On the surface, the Lenovo Helix 3698 looks like another classic ThinkPad. It isn’t. The Helix is much more. It is a powerful Windows 8 notebook computer that easily converts into a tablet to provide end users and business IT with just about everything they could hope for in a mobile computing device.
Measuring 11.66 inches by 8.90 inches and less than an inch thick, the Helix is solidly built with semi-smooth black casing that fits snugly in the hand. Opening the clamshell reveals a crisp and clear, 11.6-inch-diagonal, high-definition 1080p Gorilla Glass display that lights up the room when set to its brightest contrast ratio of 800:1.
A simple push of a button effortlessly pops the display off its keyboard base to reveal a half-inch-thick, 1.84-pound tablet that, when flipped around and placed back into the keyboard dock, turns the latter into a convenient stand for giving presentations — all without rebooting the operating system. During many tests and flips, I never had an issue with the tablet recognizing whether or not it was docked to the keyboard.
Best of all, users can fold the display down with the keyboard stored underneath to greatly boost tablet battery life. The keyboard complements the Helix tablet’s three-cell Lithium-ion battery with a four-cell of its own, greatly increasing time between charges.
Continuous video playback tests averaged 4 hours, 20 minutes for the tablet alone and 7 hours, 8 minutes when docked to the keyboard. Normal business usage — typing documents, surfing the web — averaged 5 hours, 40 minutes for the tablet and 9 hours, 5 minutes when docked. The ThinkPad can easily make it through a day of meetings without a recharge.
The Helix’s specs are top notch. It sports a 1.8-gigahertz Intel Core i5-2217U processor (with i7 available as an option) and up to 8 gigabytes of DDR3 RAM to share with its Intel HD4000 video card. There are three solid-state drive choices: 128GB, 180GB or 256GB. Wireless communication options include internal Centrino Wireless-N (supporting 802.11 a/g/n) and Bluetooth 4.0 plus optional LTE or Ericsson WWAN cards. Lenovo’s factory warranty covers the ThinkPad for three years and the batteries for one.
As for controls, the tablet has a volume rocker and audio output at the top right corner. A power jack, SIM card slot, Mini DisplayPort and USB 2.0 port all lay on the edge that connects to the keyboard dock, which adds two USB 3.0 ports along the back. Ethernet connectivity comes courtesy of an included USB dongle. Thankfully, when the cooling fans kick on, they’re barely audible, especially within an office environment.
For those who demand a little more control over their notebook, Lenovo adds some very slick and touch-friendly Windows 8 applications that make it easy for users to adjust power settings (including a “battery stretch” feature that automatically dims the display), turn the notebook into a mobile hotspot, toggle location awareness and configure both the 2-megapixel front and 5MP rear 1080p cameras, as well as audio input and output.
For those not comfortable with the Windows 8 interface, Lenovo has configured the desktop with Lenovo QuickLaunch, a user interface that emulates the classic Windows Start Menu (although this may not be needed with Windows 8.1).
The keyboard base weighs nearly 2 pounds, bringing total weight when attached to the Helix tablet to 3.75 pounds. While this may be too heavy for some users, it is well worth the extra battery life the keyboard’s battery provides. In addition, though the high-resolution display looks great with videos, the screen may make traditional Windows desktop buttons and letters appear too small for some individuals.