Lenovo has been at the forefront of the hybrid market with its Yoga machines, which have appeared in numerous guises: some have been expensive ThinkPad-branded business devices, others have been affordable consumer systems, and yet more have been stylish high-end products.
Lenovo's latest, the IdeaPad Yoga 2 11, has its eyes set on consumers who want to straddle the line between laptop and tablet without spending more than £500.
Every Yoga device shares one thing, and that's Lenovo's folding hinge. It rotates through 360 degrees, and means these machines can be used in traditional notebook or tablet configurations, as well as in Lenovo's standing or tented positions. The firm says the former is great for propping the screen up to watch movies or give presentations, while the latter is ideal for using this touchscreen device in the kitchen.
The hinged mechanism adds versatility and works well. It's sturdy enough to survive constant action without breaking, but it's easy enough to twist and turn without difficulty. It's just as simple to use as the Lenovo's rivals, many of which have different designs: the Asus Transformer Book TX300 and Toshiba Satellite W30t have screens that detach completely from their keyboard sections, and the Sony VAIO Duo 13 and Acer Aspire P3 have screens that prop up on their base sections, which means an easy switch between tablet and laptop mode but smaller keyboards.
Lenovo's effective hinge is joined by good design elsewhere. The Yoga's aesthetic is simple, but it works: a metal-effect plastic wrist-rest is held in place by a soft-touch black plastic base that gently curves upwards. The lid is a subtle dark colour with a shining Lenovo logo, and the only thing we don't like is the glossy bezel – it's too wide.
Build quality is mixed. The wrist-rest barely moves, and the underside is similarly strong, but the keyboard's base is far too flimsy, and the back of the slim screen has too much give – it twists from side to side, and pressing the back of the panel caused the desktop to flicker.
Lenovo's latest machine tips the scales at 1.35kg, and it's 17.2mm thick. That compares well to rivals – only the Acer Aspire P3 is lighter – and it falls in line with some of the smaller Ultrabooks we've seen.
That bodes well for laptop usage, but it's hardly ideal for the Lenovo's tablet mode. It's still twice as thick and heavy as proper tablets and, thanks to that 11.6in screen, it's a lot wider too. It's fine for propping on a lap or on a desk, but it's difficult to use the Yoga in one hand for any length of time.
Lenovo's devotion to hybrids means the Yoga is compromised when used as a laptop, too. Our main bone of contention is the keyboard: the flimsy base doesn't impact much on usage, but the keys themselves are poor. They've barely got a millimetre of travel, and each button feels hollow and unsatisfying. It's fine for tapping out emails, but no good for serious work. There's also a single-height Return key and no number-pad.
The keyboard makes itself known during tablet mode, too. Flipping the screen over deactivates the keyboard, but it can still be felt when holding the Yoga in two hands, and everyone who tried this machine found it irritating. We also had issues when flipping the Yoga back to laptop mode – occasionally the keyboard or trackpad failed to reactivate.
There's nothing special about this machine's port selection: you get single USB 2 and 3 sockets, an SD card reader, a micro-HDMI output and a headphone jack. There's little to shout about with network connectivity either – there's no gigabit Ethernet, and the 802.11n Wi-Fi is only single-band.
PC Mark 8 Home: 1,221 Home high-performance battery: 4hr 15mins Home power-saving battery: 6hr 14mins
3D Mark: Ice Storm: 21,438 Cloud Gate: 1,594 Fire Strike: Wouldn't run
Dirt 3: 1,366 x 768 low: 25fps 1,366 x 768 ultra low: 28fps
Cinebench 11 CPU: 1.77 GPU: 7.8fps
Cinebench R15: CPU: 147cb GPU: Wouldn't run
Geekbench: Single core: 1,019 Multi-core: 3,381
Hard disk: Sequential read: 104MB/s Sequential write: 83MB/s
The Yoga isn't exactly a speed demon. It's powered by an Intel Pentium N3520 processor, which shares the same architecture as Intel's latest Bay Trail Atom chips. Its specification sits between those weak parts and the low-power Core-edition CPUs inside the Lenovo's rivals, with four cores clocked to between 2.17GHz and 2.42GHz. It's accompanied by 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard disk – there's no room in this budget for an SSD.
Despite the modest specification, the Pentium held its own against some of its rivals. In our first Cinebench test the Pentium scored 1.77, which is better than the Toshiba and Acer's Core i3 chips. Unsurprisingly, the Sony and Asus machines were both better; the Core i7 chip inside the Asus scored 580cb in the latest Cinebench test, while the Lenovo's Pentium could only manage 147cb.
