Lenovo ThinkPad Helix

Lenovo is the world's number one PC manufacturer and its announcements at CES show it is planning on keeping that title, with a wide ranges of desktops, laptops, Ultrabooks, tablets, monitors and even a new Intel-based smartphone launched in Las Vegas.

The flagship announcement however was the company's laptop/tablet hybrid, the ThinkPad Helix. Lenovo call it the "rip and flip" Ultrabook, and while that means absolutely nothing, the product itself is very impressive.

Convertible laptops like this are nothing new, with the Asus Transformer line pioneering the form factor with Android, and manufacturers like Dell, Samsung and HP all launching Windows 8 models late last year.

Lenovo even has a number of keyboard docks available already for its own Android tablet line-up. The Helix however is in an entirely different league, promising to bring the renowned ThinkPad typing experience to a tablet.

Ultrabook branding

With an 11.6in screen and Ultrabook branding, the Helix is being positioned as a true laptop replacement with the additional convenience of having a full Windows 8 tablet.

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix

Like all other products of this type, the Helix consists of a regular tablet which can be connected with a keyboard dock using a connector on the bottom of the tablet.

Most of the hardware is found inside the 11.6in tablet, with the Helix coming with either a Core i3 or Core i5 processor (with the high-end Core i7 coming later in the year). However the base does include a battery and because there is additional cooling in the base, it allows the Intel processors to overclock and run faster.

What this essentially means is the Helix will perform better when docked than when in tablet mode.

Uniquely, the tablet can also be docked facing away from the keyboard, in what Lenovo calls theatre mode, meaning you can watch a film on the Helix without having to hold the tablet or have the keyboard in the way.

Lenovo has also made connectivity an important aspect of the Helix and you get mini DisplayPort, Gigabit Ethernet and USB 3.0 ports, as well as Bluetooth, NFC and optional 4G/mobile broadband for wireless connectivity.

Dock connector

The dock connector isn't the most solid configuration I've ever seen, but with the central connector supported by flaps on the left and right, it shouldn't cause too many problems if you are careful. You need to push a button on the left-hand-side of the connector to release the tablet, though during our time with the display model at Lenovo's booth at CES, we found the tablet coming free without having to press the button.

The spokesman we talked to said this could have been becasue the Helix had been used so much while on display.

The tablet on its own is relatively heavy, though this is unsurprising considering it is 11.6in in size and has pretty powerful hardware inside it. As well as the Intel silicon, it also comes with up to 8GB of RAM and up to 256GB SSD, making this a very powerful machine.

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix

The Full HD screen is excellent and as is now standard for products of this type, uses IPS technology. Viewing angles were great and the screen was also nice and bright.

One of the big selling points for this laptop will be the keyboard dock. While Asus may have been first to market, I found the keyboards on its Transformer devices to be impossible to use for extended periods of time.

ThinkPad typing

The ThinkPad Helix however is an entirely different proposition. The keyboard is what you have come to expect from Lenovo's ThinkPad range. The chiclet keys are responsive, have a very definite click and proper travel.

You also get the iconic ThinkPad nub in the middle, and the trackpad now has the buttons integrated into it, meaning you get more space to swipe and pinch-to-zoom. The only issue we have with the dock was there was a bit of flex in the surround of the touchpad and keyboard.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix is a very powerful machine, and while the design may not be the most tablet/laptop combination I've ever seen, you can't deny that the combination of excellent keyboard, powerful hardware and an excellent Full HD display makes it a compelling product.

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix

Of course all this doesn't come cheap and with the Helix set to cost $1,500 for the base configuration when it launches in the US in early February, we don't expect to see it on sale for anything less than £1,200 when it comes to the UK a few weeks later.