Lenovo's IdeaPad Yoga 11 continues to prove that Windows RT is pointless

Lenovo's IdeaPad Yoga 11 continues to prove that Windows RT is pointless

Summary: Lenovo lent me one of their Windows RT-based Yoga laptop/tablet hybrids to try. You might be better off with a Chromebook.

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TOPICS: Laptops, Tablets
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IMG_0422
A tablet, a sort-of-tablet, and a not-a-tablet.

I don't do many device reviews, because up until this point I only ever write about products that I've actually bought.

However, towards the end of last year I wanted to try a hybrid tablet/laptop and a combination of me being a little too cheap to risk the spend to see what one was like, and the fact that they were a little thin on the ground, I pinged Lenovo and asked if I could try one. This week they lent me one.

It may be the last device they ever lend me…

Yoga

What they sent me was an IdeaPad Yoga 11. This a Windows RT device, and it's one Lenovo's devices with a trick hinge that lets you configure it as a normal clamshell laptop, or fold the screen back into a tablet. It also lets you put it another couple of modes -- either in "tent" mode where you prop it up like a presentation binder, or in "stand" mode which is where you flop the keyboard, keys down, onto your desk. Lenovo claims that this is "endless fun".

(You may care to note that at CES this week Lenovo announced the IdeaPad Yoga 11S, which runs full-on Windows 8 as oppposed to Windows RT.)

The only positive thing I can find to say about this device is that hardware-wise, it's beautiful. It's a great colour, it's nicely made, and it feels good. The keyboard is a little bouncy, but it's nice enough to type on.

Specification-wise, it's roughly the same as as Surface. Both have the same Nvidia Tegra system-on-a-chip running at the same speed. Both have a 64GB storage, and 2GB RAM. But I'm not really one for specs and when you get through the next bit I suspect you're not going to care much about the specs either.

The real problem is the price. In the UK, PC World, John Lewis, and Amazon sell this thing for £700. In US dollars, that's $1,120.

Admittedly, it's a little cheaper in the US -- Amazon US are selling the Yoga for $750. But that's still $51 more than the equivalent "Surface with Windows RT". In the UK, thanks presumably to import duty, the premium for the Yoga over Surface is a whopping 20 percent.

(To make things less confusing to the majority of my readers I'll use US pricing from this point, but please do bear in mind just how ridiculously expensive this device is in the UK.)

Anyway, remember this is a Windows RT device, so you can't run normal Windows software on it. It comes with Office like all Windows RT devices do. And you can download apps from the Windows Store. Personally I think the Windows Store has decent enough app coverage and you can certainly be productive on the Yoga, but it's hard to look at this as a device with limited software support that costs way, way more than a normal Windows laptop.

Hang on though -- what actually is this thing? Is it a tablet or a laptop? Lenovo describe it was both.

It can't be a tablet because it weighs too much. It comes in at 1190g (2.6lbs). (For comparison, an iPad mini with silicon case weighs 376g -- meaning a stack of about three of them weigh the same as the Yoga.) It's also massive -- much, much bigger than a Surface, and you can comfortably fit two iPad minis within its footprint. In tablet terms, it might as well have the same mass as a small star as both factors of size and weight render the device impractical in this mode.

The reason why I originally reached out to Lenovo was that I wanted to try and hybrid tablet was to see what that form factor was like. What I've learnt from this exercise is that it's pointless. An 11" hybrid tablet is too big and too heavy to be used as a tablet. The weight is impractical as you just get physically tired holding it. The size also militates against it being a useful tablet -- you can't grip it on either side and actually reach more than 50 percent of the screen. Of course, when you try and hold it with one hand and then jab at the thing you want with a finger on the other, you end up being reminded that the whole thing is too heavy. In short -- I'd wager that if you bought this or any other hybrid of similar size and weight, you'd use it as a tablet once for about ten seconds before reverting to using it exclusively on a desk or lap.

I should say though that there are, I imagine, some limited uses in commercial or light-industrial environments where a hybrid offers some advantages but in domestic environments as a tablet it's a disaster.

