Review: Lenovo's ThinkPad Helix

 

How the hybrid tablet-computer compares with the Surface Pro.

While most Windows 8 hybrids have sought to capture the world’s attention, Lenovo’s ThinkPad Helix is happy to appeal to a more select audience: it’s the first one to take aim at the business user.

With the body of an 11.6-inch tablet, the heart of an ultrabook and a nifty keyboard dock, the Helix is Lenovo’s vision of a hybrid that’s destined for the boardroom.

At first glance, there’s no mistaking the Helix for anything but a traditional ThinkPad. It’s hewn from a slab of matte-black plastic, interrupted only by the occasional logo. There’s just the faintest hint of silver glitter in the finish, but with delicately tapered edges and a soft-touch rubberised feel to every inch of the chassis, this business-focused machine doesn’t draw attention to itself. 

Business hardware is often synonymous with boring design, but this isn’t true of the Helix. It isn’t as slender as Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon, but there’s a good reason for that: the Helix is a self-sufficient 11.6-inch tablet seamlessly mated to a keyboard dock. 

The tablet itself weighs 848g – a little less than the 908g Microsoft’s Surface Pro – and the keyboard adds 822g to the total. That sounds a bit much, but it crams a lot in, adding an extra battery, a couple of USB 3 ports and a mini-DisplayPort output. 

Features and design

With the tablet slotted into the keyboard dock, the Helix masquerades as an alluring 11.6-inch laptop.

The full-sized keyboard lacks depth compared with the best ThinkPads, but the subtly scooped-out profile of the Scrabble-tile keys grips the finger, and the wide channels separating the keys make it easy to build up a rapid touch-typing cadence. It’s far superior to the Type Cover of the Surface Pro. 

The classic red trackpoint is set adrift in the keyboard’s centre, and there’s a huge, buttonless touchpad beneath. The only departure from standard ThinkPads concerns the trackpoint’s buttons, which are actually built into the top of the touchpad.

Both work well, however, and since the touchpad is almost perfectly flush with the wrist-rest, Windows 8’s edge-swipes respond reliably to light flicks of the finger. 

In laptop mode, the Helix’s display has a limited amount of backward tilt, which leaves the display sitting at a rather steep angle. It’s a compromise Lenovo had to make to stop the Helix toppling backwards too easily, but it’s far from unworkable.

We had little trouble tapping out emails and reviews with the Helix sitting on our lap on a packed train carriage – it’s far more usable than the Surface Pro while out and about. Also, when you’ve finished working for the day, you can flip the tablet around and dock it backwards, turning the keyboard base into an adjustable stand. 

If you depress the latch on the bottom left of the hinge, the tablet separates from the keyboard. Visually, it’s rather ordinary, but it’s sturdy and well appointed with features. Along the bottom edge, there’s a power input, a docking connector, a SIM card slot for the integrated 3G, a mini-DisplayPort output and a USB 3 port.

There’s also a 3.5mm headset jack on the right-hand edge, alongside the volume controls and screen orientation toggle, plus a 2.1-megapixel front-facing camera and a 5-megapixel rear-facing one. Best of all, Lenovo has squeezed in a stylus that stows in the tablet, something none of its peers have managed to do.

Both touch and stylus input work without a hitch, with the stylus delivering reliable handwriting recognition and pressure-sensitive inking. The physical Windows button in the tablet’s lower bezel is a welcome sight, too – we much prefer this to the capacitive buttons found on tablets such as the Surface Pro.

Our only complaint is that the stylus feels plasticky and lightweight compared to the Surface Pro, and may prove too thin for those with big hands.

The 11.6-inch, Full HD touchscreen is a stunner, though. Brightness and contrast aren’t as high as on the Surface Pro’s display, but at 403cd/m2 and 806:1, they aren’t far behind. Colour accuracy is noticeably superior, and its combination of an almost-perfect colour temperature and accurate colour reproduction make for images that teem with lively yet realistic colours and ample detail. Most crucially of all, the colours remain true from almost any angle. 

