In this review, we’ve got our hands on a Yoga 11 – Lenovo’s 11.6″ Windows RT tablet. Will it be as flexible as its name suggests or just another wannabe Windows 8 tablet? Read on to find out!
The Yoga 11 is a Windows RT (WinRT) offering by the laptop giant Lenovo as part of its Ideapad offering, which also includes the S Series, U Series and Z Series of laptops. The Yoga 11 is the younger brother of the recently released Yoga 13, a 13″ tablet running the full-blown Windows 8. But with a weight in excess of 1.5kg, it was more laptop than tablet so the Yoga 11 tips that balance nicely back and is certainly more tablet than laptop or netbook.
On the exterior, the distinctive feature about the Yoga range is the ability to fold the keyboard 360° and thus hold them like a classic keyboard-less tablet. Its flexibility doesn’t stop there though as the tablet can be rotated to any angle in between thanks to the perfectly tuned amount of stiffness in the double hinge – a tablet that at least does justice to its name.
Specs-wise, the most obvious thing about the Yoga 11 is its physical qwerty keyboard (non-detachable) – and a superb one at that (more on that later). Its NVidia Tegra 3 is a quad-core processor clocking in at 1.3 GHz and supported by 2 GB of RAM for seamless multitasking and backed with either 32GB or 64GB storage – SSD no less. Before going any further with the specs, it’s worth saying a word or two about that processor. The Tegra 3 has been heavily used by other tablets, such as the Acer Iconia A700 and Transformer Pad Infinity, but only now have WinRT tablets also come out using this same processor (Microsoft’s Surface RT of course being among the foremost). Although it’s labeled as a quad-core processor, it’s actually a quint-core processor as it has a ‘standby’ core, which is activated when the tablet is in light-use mode like in standby. In theory, this means a significant drop in battery use when idle, whilst keeping the performance high with the other 4 cores when you need it. In practice, this is exactly in-line with our experiences with the tablet – so a win for NVidia and we hope other manufacturers will follow suit. Consider that the Galaxy Note 10.1, which also has a quad-core processor (Samsung’s Exynos 4410) but yet has the occasional lag and an unimpressive battery life.
In terms of connectivity, the Yoga 11 has 2 USB Ports, a HDMI port and an SD/MMC Card slot (all full-sized), Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0. The battery life is a fantastic 11+ hours and as well as being due to NVidia’s innovation just mentioned, this is also due to the fact that the keyboard is permanent attached and has a large space for the battery. This is the 64GB model of the tablet we’re reviewing (there’s also a 32GB model), though according to WinRT’s brain, there’s only 39GB available. C:\Windows takes 9 GB whilst C:\Program Files takes 0.5GB and the capacity of C:\ in My Computer is showing as 52GB – so where’d the remaining 12GB go? We’re not exactly sure, but the OS and core applications typically take up a chunk of space in all previous tablets we’ve reviewed so it could be the same here but with WinRT taking up a lot more space than what we’re used to with Android or the iOS.
Having said that, we can overlook this without batting an eyelid though as our USB pen disk worked a charm in the Yoga’s full-sized USB port; it’s extremely convenient over having to keep an external storage drive or a MicroSD card that most PCs don’t have built-in ports for.
The build quality is sturdy and though there’s a bit of flex in the upper half with the screen, it’s not the type of flex that’s a cause for concern – it’s a healthy flex like that in a serving tray . But the best part of the physical aspect has to be the striking alloy-orange casing, which gives it the ‘I mean business’ look. There’s 2 hinges on each end of the rear of the tablet which allows the screen to rotate all the way back to face the opposite direction from the keyboard, giving endless variations of how you can hold the Yoga 11. Now all this comes at a cost – and aside from the price, there’s another cost in the form of its weight. A fixed, unchangeable 1.27 kg. Compared with an iPad weighing 650g, that’s almost double the weight. But again, we won’t fuss over that. Why? Because for someone buying a tablet with these traits – namely a fixed keyboard and Windows – we strongly think it’s going to be used in far more scenarios where you’ll be sitting down with the Yoga on your laptop or on a desk to do some work. It’s a work tablet, for sure. The display has a resolution of 1366 x 768, which is one of the lowest PPI (Pixels per Inch) for a 10.1+ screen but for the reasons just mentioned, it’s a smart trade-off by Lenovo. We’d rather the price wasn’t bumped up for a high-res display in a tablet not designed to be primarily for entertainment (though watching movies was still pleasant).
