Lenovo ThinkPad Helix review
Tablets with the full version of Windows 8 are quickly gaining momentum over more limited Windows RT tablets, but when so many come with underpowered Atom-based processors, few can compete with a proper ultraportable laptop. The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix, which runs the full version of Windows 8, looks set to change this trend as it uses an Intel Core i5 processor and comes with a detachable keyboard dock to give it all the performance power of an Ultrabook with the portable convenience of a tablet.
For the most part, its smooth, soft-touch chassis and rounded corners retain the exceptional build quality we've come to expect from Lenovo's ThinkPad range. We found hardly any flex in the rear panel of the tablet and it's both light and comfortable to hold for long periods of time.
You must click the tablet into place on the dock using two shards of plastic as guides. It takes a couple of attempts to become proficient at docking it.
The 11.6in IPS display is superb. It's 1,920x1,080 resolution looks gorgeous on a screen this size and its glossy finish really helps colours stand out. Reds, blues and greens were all bright and vibrant, and blacks and whites were deep and true. Such big blocks of colour did reveal a very slight grain in the screen's coating, but we didn't notice it at all in our high contrast test photos. Its contrast levels were equally impressive as we were able to see a high level of detail in all of our test photos.
The keyboard dock was more problematic. Since its weight and overall thickness are roughly the same as the tablet, this can make the Helix feel a little top-heavy at times, particularly as the keyboard's edges are tapered as well. It's in no danger of falling over or tipping backwards, but it's still a bit disconcerting when we're used to keyboards with thicker proportions.
However, our biggest issue with it was the flimsy plastic flap at the back. This covers the fans at the rear of the dock when the Helix is closed, but it doesn’t have a clip or catch to secure it, which made us worry about accidentally snapping it off by catching it on something.
Luckily, this didn't affect how we typed on the Helix as working on it was very comfortable. It uses the same keyboard as other ThinkPad laptops, so you'll have to get used to the Fn key being in the bottom left-hand corner instead of Ctrl, but otherwise the keys were very bouncy and gave lots of tactile feedback.
The all-in-one touchpad was a little more troublesome. Its smooth surface is very responsive, but we found that it can be quite fiddly to use if you're too heavy-handed with it. This is mostly because you can click using both the top and bottom part of the touchpad and even swiping our fingers over it to move the cursor can cause it to depress ever so slightly. This is a shame, as otherwise the keyboard dock is easily one of the better docks we've seen for tablet hybrids like this despite its flaws. It's far more substantial than Microsoft's Surface Pro keyboard covers and it doesn't flex and bend like the Bluetooth keyboard that came with the Acer Aspire P3.
Outside the dock, there's very little that sets the Helix apart from other full Windows 8 tablets such as the Surface Pro. Our Helix had a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U processor and 4GB of RAM, which produced a score of 44 overall in our multimedia benchmarks. That’s the same score as the Microsoft Surface Pro. This isn't surprising, as it's powered by similar components, and the ThinkPad Helix is certainly far more capable than other business Windows 8 tablets such as the Dell Latitude 10 and even Lenovo's own ThinkPad Tablet 2, which scored just 10 and 5 respectively. This means it's much better suited to heavy duty tasks such as image and video editing than those devices, and it multitasks as well as a typical Core i5 Ultrabook.
Graphics are provided by its integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 chip but, as with many Ultrabooks, it failed our Dirt Showdown benchmark test, with resolution set to 1,280x720 and graphics quality set to High. It’ll still play some 3D games at a reasonable frame rate if you lower the settings, though, and the ThinkPad Helix managed 39fps at the same resolution with no anti-aliasing and graphics quality set to Ultra Low. This is still pretty impressive for a tablet.
Connection ports are located on the bottom of the tablet. Here, you'll find a USB2 port, a mini-DisplayPort input and a SIM card slot for enabling mobile broadband while you're on the move. As they’re located on the bottom, you can’t access these ports when the tablet’s docked to the keyboard. Thankfully, the keyboard dock has another mini-DisplayPort and two USB3 ports on the back to make up for this.
The Helix's battery life was pretty good. Since the keyboard dock contains an extra four cell battery in addition to the tablet's three cell battery, we managed a combined battery life of 9 hours and 39 minutes in our light use test with the screen set to half brightness. This is much better than the battery life of the Surface Pro, which lasted five hours and 33 minutes. When testing the battery life of the Helix tablet itself, it managed 6 hours and 11 minutes under the same conditions.
Our main concern is its price. It's considerably more expensive than the Microsoft Surface Pro, even when you add in the extra cost of a keyboard cover, and its various shortcomings only add to the feeling of it being a little overpriced. If a tablet is absolutely essential to your line of work, we'd recommend the Surface Pro instead. Otherwise, an ultraportable laptop such as the award-winning Samsung Series 7 Ultra U7303E is a much better buy.
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