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.