After more than a year with the Microsoft Surface Pro 2, I’ve gotten quite accustom to the Windows tablet world. Recently I have a chance to test out the Lenovo Helix. In fact, I’m writing this post with the Helix.
Let’s put it in context first. We (at work) have an emerging technology program (IT funds and manages) where new technologies can be brought into the office environment for testing and pilot project with minimal vetting. The intent is to leverage the opportunity for everyone (users and IT alike) to learn how to deal with said new technologies. Users naturally care about usability, performance, and simple things like whether the darn things work as advertised. IT cares about maintenance, level 1, 2, 3 support requirements, compatibility, security issues, vendor experiences, cost, etc.
This Lenovo was brought in as a pilot for Windows tablets. Along with it, we also have on hand similar devices from ASUS, Dell, Microsoft, and a few other vendors. The objective was to determine the top 2 or 3 machines that we will support and make them part of the standard offering for those who wants Windows tablet devices. I’m one of the testers and I have this Lenovo for 3 weeks.
Here is a highlight of my experience.
Here’s the test rig:
- Lenovo Helix Ultrabook
- Core i5-3337U, 1.8 GHz, 4 GB RAM
- Win 8.1x
- at the office, it is pair with a Dell 21″ monitor
Getting the system up and online was uneventful. The usual steps applied: Copying over the Outlook OST/PST, connecting Outlook to Exchange, setting up multi-screen, fully patching Windows and Office, exporting/importing browser favorites, configuring security zones in the browser, installing the other basics like Acrobat, Java, Flash, Firefox, Dropbox, OneDrive, etc. It only took a few hours.
Since I switch over from a Surface (with the “real” keyboard), the Chiclet keyboard was not a big issue. But I recall when I first switch from a full size keyboard to the Surface, it was painful. This is no different. Given that, the key travel was good, the letter/number keys are of decent size even for my fat fingers. There is a distinct difference between key up and key down so learning the type on it was quite intuitive. On the other hand, the ESC, F1-F10, Home, End, and Delete keys were significantly smaller. Mis-keying was a daily occurrence even after 3 weeks of use.
One thing of note though. Those switch from a super think keyboard (like the ones for MS Surface) will find this keyboard base a bit … thick. My wrists were telling me I was aggravating my carpal tunnel again. It is still thinner than a normal notebook but your wrist will still feel it.
The machine comes with a Lenovo software to configure default toggle locking for 2 keys: the CapsLock (which isn’t that unusual) and the End/Insert (which is foreign to me). In fact, the first hour with the machine on Excel, I was trying to figure out why my normal navigation was not working correctly. Turns out the default is to have the “Insert” On/”End” Off. When I was hitting the End key, I was actually toggling Insert. Configuring that made operating the keyboard significantly more intuitive.
As with any other similar multi-function keys, the secondary function is called by a function (Fn) key. While it isn’t anything new, the placement of the key is awkward. It sits at the lower left corner of the keyboard, exactly where you’d expect the left Ctrl key to be. After 3 weeks of using the machine, I till haven’t adjusted to it.
The Helix has a relatively small screen (11.6″) but it has a high resolution (native 1920 x 1080). The result is really tiny fonts on default view. I would have been okay with it in my younger days but even progressive lens are not helping here. Changing the Windows text size helps in some situations but not all. For example, as I’m writing this, the font is basically 6 points on screen. My eyes hurt… One of the real effect (I caught myself doing it) is that I stopped reading the dialog box text and just clicking OK. Not a good thing. Just something to considered.
Like most machines in this class, the Helix comes with a mini-DisplayPort. A dongle is necessary for most connectors (HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, even good ol VGA). Unfortunately, the engineering on the port is somewhat lacking. Any jarring of the dongle will cause the display to reset. I had to bury the dongle on my desk so I don’t accidentally bump it.
Speaking of display, there was a display anomaly that I couldn’t resolve. Once in a while (once or twice a day or so), scrolling (using either an onscreen scroll bar or mouse scroll wheel) will cause the content of the scrolling box to shrink to unreadable size (like 1-2 point fonts) or cause the content to be partially covered. Mousing over the text usually re-render them correctly. No idea whether it is the Lenovo’s graphics card, the windows setting, or some other combinations. Nothing adverse ever happens. As it is, it isn’t a show stopper but some what annoying.
Here’s a summary of the good, the bad, and the meh:
- This is a full fledge notebook.
- All Windows 8.x touch features work well.
- Good performance.
- Everything works out of the box.
- Decent keyboard keys.
- Not particularly light weight.
- Graphics anomaly. (No idea whose fault it is, but there it is.)
- Keyboard layout.
- High resolution on a small screen.
- Finicky mini-DisplayPort.
- Would you really detach the screen? This is still no iPad.
Honestly, the more machines I use, the more they feel the same. While the novel features will get the ooohs and ahhhhs for a little while, in the end it is just another computer. At $1,500 to $2,500 (depending on configuration) a piece, this isn’t the best value out there. But it is a solid buy. Would I buy it for myself? No. Would I use it if it is a standard at work? Sure, I don’t see anything I need to fight about.
Filed under: Computer, Hardware, Helix, Lenovo, Microsoft, Windows 8 and Metro | Tagged: Helix, Lenono, Windows 8, Windows tablet | Leave a comment »