How the Lenovo Yoga 11s compares

Previously… I was after a new small laptop and wasn’t sure what sort to get. I bought a Lenovo Yoga 11s (in grey). After a few days’ use, here’s how it compares against the criteria I had in mind when I bought it.

  • No bigger in any dimension than an A4 pad. The Yoga is just smaller than A4: about the same size as my previous Dell, but thinner and a bit lighter. It is slightly bigger and heavier than an 11″ MacBook Air. It’s the right size for a small laptop.
  • Good keyboard. It’s not as good as the bigger Lenovo laptops and doesn’t compare with my older Thinkpads, but it is nice in comparison to most other laptops this size, including the MacBook Air, and is better than the shiny Chromebook Pixel keyboard. It does have similarly spongy cursor keys to the Air though. Trackpad wasn’t a factor for me, but it’s fairly good: better than the glassy pad on the Air, but it would be better still with separate buttons.
  • Touchscreen with a decent screen resolution, i.e. not 1366×768. Failed here; this one is 1366×768. It’s fine when running Linux or old-school programs like Visual Studio, but “native” Windows 8 apps don’t do subpixel antialiased font rendering any more, so things look rather fuzzy there (just like OS/X on the Air in fact).
  • Should ship with Windows 8 but be able to dual-boot with a Linux install, run virtual machines, etc. Yes, fine here.
  • Quiet fan, no whining. I was worried about this—owners of the earlier Yoga 13 models have reported a nasty whiny fan noise. Sounds like a trivial thing, but it really matters. To my joy, the fan on this 11s is almost inaudible.
  • Comfortable ergonomics, plain appearance (ideally not silver). The ergonomics are generally good, except that you can’t open it one-handed. The palmrests are particularly lovely. It looks unostentatious enough. It is silver, but a pretty mundane silver plastic with black keyboard and bezel. I wanted boring, which is lucky because boring is what it is.
  • To cost under £1000. It was £700.

Things I didn’t think of beforehand:

  • The screen is a bit wibbly-wobbly. I don’t really want the flip-back hinge: I bought this as a nice small laptop rather than a convertible, and trying to use it in “tablet mode” just has the effect of making a nice small laptop look like a clumsy ponderous oaf of a tablet—not a good look. I do like the way the screen hinges right back to the table top, but I’m not sure it’s valuable enough to justify a bit of extra wobble in the hinge.
  • It has no Kensington lock slot. That’s a pisser because it means I can’t leave it alone in the lab during the day. I don’t work in a very secure place. I know the MacBook Airs don’t have them, but I thought that was just Apple being up their own arses. Hadn’t expected it of Lenovo.
  • Battery life (about 5 hours in my work) isn’t the best, but it’s acceptable and the machine recharges really fast.
  • The touchscreen isn’t as oil-resistant as some tablets and can get smeary pretty quickly. And it’s very reflective, so that matters.

And things I thought of but was nonetheless surprised by:

  • Processor speed. I said this wasn’t a factor, but I’m surprised to find that a current low-voltage Core i3 is much slower at compiling code than the 32-bit Core Duo in my chunky 6-year-old Thinkpad T60p. The Yoga is much faster at media work, like photo or audio editing, but it takes about twice as long to compile anything. I haven’t seen recent changes in processor evolution illustrated so clearly before.
  • Windows 8: good in many ways and good enough at the system level, but the built-in apps (Photos etc) really are still horribly unreliable. These apps, including Internet Explorer, seem to take the view that if a connection takes more than a few seconds they should just crash and let the user restart instead of having to wait. Not a great advert for those robust new Windows 8 development frameworks.

I must admit that, although I like this machine, I do think of it as an early iteration of a design I hope Lenovo will keep working on. It’s very nice, but a version with a higher-resolution, more oil-resistant screen and longer battery life from the newer lower-power Intel CPUs would be nicer still.

Suggest a Laptop

I’d like to replace my “small laptop”, the one I use when doing a bit of development work on a train or in a coffee shop, and I’m having trouble finding something suitable. Can anyone suggest something I might have missed?

