For business travelers, every ounce counts. So why bother packing a tablet and notebook when you can just bring along one device? That's the line of thinking Lenovo is using with its new 11.6-inch ThinkPad Helix, a Windows 8 laptop-tablet hybrid that promises the best of both worlds. And with an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, the Helix has the kind of power business users are looking for. But at $1,649, is the convenience of this two-in-one device too costly?
The 11.6-inch ThinkPad Helix is the first Windows 8 hybrid that uses a detachable tablet design. Despite the convertible nature of the design, the Helix retains much of the same styling cues found on Lenovo's other ThinkPads. The tablet's back is covered in a black soft-touch material that carries over to the keyboard's wrist rest and underside.
At the top left of the tablet's rear panel is a ThinkPad emblem with a red light up dot over the "I" that serves as a system status indicator. To the right of that is a 5-megapixel camera. Just below the ThinkPad logo is a small NFC logo indicating where users should place other NFC compatible devices to pair them with the Helix.
On the top edge of the tablet is a deeply recessed power button, fan vent and slot for the included stylus. On the right edge is a microphone/ headset slot and volume rocker that are so recessed that you'll need to use your fingernail to change the volume.
On the tablet's bottom edge are two speakers, the keyboard dock holders, a USB slot, mini DisplayPort and SIM card slot.
By itself, the tablet weighs a svelte 1.8 pounds and measures 11.7 x 7.4 x 0.46 inches. That's a few ounces shy of Samsung's 2-pound ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T, and just a hair smaller.
It seems that with every detachable tablet comes a new way of connecting it to its base, and the Helix is no different. When pushed, a small red tab at the bottom left corner of the base lets you remove the tablet from the keyboard dock. This reveals a rather complex-looking setup: A plastic flap protects the docking mechanism, which includes two large metal tabs, two docking connectors, and a small fan array which pulls air through the tablet. By comparison, the Samsung 700T has a much simpler connector.
Our biggest complaint about the ThinkPad Helix' design is that the display can't be angled back very far in clamshell mode. However, the Helix's dock is made in such a way that users can connect the tablet so that the screen is facing the keyboard, or the other way around. This way, you can use the Helix in what Lenovo calls "Stand" mode (good for presentations), or just fold it flush with the keyboard for "Tablet+" mode.
Like the Samsung 700T, the Helix's base has a built-in battery that adds to its overall weight. Combined, the ThinkPad Helix weighs 3.8 pounds and measures 11.7 x 8.9 x 0.8 inches, which is heavier and larger than the HP Elitebook Revolve 810 (3 pounds, 11.2 x 8.4 x 0.8 inches), as well as the Samsung 700T, which weighs 3.6 pounds with its keyboard dock.
Display and Audio
At 11.6 inches, the Helix' 1920 x 1080 IPS VibrantView Gorilla Glass display offered stunning visuals. While watching a 1080p trailer for the sci-fi flick "Elysium," the space colony that serves as the titular setting for the film looked beautiful. An aerial shot of the colony awash with trees provided a spectacular amount of detail. Colors were equally impressive, with the browns and greys of post-apocalyptic Earth clashing nicely with the greens and blues of Elysium. The display's viewing angles were excellent, allowing us to see images on the screen while sitting to the far left or far right of the system.
At 374 lux, the Helix' IPS display is also extremely bright, making it easy to view even in sunlight. That's much better than the ultraportable notebook category average of 231 lux, as well as the tablet average of 358 lux. The HP Elitebook Revolve's 1366 x 768 display measured 376 lux, while the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T (which has a 1080p screen) registered 329 lux.
Two stereo speakers on the Helix' bottom edge provided enough audio power to fill a small room. Audio quality on the high end of the spectrum was crisp and clear, though bass hits were nearly imperceptible. While listening to Kanye West's "On Sight," the rapper's sonorous voice came through with punch, but beats were difficult to make out.
Touch and pen Input
Thanks to its detachable display, the Helix can be used as either a traditional notebook or tablet. With support for 10-finger gestures, the Helix' display proved accurate and responsive during our testing. Windows 8's tile interface, which was made specifically for touch screen devices, was easy to navigate. However, the sharp display on the Helix made items difficult to target in desktop mode.
We were impressed with the Helix' ability recognize our handwriting using the included Wacom stylus. For the most part, whether writing in cursive or printing sentences, the tablet picked up exactly what we wrote without issue.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Lenovo equipped the Helix with a nearly full-size ThinkPad Precision Keyboard that offered exceptional feedback. On the Ten Thumbs Typing Test, we hit an average typing speed of 70 words per minute with a 2 percent error rate. That's just about our average for a notebook of this size. We also appreciated Lenovo's decision to offer a Function Lock feature, which lets you toggle between reversing the function keys.
Typing in our lap didn't feel as comfortable as typing on a desk with this convertible. That's because the Helix is top heavy; the system tipped backward slightly before we placed our wrists on the palm rest.
Like the rest of its ThinkPad line, the Helix' keyboard has the familiar red TrackPoint between the G, H and B keys that continues to be the best in the industry. However, to maximize space, the three buttons that normally lie between the spacebar and touchpad have now been integrated into the top of the touchpad itself. Fortunately, these buttons worked well.
Measuring 3.9 x 2.7 inches, the touchpad is about 20 percent larger than previous versions, which made it all the more easier to use. Multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom and rotate were spot on, and click feedback was satisfyingly responsive. Windows 8 gestures, such as swiping in to bring up the Charms menu and switching between apps, were equally responsive.
The dual fans in the Helix' dock were only somewhat effective at keeping the device cool. After streaming a 15-minute Hulu video, the notebook's touchpad reached just 77 degrees Fahrenheit and the keyboard reached 78.5 degrees. Both of these measurements are well below our comfortability threshold.
