The Lenovo ThinkPad Twist (which retails at £890) is an Ultrabook convertible, with a swinging screen that can twist around to work part time as a tablet. This device is centred on its bright 12.5in IPS screen, one that is easy on the eyes, and it has a price tag that is comparable to midrange Ultrabooks with similar internal components.
It's definitely produced with those people who want to make extensive use of the touch functions in Windows 8 in mind. That said, it is really a clamshell laptop convertible tablet like the ones that Lenovo has been making for the past half-dozen years. It's the natural evolution of the tablet PC concept of the mid-2000s.
Design and features
The ThinkPad Twist is essentially a thinner Ultrabook version of the Lenovo ThinkPad X230t convertible laptop that the company has been producing for years. It uses magnesium alloy construction, a sealed battery, a capacitive-only touchscreen, and Ultrabook-spec components to shrink down to a 20mm thickness, with 320mm x 240mm being its other measurements. The whole shebang comes in at 1.5kg, which is about the same weight as both the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 and the Dell XPS 12.
These systems all aim for the same segment of the touchscreen market: Ultrabook convertibles that also come with full-sized mechanical keyboards and pointing devices. It's fully useable as a clamshell Ultrabook, but can twist around to become a slate, and function in other configurations as well.
The system's 12.5in IPS display twists around so it can be viewed as usual above the keyboard, or flipped all the way around so the system can work like a tablet. The screen can be viewed at all the angles that the Lenovo Yoga 13 can, plus all the orientations when you twist the screen around. That way you can view the screen easel style, like a screen without the keyboard below it, or like a slate, or like a clamshell laptop. This trumps the Dell XPS 12 and Sony Vaio Duo 11, both of which have a lesser amount of available options in terms of usable angles.
The display has a 1,366 x 768 resolution, which is obviously short of the full 1,920 x 1,080 resolution needed for true 1080p videos. This isn't too much of a problem, as 1080p displays tend to show tiny text at screen sizes below 13in, as is the case on something like the 11in Acer Iconia W700 tablet.
A slightly more prominent niggle is that the touchscreen only supports five points of touch. This is okay for most functions, but if you ever share the screen with another person or if you use both hands, there will be a point where the touch capacity of the screen is overtaxed. This issue will likely come up if you use the screen to type on a virtual keyboard or play virtual musical instruments.
As a small business system, Lenovo added both a single piece trackpad and their signature TrackPoint to the ThinkPad Twist's keyboard. The keyboard is the current Lenovo keyboard with curved chiclet-style keys that are very easy to type on. The single-piece trackpad has the mouse buttons built in, although there is a row of three mouse buttons (right, left, and centre/scroll) below the spacebar for the TrackPoint. The keyboard's function keys have icons on them, and work primarily according to those functions. For example, F1 is mute, F9 brings up the PC Settings, and F10 brings up Windows 8's search bar. This is a better use of the function keys. If you use a program that needs the traditional F1-F12 keys, you can use the Fn key.
The screen rotation key and the power button are on the side of the screen, and there is an extra set of volume control keys on the front of the screen bezel for use when the screen is in tablet mode. The sides of the chassis hold two USB 3.0 ports, a SIM card slot for the optional WWAN modem (not installed in our test system), an SD card reader, a mini-DisplayPort, Ethernet port, and a mini-HDMI port. The Mini-HDMI is more of a problem than the mini-DisplayPort, as mini-HDMI adapters are harder to come by. The Twist would have been better served in terms of convenience with a full-size HDMI port.
The ThinkPad Twist comes with a small selection of added software, including apps like Evernote, Skitch, Amazon Kindle, Skype and so forth. Thankfully all of these apps are installed in the Windows 8 Start screen, and they’re not cluttering up the system's desktop mode. The system includes both the Windows Store and an Intel equivalent called Intel AppUp. You can also add other programs you download or install with an external optical drive.
This Lenovo machine comes with a familiar processor: The Intel Core i5-3317U with integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000. This is a very common processor in Ultrabooks like the ThinkPad Twist. The system also has 4GB of DDR3 memory, a 24GB mSATA cache SSD, and a 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive for storage.
This combination is good for passable numbers on FutureMark's PC Mark 7 benchmark test (2,749), though the Twist lagged well behind the score recorded by SSD-powered systems like the Lenovo Yoga 13 (4,417), which shares the Twist's Core i5 processor and 4GB of memory. The scores are closer on the CineBench graphics rendering test and the Photoshop CS6 test, but the ThinkPad Twist fell a bit behind the others on the Handbrake video encoding test, also because of the slower hard drive. That said, you'll have a lot more room on the Twist for that video, since the Twist has a 500GB drive, more than double or triple the space on the SSD-powered systems.
The ThinkPad Twist was more mediocre on the battery rundown test. It managed a middling 4 hours and 10 minutes while systems like the Dell XPS 12 exceeded five hours. The ThinkPad Twist did beat the Sony Duo 11, though, as it barely achieved three hours of battery life before running out of juice.
The Lenovo ThinkPad Twist excels at some things (its keyboard, familiar layout, screen quality), yet is middling at others (battery life, weight, five-point touch). It lacks the ThinkPad X230t's included stylus, so it's certainly not as capable as that laptop. However, it’s not as expensive, either.
Microsoft’s new operating system and its touch functions might not be a must-have feature for the small business, but if you want to be ahead of the curve and start using Windows 8 for business or development, then the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist and its cousin the IdeaPad Yoga are decent choices. Try them both out at a store, if you can, and see how they feel. Both have merits and drawbacks to their respective designs, but both work as clamshell laptops that can function part time as tablets.
Manufacturer and Product
Lenovo ThinkPad Twist
Microsoft Windows 8 Professional
Intel HD Graphics 4000
Tablet, Ultrabook Convertible
Storage Capacity (as Tested)