Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Lenovo ThinkPad Twist review

Lenovo's ThinkPad Twist is the latest in a string of Windows 8-running tablet-laptop hybrids, and it's a little different from the competition. Mainly, it's a business-oriented tablet-laptop (excuse me, tablet-Ultrabook) hybrid that stays true (sort of) to the ThinkPad line's traditional, if somewhat boring, aesthetic. See also: Group test: what's the best tablet PC?

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Like other tablet-Ultrabook hybrids, the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist has a unique way of converting itself from a tablet to a laptop and back again. This time the screen is attached to the bottom of the laptop with a single, sturdy rotating hinge. You can rotate the laptop's screen 180 degrees, and then fold it backward to use it as a tablet. This isn't a new concept – we actually first saw this style of convertible tablet-laptop way back in the early 2000s when Microsoft was trying to make pre-iPad tablet computers a thing – but it's implemented much better than what we've seen before. See also: Group test: what's the best ultraportable laptop?
Our review model Lenovo ThinkPad Twist, which costs around £880 inc VAT as configured, has a third-generation Intel Core i5-3317U processor, 4GB of RAM (3.82GB usable), and a 500GB HDD spinning at 7200rpm alongside a 24GB SSD caching drive. The Twist also has built-in Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, and a slot for a SIM card, for users who want to be connected
Lenovo ThinkPad Twist: Performance

In our sister title's WorldBench 8 tests, the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist scores 47 out of 100. This means that it's 53 percent slower than our testing model, which is no surprise – our testing model has a third-generation Intel Core i5 desktop processor, 8GB of RAM, and a discrete Nvidia graphics card. The Twist's score isn't great – it's on the lower side of the systems we've tested that have the same processor. For example, the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga, which has the same i5-3317U processor and 4GB of RAM, scores 60 out of 100 on WB8. Likewise, the Dell XPS 12 Ultrabook, another convertible tablet-laptop hybrid, score 64 out of 100. The score differentials are probably because those other systems ship with SSDs instead of rotating hard drives.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Twist also falls short in our individual performance tests. For example, in the PCMark 7 productivity test, the Twist scores 1099, which is just a little behind the Yoga's 2115 and the Duo 12's 2187. Although the Twist does have a 24GB SSD boot drive, it takes longer than other convertible Ultrabooks to start up – 13.4 seconds, which is almost twice as long as the Yoga's 7.9 seconds and the Duo 12's 8.8 seconds. It is faster, however, than laptops that do not have SSD boot drives, such as the Toshiba Satellite P854t-S4310 (22.7 seconds) and the Acer Aspire V5-571P-6499 (21.3 seconds).
Graphics performance on the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist is right about where we expect it to fall, considering it's an Ultrabook with no discrete graphics card. In our Dirt showdown test (maximum quality settings, 1366 by 768 pixel resolution), the Twist managed 28.8 frames per second, which is on par with the frame rates of both the Yoga (30.1fps) and the Duo 12 (33.3fps) in the same test.
We managed to eke out just three hours and 15 minutes of battery life with the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist, which is not very good considering the class. Other tablet-Ultrabook hybrids typically get at least five hours (the Yoga got five hours and 37 minutes, while the Duo 12 got four hours and 39 minutes), and some, such as the Samsung XE500T1C-A01, get as much as nine hours.

