Testing Lenovo – First Impressions

This is the first of three parts. Here’s Part 2  , and Part 3 .

One of the fun sides to my job is that I get to test out new equipment that the U is considering. I recently was given a Lenovo Helix Ultrabook. It’s a reasonably light (3.8lb) for a laptop, but heavy for an ultrabook. The screen rotates, and is removable, to become a tablet.

In some ways, I’m not the guy to be reviewing a rig like this. I’m not a fan of laptops. For one thing, I’ve used a full-sized ergo keyboard for so long that it’s actually painful to type on a laptop for any length of time, and I’ve lost the ability to touch type on one. I don’t have Serina Williams fingernails, but mine are long enough that they catch on a laptops keyboard. For another thing, I’m not a Windows fan, and I’m particularly not a Win 8 fan. I know. Deal With It. I’ll try to avoid egregious beatings-up of Win 8 here, except as needed to discuss how it’s implemented on this platform.

I pounded on the Lenovo for most of a long weekend, and also loaned it to my wife to use at home, to get her impressions. I’m going to break this review into three parts: First Impressions, Closer Looks, and Conclusions. I didn’t test everything, because I’m not a testing lab, and I didn’t try out the various features for long enough to get used to them, because iiadesu — don’t wanna. So, let’s get started.

– The full rig is solid feeling, but a little heavy. It’s more like our old MacBook Pro than a MacBook Air.

– The docking assembly is also solid. Easy to use lever to undock, clicks in place solidly on re-dock. However, the black backplate of the dock, and the black bezel of the tablet, and the black docking clamp are all… black… and can be hard to see when docking. Similar complaints can be made about the dark grey port labels on the black background. That’s part of this whole exciting industrial design approach, where “Every time I press one of these black controls, labelled in black on a black background, a little black light lights up black to let me know I’ve done it.” Other that that, the dock sits open to the elements, and looks to be a fine collection tool for dust, dog hair, cheetos, and small owls.

– The trackpad had typical trackpad jitters. Had to sit there carefully moving my finger around like I was some kid toying with spilled milk from his breakfast cereal. To keep the pointer where you pointed it you have to lift your finger straight up. The slightest sideways force makes it slip off the target and you no longer have focus. Corner clicking on the trackpad required a firm finger — a simple depress often didn’t work, which means the pointer is even more likely to drift. Point-with-finger/Click-with-thumb would also pull the cursor off focus. Point and click is really a two-handed job. My wrists and forearms ached after the shortest sessions.

–  It came with IE and Office 2013 already installed. IE opened up with a multi-tab-set of Lenovo ads. Quickly installed Firefox, and from there installed LibreOffice. This will all be overwritten when they re-image it, but I don’t plan to evaluate the hardware and the OS and the software.

– The default screen fonts were extremely hard to read, even with my PC glasses on. I changed settings and Win8 wanted to restart. Where do I restart? Go to card deck. User logo has a ‘sign out’ option. Signing out brings me back to the splash screen. I see that it’s 4:30 in Seattle, very useful to know. Clicking on that screen reveals the login screen, and that screen has the power button. Seriously Win8?

– I decided to RTFM and see if there was a better way to power cycle. Finally found the on-board Lenovo manual. First thing was a page that told me I’d get cancer if I handled the power cord. Not much on power cycling, ’cause that’s a Win8 issue regardless of the hardware. Went on the net and opened the Microsoft knowledge base, which gave me a smarmy message about never needing to turn it off because it goes to sleeps and that’s just as good. If it’s so damned good, why don’t the instructions tell me “now, let your little PC sleep for a while, so it can learn all those new fonts.” After digging for a bit, it turns out there’s a preferred way to do it. Stroke your way to the right corner of the desktop to get the options sidebar. Then stroke your way to the bottom to get to the ‘Settings’ option. You know, the one that lets you change the way your computer does things. Stroke your way to the bottom of that, and click the power button icon. Seriously.

– restart brings up ‘Lenovo solution center’ to tell me that two unidentified devices are not installed. Thanks, Lenovo. I was sure there were more unidentified devices than that I hadn’t installed. Probably NSA virtual malware.

– There are two USB ports on the back, plus a power port and a video port for a monitor, which I didn’t test*. As an aside, the Helix is evidently designed to use wireless as its primary connection. Hardwired connection to an ethernet requires a USB2Ethernet dongle, which I didn’t have. From the pictures on the web, the dongle doesn’t have a USB port of its own, so when you use wired ethernet you lose one of your two USB ports. Given that I very often want to use three USB ports (for USB keyboard, mouse, and thumb drive), this design decision puts us at a -2 portcount.

*However, I note that it uses a MDP2HDMI cable, which means the VGA links on most of the University projectors are not compatible

Tomorrow, we go into greater detail on how the Lenovo Helix does its job.

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