Lenovo ThinkPad S230u Twist review

Lenovo ThinkPad S230u Twist review

Summary: An ultrabook that can convert to a tablet when the occasion demands, the ThinkPad Twist has a lot going for it. The build quality is very good, and there are enough business-friendly features to make it acceptable as a BYOD system. Battery life may be an issue though.

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  • Editors' rating:
    7.9
  • User rating:
    5.7
  • RRP:
    £736.00

Pros

  • Classy ThinkPad design and construction
  • Excellent keyboard
  • Sturdy swivel-screen hinge

Cons

  • Moderate battery life
  • Lacks full vPro support
  • No stylus support

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?

Design
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:

tp-twist-tent
The 1.6kg (3.5lb) ThinkPad Twist's 'Tent' mode may prove useful in certain situations.

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.

tp-twist-kb
The Twist's keyboard is predictably excellent. The TrackPoint will have its devotees, but there's also a large touchpad if you don't like it.

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.

Features
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.

tp-twist-sbt
Lenovo's Solutions for Small Business software puts a range of system maintenance utilities within easy reach.

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:

tp-twist-wei

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:

tp-twist-cinebench

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):

tp-twist-battery
Idle = idling at the Windows 8 Start screen; PT8 = running Passmark Software's Performance Test 8 benchmark suite; CB CPU = running Cinebench 11.5's CPU test; CB OpenGL = running Cinebench 11.5's OpenGL test.

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.

Conclusions
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.

Specifications

General
Dimensions (W x H x D) 31.3 x 2 x 23.6 cm
Case form factor convertible clamshell
Weight 1.58 kg
OS & software
Operating system Windows 8 Profesional
Chipset & memory
Chipset Intel HM77 Express
RAM installed 4096 MB
Number of memory slots 2
RAM capacity 8 GB
Video
GPU Intel HD Graphics 4000
GPU type integrated
Video connections Mini-HDMI, Mini-DisplayPort
Connections
USB 2 x USB 3.0
Flash card 4-in-1 reader
Networking
Ethernet 10/100/1000Mbps
Wireless
Wi-Fi 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
Bluetooth 4.0
Input
Pointing devices buttonless touchpad, 3-button trackpoint
Keyboard 84 keys, island-style
Fingerprint reader No
Camera
Main camera front
Main camera resolution 1.3 megapixels
Audio
Audio connectors headphone
Speakers stereo
Audio processor Realtek High Definition Audio
Microphone dual array
Miscellaneous
Accessories AC adapter
Service & support
Standard warranty 1 year
Battery
Battery technology Li-ion (8-cell)
Estimated battery life (mfr) 7 h
Number of batteries supplied 1
Number of batteries supported 1
Removable battery No
Hard drive
Rotation speed 7200 rpm
Hard drive interface SATA III
Hard drive type standard
Hard drive capacity 500 GB
Number of hard drives installed 1
Processor & memory
Clock speed 1.7 GHz
Processor manufacturer Intel
Processor model Core i5-3317U
Solid-state drive
Interface PCI Express
Capacity 24 GB
Expand

Prices

Price
Price AUD 1034
Price GBP 736
Price USD 909

Topics: Laptops, Lenovo, Reviews, Tablets, Windows 8

About

Charles has been in tech publishing since the late 1980s, starting with Reed's Practical Computing, then moving to Ziff-Davis to help launch the UK version of PC Magazine in 1992. ZDNet came looking for a Reviews Editor in 2000, and he's been here ever since.

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Talkback

7 comments
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  • Interesting, good review

    Thanks for this information, Charles. I had been wanting to try one of these. You get all the good stuff to try out...

    jw
    j.a.watson@...
    • no thanks

      4.0

      very heavy
      very expensive
      large battery because of high energy consumption
      Henrique Dourado
      • You're supposed to try something before you review it.

        Henrique - You demonstrate ignorance when you review something you have not tried. A computer ought not to be reviewed according to your taste, but according to the question, "How well did they accomplish what they set out to do?" I'm going in a different direction with the HP Spectre touchscreen 15 because I need more real estate, some would say, "the screen is too big" but that's the beauty of people making different computers with different specs - people have different needs. This looks like an outstanding attempt to meet the needs of people. The marketplace will ultimately decide, but if you're going to review something, I would suggest you actually try it first.
        larsonjs
  • Through the Lens of Convergence

    Thanks Charles. I always appreciate someone taking the time to ferret out issues such as the potential low of 1.5 hours of battery life. I took a look at the Twist and the HP Revolve through a different lens here-
    http://blog.parts-people.com/2012/12/07/lenovo-thinkpad-twist-hp-elitebook-revolve-revive-a-classic-dance-the-twist/
    I fully understand if you don't want to approve this post, but at least you can take a look at my thoughts on convergence with 20+ articles that somehow got around to relating to that trend.
    ---Wordman
    https://plus.google.com/114660584480111918841/about
    Paul B. Wordman
  • I also think your assessment was fair

    Kymano
    • Finger slip, unfinished comment.

      7.0

      Honest judgement is what makes the reviews applicable. The customer not the manufacturer. There are apparently many unwarranted opinionated avengers out there. From the business perspective I want functionality, reliability, versatility. and most important price. Some people have to criticize because they want to impress others. They don't impress me. For ZDNET and Charles sake I concur. Lenovo is better capable but for price it may suit another. No one is capable of excellent in my book "Very good" is fair and honest, some people like to ass-kiss.
      Kymano
  • Played with a twist great form factor seemed slower

    6.0

    than similar priced laptops. I asked the salesperson to reboot it for the poor thing just looped and never managed to complete boot. Once they work out thee bugs I'm in
    tech_walker