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When PC manufacturers were showing off their Windows 8 offerings earlier this year, there was much talk about innovative hardware designs — and indeed, many of the touchscreen devices that debuted at IFA and other shows offered genuinely new form factors. However, Lenovo's ThinkPad Twist isn't one of them: the basic design of this swivel-screen convertible notebook is about a decade old. That's not to say it isn't a decent ultrabook — it is a ThinkPad after all, with a long tradition of excellence behind it. But what about the details?
With its matte-black rubberised finish and understated Lenovo and ThinkPad branding (including a neat red LED dot above the 'i'), the ThinkPad Twist looks as businesslike as any of its brethren. The solid-feeling central screen hinge gives away the fact that it's not as other clamshell notebooks: the screen will twist 180 degrees clockwise to face away from the keyboard (useful for presentations to small groups), and also fold flat against the keyboard with the screen facing out, for use in (fairly chunky) tablet mode. The hinge is also sturdy enough to accommodate what Lenovo calls 'tent' mode:
We found the screen's autorotate function a little hit-and-miss, even after the System Update utility had supposedly improved its performance with a driver update. If need be, you can toggle autorotation on and off via a button on the bottom right-hand side of the lid, just above the power button.
The 12.5in. screen uses edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass, but the top and sides look a little untidy to our eyes as there's a few millimetres of plastic binding overlaying the glass, and beyond that a metal-effect plastic 'bumper' that cheapens the overall look slightly. The screen itself is a glossy-finish 5-point touchscreen with a resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels: if you're happy with the moderate pixel density (125ppi), it delivers a sharp, clear image with good viewing angles thanks to the IPS technology used. Some tablet-mode enthusiasts may rue the omission of stylus support though.
The island-style, spill-proof keyboard is as good as you'd expect from a ThinkPad, featuring large, slightly scalloped keys with curved bottom edges that fit the fingers well and deliver a positive action. Above the number row is a row of 16 keys with various system- or Windows 8-related functions; a dozen of these keys double up as F1-F12 via the Fn key.
The touchpad is a large buttonless affair that works well, and of course there's also the trademark red ThinkPad TrackPoint sitting between the G, B and H keys. This has a trio of mouse buttons below the keyboard (the central button is for scrolling, although we tended to do most of our scrolling using the touchscreen).
Port and slots are restricted to the sides of the system, with a SIM card slot (not used in our review unit), a media card reader, a full-size RJ-45 Ethernet port, a Mini-HDMI port, a USB 3.0 port and an audio-out jack on the left-hand side and the power input, a Mini-DisplayPort connector, a second USB 3.0 port and the hard drive removal door on the right-hand side. Neither an HDMI nor a DisplayPort adapter is provided out of the box.
On the lid there's a physical Windows 8 button — below the display, in the middle — with a pair of volume (up/down) buttons to the left. Above the screen, also in the middle, is a 720p webcam, flanked by a pair of dual array noise-cancelling microphones. As mentioned earlier, the power and autorotate buttons are on the right-hand side of the lid, at the bottom.
The ThinkPad Twist can be powered by a 1.8GHz Core i3 (3217U), a 1.7-2.6GHz Intel Core i5 (3317U) or a 1.9-3.0GHz Core i7 (3517U) processor and uses the HM77 Express chipset. If you want full-on vPro out-of-band management (and many larger businesses will), you'll be disappointed, as none of these processors support it. What you do get is support for Intel's Small Business Advantage (packaged as Lenovo Solutions for Small Business), which handles things like automatic scheduled maintenance operations (disk defrag, temporary file deletion, for example), security software monitoring, energy saving settings, backup and restore, and more. Our review unit had the Core i5-3317U processor, supported by 4GB of DDR3 RAM; other models come with the full 8GB.
The main storage on our ThinkPad Twist was a 500GB SATA III (6Gbps) Hitachi Travelstar hard drive spinning at 7,200rpm. There's also a small (24GB) mSATA SSD for cacheing. If you're prepared to spend more and get less storage, you can specify a faster, lower-power, 128GB SSD in place of the hard drive. On our review system, that would add another £98.40 (inc. VAT).
Wireless connectivity is provided by Intel's Centrino Wireless-N 2230 module, which supports single-band 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. Mobile broadband was not present on our review unit, and is not an upgrade option, but models are available with Ericsson's H5321gw module, which supports HSPA+ at up to 21Mbps down and 5.76Mbps up. Mobile broadband adds about £48 (inc. VAT) to the price.
Lenovo provides the usual ThinkVantage software bundle, and also includes 5GB of free Lenovo Cloud Storage.
Performance & battery life
Given its middle-of-the-road specification, it's no surprise to find that the ThinkPad Twist is a moderate performer. The Windows 8 version of Windows Experience Index now marks out of 9.9 (rather than 7.9 under Windows 7). The overall score, determined by the lowest-ranking subsystem (Desktop graphics performance in this case) is 4.3, with other scores ranging between 5.9 and 6.9:
This system has enough horsepower for mainstream business workloads and low-level after-hours gaming/entertainment, but the gulf between the ThinkPad Twist and a true discrete-graphics ultraportable powerhouse like Eurocom's Monster 1.0 is clear when we look at the demanding Cinebench 11.5 benchmark:
The ThinkPad Twist is powered by an 8-cell Li-ion battery rated at 42.4 watt-hours (Wh), for which Lenovo claims 'up to 7 hours' life. To estimate battery life under various workloads, we measured the (fully charged) system's power draw using a Voltcraft VC940 Plus multimeter and divided the resulting average figures into the battery rating (Wh/W=h):
On this basis, you can expect the system to last for between a paltry 1.5 hours and a maximum of about 5.5h, depending on how hard you're working it. The battery is non-removable and there's no option to fit a second battery, so you're left with what you can squeeze out of the system using the power management settings. Under heavy loads, the ThinkPad Twist becomes noticeably, but not uncomfortably, warm.
If you think of it as primarily an ultrabook, but one that can conveniently turn into a tablet when the occasion demands, then the ThinkPad Twist has a lot to recommend it. The build quality is very good, and there are enough business-friendly features to make it acceptable as a BYOD system, although the lack of full vPro support may deter the more locked-down enterprises. Battery life may be a more general issue though.