Lenovo ThinkPad Twist review: A classic convertible with a few new tricks

Skipping the newer flipping, folding, or sliding designs, the Twist goes back to a traditional center-hinge design.

Dan Ackerman

Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a semi-regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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8 min read

Long before the iPad, Galaxy Note, or Nook HD, a tablet was usually a Windows device that spent most of its time set up as a traditional clamshell laptop, but could also twist or swivel its display around to form a touch screen slate. Lenovo and HP were two of the only PC makers that kept this style of Windows laptop/tablet convertible aliveduring those fallow pre-iPad years, with systems such as the S10-2 and TX2.

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge Twist

Lenovo ThinkPad Twist

The Good

The <b>ThinkPad Twist</b> has great Lenovo construction, a responsive touch screen, and a center hinge for flipping into tablet mode, all for a very reasonable price.

The Bad

The screen accelerometer can have a mind of its own, flipping into portrait view randomly. Battery life is merely OK, and the screen resolution is low for a modern laptop/tablet convertible.

The Bottom Line

Slightly less conservative-feeling than the average ThinkPad, the well-made ThinkPad Twist offers one of the better tablet modes from the first wave of Windows 8 convertibles.

In the post-Windows-8 world, however, tablets, hybrids, and convertibles are all over the place, and range from the sliding-screen Sony Vaio Duo, to the flip-screen Dell XPS 12, to the folding Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga. One thing we haven't seen a lot of is that more traditional swiveling laptop screen design, which rotates on a center hinge and folds down into a tablet.

Sarah Tew/CNET

That makes the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist a bit of a throwback, using a center-hinge, swiveling-screen design that will be familiar to anyone who used or shopped for a Windows tablet pre-2010. It's not as slick-looking as the new convertibles from Dell or Toshiba, but it's a design that business users may be more familiar (and feel more comfortable) with. You still get that rock-solid ThinkPad construction, along with an IPS screen, and Lenovo's usual suite of biz-friendly configuration and support software.

For $899 in this Core i5 configuration, it's about as high-quality as you're likely to find in this price range. Consumers more interested in snazzy looks will feel like this is a laptop that dropped through a wormhole from at least a few years ago, but business users who won't settle for anything less than a ThinkPad can get that full experience, plus touch and Windows 8 at the same time.

Price as reviewed $899
Processor 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U
Memory 4GB, 1600MHz DDR3
Hard drive 500GB 7,200rpm + 24GB mSATA SSD
Chipset Intel HM77
Graphics Intel HD4000
Operating system Windows 8
Dimensions (WD) 12.3 x 9.3 inches
Height 0.8 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 12.5 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.4/4.0 pounds
Category Ultraportable

Design, features, and display
Lenovo has moved beyond the once-monolithic single ThinkPad brand. The company makes casual, consumer-focused IdeaPad laptops, and a budget line called Essential. Within ThinkPad, there's also the Edge line, which takes a traditional button-down ThinkPad and adds some more modern flair, such as a flat-topped island-style keyboard and a buttonless clickpad, along with a generally slimmer and sharper design.

The Twist feels like one of the sharper-looking ThinkPad Edge laptops, although the "Edge" name is not being used in this case. It has slightly rounded corners, a thin top lid (despite the touch-screen hardware), and the more modern-looking flat-topped keyboard that's slowly working its way into more and more Lenovo products of all sorts.

The matte-black finish works for any office environment, but at 0.8 inch thick, it's not going to look clunky at the coffee shop (that said, it's still not a head-turner like the Acer Aspire S7 or Lenovo's own Yoga ultrabook).

Sarah Tew/CNET

The defining physical characteristic of the Twist is its center screen hinge. The display rotates horizontally 180 degrees via that hinge, and ends up with the screen pointing out from the back of the laptop. As seen in other convertibles, that's actually a useful position by itself, especially for sharing content with a small audience. I could see calling up a chart or table at a meeting, then rotating the screen around to show everyone else in the room, or putting on a movie and being able to watch it without the keyboard in the way. I generally refer to this reversed view as a kiosk mode.

From there, the lid can be folded back so that it covers the keyboard, just as if the lid were closed, but with the screen pointing out. It's not a design we see too often any more, but before Windows 8, it was the default for PC-based tablets and convertible laptops. Many of the more recent convertible/hybrid examples we've seen have screens that pop off to form a standalone tablet, fold back a full 360 degrees (leaving the keyboard exposed as the back surface of the tablet), or even slide up and over the keyboard like a slider-style phone.

The hinge on the Twist feels firm and reliable, which is especially important as it's a single stress point that must withstand a lot of wear and tear. Previous Lenovo convertibles have proven reliable in my experience and the hinge here shouldn't be any different. A tiny arrow shows you which way to twist from the clamshell starting point -- a little care is called for, twist the wrong way and bad things could happen. Lenovo used to make a convertible with a center hinge that rotated both ways, I'd love to see something like that again.

