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A new riff on the popular detachable tablet / notebook hybrid, Lenovo's ThinkPad Helix can serve as a standalone 11.6-inch tablet, a powerful business Ultrabook or a presentation station. Unlike with any other detachable we've seen, the Helix's tablet pops securely into the keyboard dock, making it ideal for showing movies or PowerPoint decks.
We had a chance to see and touch a ThinkPad Helix here at CES 2013 (see photo gallery below) and can report that it has a lot more to offer than just a unique, reversible docking mechanism. The 11.6-inch screen sports an impressive 1920 x 1080 resolution that looked sharp and vibrant with 400 nits of brightness, active stylus support and 10-finger touch.
Under the hood, the Helix has up to a Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and an SSD as large as 256GB. An NFC chip lets you pair the system with other devices simply by tapping them together. The device sports two cameras: a front-facing 2-MP unit for video chats and a 5-MP rear lens for shooting photos or using augmented reality apps.
At 3.7 pounds with the keyboard attached, the Helix is light enough to take anywhere. However, the 1.8-pound slate felt a bit heavier than smaller devices like the 1.5 pound iPad. Lenovo estimates that the tablet itself will get 5 hours of battery life while the the keyboard dock adds another 5 hours. Though the Helix's tablet-only battery life isn't within striking distance of the 12-hour iPad or the 7 to 10 hour Android tablets we've tested, it's important to remember that this system provides all the power and performance of a high-end business notebook.
In our brief time with the Helix, we were pleased to see that the keyboard has the same industry-leading tactile feel we've come to expect from Lenovo. The glass clickpad seems like it will be at least as accurate as the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's. However, for the first time, Lenovo has eliminated the TrackPoint's buttons, building them into the top of the clickpad. We fear this may harm the TrackPoint experience, but we'll have to take a closer look when we get our hands on a final system, because it wasn't working on the demo unit we tried.
Popping the tablet into the dock was easy, whether we were facing it toward the keyboard or putting it on backwards for presentation mode. Once attached the tablet is extremely secure and only pops out if you hit a release button on the lower left side. When we put it in presentation mode, we noticed a panel on the back of the keyboard dock that folds down and reveals some of the innards of the dock like the fans. We snapped this panel closed to cover them up.
The keyboard dock has 2 USB 3.0 ports, along with Ethernet, VGA and mini DisplayPort connections. Shockingly, neither the tablet nor the dock has an SD card or microSD card reader. Considering that SD card slots are standard on every laptop these days, that's a major omission.
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The ThinkPad Helix will start at $1,499 when it launches later this spring. We look forward to putting it through its paces.