Performance

Beneath the matte-black surface, you’ll discover a familiar assortment of ultrabook-class hardware. The cheapest model, priced at $1750, partners a Core i5-3317U with 4GB of DDR3L RAM and a 128GB mSATA SSD, while the high end, $2640 unit features a Core i7-3667U, 8GB of DDR3L RAM and a 256GB SSD. Lenovo also offers the ability to customise systems to your needs.

It’s disappointing the latest Intel Haswell CPUs haven’t made the grade, but performance remains spritely. Our review unit had the faster of the two specifications, and achieved a score of 0.64 in our real world benchmarks.

That’s slower than you might expect from such a nippy processor – we suspect the limited cooling abilities of the Helix’s slender chassis are preventing the CPU from using Turbo Boost to its potential.

Despite the last-generation hardware, the Helix performed remarkably well in our suite of battery tests. On its own, the tablet survived 6hrs 47mins away from the mains in our light-use battery test – almost an hour longer than the Surface Pro. With the keyboard dock attached, it managed 9hrs 59mins. 

Business focus

For all the Helix’s talents, there’s still room for improvement. The docking mechanism is the first quibble: it works fine, but it’s a long way from perfection. Once docked, the tablet is held securely, but you have to make a concerted effort to align the two guide tabs every time you slot it into place.

A further (minor) niggle is the plastic flap at the rear covering the mechanism feels a tad cheap – we wonder how long it would take for someone to accidentally snap it off while yanking the Helix out of a packed laptop bag. 

By far the Helix’s biggest stumbling block is its price. Even the base model costs $500 more than a similarly specified Surface Pro with the optional Type Cover. 

It’s easily the match of the Microsoft Surface Pro in tablet terms, and it eclipses its rival by providing a genuinely usable laptop mode, but it’s still staggeringly expensive.

Copyright © CRN Australia. All rights reserved.


Review: Lenovo's ThinkPad Helix
 
Overall Rating
Verdict:
Focus firmly fixed on the enterprise but with consumer style.
Product Info
Specs:
2GHz Intel Core i7-3667U • 8GB DDR3L RAM • 256GB SSD • 11.6in 1920 x 1080 touchscreen • Intel HD Graphics 4000 • 2MP front-facing camera • 5MP rear-facing camera • dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi • 3G • Bluetooth 4 • NFC • 3yr RTB warranty • 296 x 187 x 18mm (WDH) • tablet and dock, 1.67kg (1.99kg with charger)
 
Supplier:
 
 
 
 
Top Stories
Frugality as a service: the Amazon story
Behind the scenes, Amazon Web Services is one lean machine.
 
Negotiating with the cloud email megavendors
[Blog post] Lessons from Woolworths’ mammoth migration.
 
Qld govt to move up to 149k staff onto Office 365
Australia's largest deployment, outside of the universities.
 
 
Sign up to receive iTnews email bulletins
   FOLLOW US...

Latest VideosSee all videos »

