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Durability defined: Lenovo’s ThinkPad Yoga 11e reviewed

By Leigh D. Stark | 4:00 pm 19/02/2016

If you’re a little worried about what the kids might do to a cheap laptop, it might be time to consider something made to withstand their school life.

Bringing it back to what machines were like when the government was still paying for them (grumble now), Lenovo’s ThinkPad Yoga 11e packs in features more like today in a body that was once designed for the needs of students.

Or in other words, it was made to survive tumbles, falls, and drops.

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Specs

A computer that can survive tumbles, falls, and drops still needs to be a computer, and for that, we turn to the specs.

On paper, Lenovo’s ThinkPad Yoga 11e Generation 2 — which is officially what this is called — is interesting, bringing to mind the hardware design of the Apple MacBook to a slightly more durable form-factor.

You’ll find one of Intel’s fifth-generation Core M processors here, set to a rather low 800MHz, though paired with 4GB RAM and a 192GB solid-state drive.

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Microsoft’s Windows 10 Home arrives on this box, as does an extra input device, with Lenovo delivering its “WriteIt” Active Pen in the package, attachable to the computer by way of a small USB mountable clip.

Connections on the computer are decent for a 2015 computer, which this technically classes as, and you’ll find 802.11ac WiFi with support for 802.11a/b/g/n, while Bluetooth is set to version 4.0.

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Wired ports are found in the form of one USB 2.0, one USB 3.0, a single HDMI port, an Ethernet port, the typical 3.5mm headset jack, and an SD card slot.

There’s even a web cam here, though it only measures up to 720p HD.

The battery inside is rated up to 8.1 hours and is not removable.

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Design and build

Getting started with the Yoga 11e, you have to make mention of the build because that is the main reason why someone would consider this machine.

Like most machines out there, Lenovo has relied on plastic, and a lot of it, but unlike pretty much everything else you may be looking at, the plastic is more than just there because the product is meant to be cheap.

No, in this computer, the plastic is there to be padding, with rubber bumpers around the screen designed to absorb more shock, a thicker bezel to protect that screen, and a tough casing that can handle the rest.

Design is pretty simple despite this, with black plastic and a lot of it blowing out the weight to a surprising 1.59kg, surprising because the machine otherwise doesn’t have much to it.

But there is a lot of material protecting the innards, and there is even a level of scratch and crack resistance applied to the display making it just that much more durable, and it is still a touch screen.

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Summing it up is the final rating: MIL-SPEC.

Sometimes described as “MILSTD”, MIL-SPEC is the term applied to any product that has been graded so highly that it technically classes military specifications, with a test that pits the laptop against high pressure, humidity, vibration, extreme temperatures, temperature shock, low pressure, low temperature, and finally dust.

Yes, it’s jargon, but it’s jargon that translates into this one basic fact: if it says “MIL-SPEC” on the box, you can drop the laptop and it will still survive.

And you can drop the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 11e and it will still survive.

We tried.

Several times.

Begrudgingly so.

Every time, the laptop hit the ground with an unsatisfying thud, the keyboard raising the low-pitch sound with a couple of clattering keys, turning it all into a symphony of anxious wallets and gritted teeth.

But the machine was fine, and while we didn’t want to drop the computer — because quite frankly nobody should want to go out of their way to intentionally break a computer — Lenovo’s Yoga 11e survived in every drop test we gave it.

That is definitely impressive.

Screen

Lenovo’s choice of screen on the Yoga 11e is a bit of a mixed bag, because on the one hand, you get a good screen, but on the other, the resolution is a bit of a ho-hum-sigh affair.

Let’s talk quality first, because it’s always good to start out on a positive note, and the 11.6 inch display Lenovo has opted for in the Yoga 11e Gen 2 actually offers a modicum of quality, something you can see when you realise that the machine is also a tablet.

Thanks to a 360 degree hinge, the Yoga 11e can collapse flat and even fold back onto the back of its keyboard, and that turns the machine into a relatively heavy tablet, but a tablet all the same, thanks to that 11 inch screen also being a touchscreen.

lenovo-thinkpad-yoga-11e-review-2016-11 That’s super handy, and so is the fact that this isn’t a low-grade display, offering excellent viewing angles, which is something not all hybrid machines tend to get.

Protection on the screen is also a little better than you might get on other displays, and that’s thanks to Dragontrail glass which applies scratch and crack resistance.

Remember all those drops we were doing (begrudgingly)? If you drop it with the screen out, there’s a good chance another computer is going to leave a scratch, or worse: crack under pressure.

Lenovo’s Yoga 11e survives a little better thanks to this reinforcement on the display.

Resolution, though, feels like it’s a touch backwards, or maybe not so much backwards, but rather ordinary.

These days, it’s customary to expect at least HD in a screen, and that’s all you get here, with the 1366×768 resolution offered.

We need to point out that HD isn’t bad in an 11 inch display, and it’s a far more telling sign of a company being cheap when it’s the only resolution in a machine 13 inches or higher, but a little more resolution would have been appreciated, especially since the needs of students are often indicated by the resolution requirements of the apps they’re running, and HD doesn’t always cut it anymore.

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Performance

Fortunately, performance appears to be decent, despite some confusingly spec’d innards, which we have to put down to Lenovo’s tweaking and customisation.

Inside the Generation 2 Yoga 11e, you’ll find an Intel Core M processor from the fifth-generation of chips not so dissimilar from the style Apple uses in its ultra-thin MacBook, but with one difference: it’s a slower chip.

Experience with Apple’s MacBook shows that you can’t do a whole lot on it at once, and that’s with a 1.1GHz variant paired with 8GB RAM. Granted, Mac OS is different, but it still gives us a good indication of what to expect from the Lenovo Yoga 11e.