Things I care about are

    1. No bigger in any dimension than an A4 pad. (At the moment I’m using a Dell D420, which is almost exactly A4.) This currently seems to mean an 11″ or possibly 10″ screen size.
    2. Good keyboard.
    3. Touchscreen with a decent screen resolution, i.e. not 1366×768. The Dell is 1280×800 and, six years of progress later, I’m not prepared to trade even further down in all-important vertical pixel count.
    4. Should ship with Windows 8 but be able to dual-boot with a Linux install, run virtual machines, etc. So it must be a classic Intel PC rather than ARM.
    5. Quiet fan, no whining.
    6. Comfortable ergonomics, plain appearance (ideally not silver).
    7. To cost under £1000.

Also it should actually be possible to use it on a lap, like a conventional laptop. If it wasn’t for that, the MS Surface Pro with Type Cover (surprisingly good keyboard) would be an ideal answer.

Processor speed, storage etc are not criteria: any current laptop will do fine there. Battery life matters, but again most contenders are probably OK by my standards.

But there don’t seem to be all that many contenders. I’ve looked at a few things, including

  • Lenovo Yoga 11s — looks great all round, except it has a 1366×768 screen. Maddeningly Lenovo announced a higher-resolution version and PC World even listed it for sale, but it turned out not to actually exist. Otherwise I would have bought it already.
  • 11″ MacBook Air — also 1366×768, and I don’t like the keyboard or feel, and it’s a bit… um… conspicuous. And no touchscreen. No, the Air is a very good machine and I do have access to a company one already but, for me and for this purpose, if it was the only option I’d stick with my current Dell instead.
  • Acer Aspire S7-191 — this 11″ model was far too showy and had a crap keyboard, but what a wonderful screen. Acer improved the keyboard on the 13″ when they updated it this year, but instead of updating the 11″ version as well, they scrapped it.
  • Sony Vaio Pro 11 — cramped keyboard and rather expensive. It feels as if Sony were working a bit too hard on reducing size and weight. I’m suspicious about Sony, they tend to take things a bit far. I’ve had two expensive Vaios and, although both were lovely in some way, I wouldn’t buy another unless I was really sure about it.

Any ideas for laptops, or convertible tablet thingies, I might be missing?

Update

Well, I’m pretty sure the computer I’m describing doesn’t exist.

The sticking point at the moment is the screen resolution: for some reason even though cheap tablets (and phones!) routinely have better screens, 1366×768 still seems to be standard for small laptops even costing significantly more.

The best suggestion I had (from Yves via Twitter) was for the Dell XPS 12 convertible. I hadn’t even considered another Dell and I’ve never much liked the look of the XPS with its flimsy-seeming flippy screen and nasty keytop font, but when I tried one I found it was much better than I’d thought — the keyboard feels really good and the screen has a proper resolution. But it’s just that bit too big, an inch wider than my old laptop, so it won’t fit in a couple of bags that I use, and that annoys me. Add the dodgy font and that’s enough to put me off it.

Toshiba make a surprisingly interesting sliding convertible, the Satellite U920t. This is a bit like Sony’s Vaio Duo sliders, a bit less slick to convert, but with a tough-looking adjustable hinge. Again it’s a bit too big and it only has a 1366×768 screen, but it has a satisfyingly solid feel and a better keyboard than I’d expected (Toshiba have previously made the worst laptop keyboard I’ve ever used).

Most of the tablet convertibles out there, those with a tablet that slots into a keyboard dock, have the disadvantage of falling over backwards when you poke the screen. So I didn’t go for one of those.

I compromised on the screen resolution, and bought the Lenovo Yoga 11s.

Apart from the screen, so far it’s fantastic. Beautifully assembled and with a nice keyboard and soft palmrests. Ooh, the palmrests.

The 1366×768 screen is a pity, especially in Windows 8 which doesn’t use subpixel antialiasing in many places (presumably because it has to handle screen rotation). If Lenovo do get around to making a version with a better screen, I will sell this one and buy it. In the meantime, I hope it will do me nicely enough.

 

Helios

I found my old Russian SLR camera a few days ago.

It’s a Zenit EM Olympic edition, a tie-in from the 1980 Moscow Olympics. The Russian Zenit, and more so its East German cousin the Praktica, were popular manual SLR cameras for beginner photographers in the UK in the 80s and 90s. I got mine second-hand for perhaps 20 quid in the early 90s. It’s big, very heavy, and clumsy to operate, and I was never a very good photographer—I doubt if I ever got more than two or three acceptable photos from it. Of course I decided it must be an awful camera.