There's another weird problem with hybrids. When you fold the keyboard back under the screen, when you lift up the device like a tablet your fingers mush the keys. I tried this on a few people and each of them panicked the first time they did this. This included both non-technical people, and highly-skilled technicians who knew it was flat-out illogical to have the keyboard active in this mode. Incidentally I have the same problem with my Surface and Type Cover -- each time I pick it up with the keyboard folded back I have a "yuck" moment. It's feels utterly unnatural and fundamentally wrong to be mashing the keys on a keyboard in an uncontrolled fashion.

The nastiest problem though is try showing your four-year-old daughter how you can fold the screen back. Then watch in horror as she tries the same move with your MacBook.

Windows RT

IMG_0426
Stacked: one of these devices is as light as a feather.

Whatever you think of Windows RT, the biggest problem with it is that it's not Windows. We all know that you can't run Windows software on it, but the only Windows RT devices that you can buy are very, very expensive compared either to the iPad, or an Android tablet, or a cheap Windows 8 laptop.

Here's a strange one though -- every time I think about about the market position of this product, I keep thinking about Chromebooks. The Samsung ARM Series 3 Chromebook feels an awful lot similar to the Lenovo -- same sized screen, similar processor, same amount of RAM and importantly it's more-or-less exactly the same weight. The only thing you don't get is a touchscreen or the trick hinge that purports to turn it into a tablet.

But that Samsung Chromebook has a list price of only $249, a stunning 67 percent cheaper than the $750 Yoga. To reiterate -- that's one third of the price. They also seem to be selling so well on Amazon that you can't buy them at list price -- they're actually commanding a premium.

I suspect I'm going to attract a lot of flak for likening Windows RT to Chromebooks, but someone's really going to have to explain to me why these two aren't essentially the same thing. Neither of them are PCs, but are both an experiment in reframing the PC. Both of them are severely limited in what you can do with them compared to the PC. Any other differences that you can point to are likely incidental with both devices being defined more by what you can't do with them as opposed to what you can. 

There are in fact only two major differences between the Chromebook and Windows RT -- one needs an internet connection available to be useful, and one can run Office natively.

Remember at this point you've got a price-differential of $501 to play with. Then consider the last time you didn't have an available internet connection (I'd wager it's unusual that you typically don't have an available internet connection), and also take a look at just how good the web-based version of Office is. Spoiler: it's fantastic. $501 buys a lot of compromise.

Are you honestly telling me that you want to spend $501 on a hinge, because to me that's the only difference between a dirt-cheap Chromebook and the staggeringly expensive Yoga that I can see. OK, so the Yoga has a touchscreen -- a) touchscreens only add $40 to the bill of materials on a screen that size, and b) give it a year and every laptop will have a touchscreen including all Chromebooks. Touch is FTW.

Conclusion

I'm always looking for products that move the story on. It's for this reason alone that I'm so keen on the iPad. The introduction of that product changed things. It made some things better, and it made others worse -- but most importantly it was about something.

Windows RT falls foul of that most dreadful crime committed by technologists -- it's a solution that's looking for a problem. Whilst I was already disappointed with the Surface, I was hoping that the Yoga might focus the Windows RT proposition on something new and exciting. It fails to do that in every regard and all I do is find myself reaching for my coffin nails and coffin hammer. Windows RT is a pointless curiosity with zero market potential and no future at this price point. Bring that price down to the same as Android tablets and Chromebooks and we'll talk.

In summary then, unless you can point at a proper commercial business case to buy a Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11, you're wasting your money. If you don't want to buy a normal PC, there are plenty of options out there. Buy an iPad, or an Android tablet, or a Chromebook. And then buy yourself a nice treat with the hundreds and hundreds of dollars you'll save.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topics: Laptops, Tablets

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44 comments
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  • The yoga11 is over priced for winRT

    A Samsung ativ 500t can be purchased for the same price and it can truly fulfill the needs of a tablet and a laptop replacement as well as offering digitized pen.

    WindowsRT is a strange product that doesn't seem to have a place in the market right now. By all accounts it should be compared to iOS/Android devices, but everyone compares it to windows. By contrast almost no reviewers hold that same standard when critiquing iPads and Android tablets.

