In 2012, I jumped at the opportunity to purchase the Surface RT, a piece of Microsoft history. While it was a nice tablet, the RT OS meant that it couldn’t do many of the things I needed it to. Not having a mobile PC with a full version of Windows I went out and purchased an ASUS S200E 11.6” touchscreen notebook. The first economy priced touchscreen device in its class. Both devices served me well for the past year, without any hardware or software problems to speak of. But they were both lacking in some way. The Surface screen was a little small for any desktop focused activity, the speakers were horrible. And both the type and touch keyboard lacked that feel you get from a good notebook/laptop keyboard. The ASUS, although sporting a 3rd Gen i3 processor and 4GB of RAM, was still on the slow side. Making me wait from time to time for one activity to finish before starting another. And despite the larger screen, it was not all that bright and crisp. The non-illuminated keyboard also made typing difficult in dimly lit areas. It was time for a change.
After looking at the 2 in 1s available today, I set my sights on the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S (11.6”) Convertible. Best of both worlds. Using my 8” Acer tablet 4 to 1 over my 10.6” Surface for the past six months, I wanted a device that was primarily a laptop, with the flexibility to become a tablet on occasion. The Yoga line fits that bill. I prepped my two current devices for resale on eBay and set out to secure a Yoga.
Expecting to have the device for the next few years I wasn’t comfortable with the 128GB SSD in the base configuration that BestBuy offered, without any options to add additional storage. So the plan was to purchase a Yoga 11S from Lenovo’s website, configured with a 256GB SSD. But I still needed to touch and feel a Yoga before ordering my new toy online. I stopped at my local BestBuy after a late work night, about 15 minutes before closing. The first Yoga I found was the Pro 2, with it vibrant 3200 x 1800 13.3” display and lighted keyboard. A damn nice machine. But wait, I was here to see the 11S. The Yoga IdeaPad 11S is a fine convertible. Both light and flexible (literally), morphing from laptop to tablet with a flick if the wrist. But there was no backlit keyboard. Nor was the display as bright and crisp as the Pro 2 display that I had gloated over a couple minutes earlier. Took one more look at the more expensive Pro 2 on the way out of the store. Then it was time to do some rationalizing.
I had already made two mistakes in 2012 and was going to be paying for that when reselling these devices at half their original value only a year later. My primary reasons for replacing my Surface and ASUS; combine two devices into one, an improved screen for my tired eyes, preferably a backlit keyboard, speakers that are loud enough to playback a video without silencing every other device in the house, full Windows 8, and fast enough so that I don’t feel like I am still using an 8 year old Pentium PC. While the 11S met some of my criteria, I was concerned that I would be underwhelmed again in six months, and would be doing this all over again. As with the 11S, the BestBuy base configuration Pro 2, while being a 4th Gen i7, still only had 4GB RAM and a 128GB SSD. The Lenovo website offered other configurations with a 256GB SSD, providing me with options. Then, like magic, BestBuy introduced a new SKU for the Pro 2; 4th Gen i7 Processor, 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD, all for the same $1,199 base price. I saw that as a sign and decided on the Pro 2.
I had to drive 30 miles last Friday, past two other BestBuy’s that didn’t yet have the new SKU in stock. But it was worth the trip. This 2 in 1 is a joy to use. It’s as fast as my i7 desktop. And that backlit keyboard is really kickass. No longer do I have to strain to see the keys. And the screen, even at 75% brightness and a reduced resolution, is still bright and crisp, allowing me to see smaller type from 2’ away. Something I couldn’t do with my Surface or ASUS S200E. Below is a summary of my first impressions and thoughts.
Lighted keyboard – After 30+ years of staring a monitors, at least 12 hours a day for the past 20, my eyes don’t focus like they used to. Using my Surface RT and ASUS in not always the best of lighting conditions was a real strain. I am not a touch typist, so I still need to look down at keys, especially on keyboards I don’t use that often. The lighted keyboard on the Yoga Pro 2 is exactly what the doctor ordered. Aside from the great feel of the nearly noiseless keys, the backlighting makes everything easier. I wouldn’t trade that keyboard for anything.
Display – The display on the Pro 2 is nothing short of incredible. The 3200 x 1800 resolution at 200% scale is very usable. Unfortunately, there are still apps and screens that don’t take full advantage of scaling. Additionally, at that resolution the Start screen tiles are either set to four or six down. Four makes the tiles much too big, while six makes the text inside the tiles too small. So after a few hours I reverted to the next resolution notch, 2048 x 1152 at 150% scale. Still plenty crisp for a 13.3″ screen, and the Start screen displays 5 tiles which appears to be just right. Even though the tile text is still on the small side, i can read it from two feet away without issue.
SSD – I have had my share of hard drive failures, especially on portable devices that get bounced around As well as them squeezing 500-750GB into a small, tight, hot drive unit. I was determined to not own another portable device w/o an SSD. The standard Pro 2 configuration comes with a 128GB drive, but I didn’t want to be choosing what to load on this new machine, so I opted for the 256GB drive. With all the applications I plan to use, plus all of my media and documents copied over from my desktop machine, I still have 142GB free of 220GB originally available (there is also a 4GB recovery partition). I would have been starting to compromise with a smaller drive about now.
