Lenovo ThinkPad Helix

What the Surface Should Have Been

The Helix came out at an unfortunate time. With Intel’s new line of battery sipping Haswell processors powering the new Windows 8.1 devices, the Helix’s Clovertrail processor may seem a little outdated. Can Lenovo’s 4-mode tablet still hold it’s own? Find out after the break.

The Helix is a convertible business computer that has, what Lenovo calls, a “rip and flip design” that provides the 4 distinct modes: Laptop Mode, Tablet Mode (screen detached from the keyboard), Stand Mode (see main picture), Tablet+ Mode (Stand Mode closed flat).

Hardware

The Helix is much sexier and sleek than previous Thinkpads. It’s nothing flashy or mind-blowing, and compared to a MacBook Pro or YogaPad, it’s nothing special. The only glossy surface on the device is the screen, while the rest is soft-touch plastic. Past ThinkPads have looked boxy, ancient, & ugly. The red track point and the great keyboard are its only links to its past brethren. The Helix reminds me of the new Lenovo T431s, another one of the company’s new computers for 2013.

The screen measures 11.6”, making it compact and comparable to the 11” Macbook Air. However, the Helix’s 1080p HD is much clearer and crisper than its Apple-branded competitor. While the keyboard is a little smaller than something like the MacBook Pro keyboard, the keys are still great size and are actually raised a little more, which made me actually prefer it to the Macbook’s. The glass trackpad on the Helix provides just the right amount of spring-loaded feedback. My only complaint is the lack of backlight. However, I found myself using the stylus more and more, which almost made the lack of backlit keys almost a mute point.

Software

This was my first time using Windows 8 as my daily driver. I have to say, I am really impressed. The experience is clean, smooth and snappy. Not once did I experience the lag that I sometimes get when opening programs on my 3 year-old Core i7 MacBook Pro. I’m surprised that Microsoft doesn’t have a unified messaging program that works between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, which I was really missing when I used the HTC 8X recently. While Windows 8 is lacking touch specific apps, the devices can take advantage of traditional PC desktop apps.

While it’s not the lightest tablet, it has a good, evenly distributed weight, and the premium soft touch finish makes holding it in Tablet Mode in one hand easier than holding the somewhat slippery Nexus 10. I ended up using Stand Mode the most. It was the goto mode for lap browsing as I watched TV and when I wanted to write some notes using the stylus.

I ended up enjoying the stylus so much that I wrote most of this review with it. While it takes a little adjusting, it did a really good job at interpreting my handwriting and has pretty great autocorrect features. It can even interpret cursive, uppercase, and symbols & numbers (albeit with a lesser degree of accuracy.) You can rest your hand on the screen while you write without device registering any input.

Lenovo claims the Helix gets 10 hours of battery life when attached to the keyboard dock. Now, the tablet itself does not get 10 hours, since the keyboard houses an additional battery. Lenovo claims the tablet gets about 6 hours of battery life, which is much better than the Surface Pro, which gets around 4 hours. My real-world testing pretty much supported their claims, lasting about 9 hours and 45 minutes.

The Verdict

I’ve read other reviews that claim that these devices make compromises in one of these areas: portability, power, or productivity. However, my testing of the Helix has convinced me that I don’t need a tablet and a laptop, since this guy does both equally as well. I just felt more productive using the Helix than when I use my Macbook. The Helix just gives its user so many options: a great, solid laptop; a high-density media consumption tablet for playing casual games and watching movies; a notebook with which you can type or handwrite your notes. The problem with the Helix is that it just came out at the wrong time. Now, a lighter, thinner Haswell powered Helix? That’s my dream computer.

Originally published in The Colgate Maroon News

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