Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S Convertible Notebook Review: A Game of Compromises
User Interface, A/V Quality, Cooling, Battery Life, Software
Lenovo is proud of their AccuType keyboards, and for good reason: they’re among the best Chiclet-style models on the market. Having said that, there are most certainly different grades of these available, and the Yoga 11S (thanks in part to the constraints of its size) is saddled with one of the lesser variants. The keys are a bit wobbly for starters, and the surfaces feel like a cheaper plastic than the rest of the case. Beyond that, their travel is short and their stop, while mostly crisp, still has a bit of mushiness to it. That’s probably because of the requisite shelf surrounding the keyboard that acts as the bottom of the notebook while in Stand Mode and protects the screen from damage while closed.
Comparatively, the Yoga 11’s still light-years ahead of the cheapo HP and Toshiba keyboards lining their budget models, and it’s superior to most other convertible/tablet keyboards, too—but it’s nowhere nearly as good as the full-sized AccuType models or the keyboards of plenty other larger notebooks. Just keep that in mind if you plan to do a whole lot of typing: there are Ultrabooks (most of which are more expensive) that do it better, and even some other convertibles, as well, such as the Dell XPS 12 and even Lenovo’s own ThinkPad Helix.
The Synaptics touchpad, meanwhile, is the same model found on the Yoga 11—which is to say, it’s excellent. Unlike plenty of other clickpads, this pad does full-surface clicks properly (well, almost full-surface; you can’t click at the very top of the pad), and on top of that, its soft-touch finish is both comfortable and stylish. There’s very little resistance for gliding fingers, and its size is more than enough to accommodate the HD-resolution display. It also does a good job with gestures; everything from one-finger swipes (to switch to the last application and toggle the charms bar) to multi-finger swipes (two-finger right-clicks, scrolling, zooming, and rotations; three/four-finger directional swipes to go back/forward) are interpreted accurately and consistently.
Also, of course, there’s the capacitive touchscreen, which in this case happens to be a 10-point multitouch display. This is up from the Yoga 11’s 5-point display, though it’s admittedly rare that it ever makes any difference. That’s beside the point, however, as it works perfectly. It’s as accurate as the best touchscreens out there, and the edge-to-edge glass makes it seamless to operate. Gestures work well also.
Finally, there’s the edge-mounted buttons, which we previously covered in the Introduction and Design section. They work well also, though we found ourselves forgetting that they existed and opting for the built-in Windows settings most of the time. Regardless, apart from some difficulty operating them while in Stand Mode, their placement makes a lot of sense.
The Yoga 11S’ 11.6” IPS display features an HD resolution (1366x768 pixels), which is hardly convincing in this age of 1080p phones and tablets. Still, it’s very bright and contrast-rich, which (similar to the Yoga’s construction) lends it a more premium feel than its price. The color isn’t terribly intense, but unless you’re looking for professional photo editing, you won’t miss it: this is one attractive display for a relatively inexpensive machine.
Of course, outdoors, it’s still a challenge, and that’s all thanks to its glossy, edge-to-edge glass display (the standard of modern tablets). But the viewing angles are fantastic, something which is expected thanks to the fact that it’s an IPS panel.
One other thing worth mentioning is that the display does experience a bit of wobble under normal operation. This can get irritating if you’re a heavy typer, or—and this will be something nearly everyone experiences—you decide to use the touchscreen while in standard laptop form. The hinges feel strong and more than capable of supporting the absolutely lightweight display piece, but they’re not as firm in their grip as those of the ThinkPad line of products.
Audio quality also tops expectations, with the edge-mounted speakers providing clear high frequencies and a strong stereo separation. However, their volume (while sufficient) suffers a bit when the notebook’s base isn’t resting on a flat surface (as is the case only in standard laptop mode). For that reason, you’ll most likely want to opt for that setup if you’re going to be watching video or listening to audio for any extended period of time.
In spite of the fact that the Yoga 11S ditches the passive cooling approach and includes a fan (a decision mandated by the higher-power chipset), it’s still a nearly silent machine under most circumstances. We recorded max values of around 35 dB(A) while idle and 40 dB(A) while under heavy load. That might sound like a plus, but anyone who’s familiar with the trade-offs involved will immediately ask the next logical question: what happens with the heat then?
Well, in short, it remains. While idle or under light workload, things remains perfectly comfortable—whether for use on the lap or else. But introduce the Yoga 11S to some stress and you’ll quickly feel it heating up. Most of the higher temperatures are concentrated in the rear of the unit near the exhaust vent, but while the center is most certainly the hottest, the rear corners are quite warm as well. Like many Ultrabooks, as long as you don’t max it out while it’s sitting on you, you’ll be all right. The only other thing to think about is the fact that, in tablet form, the unit is held unless it’s sitting in Tent or Stand Mode—so it’s a bit more inconvenient here than in the case of many standard notebooks, but it’s nothing to get too terribly concerned about.
The original Yoga 11 was particularly interesting for one major reason: that is, when you use a tablet-like chipset, you get tablet-like results. While we’ve covered the many caveats of this approach, one of the benefits of this was battery life. Offering a tablet-like longevity of over 10 hours of web surfing and nearly a full 24 hours of idle time, it was something unheard of in the world of laptop-like devices.
As you might have guessed, with the migration to an Intel x86 chipset with a 13W TDP, that advantage of outrageously good battery life has necessarily vanished. Our battery tests with the Yoga 11S weren’t disappointing, but they weren’t remarkable, either.
For starters, under minimal load (but still normal brightness with Wi-Fi on), in the Battery Eater Pro Reader’s Test, we received a result of 6 hours and 57 minutes—certainly not the best we’ve seen on an Ultrabook:
Next, with regular web surfing and the same settings as before, the Yoga 11S managed 4 hours and 46 minutes:
Finally, under heavy load (in the Battery Eater Pro Classic Test) with 100% brightness and the High Performance power profile, we recorded a total runtime of 2 hours and 6 minutes:
Again, these results aren’t bad. But with the advent of Haswell-based Ultrabooks and the unique benefits of extremely low-powered chipsets, it’s unfortunate that the Yoga 11S couldn’t manage to turn out a bit more. That would have been possible if it had included a Haswell CPU—so I suppose we’ll see whether or not a late-year refresh leads to the sort of perfect middle ground we are all hoping for. For now, it isn’t bad, but it’s barely even Ultrabook-grade.
We’ve said it a million times, but without a doubt, the biggest benefit of the 11S over the 11 is its ability to run Windows 8 and standard x86 applications that come along with it. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, to find the usual assortment of Lenovo stock Windows applications preloaded on the 11S, which (for better or for worse) includes around a dozen different items in total. To briefly recount:
- McAfee Internet Security
- Lenovo Cloud Storage by SugarSync
- Amazon Kindle
- Rara Music
- Evernote Touch
- Encyclopedia Britannica
- Birzzle Preview
- Absolute Data Protect
Most of it’s pretty innocuous and unobtrusive, though even if you decide to remove all of it, it isn’t too difficult.
Finally, the Yoga 11S ships with a 1-year standard depot warranty. As with all Lenovo notebooks, upgraded options are available, ranging from extended terms to Accidental Damage Protection.