My review about Lenovo ThinkPad Helix Convertible Ultrabook/Tablet

I have the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix with Core i7 model with 8 GB RAM and a 256 GB SDD – yes, its expensive, but it crushes any other tablet/convertible I’ve used so far. I do agree that the Haswell timing is unfortunate, but I bought my Helix knowing full well that I would probably be upgrading it in a year or so when Lenovo brings out a Haswell version. I needed a device now, and the Helix met my requirements list.

I think the speakers are a little disappointing (I thought they would be louder) but when you’re using the Helix as a tablet it’s great to have true stereo speakers (with Dobly enhancement software included) that are forward-firing. The hinge-flap on the dock is a little odd, however it allows for those fantastic little fans that let my core i7 processor turbo up to 3.2 GHz, useful when editing in Lightroom or Premiere on the road.

http://pcgamerhome.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/DSC_3561-300px.jpgI’ve been using iPads since they came out (my current model is a 64 GB gen 3) and over the last two years I’ve found myself only using the iPad with my Logitech Ultrathin keyboard – I simply cannot use Apple’s awful onscreen keyboard. I also realized I was using the iPad more and more as a laptop replacement and “emulating” things like Office editing and other “computer” tasks, and was getting more and more frustrated by the limitations of apps like iMovie. I wanted something with the versatility of my iPad (even if it weighed a little more) for entertainment but able to run my “real” PC programs.

Unlike other reviewer said, I’ve had no issues using my Helix in Desktop mode with the 1080p display. I’m actually surprised how accurate the touch screen digitizer is. My complains with the high-res screen are more centered around Microsoft’s Windows 8 problems (resizing windows when the on-screen keyboard pops up, and then not re-expanding the windows when the keyboard is closed, that sort of thing). Frankly I find nearly all Metro/Modern UI apps to be nearly useless, pale imitations of their Desktop counterparts and not worth the effort (Evernote: I’m looking squarely at you). I use my Helix almost exclusively in Desktop mode other than light email use and some news reading in Metro.

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Yes, the Helix is a little more than a pound heavier than my iPad/Logitech keyboard combination, and it’s noticeable in my briefcase on my walk to work or traveling through the airport, but not horribly so and to me worth the trade-off to have that fantastic Lenovo ThinkPad keyboard. Lenovo added some Windows 8 shortcut keys on the function key row that really make it easy to navigate, I especially like the multi-task button that lets you see all your running apps (including multiple desktop programs) and switch with ease.

Aesthetically I’ve gotten used to the Helix’s looks, I don’t think its that bad at all and everyone I’ve shown it too thinks it’s pretty cool (although they’ve all been over 25 years old). And everyone loves the glowing red dot over the “i” in the ThinkPad logo (both on the back of the tablet/screen and the keyboard dock).

Strangely some things that Windows 8/Intel were supposed to make “better” than an iPad don’t work (well, not that strangely I guess). Windows 8 lets you have a few apps that you select that can run in the background and are supposed to “wake up” and keep themselves in sync, working in conjunction with a program from Intel called “Smart Connect Technology” that you set to wake your device up from sleep mode to sync those “background” programs. It’s useless, does nothing but wake your computer up to drain your battery, none of the Metro apps (mail, pulse, etc) sync up when the computer wakes up (I had it set to sync every 20 minutes during business hours before I gave up on it). But it really doesn’t matter, the Helix wakes up from sleep almost instantaneously and when you jump into an app there’s just a slight pause as it syncs up.

Battery life is incredible for a hybrid with this power driving a screen with this level of brightness and resolution. I easily get an entire workday out of my Helix. And I really like all the convertible modes of the Helix. The reviewer doesn’t seem to have much use for the “tablet+” mode, where you flip the Helix around and fold the keyboard underneath, but this lets you use the Helix on a long flight in “tablet” mode with the keyboards extra battery, great when you don’t want to drag out the portable a/c adapter. Yes it’s heavy in that mode, but propped against your leg or seatback tray you hardly notice it.

If I could change one thing about the Helix design it would be to make everything exactly the same but shape it in a 4:3 configuration. Other than movies there’s really no advantage I’ve found to the 16:9 form factor, and in tablet mode the Helix would be just a little less unwieldy than it is now. When I compared my retina iPad and the Helix side-by-side displaying the same page in the Comixology app, the displayed page size was exactly the same size on each device, despite the Helix’s larger screen.

A couple of quick notes for Helix owners: if you haven’t noticed already, Lenovo’s System Health and Diagnostic check program sucks up a ridiculous amount of resources, I often found it running using 40% of my CPU – go into the settings and set all the “events” to “not tracked” and you’ll get your performance back. Also there is a bug with the Synaptic trackpad drivers that kills the two-finger tap for right-click (but not the two-finger click/press for right click) if you turn off trackpad edge swipes – you can fix it with a registry change if you miss it (just Google it, you’ll find it).

Anyway, to each his own. I love my Helix and I really hope Lenovo makes a Helix 2 with Haswell, that would be the ultimate. If you don’t need/want a keyboard dock or Core i5/i7 processing power than the Helix probably isn’t worth the expense, but I gotta say I love that 8 GB of RAM and the 256 SDD (oh, and using 32 GB micro USB sticks for movie playback on trips, way better than syncing my MP4 files to an iPad).

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