Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon Table PC $999

11th Jan 2013 | 23:52

Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon Table PC

Running battery benchmarks on a Windows 8 All in One? We're in undiscovered territory now…

TechRadar rating:

3.5 stars

First off, if you're looking for an All in One that can run on a battery, look no further. The IdeaCentre Horizon 27 is the only one. As it stands, the Horizon feels like a prototype device that has the benefit of also being a nice-looking All in One that can lie flat.

Like:

Great 27-inch HD multi-touch display; Good AIO functions; Attractive; Interesting potential; Elegant and unique; Battery lets it go untethered; Custom UI and games;

Dislike:

Bulky, heavy; Table-top functions limited; Average performance; No Ethernet jack;Who has room for this?;

Introduction

Lenovo's release of the decidedly forward-thinking 27-inch IdeaCentre Horizon makes it clear that part of this PC-builder's strategy is to push the envelope both in terms of form and function.

Given how rapidly the tides are changing around traditional PC builds, this seems like a sound strategy. The more we hear the phrase "post-PC" (insert the words "era" or "world" at your discretion), the more it seems likely that hybrid, multi-function devices like the Yoga or this table-top system will play a key role in this future.

The beauty of a progressive hybrid system like the Yoga or this system is that, if designed properly, they can work well in basic modalities, even if they only achieve marginal effectiveness in the more experimental aspects of their existence.

This is precisely the case with the Windows 8-based IdeaCentre. Lenovo calls it a table-top PC, and the system lives up to this—conceptually at least.

It's capable of standing straight up, but can also lie flat on its back. To drive home the intent of this form-factor, the system comes with a number of games, peripherals and accessories. We're talking board games, electronic dice, a custom touch interface, and more.

After testing the Horizon for a few weeks, however, we found ourselves hard-pressed to imagine circumstances where we'd reliably use this system in table-top mode instead of a more conventional tablet. The heft and size of the Idea Center compounded this sentiment.

But, as far as All in One systems go, the Idea Center is top-notch, with a gigantic, beautiful screen and a fair price—even if the performance is average at best.

So how does it all balance out? Let's get into the specs, performance, and usefulness—real, potential, and otherwise—of this forward-thinking but unorthodox system now.

Looks and tastes like an All in One

Like most All in One PCs, the first (and pretty much only) thing you'll notice about this system is its screen. The Horizon's 27-inch screen is attractive—and huge. With an extra inch and half of bezel around the display, we're talking about 30 inches diagonally across.

When Lenovo first announced the IdeaCentre at CES 2013, critics referred to it as a gigantic Windows 8 tablet. The notion of a 27-inch tablet sounded preposterous then, and testing bears that out. The Horizon weighs 19 pounds, which means it's not the kind of system you can quickly and easily lug around. You certainly won't be holding it on your lap.

This said, it's not so big and heavy that you couldn't move it from room to room as situations demand. At least the presence of a battery as well as surprisingly solid battery life means that you don't have to lug and plug the power brick around—as long as you're not going to be using it for hours.

The best category to place the Horizon is the one Lenovo has created for it: a new version of the kitchen or family room table-top PC. But in almost every way—kickstand, all-glass surface, and remote keyboard/mouse—this system looks like a pretty conventional All in One. When viewed through this lens versus the more potential-laden lens of a futuristic tablet-top system, mostly people will find themselves okay with the look and feel of this system.

Aesthetically, the Horizon is modern contemporary, with a black bezel and a fairly slim profile. There's nothing fancy here. No crazy lights or power-acrylic bezels or odd dimensions. And we like that. We appreciate the subtle LED notifications in the bottom left-hand corner of the system—bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and battery indicators are here.

The bottom right-hand corner features a set of touch controls for rotating the screen, switching the video input (to/from external HDMI), adjusting the brightness, and adjusting the volume. A slightly recessed rubberized edge completes the Horizon's simple, subtle approach.

The presence of such a large bezel seems unnecessary with such a large screen, but given that many of Windows' key gestures entail swiping from off-screen to on-screen, it's understandable. Still though, a no-bezel approach would give the Horizon an simpler modern aesthetic than it has now.

The good news is that all this on-screen real-estate isn't wasted. The 27-inch screen is a 1080p display with full 10-finger touch functionality. Given the real estate of this screen as well as its suitability for both games and standard computing tasks, we found ourselves desperately wishing for greater-than-HD resolutions, like the latest iMac's 2560 x 1440 pixels.

The bundled Bluetooth keyboard is pretty standard fare. It's close to full-size, and in true Lenovo style given the company's great laptop keyboards, is extremely comfortable. The Bluetooth mouse is curvy and modern, but will feel too lightweight for serious gaming purposes.

...And now it's a table PC

Bolted onto the back of the Horizon is a high-tension, spring-mounted kickstand that allows you to quickly and easily move the system flat on its backside by putting pressure on the top-front of the PC. (This action also automatically launches Aura, Lenovo's custom touch interface, described below.)

That's convenient, but the tension in the spring on this kickstand only makes it possible to place the device in three positions: flat on a tablet, perfectly upright, and slightly tilted back. To be fair, these positions are what most users will use, but if you want finer control of the Horizon's viewing angle, you won't be able to accomplish that.

The system uses its own weight (almost 19 pounds) to keep the kickstand from springing back when it lays in table-top mode, and it has enough tension and force that you'll find yourself surprised at how hard the stand kicks out when you stand it back up. It's not dangerous, but it feels that way from time to time.

Specifications and performance

Specifications

This All in One is loaded pretty nicely, with a mid-high-end CPU, discrete graphics, and lots of storage space.

The configuration we received had the following components and specifications:

  • CPU: Dual-core 2.0GHz Intel Core i7 3537U
  • Video: Intel HD Graphics 4000 and Nvidia GeForce 2GB GT 620M
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM
  • Windows 8 64-bit
  • 5400 rpm 1TB drive with 8GB SSD

On the surface, the inclusion of Intel's new low-voltage Ivy Bridge-based Core i7 mobile processor is surprising, until you consider that at least part of the intent of the IdeaCentre Horizon is to exist in an unplugged state.

The Core i7 3537U hums along at 2.0GHz, and has a maximum turbo mode of 3.1GHz when a single core is running. The processor does allow one virtual thread per core, allowing for four simultaneously operating threads. The need to preserve battery life does result in a compromise around performance, however, which will disappoint those looking for higher-end CPU performance.

This said, the inclusion of a discrete graphics part to complete the Core i7's integrated graphics does indicate that Lenovo wants this to be a quasi-gaming build. The 2GB version of Nvidia's GT 620M is a year-old entry-level part, so it's a fairly cheap way for Lenovo to generate a little extra oomph around 3D graphics. You shouldn't expect to be able to play games at anything greater than 1366 x 768 resolution. Hey, it's better than nothing.

The 27-inch screen notwithstanding, this is pretty standard for a $1,849.00 All in One system. By way of comparison, a few months ago we reviewed Acer's Aspire 7600U-UR308, which cost $50 more for roughly the same components and the same size screen.

(It must be noted that Dell's XPS One 27 also costs the same price, but has a 2560x1440 display. The Horizon 27 can also be configured with a 1.8GHz Intel Core i7 3427U processor for a lower price of $1,699.)

On the right side of the system are an HDMI in port, two USB super speed ports, and audio in/out. An HD webcam is integrated into the top of the system.

Be warned: If you're looking for the fastest possible Internet connection, the lack of an Ethernet jack may prove frustrating. Similarly, if you're planning on using an All in One to watch Blu-Ray movies, it's important to note that the IdeaCenter Horizon has no optical drive at all.

Finally, the Horizon comes with a number of unique peripherals that enhance the table-top touch experience, including electronic dice and joystick-looking controllers that allows you to play the bundled air hockey and fishing games.

Performance

Here's the short version of how Lenovo's IdeaCenter Horizon 27 stacked up in terms of our benchmarks:

3DMark06: 7,515

Cinebench 10 single-core: 4,967

Cinebench 10 multi-core: 10,260

Call of Duty 4: 72 frames per second

Battery Eater: 1 hour, 53 minutes, 23 seconds

Our take on the numbers above? For an All in One, the Horizon performs at the lower end of our expectations for the category. It's not bad, but it's also not great.

Given Lenovo's ability to engineer some fairly high-end parts—including dual GPUs—into its surprisingly affordable Y500 gaming laptop (which we reviewed a few months ago), we admit to hoping for a little more bang for the buck here.

It's clear that Lenovo is serious about the expanded mobile nature of this system; how else to explain the use of an ultra-low voltage dual-core Core i7 as well as the year-old discrete graphics part? Neither throw out particularly great performance, but that's not the intent here.

The good news is that these efforts aimed at portability pay off. In our Battery Eater test, which stresses all CPU cores and components, the Horizon performed extremely well, lasting just under two hours. That's impressive, and is considerably faster than most dedicated gaming laptops.

By way of comparison, the Horizon is only slightly faster than Acer's Aspire 7600U-UR308 AIO in single-core CPU tests—no small feat given the faster clock speed (2.5GHz Core i5 3210) of Acer's system. Unfortunately, the Horizon ran slightly slower in multi-proc tests as well as 3D graphics.

We panned the Aspire 7600U because in addition to the lower-end benchmark numbers it put up, it also felt extremely pokey in day to day operations. This is not a problem here. Start-up, switching between users, and most other functions were hiccup free, most likely because of the 8GB SSD, which caches the most frequently used software.

Regardless, if performance is important to you, and price-power-performance ratios are less important, you may want to consider an AIO with more graphics and/or processing power.

Some unique table-top touch functions

The Horizon is a Windows 8 system, so the usual host of features and functions (and frustrations, for some) are here.

However, in order to further emphasize the table-top nature of the PC, Lenovo has developed its own custom Win8 UX named Aura. This interface skin is literally built for a table. This means a circular, 360 degree interface that allows anyone sitting around a table to quickly select options and activities.

If you're thinking to yourself that a custom skin built for a fairly unique and specific use must not have a whole lot of available software options, you are correct. At review time, the activities are limited to what Lenovo has bundled with the device and/or worked on development partners with.

For the most part, the end result is fairly uninspiring…at least for now. Monopoly, Air Hockey, Poker, Roulette, and a few custom games are available. Yes, these are table-top games, and they take advantage of the special controllers Lenovo has bundled with this system, including joystick-shaped air hockey controllers bearing sensors that the Aura interface can detect, but they're not particularly exciting over long stretches of time. Truth be told, they're kind of boring once the novelty value of playing games on an enormous tablet wears off.

Games like Lenovo Tycoon are only a little more interesting because they allow you to play with the e-dice that Lenovo has bundled with the system. E-dice work just like regular dice—you roll them on top of the screen—except that the Horizon is able to detect what number you've rolled. (The other big difference: you have to charge e-dice.)

So who would be interested in using the Horizon in table mode? I could imagine a group of kids being interested in playing games on this thing for a short amount of time.

Another possibility: board game fans, assuming that Lenovo is able to convince some of them to make games for the Aura skin.

Verdict

To be fair to Lenovo, there are some interesting possibilities here, but in an era where we're more accustomed to passing a tablet around to play instead of sitting around a bigger device, it's hard to imagine these possibilities being realized anytime soon.

We liked

The Horizon's 27-inch screen is easily its best attribute. It's big, it's bright, it's beautiful, and the multi-touch functions work well in a dedicated touch environment.

Aesthetically, the Horizon is attractive enough, even if the extra-wide bezel adds to its size. In the AIO category, simple is good, and Lenovo nails the look and feel here perfectly.

It's a small thing, but we love the decision to integrate a smaller 8GB SSD cache into the hard drive. In comparison to other similarly built systems, it does appear to offer a little extra kick in OS performance.

Finally, we love what the IdeaCentre represents: creative, progressive design and thinking from a PC manufacturer. The fact that Lenovo is pushing the envelope in terms of PC form and function is a good thing. It may not pay off here and now—the notion of a table-top PC with a battery-only mode doesn't feel super relevant today. But in time, who knows?

One other thing: We were greatly impressed by the Horizon's Battery Eater benchmark performance. The fact that it has a battery at all is impressive enough. The fact that it can run for two hours unplugged is even better.

We disliked

We're not typically fans of custom OS skins, but in this case, it's justifiable. Windows doesn't have a table-top mode (unless you count the original Surface), so Lenovo had to create one.

This won't change the fact that developer support will be negligible. This will be a problem for people who buy this PC for the table-top games and other functions.

More than anything else, however, we wish the IdeaCentre had more kick to it. Aside from the need to preserve battery life (which is a small percentage of likely use cases), there's no good reason for Lenovo to not have used a faster CPU and GPU. In this day and age of thermally efficient processors, we're surprised we're not seeing faster All in Ones.

Another thing we don't like is the Horizon's weight, which is typical for an All in One, but at just under 19 pounds, doesn't exactly make this a portable system. Room to room, yes, but not over long distances.

Finally, we're still concerned that for systems like this, Windows 8 remains a limiting factor. Like a lot of other Win8 devices we've tested, the Horizon exposed some fairly egregious flaws. We're learning how to live without the Start button, but here's another example: While logging into our guest network, we were prompted with a password prompt. But no virtual keyboard came up—despite the fact that no keyboard was connected to the system.

It's a small pain, but Windows 8 systems should automatically know that if there is no physical keyboard attached, the OS should bring up the virtual keyboard in all instances where text input is required.

Final Verdict

First off, if you're looking for an All in One that can run on a battery, look no further. The IdeaCentre Horizon 27 is the only one.

As it stands, the Horizon feels like a prototype device that has the benefit of also being a nice-looking All in One that can lie flat.

We use the word prototype because it's not clear that the computing world needs a tablet that is integrated into (or rests on top of) a table. With this system, Lenovo is attempting to prove that we do.

This said, 10 years ago, no one but Microsoft and a few of its PC-building partners thought that the world needed tablets, so who knows?

There are some other interesting long-term implications of this system's design. First, a battery-powered AIO is a great idea. We expect to see more of this in the future.

Second, a slimmer (or flexible) display would make this kind of device more practically, and possibly even a winner down the road. If you accept the notion that someday soon, computers will be integrated into all sorts of everyday objects like furniture, tables, and more, then the Horizon begins to make more sense.

Finally, Lenovo is engineering some surprisingly innovative PC products these days. Not every one of its products will be successful, but there's really no other way to move into the new age of computing we're all heading towards except to dive in. It's a lesson other PC manufacturers would do well to consider.

CES CES 2013 Lenovo desktop Windows 8 TRBC
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