The Helix is a well-made but expensive product that presents an interesting question. While there very well may be a market for an 11-inch hybrid with an emphasis on business and security features and a body leaning toward the industrial, rugged side, exactly what sort of premium should one expect to pay for it?
When it was first introduced, Lenovo described the Helix laptop-tablet hybrid as a “flip-and-rip” system, which sounded like the usually staid company was trying to add a little sizzle to the normally conservative ThinkPad lineup.
In person, this detachable-screen hybrid still has a very ThinkPad-like look and feel, and from a distance, it looks nearly identical to the army of ThinkPads on office and cubicle desks around the world.
The flipping and ripping comes into play when you activate the small hinge-based latch for removing the display from the rest of the body. In this case, the screen pops off much like any other hybrid’s, but then can reattach after being rotated 180 degrees, leaving the screen facing out from the back of the system. That makes for a good presentation mode, which I sometimes call a “kiosk” setup. Of course, you can also use the Helix screen by itself as a Windows 8 slate, or fold the unit shut with the screen facing out for a thicker tablet mode backed up by the extra battery power of the keyboard dock.
Lenovo has created the best detachable-screen latching system I’ve seen. It’s still overly fiddly, with multiple hook-and-eye-style connections, but it feels more robust and solid than other detachable hybrid hinges, and the release mechanism is a large push-in button on the left edge of the hinge, rather than a chintzy-feeling button right below it.
At 3.7 pounds for the screen and body (not including the power cable), it’s hefty for an 11-inch laptop, but note that there’s a three-cell battery in the tablet and a separate four-cell battery in the keyboard dock.
Removing the screen from the base, flipping it around, and reattaching it has a couple of obvious uses. One is to create a kiosk-style display, with the screen pointing toward your audience without a keyboard or touch pad in the way. I’ve used Lenovo’s own Yoga 13 like this many times, and if you share a lot of onscreen content, it can be a useful feature, especially if you can still drive the system from behind, as you still have access to the keyboard and touch pad.
From that kiosk mode, you can fold the system shut, so it’s in its closed clamshell mode but with the display pointing out. That gives you what Lenovo calls a tablet-plus mode, which essentially means you’ve got a large secondary battery bolted to the back. That makes for a thick and heavy tablet, but if you need a half-dozen hours or more of Windows 8 touch-screen productivity, you can get it.
The rest of the physical design is up to Lenovo’s usual impeccable ThinkPad standards. The matte-black chassis feels like it could take a bullet, and the standard, island-style ThinkPad keyboard, with keys slightly curved at the bottom, is impossible to top.
The 11.6-inch display has a very high native resolution of 1,920×1,080 pixels, which is great to see in such a compact laptop/tablet. In the Windows 8 interface, icons and text scale automatically to a comfortable level, although in the traditional Windows view, things can look very small indeed. The screen itself is bright and glare-free, and, very importantly for a tablet, it’s an IPS display that looks fine even from extreme side angles.
- Windows 8 Professional 64bit
- Intel Core i7 3667U 2.0 GHz,
- 256GB Solid State Drive
- 8GB DDR3 RAM
- Intel HD Graphics 4000 Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205S,
- 11.6″ Full HD IPS Display