ThinkPad Yoga 11e review: A hidden Chromebook gem

With its exceptional build quality and outstanding (and flexible) display, Lenovo's new Chromebook is a meaningful notch above the rest.

Chromebooks are quickly becoming a dime a dozen -- but for all the hardware options out there, we've yet to see a Chrome OS product that offers an elevated experience without a sky-high price tag.

Sure, you've got the top-of-the-line Chromebook Pixel, but it costs a whopping $1,300. If you're looking to spend any less than that, you're pretty much limited to a low-end device with a lackluster display, mediocre build quality and/or poky performance.

Lenovo is ready to deliver something different. The company's ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook, on sale only directly from Lenovo for $455, is the first Chromebook to truly target the midrange market. Hardware quality aside, the device offers some interesting and unusual features -- like the ability to function as both a touch-enabled laptop and a fully flattened-out tablet (an ability that is already available from several Windows devices).

So what's the ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook like to use in the real world and is it worth the higher-than-average asking price? I've been living with the product for the past week to find out.

Body, design and display

Let's get one thing out of the way first: The ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook is not a sleek or particularly pretty laptop. The system is more rugged than sexy, with a 3.3-lb. reinforced frame designed to withstand all sorts of wear and tear.

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook
Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook

The Yoga 11e Chromebook was originally created for use in the classroom and it shows: The laptop feels extremely durable and well constructed, with none of the flimsy surfaces or cheap-feeling materials you frequently see on lower-end devices. From the rubber bumper around its lid to strengthened ports and hinges, the Yoga 11e Chromebook is built to last. Lenovo says the system is even MilSpec-tested and certified for its durability.

Don't let that scare you, though: While the Yoga 11e Chromebook is a bit on the clunky side, it's actually quite pleasant to use. Aside from the high-end Pixel, it's by far the sturdiest Chromebook I've tried -- the level of quality was apparent from the moment I picked it up. This thing is really just in a different league from almost every other device out there.

Beyond the frame, the Yoga 11e's keyboard is exceptionally good, with firm, deep keys that provide just the right amount of give. And its trackpad is no less impressive: The surface feels strong and smooth, and is as responsive as can be. It's what you'd expect from a ThinkPad, not from a Chromebook -- and I mean that in the best possible way.

Then there's the display: The ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook has an 11.6-in. screen that'll spoil you for most other Chrome OS products. The reason is that the display uses an IPS LCD panel, which is a significantly higher-quality screen technology than the TN panels built into most Chromebooks today.

The system's 1366 x 768 resolution may not be extraordinary, but the Yoga 11e's screen looks very good, with clear text and rich, realistic colors. It's bright with excellent viewing angles and remains visible even in glary conditions.

The display is much easier on the eyes than any TN panel I've experienced -- even a 1080p TN panel like the one on Samsung's Chromebook 2. Compared to pretty much any Chromebook other than the Pixel, in fact, it looks fantastic. It's a reminder that the quality of a screen depends on more factors than simply its resolution.

The many states of the Yoga 11e Chromebook

Image quality is only the start of what sets the Yoga 11e's screen apart. The display is touch-enabled and tilts back a full 360 degrees, which really opens the device up to some interesting possibilities.

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook
You can push the display back about 300 degrees to use the system as a stand-supported slate.

You can push the Yoga 11e's display back about 300 degrees to use the system as a stand-supported slate, much as you can with the lower-end Lenovo N20p Chromebook that I reviewed last week. You can also take things a step further and push the screen all the way around to form a flat (though somewhat thick) tablet.

Either way, you end up interacting with the device solely by touching its display. The physical keyboard is automatically disabled in those scenarios and a virtual keyboard appears on-screen when you need it.

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