One notebook, multiple modes: That's the idea behind Lenovo's ThinkPad Twist, a three-way combination of tablet, notebook, and presentation device. The basic idea is a good one, but many little annoyances -- both in the software and the hardware -- make the Twist more an unpolished gem than a must-have.
The hardware design is unquestionably clever. Like the Toshiba Satellite series of notebooks, the Twist flips open like a conventional notebook, but the display can be rotated 180 degrees and closed up again to convert the notebook into a slate. Not only can the display be rotated in place for the sake of a presentation, but you can even shift the display and perch the unit upside down in what Lenovo calls "tent mode."
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Lenovo hasn't skimped on the rest of the system either, decking it out with an assortment of features worthy of a business notebook. You'll find USB 3.0 ports on either side of the unit, plus an Ethernet jack, a 4-in-1 card reader, and a Mini-DP connector. In another clever design touch, the dot on the "i" in the ThinkPad logo on the keyboard bezel is also the system's power light. The power button, however, is in a slightly awkward position at the bottom-right corner of the screen. I've hit it by accident more than once when trying to plug in or unplug the power supply. There's also no hard disk activity light, an item I wish wasn't omitted so readily these days.
This being an Intel Core i5-powered system, performance was great, but the battery life not so stellar. I clocked just 3 hours and a few minutes in my Netflix rundown test.
Like many of the current crop of Ultrabooks and convertibles, the Twist is designed as a Windows 8 machine -- not just thanks to the Windows key button at bottom center, but also because of things like the function key that brings you to the search page or the full list of installed applications in the new Start screen.
The biggest problem with the Twist is the software installed in it, Lenovo-branded and otherwise. There's so much of it, designed to cover so many areas of functionality, that it's bewildering to sift through. Most prominent is the Lenovo Solution Center, which sits next to the system tray and advises you of software updates and other critical to-dos. Another Windows 8-specific app, Lenovo QuickLaunch, sits in the Taskbar and attempts to restore the behavior of the old-school Start menu. And there's a Lenovo Solutions for Small Business app that handles some advanced settings, such as blocking certain types of USB devices and running after-hours maintenance.
But wait, there's more! Also installed are a slew of Modern UI (aka Metro) system management apps from Lenovo such as Lenovo Support, which appears to eclipse some of the same functionality as the Solution Center; Lenovo Settings, for sharing your Internet connection, configuring your camera and audio, and setting location-aware behaviors; and the Lenovo Companion, which contains a Getting Started guide (why isn't that available directly from the Start menu?) and various partner offers. I guess the idea is that you pick the set of apps -- classic UI or Modern UI -- you'll be most comfortable with, but the results are messy. What's more, there are third-party apps on top of all that -- a trial subscription of Norton Internet Security, the Intel AppUp store, and others to boot.
Finally, I ran into some problems with the software that controls display orientation and the automatic disabling of the touchpad when the unit is in notebook mode. Sometimes when reorienting the unit for touch use, the cursor would skitter across the screen and accidentally click on things. At other times the display would rotate at random, even when nothing had been touched. I also ran into problems with the function-lock key, which toggles the Function keys between their conventional F1 through F12 behaviors and special-key behaviors (volume, brightness, Windows 8 functions). The function-lock key setting doesn't persist across suspend and resume. I suspect all of this is fixable with a software update, though. I just hope Lenovo is able to offer it sooner rather than later.
This article, "Review: Lenovo ThinkPad Twist turns and teases," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in computer hardware and mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.
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