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Laptops have taken a turn for the weird in the last year, with all sorts of hybrid models bridging the gap between tablet and traditional computer. With few venturing beyond sheer novelty, those looking for a device to truly replace both their laptop and tablet have been stuck paying a premium.
When we checked out Lenovo's Yoga 2 Pro, we found that it successfully scratched the laptop/hybrid itch, but that $1,200 pricetag is a bit hard to swallow for those looking for a deal. Netbooks and Chromebooks used to be the answer for the casual crowd, but what if you need something more substantial? What about a flexible hybrid device that doesn't cost an arm and a leg?
Enter the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 (MSRP $699.99). Though it's not going to satisfy power users, the Yoga 2 11 is an interesting blend of low-end laptop and tablet for those who don't need top-of-the-line specs and the top-of-the-line price that accompanies them. Though there are a few hangups to be aware of, it's very possible the Yoga 2 11 is the laptop/tablet hybrid budget-minded shoppers have been waiting for.
If you were judging the Yoga 2 11 on looks alone, you'd probably consider it bland. It's a little chunky, heavy, unattractive, and more or less fades into the background of whatever desk it rests on. It's not an assault on your senses, but it definitely looks the part of an entry-level laptop.
However, once we started using the Yoga 2 11, we were pleasantly surprised by how responsive the design was. Just like its older brothers, this Yoga can bend and contort to positions that would make traditional laptop owners cringe. Add to that a capacitive touchscreen and the Yoga 2 11 gives you plenty of options, whether you presently need a laptop or a tablet to get the job done.
Comically enough, many of these positions roughly correspond to yoga poses—in the kitchen or workshop, bending the Yoga 2 11 into downward-facing dog (like a tent) will give you a touch display that is both sturdy and vents heat well. Putting it into cobra pose (body down, screen up) will give you the same thing, but with the keyboard protected from dust.
But the real draw to any hybrid laptop is the ability to convert your device into a true tablet at a whim. When you're chilling on the couch, or just want to watch a movie on your device, folding the laptop in half gives you a perfectly capable Windows 8.1 tablet. Though touch-only input will feel a little strange if you are using the legacy desktop, there are lots more metro-style apps coming available to replace their older, clunkier counterparts.
In tablet mode, this thing is a treat. Though it's tough to balance laptop and tablet ideals, an 11-inch screen is on the upper-end of what should be held in average-sized hands. Maybe it's a bit tough to use the touch interface due to the 16:10 aspect ratio, but that's very similar to what's used in video content. The only glaring sore spot will be reading PDF files in a portrait orientation, as the Yoga 2 11 will be entirely too tall to be used without some page panning in normal use.
Because this laptop is relatively inexpensive, you're going to have to make some tradeoffs in the spec department. Though the 11-inch 1,366x768 screen isn't top of the line, it will likely feel like an upgrade if your current laptop is more than two or three years old. You may notice some pixellation of images, however, and this is definitely not a screen cinephiles or movie purists will swear by. However, for everyone else it's perfectly fine—if the screen is over 16 inches away from your eyes, you probably won't notice the reduced screen quality all that much.
However, if you're looking at the Yoga 2 11-inch, you're not looking for absolutely top-of-the-line specs. For web browsing, e-mail, watching Netflix, writing papers, or doing some light gaming on low settings, this is a computer that can easily do what you need it to. It won't be the premium experience that more expensive laptops provide, but it also doesn't cost nearly as much.
The Yoga 2 11 might have one helluva party trick in being able to convert itself from laptop to tablet, but unfortunately the guts of the computer are pretty ho-hum. With a 2.42GHz Intel Pentium N3520 processor, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and a very low-res display, the Yoga 2 11 outdoes older laptops, but it's definitely an entry-level option.
Though the Yoga 2 11 may not light up the scoreboard when it comes to benchmarks, sometimes you really just need something to browse, handle light officework, and last long enough to catch some entertainment on the run. That's exactly what you get with the Yoga 2 11. But though its battery life is good, similarly priced laptops go the extra mile.