Lenovo ThinkPad Twist: Design and Usability

The Lenovo ThinkPad Twist looks like a sleeker, sexier version of traditional ThinkPad laptops. Lenovo has been careful to keep its ThinkPad line visually similar, keeping the traditional matte black finish and red accents, though it has been updating the look in subtle ways.
The Lenovo ThinkPad Twist has a flat, smooth cover made of soft, rubbery material. In the lower left corner there's a silver Lenovo logo, and in the lower right corner there's a traditional ThinkPad logo. The ThinkPad logo's “i” has a red dot, which is actually a light that pulses when the computer is turned on. The cover is very simple, and there's a thin silver line around the edge.
Inside, the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist looks a little cluttered. There's another ThinkPad logo (with another pulsing, red-dotted “i”) in the lower right corner of the wrist rest, which is made of the same soft, rubbery material as the cover. The glossy 12.5-inch touchscreen is surrounded by a thick bezel, and there are a couple of buttons located below it: the Windows 8 button for switching back to the home screen, and volume controls.
The laptop sports a full-size, spill-proof, island-style keyboard with small, rounded keys. The keyboard is comfortable to type on, though the keys are a little slippery. In the middle of the keyboard there's a small red TrackPoint. The TrackPoint's corresponding three buttons are located directly below the keyboard, above a small matte touchpad. The touchpad has no discrete buttons, and is instead clickable itself. Both the TrackPoint and the touchpad are comfortable as input devices, and offer up smooth, accurate pointing and easy clicking.
Like other tablet-Ultrabook hybrids, the Twist can be used in several different ways. You can open it up and use it as a laptop, or you can twist the screen around to use it as a tablet. The screen, which is attached to the bottom of the laptop by a small, sturdy hinge, only twists one way, and only 180 degrees. In tablet mode, you can tilt the screen backward and use the bottom of the laptop as a stand, or you can tilt the screen all the way back (flat), and use the Twist as a typical tablet.
The Lenovo ThinkPad Twist is a bit heavy at 1.59kg to use as a tablet, so you probably won't be using it like that very often. But still, it's a nice option to have.
Lenovo also advertises a "tent" mode, which is when you twist the screen, tilt it back, and then stand the laptop on its edges to make a tent-like structure. While this mode works well with the Yoga, which has balanced parts, it's not very effective with the Twist. The Twist's screen is much slimmer and lighter than the bottom part of the laptop, and so propping it up in tent mode does not seem very sturdy.
The Twist offers up decent port selection, considering it's a tablet-Ultrabook hybrid. It has a Gigabit Ethernet port, which is very useful for business travelers and not something you usually see on Ultrabooks. It also has two USB 3.0 ports, a Mini-DisplayPort and a Mini-HDMI port, a 4-in-1 card reader, and a Kensington lock slot. There's a combined headphone/microphone jack, and the power button is located on the right side of the screen, along with a screen lock button for when you're in tablet mode.

Lenovo ThinkPad Twist: Screen and Speakers

The Twist sports a glossy 12.5-inch IPS touchscreen with a native resolution of 1366 by 768 pixels. This resolution can look a little dated on larger screens, but it's just fine on the Twist's screen, and images and text look sharp and crisp. Overall, the Twist's screen is nice-looking: it's bright, at 350 nits (the average screen brightness for a laptop is between 200 and 250 nits), which means that you'll be able to use it outside or in bright situations. Extra brightness is ideal, since the Twist is meant to double as a tablet.
The Twist's screen offers up excellent contrast and off-axis viewing angles; the only small issue I had with the screen was that colors sometimes seemed a little off. For example, whites occasionally looked a little yellowish, especially when the brightness wasn't pumped up.
As a touchscreen, the Twist's screen works very well. It's responsive and accurate, and multi-touch gestures are smooth – more on par with a tablet than with a laptop. It's similar to the Yoga's touchscreen, which is also responsive and smooth.
Video looks and sounds pretty mediocre on the Twist. HD streaming video plays back fairly smoothly, but I did see a lot of artifacting and noise in just about every part of every scene – whether I was watching the animated My Little Pony series, or the dark, action-packed Arrow series.
Audio on the Twist is… interesting. It's been a long time since I've heard laptop speakers that are just kind of blah – not outright awful, but also not in any way good. Here's the thing: first, the speakers seem to be located in the keyboard, which is just kind of weird. Second, though the sound gets pretty loud (and doesn't distort, even at the highest volume), it's just very flat. There doesn't appear to be any bass or treble happening, and so all audio sounds flat, and a little echo-y. This isn't too much of an issue if you're just watching a quick clip, but it's definitely an issue if you want to listen to music.

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