The tablet has changed the computing landscape, and although it’s seen as a consumer device, more and more people have been using them for work, which has caused potential issues as iOS and Android are not easily integrated into a Windows-based infrastructure. They also don't have the general business productivity levels of a notebook, even if you add a keyboard.
So devices like the various Transformer models from Asus and Toshiba's Portege Z10t-A-106 aim to give you the best of both worlds and, like the Toshiba, Lenovo's ThinkPad Helix brings the hybrid idea fully into the corporate world.
The basic concept behind the Helix is that the screen is actually a detachable tablet that can be used entirely independently – so the lid is a little bit thicker and heavier than you would expect in what is otherwise an Ultrabook form factor. However, unlike Toshiba's Portege, the base has a secondary battery and is about equally weighted, so when the screen is attached, the Helix looks and behaves pretty much like a regular Ultrabook. You can also attach the tablet the other way round so that the keyboard dock becomes a stand, which Lenovo calls Tablet+.
A catch on the bottom left corner of the screen detaches the display easily. As a tablet, the Helix is slightly unorthodox. With its 11.6in display, it's larger than most tablets, but its 1,920 x 1,080 resolution is also an improvement on most Windows 8 models (although recent Android tablets and iPads are offering even better than HD resolution). Only two of the four corners are rounded, and that’s a clue to the fact that this is not just a tablet, but nonetheless it's comfortable enough in the hand, although the 835 gram weight of the screen portion is somewhat greater than your average 10in slate.
The IPS screen itself is bright and sharp, with good viewing angles in every direction, although the glossy surface mars things slightly. The touch facility is accurate, and has been enhanced by the inclusion of a digitiser pen that can be used with apps like the bundled Skitch to create handwritten notes or sketches. In line with its tablet format, the screen also sports a rear as well as a front-facing camera. The rear camera has 5-megapixels whilst the front one is just 2-megapixels, although this will be more than enough for videoconferencing.
In notebook mode, all the Helix's connections are on the rear. There are two USB 3.0 ports, a Mini DisplayPort which can provide VGA via a bundled adapter, and you can also add a Gigabit LAN port using a bundled USB adapter. On the tablet, there is a second power connector, a USB 2.0 port and another Mini DisplayPort as well as a slot for a mobile data Sim, but all are on the edge that connects to the keyboard dock. So, with the exception of the Sim, these can't be used when the Helix is in Ultrabook or Tablet+ display stand mode. The only connector that remains exposed is the combo headphone-microphone minijack on the top-right corner, which has the power button, orientation lock and volume controls clustered around it. For wireless connectivity, there's NFC as well as Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11n Wi-Fi.
The Helix has a clear advantage over most hybrid models when it comes to typing – the keyboard is firm but extremely accurate. Lenovo has not made this area secondary at all, and this is actually one of the best typing experiences we have had on a notebook. As this is a ThinkPad, there are two notebook pointing devices available, rather than just a trackpad, with a trackpoint joystick in the middle of the keyboard. The trackpad is large and has integrated buttons, rather than the separate buttons usually found on ThinkPads.
Our Helix sample came with one of the entry-level specifications. You can specify up to an Intel Core i7-3667U, but our unit sported the more modest Core i5-3337U. This is an ultra-low voltage CPU from Intel's Ivy Bridge generation with a nominal frequency of 1.8GHz. Thanks to Turbo Boost, a single core can increase to 2.7GHz, and Hyper-Threading turns this dual-core processor into four virtual cores. So it may be miserly on power, but it should be effective with a single strenuous application or multiple less gruelling ones.
There's 4GB of 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM, although the maximum is 8GB. You can't upgrade the quantity yourself, so if you do feel the need for more then you will have to buy a model with this much memory from the outset. The CPU also provides the graphics in the shape of Intel’s HD 4000. This has been superseded by the latest Intel Haswell processors, but it’s still a capable integrated graphics chipset.
Storage is slightly above standard Ultrabook fare, with a 180GB Intel 525 Series solid state disk taking the primary role. This is larger than most tablets, which is fortunate because unlike virtually every Ultrabook or tablet, there's no SD card slot, not even for microSD. You can also specify 128GB or 256GB solid state disks instead.
Unlike many hybrids, the Helix performs more like an Ultrabook than a tablet. Its score of 2.21 in Maxon Cinebench R11.5 isn't quite up with the best Ultrabooks, but it's good for a hybrid, beating Toshiba's Portege Z10t-A-106 and the Atom-based Asus Transformer T100. Its Cinebench R11.5 OpenGL result of 9.22 is fairly pedestrian, as is the Futuremark 3DMark11 score of 496. But this isn't a gaming system, so these graphics capabilities should be perfectly adequate.
With a three-cell 42Wh battery in the screen and a four-cell 28Wh battery in the dock, the Helix has plenty of potential for time away from the power socket, and Lenovo claims up to ten hours of usage in Ultrabook mode. In our intensive 100 per cent CPU and graphics battery rundown test, the Helix endured 282 minutes with the dock attached, and 152 minutes as just a tablet. This certainly implies over eight hours of usage as a notebook, and over four as a tablet, which is on par with the less powerful Asus Transformer T100, but less than an iPad or many Android tablets. Still, this will be more than enough for a work day and makes the Helix a very handy mobile worker's tool, particularly compared to Toshiba's Portege Z10t-A-106.
The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix is almost the perfect hybrid. It is equally at home as an Ultrabook as it is as a tablet, with just a few niggles to mar the perfection, in particular the lack of an SD card slot, and the location of both USB 3.0 ports on the dock being on the rear. As a device to give your workforce capable tablet and notebook computing in one package, the Lenovo Helix takes the brilliance of the Asus Transformer concept and turns it into a truly viable format for the business user, although it also comes with a distinctly corporate price.
Manufacturer and Product
Lenovo ThinkPad Helix
1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U
4GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Intel HD 4000
180GB Intel 525 Series solid state disk
11.6in IPS TFT with 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
Gigabit Ethernet (via adapter), 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC
Dock: 2 x USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, VGA (via adapter), LAN (via adapter)
Tablet: USB 2.0, Mini DisplayPort, combo headphone/microphone, mobile data Sim
Width x Depth x Height
Tablet: 296.1 x 187.3 x 11.6mm
Combined: 296.1 x 187.3 x 20.4mm
3 years RTB warranty