Lenovo ThinkPad Helix review: A business hybrid with an executive price

Connections, performance, and battery
The ports and connections on the Helix, such as they are, sit on on the bottom edge of the tablet. That means they'll be covered up when the tablet is connected to its dock in laptop mode, except for the audio jack.

Fortunately, the keyboard base replicates and even improves on these, by offering its own Mini DisplayPort output, plus two USB 3.0 ports, which is better than the single USB 2.0 on the tablet itself. There's no SD card accessibility at all, so be aware if that's something you'll need. Bluetooth is also missing, and Ethernet is available only via an included USB dongle.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Available configurations go from expensive to very expensive, starting at almost $1,700 (although there's currently one of Lenovo's confusing promo code deals on the Lenovo Web site, bringing the base model down to $1,539.12). Moving the CPU from a Core i5 to a Core i7, adding mobile broadband (there's an easily accessible SIM card slot on the tablet), and bumping the RAM from 4GB to 8GB can drive the price closer to $2,000.

All of the Helix models include the sort of enterprise software and hardware IT departments often require (this is a ThinkPad, after all). Those include Intel's vPro platform, a TPM chip, and BIOS encryption. Casual consumers or small businesses typically don't have to worry about this, but it's there, and it's at least part of the reason you're paying a premium for the Helix.

Our Core i5 version of the Helix performed well in benchmark tests, especially considering that many previous 11-inch laptops and hybrids have been stuck with slower Intel Atom processors. Even among the current 11-inch Core i5 crop, including Apple's 11-inch MacBook Air and Sony's 11-inch Vaio Pro 11, it held its own, showing once again that there's little performance difference to be found between this year's' fourth-gen Haswell Intel Core i-series CPUs and last year's third-gen ones. (The Helix, surprising considering its price, is currently stuck with the older CPUs.)

Sarah Tew/CNET

However, one area where having a newer fourth-gen Haswell CPU offers a big gain is in battery life. Lenovo smartly makes up for the lack of a new Haswell chip by combining two batteries, one on the tablet screen and one in the base. Combined, the full laptop ran for 7 hours and 37 minutes in our video playback battery drain test using both batteries, while the tablet screen alone ran for 4 hours, 37 minutes. That's good for a Core i-series PC before the June release of the first Intel Haswell-generation processors, but laptops with those new CPUs have been turning in very impressive battery life numbers, and it makes me wonder what sort of improvement we'd see in an up-to-date Helix, especially if you want to leave the keyboard base at home.

Conclusion
There's a lot to like about the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix. The engineers at Lenovo have come up with the best detachable docking hybrid system I've seen (although there may be no solution to the fact that these docking hinges are just inherently clunky). It feels sturdier and more reliable than many other hybrids, and the double battery system offers flexibility for longer workdays.

That said, the laptop and tablet landscape has changed radically since we first saw this system previewed in January. Six months later, 11-inch tablets and hybrids are everywhere, and at some very reasonable prices. With only the previous generation of Intel CPUs available for now, it's hard to justify spending between $1,600 and $2,000 unless you really need the IT-friendly security features Lenovo is known for.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix
Windows 8 (64-bit); Intel Core i5-3427U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (dedcated) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 128GB Toshiba SSD

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11
Windows 8 (64bit); 1.5GHz Intel Core i5-3339Y; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 256GB Samsung SSD

MacBook Air 11-inch (June 2013)
OSX 10.8.4 Mountain Lion; 1.3GHz Intel Core i5-4240U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,024MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 128GB Apple SSD

Sony Vaio Pro 11
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,748MB (shared) Intel HD Grapics 4400; 128GB SSD

Acer Aspire P3 171-6820
Windows 8 (64bit); 1.5GHz Intel Core i5-3339Y; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 120GB Intel SSD

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What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix Convertible Ultrabook

Part Number: CNETLenovo ThinkPad Helix

MSRP: $1,679.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Weight 3.68 lbs
  • Installed Size 4 GB
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