The Lenovo's HD Graphics core is made from Ivy Bridge silicon rather than Haswell hardware, so it's no surprise it's slow. In 3D Mark's mid-ranking Cloud Gate test the Yoga scored 1,594, which is behind every other hybrid we've mentioned.
The Lenovo's 500GB hard disk limped through AS SSD's sequential hard disk tests with read and write scores of 104MB/s and 83MB/s. They're average results, even for hard disks, and boot times were no better: 33s with Windows 8's Fast Startup turned off, and a middling 19s with this feature activated.
None of those results are impressive, but the Yoga worked reasonably well. The Windows 8.1 Start screen zipped left and right smoothly, and apps from the Windows Store had no issues. Desktop mode was smooth, too, and we had no issues multi-tasking with basic apps like word processors, web browsers and media players.
Loading times were occasionally slow thanks to the hard disk, and more intensive applications struggled to run smoothly. This is no gaming system, either: Windows Store titles ran well, but DiRT 3 could only manage 28fps, even at Ultra Low quality.
The Yoga lasted for 4hrs 15mins in PC Mark 8's Home Battery Life benchmark, which is an average result: a little better than the Toshiba Satellite, the equal of the Acer, but slower than the Sony and Asus. That result improved by two hours when we used Power Saver mode and dimmed the screen, but getting a day of use from this system will be difficult – and, by tablet and Ultrabook standards, the Yoga isn't great either.
The screen's 1,366 x 768 resolution is mid-range, too, and benchmark results were mixed. The Yoga's 369cd/m2 brightness is superb – more than 100cd/m2 better than the Toshiba – and its contrast ratio of 900:1 is good, too; better than the W30t, but a little short of the Sony.
The Delta E of 4.7 is mediocre, though, and the measured colour temperature of 6,975K is too far from the 6,500K ideal figure – it means images on this screen are too cool and a little insipid. The Lenovo's panel can only display 66.7% of the sRGB colour gamut, with certain red, blue, purple and green tones falling short.
Viewing angles are excellent and, while the screen is glossy, we had few issues with reflections. Despite this, the poor colour accuracy and low resolution mean this panel is only suited to basic work and play.
The speakers are better. The two units on the Yoga's underside pump out surprising volume, and the mid-range dominates thanks to a chunky, full sound. The high-end is quite crisp, but there's not much bass.
The hinge mechanism Lenovo uses on its hybrids is one of the best methods we've seen so far for combining laptops and tablets into one device but, as ever, both modes are a compromise. The Yoga 2's laptop position is hampered by a poor keyboard and, in tablet position, that keyboard still proves distracting – and this machine is just too heavy to be used for lengthy periods.
The Pentium processor has enough power to handle general computing, and the Ultrabook-style dimensions mean the Yoga is better used as a laptop than a tablet. If you need a notebook, though, devices like the Toshiba Satellite M50 and Acer Aspire V5 have better ergonomics and benchmarks and cost similar amounts to the Yoga – and, if you're after a tablet, the £500 required for the Yoga could go towards an iOS or Android device and a high-quality keyboard case. If you do that, you'll get a machine that's slimmer, lighter and with a better app selection.
That means we're only able to recommend the latest Yoga to people who really are set on buying a hybrid. The smart design and reasonable quality elsewhere mean this is the best hybrid we've seen at this price.
The Lenovo's physical design looks good and works well. The hinge is a sturdy mechanism that means the Yoga can be quickly flipped into any of its modes, and the simple styling means this system looks far better than most other £500 laptops.
The Pentium processor has enough power to handle a wide range of general computing tasks, and it's capable of playing Windows Store games. The screen is brighter and with better contrast than rivals, the speakers are surprisingly good, and the trackpad is decent.
The Yoga's weight and dimensions are good for an Ultrabook, but they're bad for a tablet. That means this system is just too heavy and thick to be used in one hand for any length of time – it needs to be on a lap or a tabletop, which defeats the point of tablets entirely.
The keyboard has little travel and a deeply unsatisfying action, which isn't like Lenovo. And, while that Pentium chip is capable when it comes to less demanding tasks, it can't handle intensive work or top-end games.
The battery life is mediocre and the screen, while bright, loses out with a low resolution and average colour accuracy.
The latest Lenovo is another slick hybrid, with a good mechanism that's strong and easy to use. As usual, though, machines of this type involve compromises: it's too cumbersome for tablet use, and the keyboard is too poor to make this a satisfying laptop. Despite this, the Yoga 2 11 is the best cheap hybrid we've seen – but only take the plunge if you really do need a convertible device rather than a dedicated laptop or tablet.