Easy to convert from notebook to tablet mode; Long battery life; Gorgeous 1080p display ; Excellent keyboard
Expensive; Runs hot; Volume buttons too recessed
Lenovo's ThinkPad Helix offers a versatile convertible design, full HD touch screen and impressive battery life, but costs a pretty penny.
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?
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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.
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 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|CPU||1.8-GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-3337U|
|Operating System||Windows 8 Professional|
|RAM Upgradable to||8GB|
|Hard Drive Size||128GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||n/a|
|Hard Drive Type||SSD Drive|
|Secondary Hard Drive Size|
|Secondary Hard Drive Speed|
|Secondary Hard Drive Type|
|Optical Drive Speed|
|Graphics Card||Intel Graphics HD 4000|
|Wi-Fi Model||Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205|
|Touchpad Size||4 x 2.5 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Proprietary|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Mini Display Port|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Docking Connector|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Combo Headphone/Mic Jack|
|Warranty/Support||Three years/one year battery depot repair service/service upgrades available / 24x7 toll-free support for issues during warranty period|
|Size||Tablet: 11.66 x 7.37 x 0.46 inches Tablet with Keyboard Dock: 11.66 x 8.90 x 0.8 inches|
|Weight||3.8 pounds with dock/ 1.8 pounds without|