We're starting to get used to touchscreen laptops. At first, the idea was a bit foreign to us, and didn't feel like something we'd use, but now there are dozens of touchscreen Windows-based laptops available, we are actually finding them quite useful. And there's a lot about the Ideapad Yoga 11S that's interesting.
Things have changed too, with the original Yoga running Windows RT, and not being the fastest for it, the new 11S comes with a choice of Intel Core processors, from i3s, up to i7s. Perhaps interestingly, the RT Yoga cost £700, and this new model with full-blown Windows 8 comes in at the same price, offering a massive advantage over the old model. If you bought the RT version, that might annoy you.
But in most respects, it's a very similar machine, certainly visually not much has changes, although this grey version we're testing now is less exciting than the orange RT model we looked at late last year.
When it comes to putting a laptop together, we have to admit that Lenovo knows what it's doing. The Yoga 11S is really quite a lovely piece of technology.
First, we should talk about the sockets and connections. These are inportant to laptop users and will make a huge difference to how useful you find the laptop. The good news is, Lenovo has included a solid number of connectors, at least in Ultrabook terms.
First off, there are two USB sockets. One of them is USB 3, the other is USB 2. Two USB sockets is hardly a lot, but for most portable use, it's sufficient. If you're working at home, at a desk, then you can always get a port replicator or a USB hub to connect extra devices.
You also get a full-sized HDMI output, which allows you to connect your Yoga to a TV or projector for presentations at work, or entertainment at home. Of course, some middle-managers might like to do presentations at home for their family too, and so that's an option too. As much as we love the Dell XPS 12 and 13, the lack of HDMI is a bit tedious.
There's also a full-sized SD card slot. This is fantastic, as most digital cameras are still using this card system to store photos. So whip it out of your camera, and into the side of your laptop, and you're looking at photos straight away. Again, Dell, we love your laptops, but an SD card slot would make all of our Christmases come at once.
You also get a headphone socket, power jack - an interesting shape it is too - and power switch. There's also a hardware volume control. We like these, as it makes sense when using the laptop as a tablet.
What yoga position is this?
The unique selling point of the Yoga is the fold-back screen. It's an idea that works along similar lines as the Dell XPS 12, but with a very different execution. Where the Dell has an elaborate twisting screen, the Lenovo simply has a hinge that never stops hinging, at least not until the screen is folded flat against the back of the laptop. It's a neat idea, and one that's well executed. Particularly, it feels like the hinge is incredibly well-built, and will last a long time. This is going to be important, if you use it a lot, the last thing you need is for the hinge to break.
Because of the way the screen folds back, it means that in tablet mode the keyboard is under the device, and you can feel it when you hold the machine. This feels odd, but it's not a problem in any meaningful way. We much prefer the way the Dell XPS 12 handles this conversion, but we think the Lenovo system might be more robust in the longterm.
It also means you can contort the machine into shapes that will be quite useful for flying, or where space is a little less than abundant. Will anyone use it as a tablet? We're dubious honestly, because it's heavy, but we suspect having it be able to convert is worth any price premium it adds, especially if you travel a lot.
As the keyboard will spend a good amount of time exposed, on the base of your "tablet", there have been some design decisions made that affect the way it looks and the way it works.
Most noticeable, is the short travel on the island-style keys. This means that when you put it down, the keys aren't standing proud, and the machine rests on the keyboard surround. Of course, the keys are deactivated when you flip it around, so there's no problem accidentally typing things.
This short travel makes for an interesting typing experience. It's not bad though, not at all, and we found that we were able to type very accurately indeed on the keyboard. The keys are a nice size, well-shaped and feel really good to type on. The lack of travel is something of a problem, because it feels odd, and can leave you feeling a bit fatigued. We know that sounds odd, but honestly, typing on it is more work than a regular laptop keyboard.
We also noticed that it can be uncomfortable at times, there's that old problem with the wrist rest digging in to your wrists ever so slightly too. It's minor, but it will grow thin after a while.
