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Review: Lenovo ThinkPad Helix flips Ultrabook expectations

Serdar Yegulalp | Aug. 20, 2013
Fast, functional Windows 8 laptop-tablet lets you detach for tablet use or dock with the display facing in or out.

Today's Ultrabooks give off a lot less heat than previous generations of laptops, but there's still a real need for creative ventilation solutions. The Helix places its heat vent along the top edge of the machine, slightly to the right. This is generally a good place for it unless you hold the tablet in portrait mode — it's a bad idea to put a hand over the vent, and the back of the unit near the vent can get surprisingly warm as well. But the dock doesn't generate any heat of its own. In fact, the dock has a fan that blows cold air up into the attached unit to provide additional cooling.

Both the dock and the tablet are well-outfitted with connectors and ports. The power connector — Lenovo's USB-connector-like plug — fits in either the dock or the unit, and the dock delivers two USB ports to augment the unit's one USB port. Note that the USB connectors are on the bottom of the tablet, so you can use only the dock's USB ports when the unit is attached.

The oddest omission is the lack of an SD card slot, MicroSD or conventional, in either the unit itself or the dock. It's not fatal, but anyone who depends on an SD card — photographers, for instance — will be irked. What looks like SD card slots on the underside of the unit are actually a pair of "label trays," slide-out drawers that contain regulatory information. Apparently Lenovo incorporated these trays to avoid putting said labels on the unit itself.

The preloaded software in the system is the usual mix of consumer-oriented apps such as Symantec's Norton AntiVirus and the Lenovo Solution Center, which lives in the System Tray and nags you about updates or the lack of virus protection. There's also the QuickLaunch app, which attempts to re-create the legacy Start button and Start menu. (I wonder how QuickLaunch will fare when Windows 8.1 comes out.)

Lenovo's ThinkPad Helix is the latest attempt to create a convertible Ultrabook that can be used in multiple display modes. It's on the pricey side — twice the cost of Lenovo's IdeaPad Yoga — but it's no slouch, and the Helix surpasses the Yoga in the way it implements multiple display orientations. And like the Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro 700T, which lags the Helix in both usability and build quality, it's the rare Ultrabook that can leave its physical keyboard behind.


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