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In fact, the Yoga 11e is paired with 4GB RAM and an 800MHz processor, so its performance is likely to be under what we can get out of the MacBook.

But in use, we’re in for a surprise, because Lenovo has tweaked Windows to handle itself, from the fairly quick start-up time to the surprisingly speedy use of Windows 10.

We’ve felt slower Windows machines with better specs, which is genuinely surprising.

Most of our time was spent in productivity apps and web surfing, and for that the machine handled itself well, though we have to assume given the specs, you wouldn’t want much more to be installed here, sadly.

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Keyboard and mouse

Over in the keyboard department, it’s all high class Lenovo, and this is one area we’ve come to expect great things from the company.

Two companies tend to really stand out in the laptop arena for the best laptops, and have for years, and not in any particularly order, they are Apple and Lenovo, with the latter getting its excellence inherited from IBM when Lenovo took over.

Just like almost every machine branded “ThinkPad” that we’ve put our hands onto, the Yoga 11e offers a super solid very comfortable typing experience, and it’s one you can take to the bank.

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Forget too much travel or not enough, because the Yoga 11e is “just right”, and offers the Goldilocks of keyboards.

The mouse could be a little better, and you only get the one trackpad here instead of the rubber nib in the centre of the keyboard like you used to in the good ol’ days.

But Lenovo does pull its weight a little more and provide an extra controller or two.

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You already know you have a touchscreen, and that is fairly responsive, but what you also get in the box is one of Lenovo’s Active Pen styluses, allowing you to write on the screen or use it as a sort of mouse, if need be.

There’s even a handy clip to keep the pen attached to the computer, though it does take over a USB port on the machine, so just keep that in mind.

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Battery

One positive area is the battery which powers on providing a solid seven to eight hours of battery life.

That’s what we found when using the Yoga 11e for productivity, which means writing, web surfing, and general use, and we suspect if you’re able to push the computer a little more, you’ll wear down the battery significantly.

With that said, the low-end specs might make that a touch difficult, so we’re sticking with the expected even to eight hours.

Not bad at all, Lenovo.

What’s wrong?

Despite the excellence that Lenovo has built into this piece of hardware, there are two glaring issues from our point of view: price and speed.

Price is the first one, and it’s hard to get past because the Lenovo Yoga 11e carries such a high price, sitting at $1539 locally for the privilege of getting one of these well-built bad boys.

Let’s just get something clear: you’re paying for the military spec shell and the fact that this computer can take a beating.

When was the last time you intentionally dropped a laptop? Never?

Because the Yoga 11e can be intentionally dropped from waist height, which means it can be accidentally dropped from waist height also. That’s the accidental situation no one wants to think about but still occasionally happens, particularly in the education space, because we’re talking about kids here.

A 360 degree hinge helps the highly durable case to keep this machine from falling to its death when it, well, falls to its death.

A 360 degree hinge helps the highly durable case to keep this machine from falling to its death when it, well, falls to its death.

Kids aren’t necessarily careless with their laptops, but that doesn’t mean they’re filled with care, either, and so if their bag takes a tumble and the machine goes flying out, falling on a carpeted floor or heaven forbid the bumpy asphalt of the outside blacktop basketball courts, you want to know that the money you just spent on a computer isn’t worth precisely zero at the end.

Lenovo’s Yoga 11e is about the only machine we’ve seen this year that you can say that with, providing a solid shell with enough casing around the components and screen to know that this isn’t your ordinary machine. This is something else. Something sturdy and built like the PC equivalent of a tank.

But you have to pay for that privilege, and we suspect that’s a good $500 to $700 in the price tag for this machine, because it’s just so high, it’s hard to think that most of that is innards.

That understanding of how a computer is built also concerns us slightly, because while the processor inside the Yoga 11e isn’t a sluggish performer, the speed of the processor is troubling.

When is the last time you saw a laptop carry a processor speed of lower than one gigahertz?

It’s been some time for us since we saw that, and while processor speed isn’t the be-all end-all in identifying good computers (because processor architecture is a big part), we also haven’t seen such a low end chip in ages.

To Lenovo’s credit, the company has done quite well to optimise the 800MHz processor and the rest of the machine, with the whole thing gelling together with nothing on it.

But this has nothing on it, and so we have to wonder — and worry — what life will be like when a student, or anyone for that matter, actually uses the Yoga 11e for more than just writing and web surfing.

With such a low spec chip, we can’t imagine this machine will feel the same, and we sit here back at GadgetGuy asking why Lenovo didn’t just equip the 11e with something more suitable from Intel’s Core M series.

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Conclusion

There aren’t many machines like the Yoga 11e, because while you can find a whole swathe of laptops made for students, finding one that can survive a drop, a fall, a tumble, and an incident that would make any other computer flat out break is a little difficult.

They just don’t exist. We know: we’ve looked.

Lenovo’s ThinkPad Yoga 11e is therefore a shining beacon of hope for students who aren’t necessarily going to treat their laptop with the sort of love and respect it deserves, but it comes with a catch: it’s not a super fast machine.

Despite this, Lenovo has tuned the system quite well, and you’d never really notice or realise that the chip inside was a little under where it probably should be.

That makes the system ideal for youngsters, and ones that you wouldn’t necessarily trust a $300 computer with for fear of severe damage.

Granted, that’s an expensive purchase for a kid — $1539! — but this is durability defined, and at least you’ll be given the peace of mind that the casing and everything inside won’t come flying out.

Price (RRP)

$1539

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Built like a tank; Great screen; Hybrid hinge means the Yoga 11e can turn into a tablet, albeit a heavy one; Excellent keyboard; Comes with an onscreen pen that clips into a USB port; Decent battery life;

Product Cons

Expensive (you're paying for the high-grade durability); Bizarrely low-speed processor; Screen could be a better resolution;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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