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Published On: Wed, Jul 31st, 2013

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix — A good laptop for business users

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix is an expensive yet well made laptop and it is targeted at business users. There is a niche available in the laptop market for hybrid products with security and business features inside having a rugged and industrial body. This notebook is made for such consumers.

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix was first seen in CES 2013 and back then, the company described this product as ‘flip-and-rip’ machine. It sounded like the Lenovo was trying to add some sizzle to the ThinkPad line up which has otherwise been quite conservative.

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix is a detachable hybrid laptop having same feel and look of other ThinkPad laptops and at first sight, this laptop seems quite similar to other ThinkPads that you’d see on office cublices and desks.

The flip and rip of the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix comes to play after you activate tiny hinge based latch to remove the screen from rest of this body. Display here pops out just like other hybrid machines and you can also reattach and rotate full 180 degrees. This leaves the display facing back of the system. People will find it useful for presentations and it feels like a kiosk. Apart from that, you can also use this laptop display just like an iPad. But the tablet is a bit thicker and when you connect it to the base, you get additional battery of keyboard dock.

Intrinsically speaking, this is a member of 11 inches laptop family out there and there are a lot of 11 inch notebooks in market right now. For the conventional clamshell design side, there is 11 inches MacBook Air and Sony Vaio Pro 11. For hybrid, there is the Acer Aspire P3 and Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S. Hence, Helix might struggle to make a place for itself in the market.

Also, one more disappointing feature here is that the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix still has older Intel processors inside. Lenovo isn’t offering the latest 4^th generation chips (Haswell) chips for this laptop. The big advantage on the newer processors is longer battery life especially in such hybrid setup where you might use the product in tablet mode extensively. In our tests, this laptop gave us long enough battery life for both screen and base but still we were disappointed that Lenovo didn’t opt for newer technology here.

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix is a laptop made for professionals as opposed to IdeaPad series which is made for consumers. Hence, a premium price tag isn’t unexpected for Helix even if the specs are similar to other consumer laptops. ThinkPad products usually have rigid construction and their keyboards are the best ones. These laptops also have good IT security features inside.

Starting price for Lenovo ThinkPad Helix is $1,679 and this model gives you 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM, and Core i5 processor. Upgraded models come with faster chips, more RAM, mobile broadband, larger SSDs and digitizer stylus. However, the cost can go as high as $2,000.

Design

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix may come with older components and relatively high price but the company has worked really hard on the design. The detachable display latching system here is the best we have ever seen on such laptops. It is a bit fiddly with multiple hooks but certainly feels more solid and robust as compared to other such setups. For release mechanism, there is big push-in button located on left side of hinge instead of chintzy looking button below.

Also, there is horizontal short panel which covers entire mechanism of hinge from rear side of this laptop for protecting the elements and for improving the aesthetic appeal.

Weight of the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix is 3.7 pounds for both body and screen (excluding power cable) and this is a bit heavy for 11 inches laptop. On the bright side, there is good battery backup with 4 cell battery in keyboard dock and 3 cell battery in tablet.

When you remove the display from the base, flip it around and reattach it — you can use it for some specific purposes. For instance, you can show things to an audience and keep the touchpad and keyboard out of the way. While testing, we used Lenovo Yoga 13 a lot of times in this way. You get to operate the laptop from behind and share onscreen content and still have access to touchpad and keyboard.

In kiosk mode, you can close the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix to keep the laptop closed with display up. Lenovo calls this tablet plus mode and it lets you use the second battery in tablet mode as well. However, in this way, the tablet is too heavy and thick.

Apart from this, the rest of the design is pretty similar to other ThinkPads. There is black matte chassis with island style standard ThinkPad keyboard. The keys are curved at bottom.

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix features

Keyboard

It is a bit hard to make good quality keyboards on an 11 inch system especially because there is shortage of space. However, we had a great time typing on the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix. There was no shortage of space. All important keys like Tab, Enter, and Shift were sized well and functions like brightness, microphone and volume control are mapped to primary functions of F-key row on top of keyboard. Power button is located on top of screen for using this device in tablet mode.

Clickpad

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix has buttonless and large clickpad below the keyboard and it feels much better than Lenovo X1 Carbon ultrabook. Between the B, H, and G buttons, there is red track point. This method of pointer navigation isn’t really good but still gets the job done.

Display

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix comes with 11.6 inches screen and it has 1,920×1,080 pixels native resolution. This display is really good in such compact tablet/laptop set up. In Windows 8 UI, the text and icons automatically adjust for a comfortable view but in traditional Windows view, things look too small. Display is glare free and bright and Lenovo has used IPS screen here which doesn’t worsen the screen quality even when you look from side angles.

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix price

Connections

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix connections are located on bottom side of tablet. This means that all of them are covered (except for audio port) when you connect it to the base.

Keyboard base too has the same port collection and there are also two more USB 3.0 ports with Mini DispalyPort output. Tablet just has one USB 2.0 port. SD card connectivity isn’t available. Ethernet is accessible through dongle and Bluetooth is absent.

Configurations

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix comes in different configurations. They start from expensive and go up to very expensive. Starting price is $1,700 for base model. the more expensive ones more from Core i5 to Core i7 and more expensive models have mobile broadband as well (tablet has SIM card slot). RAM too goes up from 4 gigs to 8 gigs. The price can go up to $2,000 for the more expensive models.

Software

All Helix models have enterprise hardware and software IT departments inside. After all, this is a ThinkPad model and hence all such goodies are expected. This laptop comes with TPM chip, BIOS encryption, and Intel vPro platform. Small business or casual consumers don’t need to worry much about this. All this is meant for business users and it is one of the reasons why this laptop is priced a bit high.

Performance

We tried the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix in our offices and it performed well as compared to other hybrids or 11 inch laptops which have slower Intel Atom chips inside. This laptop was as good as 11 inches Apple MacBook Air and Sony 11 inches Vaio Pro 11. Hence, it can be said that there isn’t much difference between the newer Haswell processors and older third generation chips. However, for this price, we expected newer technology.

Battery

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix comes with two batteries — one in base and one in tablet. With these batteries, the laptop could run for a little over seven-and-half hours. The tablet battery alone could run for little over four-and-half hours. If Lenovo had used Haswell batteries inside, the battery life would have been longer.

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix Review

Conclusion

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix is a really good laptop.The detachable system is the best we have seen in a laptop to date. This setup is more reliable and sturdier as compared to other hybrids out there. Double battery system also gives longer up time.

The high price and the older CPUs are our only gripes about this laptop. But they aren’t deal breakers, especially the processor. If you are OK with the price, then go ahead and get this system.

Specs

  • 11.6-inches display
  • 1.8 GHz Intel Core i5-3427U
  • 1,920×1,080 resolution
  • 4,096 MB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600 MHz
  • 128 GB SSD storage
  • 32 MB Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU
  • Windows 8 (64-bit) OS
  • 802.11 b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 networking

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