Nowadays I use an Olympus E-PL3 Micro Four Thirds system camera. I have enough residual interest in the mechanics of photography to enjoy using a “proper” camera rather than a good smartphone and this is a light, efficient model that has worked well for me.

When I found the old Zenit, though, I thought—hey, can I use this lens with my new camera? Was it really as awful as I thought, or was it just me?

heliosIt turns out to be quite easy to do. The lens is a Helios 44m, a very common Russian make with a slightly antique fitting, the M42 thread. A local camera shop had an adapter.

The lens weighs more than the camera body: almost as much as a full jar of marmalade. And it’s almost entirely manual.

Manual focus, uh oh

When I bought the adapter, the guy in the shop insisted I would get no help at all from the camera: manual focus, manual aperture, manual shutter, and no metering. That turned out not to be true—focus and aperture are manual, but the camera can still handle metering and shutter speed.

And it turns out that it was just me: the Helios is quite a good lens.

Swan, Round Pond

Manual focus is… tricky… and I’m not very good at it, but manual focus and aperture are a lot more fun when you have instant replay and an automatic shutter. A heavy lens like this isn’t too bad to hold, either: you just hold the camera by the lens.

What does feel a bit more specialised is the new “equivalent” focal length. The lens has a 58mm focal length, which is unchanged of course, but the Micro Four-Thirds sensor is half the size of the 35mm negative giving an effective equivalent of 116mm focal length on a 35mm camera: pretty zoomy. Not the sort of thing you can just wander around taking scenes with, though it’s a good focal length for portraits, architectural detail, and animals.

(For comparison, it’s about the same frame as the well-regarded Olympus 60mm macro lens. Here: I took the same photo with the Helios and the Olympus lens.)

Squirrel in Hyde Park

The Helios is known for a distinctive circular light pattern in the out-of-focus backgrounds, which is appealing, if not what you’d always want.

Put things together

I’ve really enjoyed using this lens, but that doesn’t have a great deal to do with its optical qualities. It’s a decent lens, but I already own a better one of a similar focal length. (Though if I’d found my old camera and tried out the lens earlier, I might not have bought the comparatively expensive Olympus 60mm.)

But I do enjoy the history and (literal) weight of this lens, and I enjoy having a manual focus ring and being required to use it.

I don’t think I would ever—even now—set one of my autofocus lenses to manual focus, even though they all have focus rings, because I know I get better photos out the other end with autofocus. I’m just not good enough at it. But I’m delighted that I found the old camera and did something with it.

And it’s exciting to be able to make your camera out of all these different bits.

To be able to take a component built to a standard devised in 1949 and stick it on a very contemporary camera—I feel this is revealing, not so much of the future-proofing of the original standard or the backward compatibility of the new one, as of the fact that cameras are still mostly optical instruments and glass optics have been made to much the same, wonderfully high, standards for many decades now.

So, the cloud

I had intended to follow up my last post with a long, informative piece about where the various cloud hosting providers were registered and where they kept their data.

I had hoped to work out how to escape from the situation in which all of my personal and business data is being provided to foreign authorities that consider me, my company, and my customers to have no legal existence except as surveillance targets.

But I can’t do it.

The short answer seems to be that every cloud document hosting, music sharing, email hosting, code hosting, or online office applications company you have ever heard of is either an American company, or using American hosting, or both. If you are not an American citizen, information about you is being used by American security authorities, and you have no legal standing that might allow you to question how it is used.

And in any case, if you’re British like me, your own government has also engaged in all sorts of baroque deals to make its own internet data available to the American security authorities, and then to share the analysis results without any of the legal obligations.

I think that I have nothing to hide from any legal authority, and it’s incumbent on people like me to help to make the point by moving away from those authorities that we can no longer depend on. But it’s not easy to do.

For what it’s worth, I have moved my email hosting from Google mail (American company, American hosting, named in NSA leaks) to Fastmail.fm (Australian company, American hosting, not yet named in an NSA leak)—a marginal improvement.

And I’ve moved all of my web hosting—apart from this blog!—from Rackspace (American company, American hosting) to Hetzner (German company, German hosting). Perhaps next we’ll learn a bit more about the German government’s own monitoring apparatus.

It’s not enough.