Introduction and Design
Contortionist PCs are a big deal these days as convertible models take the stage to help bridge the gap between notebook and tablet. But not everyone wants to drop a grand on a convertible, and not everyone wants a 12-inch notebook, either. Meanwhile, these same people may not wish to blow their cash on an underpowered (and far less capable) Chromebook or tablet. It’s for these folks that Lenovo has introduced the IdeaPad Flex 14 Ultrabook, which occupies a valuable middle ground between the extremes.
The Flex 14 looks an awful lot like a Yoga at first glance, with the same sort of acrobatic design and a thoroughly IdeaPad styling (Lenovo calls it a “dual-mode notebook”). The specs are also similar to that of the x86 Yoga, though with the larger size (and later launch), the Flex also manages to assemble a slightly more powerful configuration:
The biggest internal differences here are the i5-4200U CPU, which is a 1.6 GHz Haswell model with a TDP of 15 W and the ability to Turbo Boost (versus the Yoga 11S’ i5-3339Y, which is Ivy Bridge with a marginally lower TDP of 13 W and no Turbo Boost), the integrated graphics improvements that follow with the newer CPU, and a few more ports made possible by the larger chassis. Well, and the regression to a TN panel from the Yoga 11S’ much-appreciated IPS display, which is a bummer. Externally, your wallet will also appreciate a $250 drop in price: our model, as configured here, retails for just $749 (versus the $999 Yoga 11S we reviewed a few months back).
You can actually score a Flex 14 for as low as $429 (as of this writing), by the way, but if you’re after any sort of respectable configuration, that price quickly climbs above the $500 mark. Ours is the least expensive option currently available with both a solid-state drive and an i5 CPU.
Introduction and Design
It seems like only yesterday (okay, last month) that we were testing the IdeaPad Yoga 11, which was certainly an interesting device. That’s primarily because of what it represents: namely, the slow merging of the tablet and notebook markets. You’ve probably heard people proclaiming the death of the PC as we know it. Not so fast—while it’s true that tablets have eaten into the sales of what were previously low-powered notebooks and now-extinct netbooks, there is still no way to replace the utility of a physical keyboard and the sensibility of a mouse cursor. Touch-centric devices are hard to beat when entertainment and education are the focus of a purchase, but as long as productivity matters, we aren’t likely to see traditional means of input and a range of connectivity options disappear anytime soon.
The IdeaPad Yoga 11 leaned so heavily in the direction of tablet design that it arguably was more tablet than notebook. That is, it featured a tablet-grade SOC (the nVidia Tegra 3) as opposed to a standard Intel or AMD CPU, an 11” display, and a phenomenal battery life that can only be compared to the likes of other ARM-based tablets. But, of course, with those allegiances come necessary concessions, not least of which is the inability to run x86 applications and the consequential half-baked experiment that is Windows RT.
Fortunately, there’s always room for compromise, and for those of us searching for something closer to a notebook than the original Yoga 11, we’re now afforded the option of the 11S. Apart from being nearly identical in terms of form factor, the $999 (as configured) Yoga 11S adopts a standard x86 chipset with Intel ULV CPUs, which allows it to run full-blown Windows 8. That positions it squarely in-between the larger x86 Yoga 13 and the ARM-based Yoga 11, which makes it an ideal candidate for someone hoping for the best of both worlds. But can it survive the transition, or do its compromises outstrip its gains?
Our Yoga 11S came equipped with a fairly standard configuration:
Unless you’re comparing to the Yoga 11’s specs, not much about this stands out. The Core i5-3339Y is the first thing that jumps out at you; in exchange for the nVidia Tegra 3 ARM-based SOC of the original Yoga 11, it’s a much more powerful chip with a 13W TDP and (thanks to its x86 architecture) the ability to run Windows 8 and standard Windows applications. Next on the list is the included 8 GB of DDR3 RAM—versus just 2 GB on the Yoga 11. Finally, there’s USB 3.0 and a much larger SSD (256 GB vs. 64 GB)—all valuable additions. One thing that hasn’t changed, meanwhile, is the battery size. Surely you’re wondering how this will affect the longevity of the notebook under typical usage. Patience; we’ll get to that in a bit! First, let’s talk about the general design of the notebook.
Introduction and Design
As headlines mount championing the supposed shift toward tablets for the average consumer, PC manufacturers continue to devise clever hybrid solutions to try and lure those who are on the fence toward more traditional machines. Along with last year’s IdeaPad Yoga 13 and ThinkPad Twist, Lenovo shortly thereafter launched the smallest of the bunch, an 11.6” convertible tablet PC with a 5-point touch 720p IPS display.
Unlike its newer, more powerful counterpart, the Yoga 11S, it runs Windows RT and features an NVIDIA Tegra 3 Quad-Core system on a chip (SoC). There are pros and cons to this configuration in contrast to the 11S. For starters, the lower-voltage, fanless design of the 11 guarantees superior battery life (something which we’ll cover in detail in just a bit). It’s also consequently (slightly) smaller and lighter than the 11S, which gains a hair on height and weighs around a quarter pound more. But, as you’re probably aware, Windows RT also doesn’t qualify as a fully-functional version of Windows—and, in fact, the Yoga 11’s versatility is constrained by the relatively meager selection of apps available on the Windows Store. The other obvious difference is architecture and chipset, where the Yoga 11’s phone- and tablet-grade ARM-based NVIDIA Tegra 3 is replaced on the 11S by Intel Core Ivy Bridge ULV processors.
But let’s forget about that for a moment. What it all boils down to is that these two machines, while similar in terms of design, are different enough (both in terms of specs and price) to warrant a choice between them based on your intended use. The IdeaPad Yoga 11 configuration we reviewed can currently be found for around $570 at retailers such as Amazon and Newegg. In terms of its innards:
If it looks an awful lot like the specs of your latest smartphone, that’s probably because it is. The Yoga 11 banks on the fact that such ARM-based SoCs have become powerful enough to run a modern personal computer comfortably—and by combining the strengths of an efficient, low-power chipset with the body of a notebook, it reaps benefits from both categories. Of course, there are trade-offs involved, starting with the 2 GB memory ceiling of the chipset and extending to the aforementioned limitations of Windows RT. So the ultimate question is, once those trade-offs are considered, is the Yoga 11 still worth the investment?
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