    It is a fine mobile operating system that opens up more features than iOS/Android, but the existence of Intel Atom based tablets sort of makes it an unneeded operating system. WindowsRT + ARM currently doesn't have any benefit over Windows8 + Atom.
    Emacho
    • Question

      Do atom devices offer a better or equal battery life with their ARM counterpart?
      imscythe
      • Atom's are better now

        As a matter of fact, the newest Intel Atoms do offer battery life that's comparable to ARM. There's really no point to Windows RT devices considering that Intel Atom devices cost the same and offer better performance plus backwards compatibility compared to ARM.
        Generalkidd
        • Re

          Yeah, that's why I ask because if they have the same battery life then Atom would be much better since user would not be limited to RT apps and they can use x86 applications.

          Maybe RT is Windows version for those people who are not users of x86 apps and just want the RT. Anyways, I guess it's the typical thinking with most users nowadays since they were forced into simplistic view of tablets with ipad and android devices.
          imscythe
        • It's not that simple...

          The latest Atoms indeed rival ARM processors on speed and battery life. And they run Windows 8, therefore legacy apps, right? Not quite. Windows 8 has been heavily optimised for lower performing CPUs and economical battery life, so all is good as long as you run Windows 8 Apps and Office. But try some legacy software like PhotoShop, and suddenly the Atom struggles and battery starts draining at an alarming rate. You realise that it can only run legacy software in principle, not so much in practice. And don't even think about games...

          So with Windows RT, what you see is what you get --and for many, that is enough. Windows 8 on Atom is a nice idea, but slightly misleading in appearing to make promises it can't keep.

          And by the way, my wife tried a Chromebook (3G). It's surprising how often you can't get WiFi, or 3G. And it wouldn't talk to our NAS. Or our printer. She then had a MacBook Air (used), but the 5-hour battery life was a problem and then the screen hinge broke (a known design flaw in the first generation of that model --Apple nonetheless charges £300,-- to fix it). She is now eyeing the Yoga 11. Why? She sees a light-weight, instant on laptop with 13 hours battery, full Office suite and full browser compatibility with her work Web Outlook account and web-based clinical admin database which refuses to run on anything not IE. She doesn't want legacy software. She just wants something light that does email, web and Office, talks to the printer and common peripherals, has a USB port and doesn't take ages to boot and doesn't run flag in a few hours. You'd be surprised how many people want the same.
          Nexxo
      • CloverTrail generation Atoms are almost equally

        capable of battery life compared to ARMs with more instruction set and features. They may not be exactly provide the same number of hours, but it could take you to 6+ hours of battery life in a single charge with heavy usage in a day.
        Ram U
      • Re: Do atom devices offer a better or equal battery life with their ARM cou

        As I've said before, it's all about performance, battery life, and price. And while Intel can beat ARM on two of those at once, it will never manage all three.
        ldo17
    • Great post

      My wife has the Samsung Ativ 500t and it is fantastic. It has great performance, (a lot better than I thought it would, actually quite surprisingly good) but just as light, just as thin, and with all the same battery life, as ARM. It performs just as good as my Toshiba Satellite c655 laptop (Celeron 64 bit processor, 2.2ghz single-thread, single core). I it was on notebookcheck.net where I compared the 2 and they are pretty much equivalent. (Celeron 900m versus Atom z2760). The only difference is that her tablet lasts all day long, my laptop just 2.5 to 3 hours. Oh, and her tablet is way more fun too.
      Don't fear the future
  • Matt, Your arguments are pointless.

    Sorry Matt, can't agree with you a bit and your arguments are one the stupidest arguments I have heard.

    You are recommending a iPAd ,which costs the same as RT, pretty much sums up your competence. What exactly is your business case to buy an IPAD which is pretty much useless to run a productivity app over a Win RT device?

    I am using my Surface RT for the last two months and works well for work and play.

