Quick review: Lenovo ThinkPad Helix

WP_000492If you think the MacBook Air is the pinnacle of ultrabook design and that the iPad is likewise for tablets, then my friend, you surely have been sucked into the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field.

At the end of April I wrote a brief review of the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2, which is a good Windows 8 based tablet, and something any buyer should look at before buying any other tablet they intend for serious work purposes. Now I get to take a look at the ThinkPad Helix.

Like last time with the Tablet 2, the Helix was supplied to me on loan from a supplier for evaluation within a corporate environment, not a review unit supplied by Lenovo. Also, like last time, the Helix was a lower end model configured without the Wacom digitiser and active stylus (a feature I really would have love to have tried on both the Helix and Tablet 2).

As one of the new breed of Intel powered ultrabooks (the one I used was an i5, but it’s also available with an i7), the Helix is a beautiful machine. It’s slim (20mm) and light (1.7kg), has a beautiful big multi-touch tactile trackpad (as well as Lenovo’s trademark red trackpoint), and the legendary Lenovo keyboard.

Let me just talk a little about the keyboard. For work I currently use a 5 year old ThinkPad T61, so I’m very familiar with how good ThinkPad keyboards are. They have a reputation for a reason. I thought I knew what to expect from the Helix. It has a redesigned island style keyboard, which I had read much about a year or two ago when Lenovo first introduced it. I thought I would get the same great ThinkPad feel, with a slightly different look, but no. If anything I would say that the Helix’s keyboard is better than that on the T61. Maybe even the best keyboard I’ve ever used.

WP_000494So, the ThinkPad Helix is an ultrabook right? Wrong. It’s a convertible ultrabook. With the press of a button, the screen undocks from the keyboard to become a fully functioning Windows 8 tablet. OK, being a i5/i7 powered device, at 835g this is no light weight (like the Tablet 2 or an iPad), and it does need active cooling, so it is a bit thicker (11.6mm) to accommodate that, but that certainly doesn’t make in feel heavy or unusable. The combination of the weight distribution, the subtle curves and the soft touch finish mean the tablet is very nicely balanced for one handed use.

WP_000493Some people that used the Helix as part of trial, expressed some concern over the longevity of the hinge/docking assembly. In order to force additional cooling into the tablet portion when docked, there are two small fans in the hinge/dock. These are covered by a flap that opens as you open the Helix (when docked). This flap is free moving and made of plastic and could pop-off with some rough use.

Lenovo have a great “unboxed” video on their YouTube channel, of the Helix on show at this year’s CES. It shows may of the great aspects of the Helix. Check it out…

That said, I loved the Helix. When it finally does become available, you should definitely check it out. The Lenovo Australia website says it’s coming Winter 2013.

Note: Both the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 and ThinkPad Helix were supplied on loan as corporate evaluation units by Blue Connections Pty Ltd.

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8 Responses to Quick review: Lenovo ThinkPad Helix

  1. Just received a helix and setup Windows 7 instead which was a huge hassle but doable. The one HUGE problem with it is that with Windows 7 anytime you take the tablet out of the dock, it shuts off. Not sure if lenovo has anything special with windows 8 installed to get the helix to work in both tablet and ultrabook, but right now, it can only be an ultrabook with Windows 7. Maybe you can find some more information for us….

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    • Neil Nuttall says:

      Hi Bruno,
      I afraid I can’t find any info in relation to this, other than to point you at Lenovo’s support site: http://support.lenovo.com
      They do appear to have both Windows 8 and Windows 7 drivers there.

      My question to you is, why would you want to run Win7 on a device that is optimised and made for Win8?

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  2. Robert S. says:

    I must agree with Neil. What a waste to take such a beautiful machine and downgrade it to a less cable OS. The Helix is designed specifically for Windows 8. From the touch screen to the stylus to the gesture enabled multi-touch trackpad…all designed to take advantage of Windows 8, and you kill it by putting Windows 7? Very strange indeed.

    If you need Windows 7 for some compatibility reason, Windows 8 comes with Hyper-V AND the Helix supports SLAT so it works perfectly.

    My advice? You would never fill a Lamborghini with Regular or Low Grade gasoline, so don’t shackle your Helix with Windows 7.

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    • Randy P says:

      The reason people consider Windows 7 is that by all accounts Windows 8 pen input – for those who really use it as a pen – is a huge step backward. I am using a 6 year old Fujitsu Sytlistic tablet, running XP Tablet edition, which has great pen input. Why am I looking around? The Fujitsu is heavy, battery life isn’t great, and the 12″ display is 1024 x 768. Still, I haven’t yet found anything superior; I tried a Surface and (as others report on the web) the pen interface is awful. Win 7 on the other hand apparently a pen interface that is an improvement on XP.

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  3. Chris says:

    I would like to say I’m using on right now, it’s a rather amazing piece of equipment, unfortunately for me I purchased a model without pen digitiser ability (yes some models don’t include the ability and only have 10 point multitouch without the pen) and even though I don’t have any ability to use the pen I love using this laptop, it feels sturdy and the battery life is good. You can go ahead and install windows 7 on it if you really want to, I dual booted windows 7 and 8. If you really want to make use of this convertible to it’s ability, stick with windows 8. It has it’s irritations occasionally but with a touchscreen it’s far more enjoyable and this laptop makes it even moreso. I do have one slight problem, only slight and easily fixable. the fan cooling on the helix is a little too conservative or leaves the fans running when not required or the kick in late, that can be solved by downloading tpfancontrol and setting it up to your use. Other than that the laptop is amazing, it feels well built, the battery life is good, the keyboard has to be one of my favourites, the touchpad and touchscreen are responsive too. I would recommend it as a good purchase if you’re interest in a pen enabled laptop tablet hybrid. The price I think however could do with waiting for it to drop a little in a sale before it really is truly worthwhile. I also have one more thought for improvement. On the bottom of the tablet there is a usb port you cannoy used while the tablet is docked, if you have anything plugged into it you have to remove it first, ideally it would have been better suited to being placed on the side.

    Apologises for the lack of paragraphing, no laptop is perfect but this is a great machine

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  4. […] See on neilnuttall.wordpress.com […]

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  5. That’s a very interesting propositoin form Lenovo. I’m wondering if it will become a new trend or just Levono (or Asus) will regret those experiments with detachable keyboards in the future. Do you know anything about their selling stats?

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    • Neil Nuttall says:

      In time I think the market will sort out what is the preferred form-factor. That said, the number of people who buy Logitech (and others) keyboard docks for the their iPads tells me that this form-factor has it’s merits, especially when you consider that it’s physically docked (not just Bluetooth) and the keyboards have a battery that will give a power-hungry road-warrior (I seriously haven’t used that term since the 90s) the extra juice they need.
      Personally, rather than the i5/i7 powered Helix, I think dockable Atom tablets are a better option (eg, Asus T100, Acer W510).

      I have no details as to sales stats.

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