Review: Lenovo ThinkPad Helix

Like it or not, tablets are the future. Lenovo’s latest, the ThinkPad Helix, is not likely to be a part of it. Here’s why.

Following on a string of successes with convertible PC designs — including the swell IdeaPad Yoga — Lenovo has now taken aim at the slate.

The centerpiece of this design is a relatively standard 11.6-inch Windows 8 tablet. It weighs a respectable 1.9 pounds, features an ultra-bright, squint-inducing 1920 x 1080-pixel screen, and measures an impressive 12mm thick, one of the slimmest Windows tablets on the market. Powered by a 1.8GHz Core i5 (3rd generation), 4GB of RAM, and 128GB SSD, the specs are on the minimalist side, but they aren’t an outright disappointment. On the bottom of the tablet (if you’re holding it in landscape orientation), you’ll find all the device’s ports: One USB 2.0 port and a DisplayPort connector, plus a gaggle of connectors designed to let the Helix attach to its dock.

The docking system is how the Helix distinguishes itself from Lenovo’s other tablets, and it does give this device a few new tricks. The slate portion of the Helix snaps into a base that contains both a keyboard and a monstrous hinge that envelops the entire base of the slate. The keyboard is one of the nicest you’ll find on an 11.6-inch device, complete with a vast touchpad and even a classic ThinkPad pointing stick. You lose the scant pair of ports on the Helix when you connect to the base, but these are replicated on the back of keyboard unit. In fact, you get two USB 2.0 ports in addition to the DisplayPort connector. There’s also an extra battery in the base, so you get an additional 3 hours of running time (total: 7 hours) when it’s connected.

Using the Helix in a casual environment is fairly pleasant, both as a slate and as a laptop. The touchscreen is responsive and ultra-detailed. As with other 1080p-class touchscreens, this can make tapping accuracy very difficult, but Lenovo does include a stubby stylus to help you get around. Text at its native resolution can be difficult to read, so you’ll likely need to make good use of zoom features. Performance on general apps is fine, though an upgrade to a 4th generation Core CPU definitely seems to be in order.

The Helix has essentially zero graphics performance — I even saw more than a few stuttering MPEGs when watching at full-screen — but that’s barely worth mentioning in the face of the Helix’s laughable price tag. $1,679 will get you this base-level configuration, hundreds of dollars more than other tablets you can find that are around this size. It’s less expensive ($1,477.52) if you apply Lenovo’s instant rebate in its web store, but that’s still very far from reasonable. Add wireless broadband as an option and the prices go back to sky-high.

Ultimately, Lenovo can do — and in other divisions, is doing — better than this. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Helix disappears from the market quickly and quietly, and frankly I’ll be disappointed in the company if it doesn’t.

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