laptops, costs more than nearly every other Chromebook, and lacks bleeding edge performance and all-day battery life.
Find more shopping tips in our Laptop Buying Guide.