In the last few months, my method of getting to work has changed quite a bit. I went from driving in horrific DC traffic to riding a combination of the MARC train and DC Metro to my job in Northern Virginia. With the change in transportation, this has allowed me more time to write and edit articles for TechDissected.
The reason this is being brought up is because when I first started riding the train and the metro, I was using my 15″ Samsung laptop that is my workhorse since I don’t have a desktop computer. However, I began to realize that it was just too big to lug around all the time, and was a bit cumbersome when trying to get some work done in the narrow seats found on public transportation. So when the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix was offered to me for review, I was ecstatic, and jumped at the chance.
What Does The Helix Have Under The Hood
This UltraBook from Lenovo sports an 11.6 inch touch-screen display, but it’s much more than just a laptop. The display detaches from the keyboard, and turns into a tablet running full 64-bit Windows 8.1. In traditional Windows fashion, for the tablet side of things, there is a Windows soft key on the bezel, in the middle of the screen. Just in case you weren’t already aware, this allows users quick access to the “home screen” where you find the Metro UI prominently displayed.
Sporting an Intel Core M Processor clocked at 1.40 GHz, and 8GB of RAM built in, the Lenovo Helix 2 is pretty damn snappy even when put to the test. As I mentioned there is a detachable keyboard, that includes a charging port, display port, and 1 USB 2.0 slot. The charging port not only charges the keyboard, but it also will charge the Helix 2 itself.
Keyboard And Trackpad Usage
The keyboard that Lenovo has partnered with the Helix is a dream to type on, even for long periods of time. The only issue that I ever really had was the placement of the Function key. Where the Fn key resides, is where the Control key is usually placed, so when I’m using the good ‘ole C+V, I have to make sure that my pinky isn’t residing on the wrong key. Other than that, the keyboard is an absolute beaut to use.
The trackpad found on the Helix is also nice and responsive, and as with the keyboard, I’ve only ever had one issue. However there’s a built-in solution for this issue. Before getting into the issue I had with the trackpad, let’s take a look at what Lenovo built in. In the center of the keyboard is Lenovo’s traditional, tried and true, red “ball” that acts as a cursor and can help you scroll or point to things on your display with ease.
The trackpad itself is multi-faceted. At the bottom of the trackpad, there is a small lip, or indentation, and this is to leave space for you to click using the bottom corners of the trackpad. However, there are also three button between the trackpad and the space bar that allow for clicking there as well. The middle button can be held down and used as a means to scroll whatever page you are looking for. The left and right buttons act as you would expect them to.
Can You Use The Helix For Gaming?
As I stated above, the Lenovo Helix runs full 64-bit Windows 8, with 8GB of RAM built in. So once I did some investigation into the device, after receiving it, I figured I would put it to the test. Now I do some light PC gaming with a couple friends. Meaning, the only two PC games that I actually play are Minecraft, and Heroes of the Storm.
Minecraft runs perfectly fine without having to adjust any of the settings for FPS, or Distance Rendering or anything like that. Heroes of the Storm was where I ran into some issues. Now, I’m not sure if it’s because of the graphics card that is found within the Lenovo Helix, however, with 8GB of RAM I expected HOTS to run perfectly smooth. This was not the case.
Throughout my gameplay of Heroes of the Storm, I experienced stuttering and lagging throughout. And no, it wasn’t from my internet connection. Since the Helix is a hybrid tablet and laptop, I will attribute the lag to the processor not being able to handle the higher graphics that put a higher demand on the processor. Regardless, since the Helix isn’t really supposed to be a desktop replacement, this isn’t that big of a deal.
Ready For A Tablet
Now speaking of the tablet portion, turning the Helix from a laptop into a LARGE tablet, is really easy. There’s a button on the side of the keyboard, that detaches the screen from the keyboard. There isn’t any type of notification to let you know that you’re now using the Helix as a tablet, so you will have to manually bring up the on-screen keyboard. But that’s where the stylus comes into play.
Lenovo included, a stylus of sorts, which they call a Digitizer Pen. The pen comes in handy while using the Helix in its tablet mode for those precise touches that you need to make on the screen. I have fat fingers, so I would consistently press the wrong space and minimize my windows instead of closing them. It became frustrating to say the least. So good on Lenovo for adding the Digitizer Pen to the mix.
Different Modes: Now with the Helix, there are actually four different modes that you can use with the device. Laptop, Tablet, Stand, and Tablet+ Mode. The first two are pretty self-explanatory, while the other two are a bit different.
Surprisingly, I didn’t find myself using the Helix as a tablet all that often. Obviously, I forced myself to use the Helix as such, for the purpose of the review, but my natural reaction was to use it as a laptop. I’m not sure if that’s attributed to not ever owning anything like the Helix before, or what, but it’s just what happened. Regardless of that, the tablet mode came in handy when when I wanted to watch a movie, or browse the web more leisurely.
The issue with using the Helix as a tablet, is that it’s pretty cumbersome. Trying to use it in portrait mode is really awkward, given the 11.6 inch display, and even using it in landscape mode was a bit odd. Performance of the Helix didn’t change whether I had the Helix docked in the keyboard, but I found myself getting annoyed with Windows not automatically bringing up the on-screen keyboard, so I would get to a certain point and just go back to using the keyboard dock. All in all, it’s definitely nice for short periods of time, or watching movies, but as I’ve stated, it’s a bit cumbersome, and gets annoying after a bit.
Stand And Tablet+ Mode: To achieve the Stand or Tablet+ Modes, simply take the Helix out of the keyboard dock, and turn it around. Without folding the Helix back on the keyboard, this is your Stand Mode. This really came in handy when watching videos while not really using the keyboard at all. I would find myself turning a movie or YouTube video on, while I was playing games on my desktop computer.
The Tablet+ mode is achieved by putting the Helix backwards in the keyboard dock, and folding it back, with the back of the Helix pressed against the keyboard. There’s a little padding there, so you don’t have to worry about any of the keys on the keyboard getting pushed in or stuck. Now, you can’t use the back camera, but using the Helix in Tablet+ mode will give you access to the different ports found on the keyboard dock. This is really a great way to use the Helix, if you aren’t in the mood to use the keyboard, but want access to the USB port on the device.
All in all, for a hybrid, the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix is a great option to look into. If you’re someone like me who does some mass transit traveling, and need to be able to work on the go, the Helix is a perfect option. You don’t need something like a 15″ display while working on the train, so the 11.6″ display is just in that sweet spot to not be annoying.
Currently, the ThinkPad Helix is available in two different options from Lenovo. There is a version that does not have Mobile Broadband capabilities, and a version that does. The rest of the specs are exactly the same, except for the Mobile Broadband version has NFC built-in as well.
You can get the non-mobile broadband version for $944.10 with instant savings and free shipping, while the ThinkPad Helix with mobile broadband built-in will set you back $1,241.10 with free shipping. Let us know what you think about this hybrid laptop/tablet in the comment section below.