Lenovo ThinkPad Helix review

One of the better detachable hybrid tablets on the market, the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix gives the corporate IT buyer a great option for their highly mobile workforce.
Photo of Lenovo ThinkPad Helix

The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix ($1,679) is a portable Windows system for a demanding set of users. If your business absolutely needs Windows 7/8 compatibility, but your users are a motley crew who wants the best of tablets and the best of laptops, then the ThinkPad Helix is an attractive choice. It has one of the best keyboards with dual integrated pointing devices, but it can also detach its screen and transform into a usable slate tablet. This is a system that makes no compromise in user input methods. No matter how they do their work, your users should be able to do it comfortably on the ThinkPad Helix. It’s certainly a winner for innovation, and a system to seriously consider if you’re looking for a high-end business ultrabook.

Design and Features
Like all ThinkPads, the ThinkPad Helix follows Lenovo’s basic design ID. It sports a dark charcoal black exterior with red dot accents on the TrackPoint and ThinkPad logo. The tablet itself measures about 11.75 by 7.5 by 0.46 inches (HWD) and weighs a svelte 1.81 pounds. Docked to its keyboard dock, the system is still compact if a bit hefty, measuring 11.75 by 9 by 0.8 inches (HWD) and weighing 3.62 pounds. By itself, the tablet is as portable as rivals like the Microsoft Surface Windows 8 Pro ($999). Measure for measure, the ThinkPad Helix is more portable than the Asus Transformer Book TX300C ($1,499), in both tablet and docked modes. In its defense, the Asus Transformer Book is a 13.3-inch detachable hybrid, while the ThinkPad Helix is a much more portable 11.6-inch detachable hybrid.

When docked with the screen facing the keyboard, the ThinkPad Helix acts like any other clamshell laptop. It’s when the screen is detached that things get interesting. You can use the ThinkPad Helix like a slate tablet, for maximum portability. However, you can reattach the screen to the dock with the Gorilla Glass-protected screen facing away from the keyboard, for what Lenovo calls stand mode, or fold the screen flat back from stand mode to what Lenovo calls Tablet+ mode. In Tablet+ mode, you get a somewhat heavy tablet-like form factor, but with the added benefits of the keyboard’s auxiliary battery. In practice, these modes are more usable than the same functions in Lenovo’s Yoga series of ultrabooks, like the recently reviewed Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11s ($699). When docked with the screen out, the ThinPad Helix has the same usage model a more traditionally designed convertible tablet systems like the HP Elitebook Revolve 810 ($1449) and Lenovo ThinkPad Twist (3347-4HU) ($999). Plus, the ThinkPad Helix trumps the Twist and Elitebook Revolve in portability when you leave the dock in your bag or on your desk.

The ThinkPad Helix has a very nice looking screen. It’s measures 11.6-inch and has a 1,920 by 1,080 resolution (1080p HD) screen. Thus you can use it to view HD movies at full resolution, and the screen has plenty of real estate for spreadsheets and a bit of light photo editing as well. At 100% at 1080p, text can seem a bit small, but you can of course adjust the zoom levels to ameliorate that deficiency. The screen has 10-point touch capabilities, plus it also has an included 256-level pressure-sensitive digitizer and stylus when you need pen input. A big plus is that the system includes a built in holder for the stylus, so you don’t lose it in your commute bag. Add the keyboard dock’s multi-touch trackpad and TrackPoint pointing stick, and the ThinkPad Helix gives you four ways to interact with elements on the screen. This is one of the most flexible portable PCs on the planet.

