Workstations

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix

19 Dec, 2013 By: Curt Moreno

First Look Review: Hybrid device offers practicality of a laptop and convenience of a tablet on a Windows 8 platform that’s powerful enough to support CAD.


 

Highly RecommendedIf you pay even a small bit of attention to the tech world, you've probably heard a lot of talk about tablets lately. Research organizations trumpet the death of the PC, while other market experts counter that nothing could be further from the truth. I believe that reality lies somewhere in between — so, when the opportunity arose to review Lenovo's ThinkPad Helix tablet/laptop hybrid, I jumped at the chance.

Lenovo describes the ThinkPad Helix as a "premium convertible" that combines laptop performance with the flexibility of a tablet, and the description is apt, if not understated. The ThinkPad Helix brings together the best elements of a full HD tablet and an excellent keyboard without losing the usability or benefits of either.

With a detachable screen that can function as a tablet, the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix can be configured four different ways.
With a detachable screen that can function as a tablet, the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix can be configured four different ways.

The Helix comprises a stand-alone, touch-screen tablet that docks to its keyboard. The tablet connects to the keyboard dock facing forward or backward with what Lenovo calls a "rip and flip" design, which allows use in four distinct arrangements, including:

  • laptop mode, with the tablet and keyboard connected in the traditional configuration;

     

  • tablet mode, with the tablet used alone for mobile applications;

     

  • tablet+ mode, where the tablet faces the user with the keyboard connected and folded behind it to provide more power, ports, and battery life than the tablet used alone; and

     

  • stand mode, where the keyboard sits behind the tablet to serve as a base while the user gives a presentation or works on the tablet for extended periods.

Hardware design. The ThinkPad Helix is designed in the image of Lenovo's other tablets and laptops, with a black satin finish and the distinctive red LED over the "i" in the ThinkPad logo. It comes with a choice of Intel Ivy Bridge processors: the i5-3317U, the i5-3247U, or the i7-3667U. Lenovo reports that upcoming models of the Helix will offer fourth-generation Intel Haswell processors.

The touch-screen tablet is responsive and features an 11.6" 1080p IPS screen that is vivid and bright. It includes a Wacom stylus that fits nicely into the 11.6-mm-thick bezel for storage. Much like other tablet designs, the Helix has both front- and rear-facing cameras, a power port, a 3.5-mm headphone/microphone jack, power and volume buttons, and a physical Home button. Unlike some tablets, the Helix also includes a USB 2.0 port, a Mini DisplayPort, and a SIM card slot for cellular service up to the latest 4G LTE networks. The unit ships with Intel HD 4000 graphics and 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, but is available with as much as 8 GB of RAM.

 

The unassuming ThinkPad keyboard has an 8.8-mm profile, is spill resistant, and sports a full set of keys. Fans of Lenovo keyboards will be glad to see the much-loved TrackPoint pointing stick but may be surprised to see Lenovo's recently revised glass touchpad, which is a joy to use. Keys are pleasant to the touch, with a good strike. The attached dock includes two USB 3.0 ports, one Mini DisplayPort, and the power port.

Lenovo ThinkPad HelixThe docking mechanism features six points of connection: two large guide rails to simplify aligning the two units, two locking hooks that secure the units, and two data/power posts for functionality. A loud click lets you know the tablet is fully seated and the connection is secure. A release button on the left side of the dock is both easily accessible and not very likely to accidentally release.

Software performance. Whereas the average tablet is designed around a mobile operating system such as iOS or Android, the ThinkPad Helix uses a full version of Microsoft Windows 8. This alone separates it from the army of tablets with keyboards, because you can install and operate any program designed to run on Windows 8. With this unit, you don't have to worry about which apps are available at which app store. The lastest versions of Microsoft Office, AutoCAD, and video games will all feel at home when installed on the Helix.

For the duration of this review, I replaced my tried-and-true 17" desktop-caliber laptop with the ThinkPad Helix. I suspected that I would not be able to go very long before supplementing this change with my larger laptop. To my surprise, I found that the Intel i5 processor packed enough power to handle all my office and CAD needs. AutoCAD 2014 and AutoCAD Civil 3D 2014 worked well on the Helix. However, large 3D CAD models and extensive Civil 3D calculations did reach the limits of the unit's Intel HD 4000 graphics and installed RAM. For better performance, I recommend the i7 model with 8GB of RAM. Still, the Helix outperformed any tablet or hybrid I've ever seen attempt these demanding tasks.

To test more recreational applications, I used the Helix for video streaming and to play Borderlands 2 and Elder Scrolls V; all were enjoyable experiences.

Battery performance. One of the great features of the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix is its battery life: six hours of use in tablet mode and ten hours when docked to the keyboard. Performance under continuous use was slightly less, but six or more hours of continuous gaming, CAD work, and video playback is not representative of this device's practical use. In a more realistic scenario of e-mailing, web surfing, writing, and YouTube viewing, I found that the Helix can easily last all day and into the evening.

Price and warranty. The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix that I reviewed has a base price of $1,549.99. It comes with Lenovo's standard three-year warranty, with a one-year warranty on the battery.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix is a fantastic choice for any work-related scenario that involves mobile computing. The Intel processor and Windows 8 combination opens a world of mobile computing options that clearly surpasses the capabilities of the average iOS or Android tablet.

It is easy to recommend the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix, a business-class device that offers the mobility of a tablet, the software support of a full-fledged Windows 8 computer, the battery and size benefits of an Ultrabook, and the style and reliability of the Lenovo brand. Highly Recommended.


About the Author: Curt Moreno


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