Lenovo ThinkPad Helix Review Pt. 2

Last time, I reviewed the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S and mentioned that there were two products that there were two products that I was reviewing with this current batch of “hybrid” machines. The second machine is the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix convertible Ultrabook.
This is the model that is a “tablet that think s it’s a laptop.” Like the Yoga 11S, it has 4 different configurations (laptop, stand, tablet+, and tablet); unlike the Yoga 11S, the screen is actually detachable, and the unit itself does not fold back completely 36o degrees. Let me explain.
Unlike the Yoga 11S, the screen half is not fixed to the bottom/keyboard half. The Helix functions more like a tablet sitting on a keyboard dock than a full laptop. The swivel on the dock can only go up to a certain point, which is just past 90 degrees (if you have the screen set up correctly in laptop mode). However, you can dock the screen/tablet part forwards OR backwards onto swivel. Because of this you have these options:
– Laptop Mode (normal forward facing dock)
– Stand Mode (normal backward facing dock)
– Tablet+ Mode (backward facing dock pushed all the way back)
– Tablet Mode (screen removed, no dock)
As you can see, not as versatile as the Yoga 11S, but still much more options than a standalone laptop or tablet. It’s no slouch in the spec department either:
– Intel Core i5-3337U (1.8Ghz)
– Windows 8 Professional 64-bit
– 11.6″ (1920×1080) MultiTouch screen supports ten-finger gestures
– Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics
– 128GB SSD hard drive
– 8GB 1333MHz DDR3L RAM (soldered to system board)
– HD Audio, Realtek ALC3202 codec, Dolby Home Theater v4, stereo speakers (1 watt x 2), dual array digital microphone, combo audio/microphone jack
– 2.0-megapixel FF camera, 5.0-megapixel RF camera
– wireless, bluetooth
I’m not a big fan of the fixed memory since that basically means there’s no way to upgrade, but then again, I don’t typically tinker with laptop internals anyway. So take that as you will. Everything thing else that you see here is top notch; this is a mean little machine. Having the ability to detach the screen and use it as a traditional tablet is just awesome; like the Yoga 11S, this can go anywhere with you. If fact, if you don’t feel like toting around the whole thing, just bring the screen on it’s own. It’s a Windows 8 tablet.
There are some nifty power draw features that come into play depending on what configuration you currently have the device in. Because both the keyboard dock and tablet itself have a battery, you can get a pretty decent length of usage when both halves are connected. if you have the Helix in Tablet+ mode, the keyboard is disable, yet you can still draw power from both the tablet AND keyboard battery. very cool.
The Helix also comes with the Digitizer Pen found in so many other Lenovo tablets. I’m not the biggest fan of the pen; it certainly has its uses, but since I almost never use the handwriting function or any drawing apps, I really didn’t find much use for it other than whipping it out when I needed some addition precision. This was really only an issue in the Desktop, so no, I didn’t get too much use out of it. But, it’s nice to have when you need it.
The keyboard/dock that comes with the Helix is more like the separate keyboard dock that you can buy for the other ThinkPad tablets than the Yoga’s keyboard. The Helix’s has the patented Lenovo TrackPoint pointing stick (that little red nub that seems to live at the center of most Lenovo products), and the keys aren’t as comfy and responsive. Using the Helix’s keyboard feels much more like using a separate keyboard than a built-in one that just naturally goes with the device.
So with that being said, are these two devices worth your money? As I’ve mentioned before in previous reviews, it really depends on what you’re looking for with your purchase, and it also comes down to how comfortable you are adopting Windows 8. Are you looking to buy your first tablet? This might not be the best choice for you, since Win8 1) has a weak app ecosystem, and 2) is far more focused on productivity and providing a full PC OS experience than the convenience of something like iOS or Android.
What about if you’re in the market for a laptop? I would say if you currently own a laptop and are looking to supplement with a second one, then unfortunately, you can probably find something cheaper. The best type of consumer for both these products is someone who is looking to buy their first laptop, doesn’t mind spending the money for better performance, and views having tablet functionality as a SECONDARY bonus. It’s true that both these devices function very well as a tablet, but it’s clear that with the power of a full PC OS, even the “tablet that thinks it’s a laptop” in the end is still more laptop than tablet. This has nothing to do with portability or anything physical related, but it has plenty to do with convenience from a software standpoint.
As a Windows 8 machine, both these devices shine. They are about as good as it gets…but they are Windows 8 machines. By virtue of having Win8 as the OS, you are already stuck with something that was always meant to be a laptop.