WinRT (Windows RT)
The big question “Does WinRT run normal Windows applications” will no doubt be on many people’s mind and the short answer is No. It’s the elephant in the room when it comes to WinRT and will immediately put some people off, and this is entirely understandable.
Without making it into a WinRT review, it’s important to mention a few points about this OS specifically for readers who may not be familiar with it. WinRT is a trimmed down version of Windows 8, specifically for lightweight devices such as this tablet which have limited hardware resources as compared to a desktop. Now this does mean there are limitations of using this OS as opposed to the full-blown Windows 8 (though it can be hacked to run normal Windows programs found on XP, Windows 7 etc). Basically, apps have to be specifically created for use with WinRT as opposed to Windows 8 apps ‘just working’ – they won’t. This has the side effect that unfortunately, and most importantly for some, there are relatively few apps in the Windows store available for RT. As of this writing (May 2013), there are ~75k apps – although it sounds like a lot, compared with several hundred thousand on Android it’s not huge and remember that many will be junk apps. Critical apps such as Calendar, Mail, News etc. come bundled with the tablet though, along with Evernote, eBay, Rara (a music service) and Microsoft Office 2013 etc. The GMail app not being available in WinRT is a massive let down – or, if we weren’t being so nice, it sucks. The pedantic might point out that there is a GMail app for Windows 8/RT – ‘GMail Touch’. But unfortunately it’s been developed very poorly by a little-known developer and, in the words of a reviewer of this mostly 1-star app you are ‘Unable to view any emails with this application. 100% Useless.’. In this cut-throat business, Apple’s also taking a tough stance and refuses to build a Windows 8 iTunes app. What’s more – for the provided Calendar app, you must have a Microsoft Account setup before you can use it. D’oh.
There are several upsides to having WinRT though, which makes the Yoga 11 a serious contender in some categories within the burgeoning tablet market. First of all, being a trimmed down OS you can really feel the lightness of the software as you fly through apps and switch between views. Its low power consumption means the battery life is surprisingly good, even with the knowledge that there’s a large battery under the keyboard. Then, and this is the big one, it’s got many of the original Windows features like the Control Panel, Admin level access (complete with User Access Control and the mildly annoying though much restrained ‘Run as Administrator’ popup), Explorer-based directory navigation and the Run command. These are all available in ‘Desktop’ mode – where the view looks like a typical Windows desktop (though cut down of course), whereas the default home/landing page is the now infamous tiled view that’s been heavily marketed as of late.
The tiles are a hot issue of debate and your mileage will vary depending on how you use the OS, particularly as the relationship between the tiles view and desktop view isn’t thought out too well. For instance, WinRT could have displayed the summary of activity in the Desktop on the tiles view – a message saying “4 Excel Sheets Open” next to the Excel Icon or when a process completes its activity it could blink on the tiles view. For heavy power users, it’ll be near useless like it was for us as we were almost always in Desktop mode and the tiles were just gimmickry. The gestures however, are one of the neatest things in WinRT and there are plenty to get to know – but once you know them, your productivity will shoot up even more as the tablet responds to gestures swiftly and accurately. From swiping top to bottom to close apps (our favourite) to swiping right then left quickly to show most recently used apps, some of the most common workflows can be done quicker than any other way we know of.
As mentioned, in typical Windows fashion, you can manage users through the Control Panel including access levels and parental control where necessary. But here there’s some sloppiness in management of logins as it checks your password against Microsoft Servers when you try to log in. This might not sound so bad, but it’s problematic if the internet is down – you get an error message telling you to use the last password used on the tablet even if that was on another account. So we got a bit stuck with this and were disappointed they designed it like this – it’s the kind of thing that’s possibly been neglected to the end of the development cycle and this was perhaps the quick and dirty solution they came up with.
