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.

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As I noted when reviewing the N20p Chromebook, Chrome OS isn't entirely optimized for touch -- and you probably wouldn't want a standalone Chrome OS slate at this point -- but having a touch-centric option is a remarkably useful complement to the traditional laptop form.

As with the N20p model, I've found myself frequently using the Yoga 11e Chromebook in its regular laptop mode when I'm working or doing any intensive typing -- then tilting the screen back and moving into a slate-like setup when I'm doing something less input-oriented. Getting the keyboard out of the way and bringing the screen up close feels quite natural, and the tablet-like configuration is especially appealing with more casual tasks like scrolling through websites or watching videos.

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook
You can also take things a step further and push the screen all the way around to form a flat (though somewhat thick) tablet.

It's not the type of feature you need, by any means, but it's a luxurious addition that's very nice to have.

Performance

A big question for me coming into this review was how well the ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook would fare in terms of performance. Like Lenovo's N20p Chromebook, the Yoga 11e uses one of Intel's new Bay Trail processors. Those are typically considered to be more efficient but less powerful than the Haswell-based alternatives used in many current Chrome OS devices.

While the N20p proved to be somewhat limited in performance, though, the Yoga 11e is surprisingly capable. It's not quite at the level of a comparable Haswell-based system, but with its higher-end quad-core Celeron N2930 CPU and full 4GB of RAM, the Yoga 11e Chromebook is more than able to hold its own.

In general use, the system felt snappy and responsive; even with numerous tabs and processes running, things never seem laggy or slow. When I did a side-by-side comparison with a Haswell-based Asus Chromebox loaded up with the same 4GB of RAM, the two systems were almost neck-and-neck in terms of page-loading time.

The Chromebox occasionally pulled ahead and finished loading something a second or two before the Yoga 11e, but we're talking about the type of difference you'd notice only in a closely controlled comparison. Even with the level of abnormally intensive multitasking I tend to do in my day-to-day work, the Yoga 11e had no problem keeping up.

And that's what's most important: No matter how I've used the device, I've never felt frustrated or held back by its speed. The extra resources put into this system seem to give it the fuel it needs to keep up with Chromebooks from outside of the Bay Trail family.

The one area where the ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook comes up slightly short is in the realm of stamina: The system is listed for "up to eight hours" of use, but I've been able to squeeze only five to six hours out of it per charge. Five to six hours is by no means horrendous, but it also isn't spectacular and is well below what many other Chromebooks provide (I've seen 8.5 to 10 hours on some of the recent systems).

The Yoga 11e ships with 16GB of onboard storage. You can add more space via a four-in-one card slot on the side of the device.

Bottom line

Lenovo's ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook is a standout device with a lot of compelling qualities. It's the most sturdy and well-constructed Chromebook you can buy for under $1,000 today, with an exceptional keyboard and trackpad, an outstanding touch-enabled IPS display and respectably solid performance for both casual and power users.

If all of that isn't enough, the Yoga 11e Chromebook also offers the unusual opportunity to use your laptop as a stand-supported or fully flattened tablet. While I wouldn't consider that a reason in and of itself to buy the system, it's some very tasty icing on an already sweet cake.

The only real downside to the Yoga 11e Chromebook is its battery life, which is manageable but subpar. The device is a bit clunky, too, but that's all relative: Aside from the pricey Pixel and the pretty but poky HP Chromebook 11, most Chromebooks aren't exactly pinnacles of design. While it may be a bit heavier than some of its lower-end contemporaries, the Yoga 11e is also far less flimsy and cheap-feeling.

Lenovo's ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook costs more than any of the entry-level systems, but remember: It isn't meant to be an entry-level system. You get what you pay for -- and if you've got the cash to spend on a midrange Chrome OS device, the Yoga 11e will give you an awesome overall experience that's a meaningful notch above the rest.

JR Raphael is a Computerworld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. For more Google-centric tips and insights, follow him on Google+ or Twitter.

This article, ThinkPad Yoga 11e review: A hidden Chromebook gem, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

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