|Introduction and Specifications|
Convertible laptops and ultrabooks had a big presence at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES). At CES, Lenovo revealed its ThinkPad Helix which it marketed as having a "groundbreaking 'rip and flip' design" that enables this 11.6-inch ultrabook to transform into a powerful Windows 8 tablet. When detached, Lenovo claims the Helix is the thinnest full-function Intel 3rd generation Core tablet with Intel's vPro technology for the enterprise.
The ThinkPad Helix lets you work in four different modes: laptop, tablet, stand, and tablet+. When attached to the Enhanced Keyboard Dock in laptop mode, you’ll get additional battery life and additional ports as well as Lenovo’s ThinkPad Precision keyboard, a five button trackpad that supports Windows 8 features, and TrackPoint mouse. By docking the Helix backward on the enhanced keyboard, you can use it in stand mode, making it perfect for business presentations or watching movies. Folding it down from stand mode enables tablet+ mode which gives you a tablet with extended battery life and additional ports.
The ThinkPad Helix features an 11.6-inch Full HD 1080p IPS (In-Plane Switching) 10-point multi-touchscreen with pen touch input and Gorilla Glass for protection. Lenovo claims the ThinkPad Helix will run for up to 8 hours on a single charge. Of course, we’ll put this to the test in our review. When using the ThinkPad Helix in tablet mode, the device will reduce its maximum power draw to less than half in order to increase battery life.
As you would expect from a convertible ultrabook, the ThinkPad Helix is very compact. In tablet mode, the ThinkPad Helix measures just 0.46 inches thick. When docked, the ThinkPad Helix is 0.80 inches thick. The tablet alone weighs about 1.73 pounds. The keyboard dock adds just under two pounds, making the entire system weigh about 3.54 pounds.
Lenovo offers four ThinkPad Helix models that are most easily differentiated by their processor and mobile broadband capabilities. In this review, we’ll take a look at the ThinkPad Helix configured with an Intel Core i5-3337U processor and 180GB SSD. Lenovo also offers the Helix with an Intel Core i7-3667U processor, up to a 256GB SSD, up to 8GB of RAM, and other options. The full specifications for our review sample are posted above.
The ThinkPad Helix looks like a typical ultrabook when placed in the keyboard dock. When removed, the ThinkPad Helix looks like your normal Windows tablet. The tablet and keyboard dock both have similar styling to other Lenovo ThinkPad products – a soft-touch black finish and glossy display.
The ThinkPad Helix features an 11.6-inch IPS VibrantView display with a resolution of 1920x1080. This display features Corning Gorilla Glass and supports ten-finger touch. Viewing angles with the ThinkPad Helix are excellent and the display is very vibrant and crisp. Above the display, you’ll find the front-facing 2.0 megapixel camera. A Windows button is located below the display. At the bottom edge of the front of the tablet, you’ll also notice the speakers.
The included digitizer pen can be stored on the top edge of the tablet near the left corner. On the opposite corner of the top edge, you’ll find the Power button which is slightly recessed. Because of the way the power button is recessed, we felt it was a tad hard to push at times. This can be a good or bad thing—good because you won’t accidentally hit it while transporting the ThinkPad Helix, but bad because it’s slightly inconvenient to try to press when you want to power the system on.
On the right edge of the tablet, you’ll find the audio jack and volume control buttons. On the back of the ThinkPad Helix, you’ll see Lenovo and ThinkPad logos and the rear-facing 5.0 megapixel camera. If you look closely below the ThinkPad logo, you’ll also see a NFC logo. The included digitizer pen can be seen when looking at the back of the Helix. This pen can perform a number of capacitive touchscreen functions including swipe, drag, open, and click as well as handwriting recognition. EverNote Touch and Skitch are included to help you make the most of the pen capabilities.
The base of the tablet houses a power connector, emergency reset hole, keyboard dock connectors, SIM card tray, mini DisplayPort connector, USB 2.0 port, and slots for docking the tablet with the keyboard dock.
The keyboard dock has metal docking posts that make it easy to line up and attach the tablet to the dock. These posts and the ports on the keyboard dock line up perfectly so you can quickly and easily attach the keyboard facing either direction. When placed in the keyboard dock, the tablet receives additional cooling which enables the CPUs to run at the highest frequency. You’ll find two fans in the dock and a unique flap that redirects air to help cool the tablet.