Of course doing the mandatory first step when using any Windows device with Internet Access, we tried to download Google Chrome to use in place of the dreaded bumbling monster that is IE. But unfortunately we got the error ‘This app can’t run on your PC.’ And it was the same with Firefox. This is all due to WinRT essentially bringing a different paradigm of how apps run – apps now can’t just do anything they want with your machine, but are in fact sandboxed (and the Win32 API is restricted) so 3rd party browsers like Chrome don’t have access to the computer’s internals that it needs. Fortunately, and in a refreshing breath of fresh air for perhaps the first time in my life, the IE app in WinRT is actually quite snappy. It’s the snappiest IE I’ve seen and loads pages in a respectable amount of time. This browser issue could have been the nail in the coffin for this tablet and we could have stopped the review right here, but it’s come out alive by the skin of its teeth. And we’re relieved it’s done so as it has so much going for it.
We’ve mentioned this aspect before but it really does deserve a section to itself so we can show you exactly why we like the Yoga 11′s performance.
For starters, it takes 26 seconds to load from being switched off. And another 3 seconds to log into my account, while Sleep and Wake-up are literally instant thanks to the Tegra 3′s companion core. Zooming is fast and fluid and doesn’t feel like the processor’s being stretched. Microsoft Excel takes 4 seconds to load the first time and 1.5 seconds on subsequent loads. The screen can be split and we managed to play 2 movies side by side without any lag on either movie. Although the screen can only be split so that one window can take either the right 1/3 or the left 1/3 space, in retrospect this is quite a nice touch as typically we’ll be working on one main task – Excel for example – and have a browser or some reference material open in another. Ideally of course, it’d be great if the amount it could be split between displays was arbitrary but (understandably) there may be technical reasons why they couldn’t do that.
Some things will never change
Now it’s not all roses even when looking at it just from a productivity perspective as there’s a few issues lingering with this tablet apart from the elephant in the room that is the inability to run existing Windows applications. The Office 2013 Suite that comes bundled with the Yoga 11 is meant to be used with the provided keyboard – however, folding the tablet and holding it in classic keyboard-less format can cause problems with Office. For example, in Excel it crashes if you try to use the touchscreen to manipulate data in a given worksheet. More precisely, after the 3rd touch it crashes and stays in a ‘Not Responding’ state until it’s forcibly closed. Then there’s the crucial issue of licensing of the Office 2013 Suite that comes with the RT – in short, it can’t be used for commercial purposes. Yep, no work that’s revenue generating can be used on this tablet as it comes out of the box, according to the license terms . A commercial licence has to be purchased and, to put it lightly, that’s naughty – it wouldn’t be so bad if it was made clear in black & white when purchasing a Yoga 11 that this would be required, but unfortunately it’s not and that makes it an unpleasant stain on Lenovo and the Yoga 11.
Personally, if this was to be my permanent tablet the deciding factor would be the physical input, primarily the physical keyboard and then the trackpad. Unlike some others who’ve complained about lag in keeping up with the keystrokes, as a touch typist on the physical keyboard I managed a decent (for my standard anyway) 79 WPM with 90% accuracy. I found both the physical keyboard and touchscreen keyboard kept up with my keystrokes as I tested them separately, though the exact layout of the touchscreen keyboard required a bit of adjusting to initially. Just to double check, I also opened a few other apps and had a video running in another split window whilst typing and it still kept up. Yes, displaying the characters on the screen had about a 1/2 second delay at times but there were no missed characters and no more errors than are typical on a keyboard this size. So, credit where it’s due, I have no complaints about this keyboard and infact I would say it’s the best fixed keyboard on a tablet I’ve seen yet. From the 4mm gap between keys to the depth of the keys themselves to the old-school click feedback when pressing a key, it’s clear a lot of thought has gone into it and it aligns well – really well – with the Yoga 11′s intended audience of those looking to boost productivity.
Also, it was delightful (no less!) to see that interchanging between using the on-screen keyboard, physical keyboard, touch gestures and the trackpad was all seamless and the Yoga 11 didn’t skip a beat. This is worth a special mention as we’ve often found changing input devices, whether a keyboard, stylus or touchscreen can cause a frustrating delay while a tablet gets itself into the right gear, but no such delay with the Yoga 11. You could quite comfortably be writing with the physical keyboard one second and swiping the touchscreen the next to scroll.