Folded down into tablet mode, the Twist is one of the better Windows 8 examples I've seen to date. The overall chassis still feels slim (albeit in a different category altogether than the iPad or Surface), with very fast, accurate touch response -- although touch response has been excellent on nearly every touch screen Windows 8 system we've tested.

One off note was the accelerometer that is supposed to rotate the display when you flip the tablet around or hold it in portrait mode. It was sometimes too sensitive, other times not sensitive enough, and occasionally the screen image would rotate 90 degrees while the laptop was just sitting in its traditional clamshell mode, after which it took much twisting and rotating to coax it back to normal. It's a problem I've had with several other Windows 8 machines, but not to this degree.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The island-style keyboard is top-notch, a product of years of Lenovo R&D. The signature that differentiates it from other similar keyboards is the slightly convex lower edge of each key, which bows out slightly to make for fewer missed key strokes. The buttonless clickpad is also excellent, and one of the more responsive Windows 8 touch pads I've tried. Here I'll make an obligatory mention of the keyboard tray real estate wasted by the set of mouse buttons positioned above the clickpad that work with the trackpoint nestled between the G, H, and B keys. If you haven't stopped using a trackpoint by now, you're probably not going to. And if you haven't started, you probably never will.

The display itself is covered by edge-to-edge glass, which gives it an upscale look and feel. The 12.5-inch screen has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is lower than many of the premium Windows 8 touch-screen systems we've seen, but not out of the question for $899. It's an IPS display, which means it'll look good even from extreme off-axis viewing angles; this is especially important when in tablet mode.

Lenovo ThinkPad Twist Average for category [ultraportable]
Video Mini-DisplayPort, mini-HDMI HDMI or DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/mic jack Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN Ethernet (via dongle), 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None None

Connections, performance, and battery life
For a 12.5-inch laptop that also has to fit in a touch screen, the Twist is pretty well-appointed when it comes to connections. You'll need adapters for video output, but the next time someone says you can't build a full-size Ethernet jack into a thin convertible laptop, show them this.

A couple of things you'll need easy access to when in tablet mode -- physical volume buttons and the power button -- have been moved to the lid itself, but the actual ports are all on the base of the laptop.

This $899 configuration includes a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U processor, which is the same CPU found in a majority of the Windows 8 laptops we've reviewed so far. It's paired with 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB HDD, with a small 24GB SSD for faster booting and app launching. It's not the most high-end configuration, and you can find several laptops with full 128GB SSDs for less, but the build quality adds a lot of value.

In our benchmark tests, the ThinkPad Twist not surprisingly performed on par with other Core i5-3317U Windows 8 laptops and convertibles, including the Dell XPS 12 and theToshiba U925t. Any of these systems is more than powerful enough for office tasks, HD video playback, and Web surfing. Video games are a different story. With only Intel's default HD 4000 for graphics, you'll be restricted to older or casual games, or more forgiving current games at lower detail settings. But, if gaming is a priority for you, you're probably not thinking ThinkPad anyway.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery life, however, is a priority for nearly everyone. In a slim, 12.5-inch system such as this, you would rightly expect all-day battery life, or close to it. Unfortunately, the battery life in the Twist is shorter than that of many of the other Windows 8 touch screen laptops we've tested, running for 4 hours and 12 minutes on our video playback battery life test. That's almost 90 minutes less than Lenovo's Yoga convertible. That said, our battery test uses very strict power settings, and Lenovo includes an easy-to-use battery settings app that can tweak settings for extended life by dimming the screen, disabling unnecessary services, etc.

Lenovo offers a one-year parts-and-labor warranty with the ThinkPad Twist, which includes mail-in service. If purchased directly from Lenovo, in-home service can be added for $79 for one year and $159 for three years. Lenovo is typically at the top of the pack when it comes to ease of use of support tools, both online and through the support and settings apps built into the system.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Twist is a bit of a throwback to the pre-iPad, pre-Windows 8 days of convertible touch-screen laptops. The center-hinge design isn't as eye-catching as some of the flipping, folding, or sliding competition, but it makes for a slim, usable tablet experience. Even better, the Twist gives you a magnesium alloy thin ultraportable, with one of the best keyboards you can find, for a very reasonable price.

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

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

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

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

Load test (average watts)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo ThinkPad Twist

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations
Lenovo ThinkPad Twist
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 7,200rpm

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Samsung SSD

Dell XPS 12
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 256GB LITEONIT SSD

Sony Vaio Duo 11
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Toshiba SSD

Toshiba Satellite U925t
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Samsung SSD

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge Twist

Lenovo ThinkPad Twist

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8Battery 6Support 8
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