Design has never been the primary concern for Lenovo when designing ThinkPad products. In comparison to various Apple products, ThinkPad’s tend to be viewed as less sleek, less impressive. ThinkPad’s have always had a certain style to them though due to the classically inspired design aesthetics. This is especially true of late now that Lenovo has updated certain aspects of their design including the key shape, the trackpads, and a few other minor aspects to modernize their designs. This is especially true of the ThinkPad Helix. There’s no mistaking it for a late 90’s laptop, it’s sleek, and really fairly stylish, especially with the new trackpad design that we’ll get to later in the review. It certainly has an excellent feel, as with many other ThinkPad products we get a really nice feeling rubberized plastic coating on most of the device, in some implementations this can feel cheap, but with the Helix it certainly feels premium. Ports wise we have mirrored ports on both the bottom of the tablet and the dock, with the exception of the SIM card slot. This includes a charging port on both, two USB 3.0’s on the dock, one USB 2 on the tablet, and a mini display port on both. Lastly, the Helix features two cameras, one rear facer at 5MP and a front facing one at 2MP, both record in 1080p.
Lenovo has gotten tablet/keyboard docking right where so many others have missed the chance. The docking mechanism is really a joy to use, it’s easy. You simply press this in here, and you can lift out the tablet with one hand, it’s really effortless. The ability to dock the tablet backwards for the tablet+ modes is also unique, and works just as well as docking it the normal way. The magnetic flap on the back here insures a comfortable handhold, an aesthetically pleasing look, and better airflow for these two fans that vent air up through the bottom of the tablet and out the top to allow you to have full access to that i5 or i7 processor inside. It is worth noting that you can only open the Helix to around 120 degrees, however you won’t have any issues with the balance of weight here, you have to intentionally tip this over, it won’t fall on its own.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on the Helix is just as awesome as those on full ThinkPad laptops. There’s hardly any flex, there’s absolutely fantastic key travel, especially considering the thinness of the device, it’s comfortable layout wise, and the keys all make a very satisfying sound as you type. On the touchpad side of things we get a standard Lenovo TrackPoint here, but, if you’re familiar with how ThinkPad’s were designed up until now, you’ll notice the three buttons for the trackpoint missing at the top of the touchpad. Well, they’re not actually missing, they’ve just been incorporated into the touchpad. As you can see, not only can you use the whole thing to click, but at the top we have a dedicated area for left, middle, and right clicking while using the trackpoint. The touchpad itself is fantastic as well, there’s no need to press hard on this, it has a good level of resistance, and multi-touch gestures work much better on this than on most other windows 8 laptops out there. It’s also covered with either a nice resin or glass like MacBook’s. I can’t tell which it is, I might hazard a guess towards glass, but whatever the case it feels nice.
One of the most important aspects of any device is the display it uses, it’s what you’re going to be looking at the whole time. I’m happy to report that the Helix has a fantastic display as well. At 1920×1080 the pixel density is nice a crisp, you can distinguish pixels if you look closely, but at a normal viewing distance you can’t. Viewing angles are also really nice, at a very sharp angle you do get color degradation, but even with some miracle display where that didn’t happen you would never view it from that angle anyway. They’ve also done a really excellent job of getting the display nice and close to the surface of the glass. I was unable to see any gap at all, so to use the common descriptor, it’s as if the images are floating on top of the glass. Lastly, at 400 nits of brightness you’re ensured nice accurate colors and a really easily viewable screen, even in bright light. It also dims almost to no backlight at well, so if you want to use this in the dark you’re not going to be squinting into excessive brightness.
The stylus uses an active Wacom digitizer with over 2000 levels of pressure. The results on any applications that use a compatible driver are absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately some programs like the Adobe creative suites, use WinTab drivers, which are currently not available. So, you can use the stylus with stuff like Photoshop, but it’s not going to have pressure sensitivity. Compatible Wintab drivers are on the way though. While for the most part stylus input is great, the Wacom digitizer still suffers from the same slight issue that previous versions did. Accuracy near the edges of the device leaves something to be desired, you can write there, but if you do you’ll run into the writing being slightly skewed away from where you’re moving the stylus. It’s not a big issue, but it is one that may annoy some users.
Speakers are widely acknowledged to kinda suck on mobile devices, however on the Helix they really don’t. They might not be anything to write home about, but they get plenty loud and actually have a decent level of bass to them, these don’t sound tinny. Unfortunately, the bass performance seems to come with a bit of what can only be described as an echo when playing certain kinds of sound. It’s not bad, and only happens sometimes, but it does show up on occasion. Still, I’ll take a tad bit of echoey sound over tinny quiet performance.
Performance and Battery Life
First off, the model I’m using is the baseline i7 processor version with 8GB’s of RAM that cost around $2000. The base model uses an i5 processor, 4 GB’s of RAM, and starts at $1499. So depending on what model you get you’ll have different performance. However, with mine, I was really impressed at what I got out of it. The rendering of HD video in Premiere Pro was pretty snappy as was most work in the rest of the creative suites, opening programs is very quick due to the SSD, it’s a snappy computer. One thing you have to remember though is that this is all packed into a tablet body, when it’s under a heavy load the upper right section of the tablet can get pretty hot, not device meltingly so, but it can get hot enough that you wouldn’t want to touch it there. As for battery life my experience was really good. So far in 5 days of owning the Helix, I have yet to have to recharge it during my standard work day. Granted, I’m not rendering HD video or 3D models the whole time, but it’s good battery life nonetheless. The way it works is that the dock has a battery rated for 4 hours, the tablet has one rated for 6. So the docked device should get up to 10 hours, maybe even more if you manage resources well. The dock battery will always charge the tablet so that when you take the tablet off, you have full battery power, or close to it. I haven’t had a chance to run actual battery benchmarks yet, but when I do I’ll post the results on this video via annotations, so if you have those turned off, turn em on for now if you care about battery results.
Value & Wrap Up
In short, this is the absolute best implementation of the emerging category of tablet/laptop hybrids that I’ve used, and one of the best products overall that I’ve had. It doesn’t compromise on experience anywhere. It’s on the pricey side due to the amount of new engineering required for basically everything about it, but that price will fall in time for this device and successors to it. If you think it would meet your needs and can afford it I would fully recommend buying one when they officially hit the market. As always, feel free to ask any questions you may have, and I’d love for you to suggest other products for me to review. I can’t promise I’ll be able to, but I certainly will try.
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