- Solid and rugged
- Comfortable keyboard
- Long battery life
- Keyboard buggy when flipping modes
Chromebooks can handle to majority of your computing tasks, provided you’re willing to move mostly to the cloud. Leading manufacturers such as Samsung, Acer, HP, Dell, and Lenovo have already starting producing the devices to act as alternatives to low-end Windows PCs.
Despite the somewhat limited Chrome OS, consumers can access anything on the web. Cloud-based apps for storage and file syncing solve the problem of Chromebooks’ limited memory. Meanwhile, there’s a vast array of online productivity apps like Microsoft Office Online and Google Drive. Once you get to entertainment options like Spotify’s web player, you realize that you might not need to download anything to get the full computing experience.
Perhaps this is what Lenovo had in mind with their new ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook. It’s a solid, if not rugged device that offers all the bells & whistles of a low-end notebook for school. However, the $479 price tag could turn away some buyers who want a lower-cost unit.
When one thinks of Chromebooks, low-cost devices such as the Acer C720p Chromebook or Samsung Chromebook 2 that sit in the sub-$300 price category immediately spring to mind. That’s part of why the ThinkPad Yoga 11e Chromebook could cause some sticker shock: Laptops with a touchscreen usually run more than $300, but $480 is a bit much for a Chromebook at first glance.
The added cost gets you a solid and sturdy chassis that should hold up to everyday usage in even the most chaotic school environment. Given that this Chromebook was designed for education, it could also work in a variety of business settings where adult employees can be just as rough on PCs.
The Yoga 11e Chromebook uses an Intel Celeron N2930 chip running at 1.83 GHz, 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, and an 11.6″ HD LED Anti-glare touch display with a 1366 x 768 resolution. The body measures 11.81″ x 8.5″ x 0.87”. It also comes with an Intel dual-band wireless-AC 7260 card and support for Bluetooth version 4.0, as well as a 720p Webcam and 16 GB eMMC storage for local files.
While attention more attention has recently been paid to the new Yoga 3 Pro, this Chromebook has some advantages in its own right.
First, the device comes with a rubber bumper around the top cover to absorb bumps, and the thicker bezel provides greater protection for the display. In education, the extra protection is especially useful because students aren’t always careful with technology as they should be.
However, the sturdy construction leads to a heavy build. The ThinkPad Yoga 11e is 3.1 lbs. with a 4-cell battery. A comparable touchscreen unit from Acer comes in at just under 3 lbs, while other Chromebooks like the Acer C720 with regular screens can weigh as little as 2.76 lbs.
The multimode design is also a large plus for the Yoga 11e. Like many 2-in-1 notebooks, the Chromebook folds flat into a tablet. The keyboard is supposed to become deactivated when the device is folded but the software was buggy during our tests. Not only did the on-screen keyboard sometime not appear while in tablet mode, but when the device was returned back to the notebook mode, the screen was frozen in an upside down position rendering the Chromebook useless. It’s a known problem that has even been posted on Lenovo’s own online shopping reviews for this unit.
The tight hinge takes a bit of hand and arm power to fold back the display to turn the device into a tablet. However, the strong hinge’s advantage is clear: When users swipe or tap the screen in notebook mode, there’s only an imperceptible movement of the display.
What’s particularly nice is the Yoga 11e’s “Tent” mode. The Chromebook can sit in an upside down V, making it easy to watch or read something on the screen. The display’s rubber bumper provides more stability when users need to tap or swipe to manipulate on-screen content.
Lenovo added a nice touch to the Yoga 11e. Giving homage to the signature ThinkPad product line, the dot in the letter “i” in ThinkPad lights up red when the system is on and disappears when the device goes into sleep mode or is powered off.
The power button resides in an unlikely spot, on the right hand side next to the right arrow key. It’s a slight annoyance as most power buttons are located at the top of the keyboard, or on the side of the top right corner of a device when used in the notebook mode.
Input & Output Ports
The Yoga 11e comes standard with an HDMI 1.4 slot, USB 3.0 port, USB 2.0 port, and 4-in-1 memory card slot. There’s a digital microphone as well.
The AC power adapter used on this Chromebook is similar in size and shape to a USB port, and we suspect many students and even adults will try to jam USB devices into the AC adapter jack. Lenovo should have taken the same innovative approach used in the new Yoga 3 Pro and made the power adapter connection double as an additional USB port. That would have given users the ability to plug in the provided power adapter cable or plug in USB devices to the same port if they don’t need to charge the Chromebook’s battery.
Screen & Speakers
While the low-cost device is good enough for student and consumer viewing, it doesn’t provide a high-resolution display. It’s good enough for You Tube videos and on-demand screen viewing, but wouldn’t be sufficient for heavy entertainment.
The 11.6″ display uses the Dragontrail Glass Multitouch display, which is stronger than traditional glass and beneficial for the education market. In direct sunlight the Yoga 11e Chromebook didn’t perform well. The colors were washed out and hard to see. This Chromebook is better suited for indoor use.
The screen also includes a rather large black bezel around the display. Lenovo could have done without such a large bezel to maximize screen real estate, although that might have led to children unintentionally pressing the screen while carrying the Chromebook as a tablet. The extra border gives the illusion the device is larger and chunkier than its competitors. As noted above though, the bezels do add some protection to the device so it’s not a huge flaw.
The speakers are located on the back of the computer between the hinges, forcing sound away from the user in laptop mode. The sound wasn’t particularly rich, but was acceptable while streaming videos. However, when listening to music, the sound quality wasn’t impressive at all.
On the other hand, when the Chromebook was placed in Tent mode during video play, the sound was much more reasonable as the sound bounces off the bottom of the notebook and is reflected toward the viewer. Music continued to be thin, but it didn’t seem as poor as before.
Of course, like any computing device connecting a set of headphones provided a much better listening experience than one without.
Keyboard & Touchpad
The keyboard was surprisingly firm and solid. The response and travel were better than expected, showcasing Lenovo’s thoughtful design. There is some variation from the standard QWERTY keyboard however. Gone are the standard function keys, only to be replaced by web function keys such as back and forward cursors, a refresh key, tab off and on key, multiple apps key, as well as easy access keys for display brightness, volume control, and lock. Users can go into the settings and modify their keyboard with traditional F1 keys if they want. The popups for the display and volume come up in the same spot, with the ability to either use the key for increments or a touchscreen slider.
When the on-screen keyboard did appear, the key placement was poor. Lenovo should have switched the positions of the comma and period located next to the space bar with the exclamation point and question mark that resided next to the letter M. This would have provided fewer mistakes and simplify the transition to the on-screen keyboard from the physical one.
The on-screen keyboard also provides suggestions for words, but it was not particularly comfortable using for long periods of time.
The large touchpad on the Chromebook was responsive and had no problems. It offers a nice solid click when pushed and comes with a red line horizontally at the bottom for design.