Tech Corner: Lenovo ThinkPad Helix

Austin Allen

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

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Haswell processors powering the new Windows 8.1 devices, the Helix’s Clovertrail processor may seem a little outdated.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 four-mode tablet still hold its own?

Hardware

The Helix is much sexier and sleeker than previous Thinkpads. It’s not 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 and ugly. The red track point and the great keyboard are its only links to its predecessors. The Helix reminds me of the new Lenovo T431s, another one of the company’s new computers for 2013. The 11.6-inch screen makes it compact and comparable to the 11-inch MacBook Air. However, the Helix’s 1080p HD screen is much clearer and crisper than its competitor’s model. While the keyboard is a little smaller than the one on the MacBook Pro, the keys are still a great size and are actually raised a little more, which made me prefer it to the MacBook. The glass track pad 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 a moot 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 three 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 really missed 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 an 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 go-to mode for lap browsing as I watched TV and when I wrote some notes using the stylus.

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

Lenovo claims the Helix has ten hours of battery life and it delivers. Now, the tablet itself doesn’t get ten hours. Lenovo claims the tablet gets about six hours of battery life, as compared to the Surface Pro, which ihas roughly four hours. My real-world testing pretty much supported their claims, as it lasted about nine hours and 45 minutes.

Conclusion

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 well. I felt more productive using the Helix than when I use my Macbook. The Helix gives its user so many options: a great, solid laptop; a high-density media consumption tablet for playing casual games and watching movies; and a notebook with which you can type or handwrite your notes.

The only problem with the Helix is that it came out at the wrong time. Now, a lighter, thinner Haswell-powered Helix? That’s my dream computer.

Contact Austin Allen at [email protected]