In our standard battery test (a combination of browsing, video chat, and other basic everyday laptop things) the Yoga 2 lasted just 225 minutes. If you're just browsing the web you can eke out a little over 5 hours, but either way that places the Lenovo Yoga 2 11's batter life firmly in the middle of the pack—falling behind the HP Spectre and other portable options like the Toshiba Satellite Click. It's disappointing, because though we don't expect an entry-level machine to outperform the competition, better battery life is always a bonus.
In order to set itself apart from a Chromebook or other bargain-basement computer, there needs to be something more than just an interesting form factor to justify the massive increase in cost. And that's really where you start to run into issues that make the Yoga 2 11 a tougher sell at its full price. Luckily, you can usually find it for between $500 and $600, which is a more palatable price point.
For gamers, this is not some "diamond in the rough" when it comes to graphics performance. Lenovo didn't go out of their way to equip the Yoga 2 11 with some roided-up graphics card, and instead gave it the same Intel integrated graphics chip that you'd find on other inexpensive laptops. It'll handle browser-based games adequately, but don't push your luck with Crysis on max settings. I can't promise your laptop won't turn into a puddle of over-taxed plastic and rare-earth metals.
There are a couple different variants of the Yoga 2 11. Our review unit had a Pentium N3520 processor, though there is also a version with a slightly weaker Celeron N2920 processor that we haven't tested. Our version also came with a 500GB solid-state drive, though you can pick one up with a standard 5400 RPM 500GB platter drive. Our advice would be to opt for the Pentium and the solid-state configuration, as you'll see improved performance and far faster boot speeds.
Most computers that come from big-box stores or aren't assembled by the user come with some bloatware, but that's normal. In the case of the Lenovo Yoga 2 11, it's kept to a relative minimum. Though you'll be greeted by the infuriating McAfee security suite by default, excess software doesn't take up a lot of real estate on your hard drive.
What remains is a small handful of Lenovo-curated apps designed to make your laptop experience a little more enriching with alternate controls, camera apps, a voice-controlled kitchen app, and a phone companion. Nothing revolutionary, but tastefully-restrained apps that don't force their way into hogging resources without your permission is welcome. Though the selection isn't as wide as it is on the Yoga 2 Pro, the core Yoga apps are all there minus Dragon Assistant.
There are a few apps from third-party vendors like Ebay and Evernote, but on the whole there's not much there to clutter up your start screen. If you're unfamiliar with these apps, don't worry about them—at worst you don't use them. However, Evernote users will appreciate the ability to create and edit notes across yet another platform. Accuweather is just downright useless, however. Just use Windows 8's Bing Weather instead—otherwise, say hello to ads when you check the weather.
If none of this sounds appealing to you, don't worry—you're not forced to interact with these apps, and you can easily rip them out of the start screen. In my experience, some of the Lenovo apps—like the phone companion and the Motion Control, which uses hand gestures performed in front of the webcam—don't work consistently. But that doesn't mean they're not sometimes useful, especially if you're elbow-deep in cake batter and want to pause Game of Thrones without messing up your keyboard.
After all is said and done, this is a competent—if unexciting—entry-level laptop. It's not bad, per se, but it's definitely not a device that will feel fresh for years down the line. It's fun and versatile, but with specs that already feel outdated and little futureproofing, the largest reason to get the Yoga 2 11 is the price and form factor. There are already better laptops on the road, but if you can find it at a discount, it's a great buy.
That said, we can absolutely see this thing being perfect for a lot of people. It's not perfect, but it would be great for someone who needs a laptop, wants a tablet, and isn't willing to shell out a ton of money for both. The MSRP is a little high for the entry-level internals, but at the $550 street price there's nothing this versatile on the market.
If you're a gamer or a power user? We recommend you keep looking. This laptop bests other pure entry-level hybrids like the Toshiba Satellite Click, but to get any kind of decent gaming rig you'll have to step up to something like the Lenovo Y510p. If the mediocre performance has you looking for a slightly better hybrid options, then we also recommend the slightly more expensive (but way more attractive) Sony Vaio Flip.
So if you're looking for an affordable laptop that can also be a couch-companion tablet, the Yoga 2 11 will bend over backwards to have you covered. It may not be able to keep up with the high-end of the market, but it functions well enough to handle day-to-day tasks well and doesn't cost a ton. Just don't expect the world and the Yoga 2 11 will feel just right.
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