Greased Lightning – With the 4th Gen i7 4500U CPU @1.8Ghz (2.4Ghz), combined with 8GB of RAM there is nothing that’s going to slow this baby down. I love how my i7 home desktop could update a dozen Modern apps (back in Win 8 days when you had to do it manually) in a matter of a few seconds. Doing the same on my i3 ASUS notebook could take several minutes. Frustrating for sure. Out of the box there were of course a bunch of Windows updates (comes pre-loaded with Win 8.1) for the Pro 2. Total of 992MB in the first batch. Download took several minutes, and installation, just a few minutes more. Everything so far has been equal to, or faster than my home desktop. Office desktop, different story.
It’s a Yoga! – I didn’t purchase the Pro 2 to be a tablet replacement for my Surface. I did purchase it to be a notebook replacement for my ASUS, with the added benefit of being able to convert into a tablet or a folded back tent display in the rare instances where would be required. If I had to pay $100s of extra dollars for that flexible hinge I would have opted out. But truthfully, when you compare the Pro 2, i7, 8GB, 256GB SSD with the similarly speced; Acer Aspire, Toshiba KIRABook, Sony VAIO or Samsung Series 9, you get the Yoga flexibility for free, plus a few hundred dollars to save for another tech toy. It may not have the aluminum case of some competitors, or the ruggedness of a ThinkPad. But for my needs it works.
Speakers – One of my complaints about the Surface RT was a really weak speaker. At full volume, everyone in the room had to be silent in order to hear a YouTube video play. I purchased a BT speaker to help with the issue. The ASUS S200E was not a whole lot better. The Pro 2 is a big improvement in the volume category. The sound is still a bit tinny, as most laptops are. But at full volume, there is no distortion and the sound fills an entire room. Bravo.
I read a dozen reviews and watched more than an hour of video of the Pro 2, before settling on this substantial investment. Below are a few of the issues the reviewers and commenters had with this newest Yoga. While some are certainly justified, none were significant enough to sway my decision.
Keys exposed in tablet mode – Yep, when you flip the Pro 2 into a tablet configuration you will feel the disabled keyboard under your fingers (the ThinkPad Yoga has an answer for that). But I knew what to expect up front. When using my Surface, 99% of the time a keyboard was attached. And half of that time, the type keyboard (w/moving keys) was attached, so feeling keys under my fingers was not a surprise. Aside from the instances I will be showing off the Yoga’s flexible hinge, I don’t expect to use it in tablet mode more than about 5% of the time. Competitors have some innovative alternatives, but this is something I can live with.
No dual-band Wi-Fi – Not sure why Lenovo made this choice, but I already know that the back cover is easily removable, making both the battery and WI-Fi card (memory is soldered in) accessible. Some owners have already replaced the stock Wi-Fi card with a dual-band AC card (it has to be certified by Lenovo to work). What I do know is at home I am getting a 144Mbps, five bar connection at about 40ft (and through a wall) from my router. The inSSIDer Wi-Fi sniffing app also displays the connection at a perfect 100, so I have no complaints. If I own the Pro 2 long enough where Wireless N has become hopelessly outdated I know I have an option. This was not a show stopper for me.
Only (2) USB ports (only 1 – 3.0) – More is always better, and Lenovo could have probably found room for one more. But cost always plays a part in these decisions. There will probably be a time where I need to be; plugged into Ethernet, have a wireless mouse connected, and need to connect a thumb drive. But until that time comes I’m not going to worry about it.
No Ethernet port – Only being 0.6″ thick, that’s not a very easy task, although my 0.75″ ASUS S200E notebook does have a fold open port. Not sure if that would have worked on the thin profile of the Pro 2. But if it’s important to you, here is a solution; pick up a Plugable USB 2.0 Ethernet Adapter for $14.95 from Amazon. Tried it today and in a matter of seconds I was connected to my office network. Nice to have when troubleshooting wireless router problems. You can get the USB 3.0 Adapter instead (for $5 more) but then your limited to which USB port you can use. The 2.0 adapter works on both the 2.0 & 3.0 port.
Mini-HDMI vs. Std HDMI Port – Hey, at least there’s a port. Solution: BlueRigger Micro HDMI to HDMI cable for $6.99 at Amazon. Problem solved.
Crapware – I guess I sort of understand why OEMs are compelled to add this stuff to a brand spanking new computer, especially when compensation (for them, not us) is involved. But PLEASE don’t give me links to applications that I first have to install to find out that I will never purchase or use. But will forever have the remnants of said, quickly deleted application, stuck in my registry, and who knows where else.
Of the 12 or 13 Lenovo, Intel and other pre-installed apps/applets, I think there are 5 or 6 remaining. Several I had to launch to find out they were trials for things like Cloud solutions, which I have no interest in (that’s what SkyDrive is for). And of course, the trial of McAfee was the first to go (Webroot baby).
Here is a suggestion for OEMs. If you are going to pre-load this stuff on my new machine, then PLEASE, popup a summary page on initial startup outlining each app/applet with a paragraph or two, and a link to uninstall. Micron/MPC, America’s best computer company, used to supply a disc with add-ons. You were given the description, along with a choice to install or ignore each offering. Worked for me.
So there you have it. While nothing is future-proof in tech these days, I would like to think my Yoga Pro 2 will still hold its own two or three years down the road. That works for me. If you are looking for an Ultra Book, be sure to give the Yoga line a close look. You won’t be disappointed.