Laptops are not in a great state. Samsung and Sony have already announced their departure from the market altogether. The money's just not there anymore, and companies need to adapt to survive. Lenovo's Yoga series is this kind of evolution in action.
The Lenovo Yoga 2 11 is a laptop with an 11.6-inch screen that folds all the way around its keyboard and body, turning it into a sort-of tablet. A thick tablet with a keyboard on the back, but a tablet nevertheless.
There have been several of these flexible Yoga convertibles to date, bit what's special about the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 is that it costs just shy of £400. It's a bit of a bargain.
Design and Portability
At first glance, the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 looks like a normal ultra-portable laptop. It's not desperately flashy, and doesn't have the sort of attention-grabbing design inflections you see in many tablets. It's simple, it's slim, and that works just fine. If anything, it looks like a more expensive laptop than it is - indeed its predecessor, the Yoga 11S, did cost £700.
The Yoga 2 is just 17.2mm thick in total and weighs 1.35kg: not quite MacBook Air grade, but not too far off. If you don't have too far to go, you can happily carry the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 around like a notepad, it's that dinky. And the look is a bit classier than the Asus T100 and Acer Switch 10, a pair of slightly cheaper, smaller alternatives (with detachable dock solutions, rather than the Yoga-style hinge mechanism).
Get up close and you can see where the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 doesn't quite have the build of a £700-1000 rival, though. While the lid is metal, providing that cool-to-the-touch feel, both the keyboard surround and underside are plastic.
There's also a rough "lip" inside where the sides poke out to meet the silvery keyboard surround. It's not a terrible look, but feels a bit like sandpaper if you move your palms back and forth by the mousepad. The keyboard surround flexes a bit too.
Keyboard and typing
Little build niggles fade into the background when you factor-in how handy the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 can be to use as an ultraportable laptop. Its 11.6-inch frame makes the keyboard just large enough to use comfortably while typing away at full speed. You can consider this a cheaper alternative to the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 in our book.
Those who love Lenovo laptops for their chunky keyboards, which often seem robust enough to survive the apocalypse, may be disappointed, though. It's fairly shallow, crisp keyboard that doesn't offer masses of feedback. Better than a spongy one? Sure, but Lenovo normally provides more than this. That's the price point cutting away at the design.
It is enough for us to suggest not thinking of the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 as a day-in, day-out work computer. It's not really intended to be one. If that's what you're after, you'd be better off with a more conventional laptop.
Similarly, it doesn't make a great tablet either, more a functional touchscreen device. That's fine, but for similar money you could instead buy an iPad Air 2 and Nexus 9, albeit with no keyboard dock. While the Yoga 2 is thin and light as far as low-cost laptops are concerned, it's gargantuan by tablet standards. Thankfully, the keyboard switches itself off when its turned around, but it still feels quite odd.
The Lenovo Yoga 2 11 works best as a mostly out-and-about device that can switch between work and play roles at the drop of a hat, or the twist of a hinge. Other than the tablet and laptop-style arrangements, the Yoga also works well in its "tent" position. This is where the keyboard is used to prop up the screen upside-down - and it's perfect for watching a film on the cramped little fold-out tables of planes and trains.
The screen falls into a middle ground. It uses a touchscreen and an IPS panel just like a tablet, which is great for viewing angles, but the resolution is that of a budget laptop - at 1366 x 768 pixels. This is way off the Retina-style resolutions of tablets, or even cheaper ones like the Tesco Hudl 2.
Again, think of the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 from a tablet perspective and it's a bit of a failing, but among laptops it's actually pretty good, especially at the price. Colour performance is much better than the vast majority of budget laptops. Most still use TN-style screens, which are almost universally poor at reproducing a wide array of tones. Here, the results from the IPS panel are pretty good - and much better than the convertible Asus T100.
Contrast isn't top-notch, but it rarely is in entry-level laptops. Resolution is the only part you really need to concern yourself about when considering whether the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 will be up to snuff.
Assuming, that is, you're prepared for the glossy screen finish. That and not exactly dazzling maximum screen brightness means the Yoga 2 is not perfect for outdoors use on a sunny day.
The Yoga 2 offers two full-size USB (one USB 3.0) ports, meaning you can plug in a mouse and, perhaps, an external hard drive with ease. There's also a 500GB hard drive on-board - the kind of capacity that's not yet possible in solid state memory tablets, and otherwise costs an awful lot in laptops.
On one side you'll find a micro HDMI port, letting you easily hook up the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 to another display too. Hook it up, close the lid and plug in a separate mouse and keyboard and you have a setup that avoids most of the compromises of a device this small - while the keyboard layout is only slightly cut down, the trackpad is a little smaller than ideal if you're going to use it at a desk. But it's more than workable.
That's your lot on the connections front bar the headphone jack, though. There's no Ethernet port, no SIM slot, but then those aren't particularly common these days.
Power and performance
You also need to manage your expectations of the sort of raw power the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 can supply. It uses an Intel Pentium N3520 CPU, a fairly low-power chipset based on the Bay Trail-M core hardware. Put it next to a current-gen Intel Core i5, the kind used in Apple's MacBook Air, and it'll curl up and start crying.
It cannot play any recent games beyond little indie ones and if you want to batch edit loads of images on Photoshop, it'll become a grind on the Lenovo Yoga 2 11.
However, in day-to-day use we were pretty happy with its performance. As well as being a bit nippier than the Intel Atoms used in most existing convertible Windows tablet-laptops, the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 offers 4GB of RAM rather than 2GB - sometimes found on entry-level devices. More RAM is more grease for the system's cogs.
It also has an 8GB SSD. This isn't for you to store data on, but a fast cache to help boot-up times keep pace with the sort of speeds we're used to these days. The main 500GB hard drive just isn't nippy enough by itself. Coming out of standby takes a second or two longer than the fastest, which isn't bad.
This is really just another sign that this is a portable and casual use PC, not a workhorse. If power matters, you can get some much more powerful laptops if you pay a little more. Shop around and you'll find Core i5 models like the Acer Aspire E5, but you'll also have a heavier, uglier laptop without a super-flexible screen and stamina of the Yoga 2.
You can expect to get seven hours of light use from a single charge, although when working with Wi-Fi on we found it lasted a little less long, but still enough to get you through most of a work day. Using a lighter CPU is how the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 manages this stamina while being so slim, and it also helps the laptop stay cool and light. When just using it for light tasks, it's pretty much silent bar the whirr of the hard drive - and you have to get your ear right next to the thing to notice that.
Appreciating the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 is all about managing your expectations as it doesn’t offer the screen quality of a dedicated tablet or the battery life of a MacBook Air.
But we kind of don't care, because the hinge mechanism makes for a great device to use in multiple situations on the go. And at under £400 the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 successfully fills a niche that its Asus and Acer competitors haven't quite managed.
If you already have a desktop or laptop at home, but want something to take out on longer journeys on trains and planes, the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 is a great solution. And while it's not as whizzy as an iPad, it's a versatile and affordable alternative.