Lenovo incorporates its ThinkPad Precision Keyboard with the ThinkPad Helix. This keyboard is spill resistant and tested to meet MIL-Spec standards. If you take a close look at this keyboard, you’ll notice Lenovo has enabled access to a number of different functions including Control Panel, a search tool, all open applications, and a computer dialogue box available via a combination of the Fn key and F keys.
Lenovo redesigned the touchpad on the Helix, making it 20% larger than previous touchpads. This roomy touchpad is slightly larger than the spacebar. The touchpad supports more than 20 Windows 8 gestures.
At the center of the keyboard dock, you’ll notice the TrackPoint pointing stick. To remove the tablet from the keyboard dock, press the eject button located on the upper left corner near the hinge of the keyboard dock. The back edge of the keyboard dock houses two USB 3.0 ports as well as a mini DisplayPort and Power jack. Although the keyboard dock is quite functional as is, we wish Lenovo would have added a SD card reader, Ethernet port, and HDMI port to the keyboard dock for even greater functionality.
Like many manufacturers, Lenovo includes a few additional programs with the ThinkPad Helix. You’ll find AccuWeather for Windows 8, Kindle, Lenovo Cloud storage, Lenovo Companion, LenovoToast, Nitro Pro 8 (30-day trial), Norton Studio, Absolute Data Protect, Norton Internet Security, and others among the list of programs on the Start menu.
Although we wish manufacturers would give us a clean system out of the box, we realize this is a rarity rather than the norm. For users who feel the same, you’ll be glad to know we had no problem uninstalling some of the programs that come with the ThinkPad Helix.
EverNote Touch and Skitch are also included with the ThinkPad Helix to help you get the most from using the digitizer pen. Using Skitch, you can capture a photo and annotate it with notes, draw on existing photos in your library, draw on a map, start from scratch with a blank canvas, and more.
Looking at the Start menu, you’ll see an icon for Microsoft Office. Upon clicking the Office icon, you’ll have the option to activate a previously purchased copy of Office 2010, go online and purchase Office, or try Office free for a limited time. If you tap Try to use the software on a trial basis, you’ll be taken to a webpage for Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium.
Two of the more prominent Lenovo apps on the Start screen are Companion and Settings. When you tap either of these icons, you’ll see a message that states, “Enhanced functions for this application are available.” This message then directs you to a download link for a revised version of the application. We updated both of these apps to the enhanced version before checking them out.
Companion features various apps, information on getting started, information about ThinkPad accessories, a link to the Lenovo AppShop, and more. You’ll also find a link to a Lenovo Settings add-on and a tutorial that will teach you how to get around in Windows 8. The content that appears in Companion is designed to change and update periodically.
Lenovo’s Settings application provides easy access to Mobile Hotspot, Power, Location Awareness, Camera, and Audio. In the Location Awareness section, you can automatically update chosen settings based on your location. More specifically, you can set a home page and default printer to match your location. You can also select a handful of security settings such as Windows firewall and file and printer sharing.
Lenovo Cloud Storage by SugarSync also requires an update the first time you run it. After signing up for a new account, we were given 5GB of storage. During the set up process, you can choose to sync selected folders with SugarSync. Using SugarSync’s mobile apps you can view your files on your tablet or smartphone as well as on the ThinkPad Helix and other computers.
|Cinebench & SiSoft SANDRA|
Next, we'll take a look at how the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix compares to other systems in terms of performance.
The ThinkPad Helix earned a mid-range score in the OpenGL benchmark and one of the lower scores in the CPU test. To be fair, we didn’t expect the ThinkPad Helix to outscore some of the more powerful systems in our reference chart but we would have liked to see the device score better than it did in this test.
We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, File System).
SANDRA CPU and Multimedia Benchmarks
SANDRA Memory and File System Benchmarks
The Core i5-3337U processor found in the ThinkPad Helix holds its own in comparison to other processors in the CPU test. The story is much the same in the Processor Multi-Media test and Memory Bandwidth test where the ThinkPad Helix earns midrange scores. The SSD found in the ThinkPad Helix earns a top marks in the Physical Disks test, however.
|PCMark 7 & 3DMark 11|
Futuremark’s PCMark 7 is a well-known benchmark tool that runs the system through ordinary tasks, including word processing and multimedia playback and editing. Graphics and processor power figure prominently in this benchmark, but graphics power doesn’t play as big a role here as it does in another Futuremark benchmark, 3DMark (which is designed for testing the system’s gaming capabilities).