The tablet portion of the system has its I/O ports on the side that faces the docking connector. There are a single USB 2.0 port, mini-DisplayPort, SIM card tray (for an optional 3G/4G modem), and power connector. The keyboard base has a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a power connector, and a mini-DisplayPort. The system has a NFC sensor on the back of the screen for connecting NFC-equipped gadgets like headphones and smartphones. The docking connector and fins that guide the tablet on to the base are on the system’s hinge. Removing the tablet/screen is as easy as pushing a simple latch button at the hinge. This is a lot easier than other docking mechanisms like the one on the HP Envy X2 (11-g012nr) ($849) or on the Samsung ATIV SmartPC Pro 700T (XE700T1C-A01US) ($1199). Of the three, the Lenovo’s latch is the easiest to engage/disengage and it also feels to be the most durable as well.

There is a flap behind the hinge that helps channel air to the cooling fans. The few nits of the system concentrate there. The hinge is left in a locked position when you remove the screen, so if the laptop is open when you unlatch, the hinge assembly can stick out, keep you from putting the dock back in your bag. Also, when in use the system’s fan is clearly audible. This can be somewhat distracting if you’re used to a tablet with a lower powered processor that doesn’t need active cooling.

The rest of the system falls along high-end ultrabook lines, with 8GB of system memory, 128GB SSD for storage, integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics, and 802.11 a/b/g/n dual band Wi-Fi. The keyboard is very comfortable to use and rock solid, upholding the Lenovo tradition that has been slipping on some of its lower priced models. The function keys default to oft-used functions like volume control, Win 8 commands, and screen brightness. The Fn key can be locked on if you need F1-F12 for an extended work session. When docked to the keyboard, the ThinkPad Helix is slightly top-heavy, but you can still use the system on your lap comfortably, something you can’t say about competitors like the Microsoft Surface Pro. The ThinkPad Helix comes with the standard Windows 8 apps, with a few additional pre-loaded items like Skitch Touch, Evernote Touch, Skype, Accuweather, Kindle, rara.com, Norton Internet Security, and an ad for Microsoft Office. The system comes with a three-year warranty on the system, and one-year warranty on the sealed batteries.

Performance

The ThinkPad Helix comes with an ultrabook-spec Intel Core i5-3337U processor, 8GB of memory, and a 128GB SSD, so it’s quite usable out of the box. It’s certainly faster overall than older systems with hard drives like the ThinkPad Twist. Systems with Core i7 processors like the Asus Transformer Book TX300C are a smidge faster on the Photoshop CS6 test, but the Helix is certainly more than capable of keeping up on the other day-to-day tests and 3D tests.

The ThinkPad Helix returned a decent five hours (4:48) in tablet mode, while the additional battery in the keyboard base boosted the battery life to a class-leading 7:38. This is one of the best scores we’ve seen for a portable system with a third-generation Core i5 processor. It bests the slate tablet-style Microsoft Surface Pro (4:58) by two and a half hours.

At over $1,600, you will have to pay for the level of innovation and performance found in the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix. Though dear for a run of the mill consumer, this isn’t out of line for the corporate or SMB buyer that is the target audience of this novel system. It’s also a good fit for the higher education business school student, since you can rip and flip the screen around to show a presentation to your study group. If you absolutely need the portability of a tablet, need Windows 8 (as opposed to Android or iOS), and positively need a comfortable keyboard and multiple pointing options, then the ThinkPad Helix is a prime choice. The Microsoft Surface Pro holds on to its Editors’ Choice for Windows 8 tablets for now, however, due to its better price point and portability, but consider that position challenged.

Specifications
Touchscreen Yes
Processor Name Intel Core i5-3337U
Operating System Microsoft Windows 8 Professional
Weight 3.62 lb
Graphics Card Intel HD Graphics 4000, Intel HD Graphics 4000
Screen Type Widescreen
Type Tablet, Business, Small Business, Ultrabook
RAM 8 GB, 8 GB
Networking Options 802.11n
Processor Speed 1.8 GHz
Screen Size 11.6 inches
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 128 GB
Storage Type SSD

Verdict
One of the better detachable hybrid tablets on the market, the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix gives the corporate IT buyer a prime option for their highly mobile workforce. This could be the best choice if you need both laptop and tablet functionality.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc