Gadling Gear Review: Lenovo Twist Windows 8 Laptop

Lenovo Thinkpad TwistThe advances in touch screen technology over the past few years have had an undeniable impact on how we interact with our gadgets. Touch screens have made our smartphones more responsive and have allowed tablets to become a part of our daily lives. It seems only natural that they would also be integrated into laptops and desktops, something that has become more viable thanks to the release of Windows 8 last fall. One of the first laptops to use a touchscreen in conjunction with Microsoft’s new operating system is the Lenovo Twist, a product that does an excellent job demonstrating just how this technology can change the way interact with our computers.

At its core, the Twist is an Ultrabook class laptop, tipping the scales at 3.5 pounds and just .8 inches thick. Those measurement make the Twist very portable and will likely make it a hit with travelers who want to shed some weight when hitting the road. The Twist features a 12.1″ screen driven by a competent graphics chipset that is more geared for business applications rather than 3D games. It is available with your choice of three Intel processors, up to 8GB of RAM and standard hard drives of either 320GB or 500GB. The laptop also includes a 128GB SSD drive option, which is much faster and more reliable than a traditional mechanical drive. Two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port and a 4-in-1 card reader slot round out the list of helpful features.

My test model was powered by an Intel i5 processor running at 2.6GHz and 4GB of RAM. This was more than enough horsepower to smoothly run Windows 8 and for accomplishing most day-to-day tasks. Checking email, surfing the web, writing blog posts and watching videos all went off without a hitch with the Twist barely missing a beat. Editing photos worked well too, although larger images put enough of a strain on the laptop to kick in the system fans, which is a bit jarring considering how quiet the Twist is most of the time. I wouldn’t recommend editing video on the Twist, however, as that isn’t a particular strong point for Ultrabooks in general.Those tech specs alone don’t distinguish the Twist, however, as they are pretty standard amongst thin and light Windows notebooks these days. What does separate Lenovo’s laptop from the crowd, however, is the unique touch screen display and its ability to pivot (Or twist! Get it?) on an axis point connected to the main body just above the keyboard. This gives the computer the unique ability of transforming into four different modes: Laptop, Stand, Tent and Tablet. Laptop mode functions in the traditional nature of all notebooks while Stand mode flips the screen around and away from the keyboard, allowing access to just the display itself. Tent mode rotates the contents of the display so that the Twist can stand-up on its edges, while Tablet mode folds the screen over the keyboard, making it into a large tablet. Personally, I found myself mostly using just the laptop and tablet modes, although the others will find their niche needs I’m sure.

Lenovo Thinkpad Twist in Tent ModeThe Twist’s touch screen is bright, clear and responsive, which is just what you would expect in any notebook from Lenovo. But more than that, the screen is simply fun to use, particularly in Window 8′s new interface which integrates apps with a traditional desktop interface. Anyone who has used an iOS or Android device will feel right at home here, tapping, sliding and pinching their way through any manner of apps from Angry Birds to Netflix to Skype. While the Windows 8 app store isn’t nearly as full as those two other operating systems, it still has nearly everything you could ask for and then some. Win 8′s live tiles also makes it easy to organize those apps as needed and automatically give you all kinds of information, such as Facebook status updates, news headlines and stock reports, at a glance.

When using the Twist in the traditional Windows desktop mode, the touch screen is still active and allows you to tap to open documents, launch applications and so on. But since the desktop was never designed for touch, I found it easier to revert to using the laptop’s built-in touchpad, which was functional although not as responsive as I would have liked. Lenovo has also included a touch stick integrated into the keyboard, but I’ve personally never been a fan of the nub as a way to move the cursor. If that is your favorite way to interact with a laptop, however, you’re likely to find this one to be responsive and easy to use.

Lenovo has built the Twist to be durable enough to take with us on our travels, adding in some nice features to help keep it safe. For instance, the laptop includes an active protection system that will automatically park the hard drive heads if the laptop should fall or be jostled violently. This helps prevent accidental damage to the drive, keeping our data safe and sound. Beyond that, the case is molded out of a tough magnesium alloy, which is very resistant to wear and the screen is shielded by Gorilla Glass, which does an excellent job of resisting scratches and breaking.

Battery life seems to be a bit of an Achilles heel for the Twist. Lenovo says it is capable of running for up to six hours between charges, which is about average for an Ultrabook of this type. But while testing my Twist I found that I was getting an average of just a shade over 4 hours of run-time on standard settings. Reducing the brightness of the screen and turning off Wi-Fi helped of course, but those are compromises that are tough to make. If you’re on a cross-country flight, it can help to extend your ability to use the computer, but you’ll still be looking for an outlet as soon as you land.

As with all touch screen devices, the Twist’s display can also quickly become filled with fingerprints, which is not something we’re traditionally use to from our laptops. You’ll probably want to carry a soft cleaning cloth in your laptop bag at all times to help wipe it clean. These are fairly common for smartphones and tablets these days, but you’ll find yourself needing one for this, or any other, touch screen notebook too.

If you’re in the market for a new laptop and you’re looking to harness the full potential of Windows 8, the Lenovo Twist is a fantastic choice. I found that once I started using a touch screen notebook it was incredibly difficult to go back to a standard model. Touch just seems like a natural way to interact with our devices now and anything less seems archaic in comparison. Aside from sub-par battery life, I found the Twist to be a great laptop for the average traveler’s needs, providing the ability to communicate with friends and family, while staying productive on the road. It’s lightweight and thin body make it highly portable and the touch screen simply makes it fun to use. When was the last time you could say that about your laptop?

The Twist also happens to be very competitively priced. It starts out at just $765, which is very affordable for a laptop with so many features built in.