The ThinkPad Helix earned second place in this test. This is impressive, especially considering the ThinkPad Helix outscored a few systems with more powerful processors.
As a gaming benchmark, 3DMark 11 puts extra emphasis on your system’s handling of DirectX 11. However, 3DMark 11 measures more than just the graphics card’s performance and the processor has a definite influence on the score. As a result, this benchmark is a good way to get a feel for how well the system can handle gaming and general computing tasks.
We were unimpressed by the ThinkPad Helix’s score in this benchmark. Other systems with similar graphics and processors were able to achieve significantly higher results. The processor, memory, and software / driver configuration found in the ThinkPad Helix contributed to its somewhat lower score.
|3DMark Cloud Gate & Far Cry 2|
Because 3DMark Cloud Gate is so new, we don’t have many systems in our test bank to use for comparison. The Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 Touch is the only other system we have for comparison at the moment. The ThinkPad Helix earned a score of 2895 while the IdeaPad Z400 Touch earned a score of 3067.
Far Cry 2 uses high-quality texture, complex shaders, and dynamic lighting to create a realistic environment. Using the game’s built-in benchmark, we can get a better look at a system’s performance with DirectX 10.
The ThinkPad Helix achieved an average frame rate of 18.73fps in FarCry 2. This score isn’t quite as high as we would have liked to see, especially given some of the scores produced by similarly-equipped systems.
Battery life is a big deal with a mobile system, especially an ultrabook. Lenovo claims you should get up to 5.6 hours of battery life from the battery that’s integrated into the tablet. When docked, Lenovo claims the ThinkPad Helix should last for up to 8 hours. The power adapter that accompanies the ThinkPad Helix is relatively small. After running the system for a while in the keyboard dock, we noticed the back of the tablet was slightly warm to the touch.
In an attempt to quantitatively measure the ThinkPad Helix's battery life in a controlled benchmark environment, we ran Battery Eater Pro. This test is designed to tax a laptop’s resources to give a feel for how long the laptop’s battery will last under heavy use. For the test, we set the ThinkPad Helix's display to 50% brightness and enabled Wi-Fi.
While docked, the ThinkPad Helix put up the most impressive score in our chart, lasting for nearly four hours before shutting down. In tablet mode, the ThinkPad Helix didn’t fare quite as well but still put up quite the fight by lasting for over two hours.
The idea of combining a Windows 8 tablet with a keyboard dock to create an ultrabook isn’t completely new, but we feel Lenovo did a good job at implementing this concept with the ThinkPad Helix. We also appreciate the fact that you can turn the tablet around and still attach it to the keyboard dock to use in stand mode or tablet plus mode for additional battery life.
Docking and removing the ThinkPad Helix is easy, especially since Lenovo incorporated two docking posts to help you line up the system. While Windows 8 is designed for touch, we also appreciate that Lenovo incorporated a digitizer pen for additional functionality and hope to see more applications that let you take advantage of the precision a pen can offer in the future.
Our test configuration of the ThinkPad Helix wasn’t designed to compete with the high-end ultrabooks; some of the benchmark scores reflect this. Lenovo also offers the ThinkPad Helix with a Core i7 processor, additional RAM, and a larger solid state hard drive. If you’re looking for additional performance and have the cash to spend, consider one of the higher-performing configurations.When docked, the ThinkPad Helix earned the top score in our Battery Eater Pro test. This battery test is designed to deplete battery life quickly, so the fact that the ThinkPad Helix lasted for as long as it did is impressive.
Lenovo’s ThinkPad line has a professional look that is simple and clean yet still very attractive. The ThinkPad Helix utilizes this same styling while also providing additional flexibility that you won’t get with a traditional ThinkPad notebook.
With its versatile convertible design and vibrant HD touch screen the ThinkPad Helix has a lot to offer, particularly for business users who want both a tablet and an ultrabook. Battery life is excellent and the system feels solid. However, the price of the ThinkPad Helix is sure to deter many users. Lenovo is currently offering a promotion that brings the base model down to just over $1,500 but this is still a lofty price for such a system.