The great data centre opportunity on Australia's doorstep
The great data centre opportunity on Australia's doorstep
Scott Noteboom, CEO of LitBit speaking at The Australian Data Centre Strategy Summit 2014 in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. http://bit.ly/1qpxVfV Scott Noteboom is a data centre engineer who led builds for Apple and Yahoo in the earliest days of the cloud, and who now eyes Asia as the next big opportunity. Read more: http://www.itnews.com.au/News/372482,how-do-we-serve-three-billion-new-internet-users.aspx#ixzz2yNLmMG5C
Interview: Karl Maftoum, CIO, ACMA
Interview: Karl Maftoum, CIO, ACMA
To COTS or not to COTS? iTnews asks Karl Maftoum, CIO of the ACMA, at the CIO Strategy Summit.
Susan Sly: What is the Role of the CIO?
Susan Sly: What is the Role of the CIO?
AEMO chief information officer Susan Sly calls for more collaboration among Australia's technology leaders at the CIO Strategy Summit.
Meet the 2014 Finance CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Finance CIO of the Year
Credit Union Australia's David Gee awarded Finance CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards.
Meet the 2014 Retail CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Retail CIO of the Year
Damon Rees named Retail CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at Woolworths.
Robyn Elliott named the 2014 Utilities CIO of the Year
Robyn Elliott named the 2014 Utilities CIO of the Year
Acting Foxtel CIO David Marks accepts an iTnews Benchmark Award on behalf of Robyn Elliott.
Meet the 2014 Industrial CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Industrial CIO of the Year
Sanjay Mehta named Industrial CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at ConocoPhillips.
Meet the 2014 Healthcare CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Healthcare CIO of the Year
Greg Wells named Healthcare CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at NSW Health.
Meet the 2014 Education CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Education CIO of the Year
William Confalonieri named Healthcare CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at Deakin University.
Meet the 2014 Government CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Government CIO of the Year
David Johnson named Government CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at the Queensland Police Service.
Q and A: Coalition Broadband Policy
Q and A: Coalition Broadband Policy
Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott discuss the Coalition's broadband policy with the press.
AFP scalps hacker 'leader' inside Australia's IT ranks.
AFP scalps hacker 'leader' inside Australia's IT ranks.
The Australian Federal Police have arrested a Sydney-based IT security professional for hacking a government website.
NBN Petition Delivered To Turnbull's Office
NBN Petition Delivered To Turnbull's Office
UTS CIO: IT teams of the future
UTS CIO: IT teams of the future
UTS CIO Chrissy Burns talks data.
New UTS Building: the IT within
New UTS Building: the IT within
The IT behind tomorrow's universities.
iTnews' NBN Panel
iTnews' NBN Panel
Is your enterprise NBN-ready?
Introducing iTnews Labs
Introducing iTnews Labs
See a timelapse of the iTnews labs being unboxed, set up and switched on! iTnews will produce independent testing of the latest enterprise software to hit the market after installing a purpose-built test lab in Sydney. Watch the installation of two DL380p servers, two HP StoreVirtual 4330 storage arrays and two HP ProCurve 2920 switches.
The True Cost of BYOD
The True Cost of BYOD
iTnews' Brett Winterford gives attendees of the first 'Touch Tomorrow' event in Brisbane a brief look at his research into enterprise mobility. What are the use cases and how can they be quantified? What price should you expect to pay for securing mobile access to corporate applications? What's coming around the corner?
Ghost clouds
Ghost clouds
ACMA chair Chris Chapman says there is uncertainty over whether certain classes of cloud service providers are caught by regulations.
Was the Snowden leak inevitable?
Was the Snowden leak inevitable?
Privacy experts David Vaile (UNSW Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre) and Craig Scroggie (CEO, NextDC) claim they were not surprised by the Snowden leaks about the NSA's PRISM program.
Latest articles on BIT Latest Articles from BIT
Preview of new PowerPoint tool Office Mix announced
Apr 23, 2014
PowerPoint users might be interested in some new developments coming up that might change the ...
Another phone with Telstra's Blue Tick: The Samsung Galaxy S5
Apr 8, 2014
Samsung's latest flagship phone joins Telstra's list of recommended handsets for customers in ...
Run an online shop? This might be worth bookmarking
Mar 28, 2014
Things like Australian safety standards are probably the last thing on your mind, but just ...
Vodafone switches on 4G in Tasmania: list of locations
Mar 28, 2014
See a list of locations in Tasmania that now have access to 4G via Vodafone's network.
Samsung Galaxy S5 on sale from Telstra next month for $912
Mar 27, 2014
It's not cheap, but if you are looking to upgrade your phone then the Samsung Galaxy S5 could be ...
Latest Comments
Polls
Which bank is most likely to suffer an RBS-style meltdown?





   |   View results
ANZ
  20%
 
Bankwest
  9%
 
CommBank
  11%
 
National Australia Bank
  17%
 
Suncorp
  24%
 
Westpac
  19%
TOTAL VOTES: 1499

Vote