The tablet itself, however, was a different story. We measured 102 degrees in the middle of the back. The hottest point was near the ThinkPad logo on the tablet's backside, which reached a somewhat disturbing 106 degrees.
Lenovo chose to go relatively light on the ports with the Helix. The tablet portion of the device includes a single USB 2.0 port, mini DisplayPort, proprietary power connector and SIM card slot. All the ports are on the tablet's bottom edge, making them inaccessible when the tablet is connected to the keyboard dock.
The keyboard includes two USB 3.0 ports, a mini DisplayPort and a proprietary power connector, all on the back edge.
While space is limited, we would have liked an SD Card or microSD Card Slot and Ethernet port, both of which would prove extremely useful for business users.
Cameras and Camcorder
The Helix has a 2-megapixel front-facing camera and a 5-megapixel rear-facing shooter. In a well-lit room, the front camera captured images that were very detailed and captured colors accurately. However, there was a persistent graininess that became more pronounced in darker conditions.
The rear camera produced sharp images, though bright spots were blown out and the autofocus regularly caused the camera to refocus on the same subject several times.
A 1080p video shot using the back camera suffered from similar problems, with the camera seemingly unable to decide what to focus on and bright areas appearing blown out. Our video also had noticeable lag, with the image stuttering rather than running smoothly.
Equipped with a 1.8-GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-3337U processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix offers more than enough performance for your business needs. Apps opened and closed quickly, and we didn't notice any lag when running multiple programs simultaneously.
On the PCMark 7 benchmark, which measures a system's overall performance, the Helix scored 4,447, besting the 3,718 ultraportable category average. The Helix' performance was about even with the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T's (4,442), despite that system having a less powerful 1.7-GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-3317U processor and the same amount of RAM as the Helix. The HP Elitebook Revolve 810 and its 1.9-GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-3437U processor topped the bunch with a score of 4,554.
With a boot time of 10 seconds, the ThinkPad Helix' 128GB SSD proved speedy, but it was just a few ticks slower than the Elitebook Revolve 810's 8-second boot time. The Samsung ATIC Smart PC Pro 700T came to life in 13 seconds.
Our Helix completed the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, which involves copying 4.97GB of mixed media files, in 30 seconds. That's a wicked fast rate of 170 MBps, equal to the ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T, well ahead of the category average of 98 MBps and just ahead of the HP Elitebook Revolve 810's 159 MBps.
The Helix performed equally well on the LAPTOP OpenOffice Spreadsheet test, matching 20,000 names to their addresses in 5 minutes and 23 seconds. That's way ahead of the 6:10 ultraportable category average, and slightly ahead of the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T's time of 5:50. The HP Elitebook Revolve 810, however, came in at 5:17.
Packing Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics, the ThinkPad Helix can easily handle casual games such as "Fruit Ninja" and "Plants vs. Zombies," but not demanding desktop games. On the 3DMark11 benchmark, the Helix scored a pitiful 494. That's well below the category average of 714, as well as the ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T's score of 566. The HP Elitebook Revolve 810 didn't do much better, scording 586.
Those numbers translated into extremely low real-world performance. While playing "World of Warcraft" with the graphics set to auto and the resolution at 1366 x 768, the Helix provided a barely playable 28 frames per second. Boost the resolution to 1920 x 1080 and frame rates crash to 18 fps.
Like some notebook-tablet hybrids, the ThinkPad Helix includes batteries in both its tablet portion and keyboard dock. Together, the tablet's 3-cell lithium polymer battery and the keyboard dock's 4-cell lithium polymer battery ran for 8 hours and 10 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi). That's better than the HP Elitebook Revolve 810's time of 5:27, as well as the ultraportable notebook category average of 6:04.
The Helix' tablet portion lasted just 5 hours and 48 minutes. That's well off of the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T's time of 6:38, as well as the tablet category average of 7:01. However, the ATIV lacks a battery in its keyboard dock, so the Helix offers longer overall endurance.
Software and Warranty
In order to get the most out of the included stylus, Lenovo preloads the Helix with Evernote Touch and Skitch.
QuickLaunch is Lenovo's solution to the lack of a Start button in Windows 8's desktop environment. Located in the bottom left corner, users can click or tap the QuickLaunch icon to instantly open any program you add to the list.
Lenovo Companion serves as a one-stop shop for all things Lenovo including productivity apps, games and accessories. Lenovo Settings provides quick access to Mobile Hotspot, Power, Location Awareness, Camera and Audio, among others.
Solution Center helps users back up their system, enable virus protection, perform system checkups and more. Lenovo PC Experience provides access to the Helix' system and hardware settings, user guide, system updates and more.
Other third-party Windows 8 apps include Kindle, AccuWeather, and Norton Studio.
Lenovo offers a three-year warranty on the Thinkpad Helix, including one year for the battery, and 24-hour toll-free phone support.
Our $1,649 review unit came with a dual-core Intel Core i5-3337U processor, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and a 1080p display. If you want more power, you can opt for a 2.0-GHz dual-core Intel Core i7-3667U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD for $1,999.
With a gorgeous display, above-average performance and long battery life, the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix is a solid choice Windows 8 notebook-tablet hybrid for business users. This being Lenovo, the Helix also has one of the best keyboards we've used in a tablet hybrid. We just wish the tablet portion of this convertible ran cooler and that Lenovo included a memory card slot.
Priced at a fairly steep $1,649, the Helix costs about $500 more than the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T, which lasts longer on a charge in tablet mode, and has a more robust suite of stylus-optimized apps. But the Helix offers much longer battery life. Overall, the Helix should win over well-heeled executives who want the portability of a tablet, but the performance--and keyboard--of a traditional ThinkPad notebook.