Testing Lenovo – A Closer Look

This is the second of three posts, evaluating a Lenovo Helix that I borrowed from school. The Introduction is here, and the Conclusions will be here, once I conclude them.

Interface Choices
The Lenovo Helix offers a range of options for interfacing.

– In addition to the trackpad,  which I talked about yesterday, there’s also a thumbstick in the middle. This moves the cursor around, but it doesn’t scroll.

– There’s also a stylus, like on the Nintendo DS, for use when the mouse, fingerpad, or thumbstick just won’t do. When I had problems with an app losing focus for no good reason (see below), I found that the stylus worked well to press buttons and such. I wonder how long it will take people to lose the stylus. And no, the NIntendo DS stylus is not a suitable replacement. Neither is a ballpoint pen, even with the tip retracted.

– In addition to the trackpad and thumbstick and stylus, it’s a touchscreen, so you can move around simply by dragging your fingers on the screen. This scrolls the screen, but doesn’t move the cursor. It does let you reposition the screen until the point of interest is underneath the cursor. A tap is as good as a click, assuming the screen responds to your taps. It doesn’t always, and I’m not sure if it’s because my fingers were too dirty or too clean.

Keyboard Choices
The keyboard is reasonably well laid out, with big letters, well suited to professorial eyes. It being a laptop, the keys are too small, too close together, too shallow, with zero ergonomic value. There appears to be several varieties of soft keyboard. There’s a nice big one that pops up when you log in from the tablet. There’s one that you access by clicking on the keyboard symbol on the toolbar. Except that that isn’t a keyboard. It’s a ‘freckled eggs’ style handwriting recognition app (“Curly bits, spiky bits, all joined together. Yep. Handwriting. I’d recognize it anywhere.”). The real soft keyboard is found by (1) swiping from the right screen to get the “charms” (2) selecting the “Search” charm (3) Typing in the name of the app you want ….hang on, that won’t work…(3b) swiping through the list of apps until you find the On-Screen Keyboard (under ‘O’, not ‘K’, in column 4 of 5). Be careful not to swipe too close to any of the other app logos, or you’re likely to find yourself arguing with your Helix about your stock portfolio.

Once you find it, the soft keyboard, sorry, On-Screen Keyboard, works pretty well. I was even able to touch type with it, and it felt more comfortable than the actual hard keyboard.

Video Performance
The LH plays video reasonably well. I loaded up Crunchyroll in my browser and went after a random episode of Girls und Panzer. The display was clean and the video played smoothly at any frame rate my DSL could handle. The sound was a little tinny. The gorilla glass screen had lots of glare.

Fondleslab Mode
I took the screen/tablet off the keyboard to use as a tablet in bed. My first experience was not encouraging.
– could not maintain wireless contact with my wireless DSL, two rooms and one floor away. I note that my Nexus had no problem.

– touch screen had sensitivity issues. I was running a self-quiz app (Anki cards), and when my finger would approach a button, the app would lose focus. Had to tap the center of the app window to get it to refocus, and that often didn’t hold. Finally gave that up and switched back to the Nexus.

– Input options are not clear. Sometimes I get a soft keyboard. Other times I get that freckled eggs handwriting app.

I tried again the next day, in a chair in a room next to the AP. Say, 20ft away and not quite line of sight to the wireless DSL. Worked, sortof.
– Maintained wireless contact OK, but couldn’t access Internet at times. Might be a DSL or ISP problem, but the LH doesn’t seem to deal with a flaky connection as well as, say, my Nexus.
– Screen was not as sensitive as the night before, but after a while I had the same ‘lost focus’ problems

I also tried it outside, about 60ft away from the AP. I did this by first standing under the AP and making sure it had a good connection, then walking out to a shaded area in my back yard, where I like to sit in the evening with my Nexus during that one week of the year when it’s not too hot, too cold, or too skeetery. This week it’s too hot, but I persevere.

– Held the Internet link for a while, but ended up dropping it.

– Fingerpointing worked for a while, and then the app started losing focus again. Using the stylus worked fine, but you could tell it was expecting me to do something more exciting than just clicking a button with it.

– Glare in the shade wasn’t much of a problem. I held it in portrait mode, with one end in my lap and the other rotated up to my face. Solved the glare problem, and brought the fonts closer.

– The tablet got warm, but not uncomfortably so. I was never afraid that my salient features would catch fire.

Conference Report
My college holds an offsite all-hands conference the week before school starts every year. I took the LH along to see how it performed in that setting. The answer was just as mixed as its structure.

– It connected to the local wireless just fine, and held the connection all day.

– Battery life was good. I started with a full 6-hour charge, and six hours later I still had three hours left. Partly that was because it was in sleep mode some of the time, and partly because I didn’t make any great demands on it — LibreOffice for notes, and gmail to send them to the secretary.

– Using it in tablet mode got very tiring after a while. And using it in my lap caused glare problems.

– I tried using the stylus for handwritten notes, but quit after one too many freckled eggs. On the other hand the soft keyboard, properly sized, was relatively easy to touch type on. Relatively is, of course, relative, and it was never as comfortable as a real, ergonomic keyboard.

Spousal Input

My wife used the LH briefly, in tablet mode, for light surfing and playing a couple of online games. She had problems with it being sometimes unresponsive in touchscreen mode, and slow in responding when using the stylus. It was heavy, and needed propping up. If there was a problem, it wasn’t always clear it was the hardware, the OS, or the browser. She prefers the Nexus.

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