One issue we’ve seen, though it’s more to do with the OS design rather than a fault of the keyboard, is the inability of the OS to know when we’re in an input field and hence to bring up the keyboard. This is likely due to the fact that figuring out when to pop up the keyboard for input would be a serious amount of effort on existing applications that’re already complicated enough, such as Excel. Instead, the on-screen keyboard has to be explicitly brought up with the press of an icon on the task bar wherever input is required (e.g. when the formula bar at the top of Excel is focused), though the most common cases are covered and the keyboard does automatically come up when, for example, focusing on the entry box when using the WinRT IE app.
For IT Professionals?
If you’ve been reading this review one thing that would have stood out is how attuned this tablet is for being used to increase productivity. From running a Windows OS to its full-sized USB port and from its mediocre display to its fantastic keyboard, there’s no doubt the Yoga 11 particularly appeals to certain segments of the tablet market. One that is obvious as daylight is IT Professionals – such as software developers, infrastructure staff, support personnel etc. We thought it’s worth mentioning some particularly useful features for such professionals :-
- By default, Powershell comes installed on the tablet (version 3.0 no less) allowing you to potentially manage an entire farm of servers through this tablet by executing Powershell commands remotely.
- Remote Desktop Connection works just like as in Windows with a very quick connection time and provided the connectivity is good, the lag is no more than a typical RDP connection.
- Explorer functionality – browsing network shares, drag-drop functions, right-click and ‘Send to…’ options and even the ability to map network drives!
- Task Manager – gives you real-time updating of CPU, Memory, Disk and Network usage per-process and per-user, as well as the services running. Right now, I have a staggering 33 processes and 504 threads running apparently.
It’s important to stress again though – if you need to run any existing Windows applications, they won’t work out of the box so you’ll either need to find a WinRT alternative to that app or port it to WinRT yourself.
Speakers & Camera
The Yoga 11 was never intended as a media tablet but nonetheless the speakers are more than sufficient if you’re sitting in front of the tablet, both in terms of volume and depth. The volume control is in a strange position it must be mentioned – at the bottom left of the keyboard – whereas the instinct is to reach for the top of the screen or top of the sides of the keyboard. But this becomes a non-issue when the tablet is folded and held in tablet mode – indeed perhaps this is why Lenovo designed it to be in this position, but I can’t help thinking this tablet would be used with the keyboard out most of the time.
The Camera is a minimalist front-facing one with a maximum resolution of 1 MP. Compared to the plethora of options in the now mature Android Camera application, the WinRT Camera App is as minimalist as the camera itself, with just a handful of options. Besides, having a rear camera would spoil the orange-brown finish on the exterior and we certainly wouldn’t want that now, would we? Options for image quality go from 0.1MP up to 1MP though with an SSD inside the Lenovo, there’s no reason to drop below 1 MP. A timer option, when enabled, will take a photo shot after a non-configurable 3 seconds. Then there’s brightness, contrast and exposure options which you might find yourself turning to fairly often as there’s no LCD Camera Flash. Post-capture editing options are restricted to cropping. As you can probably guess, this is really only suitable for the likes of Skyping or taking images for items to sell on eBay as the images are fairly grainy (as the two images above show.)
Many tablets get banded about as being a ‘productivity tool’ and claiming to help make the most of your time on the move or in the office. With full-sized USB ports, cost savings on the display front, one of the nicest keyboards to use and Microsoft Office built-in, we can see Lenovo has consciously made decisions at key points in the design process to make this tablet work… for work. It’s a tragic shame that Office requires a separate licence for using this in a corporate environment as it would have been particularly useful in this exact scenario. There are caveats which may nullify this being a downside though if you already have certain Microsoft licenses. As mentioned, for IT professionals, this is particularly useful in so many ways that, aside from the Yoga 13, there aren’t many contenders at this price point. When the Yoga 11s appears on the scene in the near future with full Windows 8, it should make for an even more enticing tablet for this purpose. However before taking on this tablet, it’s worth taking stock of the apps situation and how it might affect you – as this won’t change for the foreseeable future, we’d recommend first finding out if there’s any apps that are crucial for your day-to-day use of the tablet and if they’re available for WinRT or if you can do without (GMail, iTunes for example). For now, if you need a lighter or indeed cheaper Yoga 13, which is snappy and provides for seamless multi-tasking and will help boost your productivity on the go or at the desk, the Yoga 11 is one of the best out there.
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