Trackpad and touchscreen
The trackpad is also nice to use. It's very sensitive, and it mirrors the way the touchscreen works. So swipe in from the right, and you'll see the Windows Charms menu appear; from the left, and you'll be able to swap between open "Metro" apps, and the Windows desktop.
The only problem we had was that the size of the trackpad is quite small, which means it's easy to trigger those Windows events, when what you wanted, was to just move the mouse around. Minor grumble, and you'll get used to it.
Other than that, we thought the trackpad on the Yoga was pretty plucky, because we often find them a bit underwhelming on machines with touchscreens.
The touchscreen here is good too. It's a sensible resolution, so on-screen elements are a little bit better-sized for finger touch than on 1080p machines. The screen is still small though, so there will be some things that will confound your digits. We liked it though, it's amongst the best we've used.
What a surprise, it's McAfee time. And what a time you'll have with it, because it really doesn't want to leave you alone.
As with most laptops these days, a trial for McAfee is provided, to "keep you safe" and hassle you like a door-to-door salesperson trying to flog you a tea towel, or God, or new windows. It really is beyond tedious, and on opening the laptop we had no less than three nag screens asking us to pay for this, or update that. It sucks, badly.
Indeed, it reminds us a bit of that old joke about management consultants who "steal your watch, then charge to tell you the time". McAfee is like that, it takes over your computer with offensive bloatware that runs slowly and charges you for the privilege.
There's some other clutter installed too, but none of it as hard to removed, or as morally reprehensible as the McAfee bundle of misery.
Performance and screen
There's not much to worry about in performance terms. The modest i3 and 4GB of RAM mean that this laptop won't suit video editors or gamers, and the Intel graphics are fairly basic, but use very little extra power. Even so, we didn't notice that it felt especially slow, rather it whipped along at a decent pace. Sometimes resuming the laptop from sleep would cause it to slow for a period, but nothing too dramatic.
Despite the modest specification, the laptop does play 1080p video at high bitrates with no problems at all. We used VLC and a clip from The Dark Knight to test this, and it looked amazing, and played without jumping or dropping frames.
The screen is also very nice. There's a good wide viewing angle that suits the flexible nature of the screen, and the resolution suits the size of the screen well. It's also got an impressive contrast ratio, and the video clip we used looked very impressive, with lots of rich colours and tons of detail. It's proof, if you will, of resolution being something that isn't an absolute proof of quality. We like this screen, even though it doesn't appear that good, on paper.
The quoted battery life numbers for the Yoga 11S are in the eight-hour range. The more powerful i5 and i7 machines seem to last about six hours. This all compares to the old RT machines, which could manage an alleged 10 hours. Our testing indicates that the battery and power plan are both good, and that you should get at least six hours.
As always, we caveat this with the obvious point that battery life is derived from what you do on the machine. Watching 1080p video uses more power than 720p video, and both use a lot more juice than writing in a Word document.
Still, we're happy with the battery life, and this thin and light laptop certainly does well, given its tiny size.
As a laptop, the Yoga 11S has lots to offer. It's a nice little machine that has impressed us in general use. There are some interesting things to note. For a start, we tested the Core i3 version of the machine, which doesn't seem to appear on the Lenovo site, but you can buy it from PC World and the like, for £700.
While the spec is decent enough for most uses, it's not exactly a powerhouse either. The 1366 x 768 screen is fine for a laptop this size, and 1080p would look ridiculous. The 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM are also reasonable, but they're not going to blow anyone away. It is, however, a solid machine and it's light and flexible - get it - enough to impress.
READ: Dell XPS 12 review
If you've got a bit of spare cash, the Sony Vaio Pro is lighter and more powerful, while the Dell XPS 12 has a much nicer screen, and lots more power. Though wait for the new machines with the improved Intel processor.
READ: Sony Vaio Pro review
We can certainly see it being a staple of university students and business users who need to travel a lot, but need a solid, reliable computer that you can type properly on, and despite that slightly odd keyboard, this machine still makes a nice place to work.