The Bottom Line
Jun 26 2013 - Lenovo's hybrid tablet and laptop design of the ThinkPad Helix will certainly appeal to those that want the mobility of the tablet but a better keyboard and running time that its docked mode can provide. The dock in particular provides it with one of the best keyboards out there for a convertible system and its battery life is one par with many of the better ultrabooks. The downside to all of this is a very high price tag the will discourage many on a budget and its relatively heavy nature when it is used in its laptop mode while traveling.
- Better Battery Life Than Tablet or Hybrid Competition
- Dock Provides an Excellent Keyboard and Trackpad
- Nice Build Quality
- Very Heavy When Used With Keyboard Dock
- Rather Expensive
- Lacks SD Card Reader
- Intel Core i5-3427U Dual Core Processor
- 4GB PC3-12800 DDR3 Memory
- 128GB Solid State Memory
- 11.6" WUXGA (1920x1080) Mutlitouch Display With 2.0MP Webcam and 5MP Front Camera
- Intel HD Graphics 4000 Integrated Graphics
- 802.11a/g/n Wireless, Bluetooth
- USB 2.0, Two USB 3.0 (on Keyboard Dock), MiniDisplayport
- 11.7" x 8.3" x .5" (Tablet) or .8" (w/Dock) @ 1.8 lbs. (Tablet) or 3.8 lbs. (w/Dock)
- Windows 8 Professional
Review - Lenovo ThinkPad Helix
Jun 26 2013 - The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix is kind of a hard product to classify. Technically, it is an ultrabook, a tablet and a hybrid laptop all in a single package. This is because the primary computer is all housed in the display which is a tablet computer that also comes with a keyboard docking device. The tablet portion is a bit on the larger side because it uses a 11.6-inch display but it still comes in at just a half inch thick and weighs under two pounds. This makes it slightly larger than the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet but a bit thinner and lighter. The tablet has a nice sturdy feel to it but is a bit awkward as one edge houses all of the peripheral connectors plus several openings to hold it into the keyboard dock.
The keyboard dock features does not really expand any of the computing features of the ThinkPad Helix tablet other than providing it with two USB 3.0 ports for high speed storage peripherals with the tablets single USB 2.0 port can't really support. In addition to this, it features a traditional Lenovo keyboard and trackpad. The hinge for the dock is nice and sturdy and the tablet can be attached in either direction so that it can be used as a thicker tablet for longer running times or a traditional laptop. The hinge is something to note as it only allows the screen to fold back to about a sixty degree angle which isn't as wide as Lenovo's IdeaPad Yoga 11S which can fold all the way over and back. The dock increases the thickness to eight tenths of an inch thick and total weight of 3.8 pounds which is quite heavy for an 11-inch ultraportable.
Powering the ThinkPad Helix is a Intel Core i5-3427U dual core processor. Now this is a third generation Core i processor which performs well but doesn't have as many of the power saving features of the new Haswell or fourth generation processor. It provides the system with more than enough performance for the average business user that primarily uses it for email and productivity applications. The processor is matched up with 4GB of DDR3 memory which is typical for many business class systems and provides a smooth enough experience for Windows 8 but it is less than the Surface Pro.
Storage for the ThinkPad Helix is provided by a 128GB solid state drive which is typical of tablets and more high end ultrabooks. It actually provided very strong performance for reading and writing but this didn't really translate into extremely fast boot times as it took about 15 seconds to boot which is a bit on the slow side but still quite fast. In terms of space, there is roughly 70GB of space after Lneovo's programs are installed for applications, data and media files. As mentioned before, the tablet only features a USB 2.0 port which uses a lower power profile such that it can't really be used with external hard drives but the keyboard dock does have two USB 3.0 ports. One disadvantage here is the lack of any SD card slot for a quick expansion if you do need some additional storage space or just want to quickly transfer some files.
The display for the ThinkPad Helix uses an 11.6-inch multitouch display panel that features IPS technology. This provides it with a nice crisp display with wide viewing angles and good color. In terms of the touch capabilities, it was responsive and accurate. In addition to touching it with ones finger, it also includes a digitizer pen that is stored in the back upper corner. This makes navigating the desktop much easier but there is a bit more input lag and accuracy can be off if the pen is a bit too far from the screen. Unlike the Microsoft Surface Pro, Lenovo sets the scaling at 125% which means that the desktop items can be a bit smaller and harder to read at times but the larger screen does compensate for this somewhat.
The keyboard dock uses a traditional ThinkPad isolated keyboard design that also features the J key pointer in the middle of the keyboard. This is an extremely nice keyboard that offers some excellent accuracy when typing even if it is a bit more cramped than the larger Lenovo laptops. The only complaint I have is the function key being on the outside of the left side of the control key but this is a personal preference. The trackpad offers an accurate overall experience and handles Windows 8 multitouch gestures just fine but this isn't as critical since there is the touchscreen.
The ThinkPad Helix can operate in a tablet mode or a laptop mode depending on if it is docked or not. Each unit has battery so the running time of the system will vary depending on if it is docked or not. The tablet itself features a large 42 WHr capacity battery pack while the keyboard dock adds an extra 28WHr capacity for a total of 70WHr combined. For my testing, I ran my playback drain in both the tablet and docked modes. The tablet ran for four just under four and three quarter hours. This is better than the Microsoft Surface Pro which falls under four hours. In the docked mode, battery life was three hours longer for just under seven and three quarters. This is very good for an ultrabook but it is quite heavy for an 11-inch ultrabook.
Priced at $1649, the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix is certainly on the higher price end. Those looking primarily at a tablet could save money by going with the $999 Microsoft Surface Pro 128GB model plus another $130 for the Type cover. Admittedly, this solution does not provide as much running time as teh Helix with its dock or even just in the tablet mode. If you compare it to a hybrid device, then it would compare most to a device such as the Dell XPS 12 with its reversible display to switch between tablet and laptop modes. It is lighter than the combined Helix unit but has less battery life at a lower $1199 price tag. Finally, if the price is too high, one could always spend have as much for the ThinkPad Twist with is priced at $879 but it doesn't have as much performance or running time.