It's been a long wait, but the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix is finally here! Honestly, I think companies would do better if they didn't announce really hot new products a half year before they're available (Asus is also guilty of this). At CES in January of this year when we did our Helix first look, it was a strikingly innovative product. Now that it and competing products like the Asus Transformer Book TX300 have become a part of our mind set, they seem a tad less shiny when they finally appear. We take them for granted and we're already looking for the next big thing. Does that mean the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix isn't an innovative product? No. But now tech aficionados' minds are on Intel fourth generation Haswell-based convertibles and laptops and the Helix is frozen in January 2013 running third generation Ivy Bridge CPUs.
That's not a death sentence for the lovely Helix, since Haswell isn't appreciably faster than Ivy Bridge, but Haswell does bring battery life improvements. Happily the ThinkPad Helix fights back with respectable battery life of 5 hours for the tablet and 8-10 hours for the tablet plus dock. As with the Asus Transformer Book, I'm hard pressed to call it a dock when the bottom half looks and feels just like a laptop's bottom section. This is no dinky accessory keyboard; it truly transforms the Lenovo Helix into an Ultrabook. It has an excellent ThinkPad keyboard, a very good trackpad and a secondary battery. Sorry, there's no keyboard backlight as with the Asus Transformer Book; that's a relative rarity on a transformer style Windows 8 convertible.
The ThinkPad Helix is an 11.6" Windows 8 64 bit tablet with bundled keyboard dock. Most models come with a Wacom digitizer and pen, putting it in a small category of Windows 8 tablets that are well suited to graphic artists, note takers and vertical market workers like the medical and automotive industries, that need a precise pen. The Helix runs on Intel Core i5 and i7 ULV CPUs with Intel HD 4000 graphics and 4 or 8 gigs of RAM. It's available with 128, 180 and 256 gig SSD drives. Unfortunately the price has risen from the $1,500 we heard at CES and the ThinkPad Helix starts at $1,679 and goes up to $2,200. At those prices, Lenovo has likely lost quite a few potential buyers.
Lenovo knows how to make a bright display, and the glossy full HD IPS touch screen has 400 nits of brightness, which is handy for combating sunlight and bright office lights. It's a colorful and sharp display, but as always with Windows, the desktop icons and text will look tiny unless you enable scaling, which reduces sharpness a bit. At 125% scaling, we found things readable without introducing too much fuzz.
As you'd expect from a Lenovo, this is a very sturdy machine with a magnesium alloy roll cage inside and a robust build that puts the plastic 11.6" Samsung ATIV 700t to shame. The drawback is that it's a bit heavy at 3.8 lbs. for the tablet plus keyboard. The tablet itself isn't that heavy at 1.8 lbs.