    You claim that Chrome book is dirt Cheap, $250 for a browser? is that dirt cheap? Please make intelligent arguments or you will be ridiculed like SJVN

    Windows RT running Office 2013 is worth the price.
    Owlll1net
    • thia is one of the dumbest articles ive seen in this site in a while

      To the author: it doesnt matter how much you love apple, no amount of spin will stop the inevitable
      Master Wayne
  • Offline Chromebook

    You can use several apps without an internet connection, including google docs, which for most typing tasks is more than sufficient.
    Defiantstyles
    • Still the chromebook is a mixed bag

      The price is great, but the compromises are pretty significant.

      Sure it works for basics and some essentials, but it is far to easy to be a disruptive experience compared to almost anything else.

      I'm just not sold on the concept of paying hundreds of dollars for a device that only runs a web browser. Even if the web browser has lots of features. A few dollars more for a budget laptop gives all the chrome browser features and a whole lot more.
      Emacho
    • And when online you can RDP/Citrix Receiver/Views in

      So you can RDP to a server or your desktop PC at home. So save yourselves a LOT of $$ and buy a Chromebook and a desktop PC - and get much more value. The fanbois will decry this reasoning, oh well.
      daboochmeister
      • Wait just a second

        How is someone going to save money buying a chromebook and a desktop versus buying just one cheap laptop?

        One cheap laptop easily replaces the Chromebook->internet->RDP->Desktop solution you are suggesting.

        That is just common sense.


        Chromebooks are priced right for people that need basic services or want to play around with ChomeOS to see what it is like. I might pick one up to see how it handles, but it is still a computing solutions filled with compromises, even at that price.
        Emacho
  • Expect WinRT to sink without trace.

    God knows what MS were thinking, why not just scale Windows Mobile to tablets.
    Alan Smithie
    • Just like your posts!

      You know, the sinking without a trace part. :)
      William Farrel
  • Lenovo's IdeaPad Yoga 11 continues to prove that Windows RT is pointless

    Its been working fine for everyone else but you. There is no way this Windows RT device is comparable to a chromebook or an iPad. It is capable of so much more. Large screen, keyboard, Microsoft Windows, Windows store for your apps. The problem with this article is you already knew and wrote the outcome before you ever tried the IdeaPad Yoga 11.
    Loverock-Davidson
  • Windows RT has its place

    They are better than chromebooks or iPads in many ways. If you thing #Apps availability as the meter gauge, I am sorry, you are a lost case. Windows 8 App ecosystem is growing at a faster pace. Within 4 months of general availability for developers to submit apps, we have 35000+ apps. Right out of the box, iPad is almost useless, because you have to download the "apps" to do specific tasks. Chromebook, while you can use it for offline Google Docs, it would be waste if you don't have internet connectivity constantly. OTOH, Windows RT tablets such as Surface RT, Asus VivoTab RT are useful right out of the box. You have Office RT which gives you ability to document, create spreadsheets (may not have all the whistles and blows of main Excel, but sufficient enough), presentations, take notes (this includes support for capacitive stylus - I hate them of course), in addition to weather, finance, calendar, mail, messaging etc., which are of course available on iPads and Androids. If you are a student, or just a casual user of Office, Windows RT is sufficient and keeps you entertained and productive. if you are a power user, who creates complex BI dashboards or number cruncher, graphics engineer, animation maker, developer, etc. then you need more than RT. Just my 2c.
    Ram U
    • Also Windows RT allows you to create content

      and blog from Word 2003 RT. Xbox Live is worthy integration. SkyDrive gives you ability of cloud integration out of the box. The Snapview allows you read books in view and take notes in another. Right out of the app (app should support it), you could use charms like Search, and Share. Good example, you reading a book and taking notes, and need more information about a particular word, phrase or term, you could search internet, your files, your apps and you could easily cite that. You could share your notes with friends, teachers or colleagues, boss or anyone easily. You could share information to other apps from this app. It is collaboration at presentation layer level. Of course Windows 8 can do this, but Windows RT also provides this. Neither chromebook/Androids nor iPad have this luxury.
      Ram U
      • thank you man

        I was waiting for someone to say something about office, the number 1 productivity suite in the world.
        Master Wayne