We get it. You’ve already decided that folding screen devices are a Mach 3 flame-out at 85,069 feet. But hear us out, because Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 foldable prototype (it has no official name yet) just might have you thinking that you’ll never want to buy another laptop again. Seriously.
The ThinkPad X1 foldable prototype concept is simple: Take a 13.3-inch, Intel-based, full-service Windows OS-running PC/tablet/device and fold it in half, with a diagonal corner-to-corner measurement of about 10 inches. At about an inch thick, it has the feel of a medium-sized journal.
If you’re on the train or plane, you can simply open it and do your pleasure reading or browsing. While Lenovo didn’t disclose the weight, it felt close to or lighter than Apple’s iPad Pro 13, which comes in at 1.6 pounds.
Obviously, there is pen support as well. Lenovo said its folding tablet features a Wacom-enabled screen. You can also use it as a traditional clamshell and jot down notes while watching a presentation.
If you’re not into the pen thing, you can move to a mode that places a virtual keyboard for “touch typing.” While we’re not into virtual keyboards for touch typing, we do acknowledge some people somewhere actually like them.
If you’re still thinking this is just more high-falutin’ concept stuff that won’t have you ditching your Dell XPS 13 or HP Spectre x360 13 anytime soon, there is one more mode that we think might convince you, the next one below.
By folding the screen completely flat, you get a spacious 2K-resolution, 13.3-inch, 4:3 aspect ratio screen. With the included Bluetooth keyboard, you basically have a full Windows PC at your hands. There’s no compromise of a tiny screen, either.
To us, the compelling part is that once you’re done, you just fold it up to this incredibly portable package and slip it into your bag or walk out the door like you’re holding a book.
Who should buy the ThinkPad X1 foldable PC?
The ThinkPad X1 folding tablet obviously isn’t for gamers, nor is it for, say, a video editor. It’s really for those who need the capability of a full-service operating system and all the associated apps, tasks, plugins, and drivers it provides, in an ultraportable package.
Yes, a 13.3-inch ultrabook is pretty small and pretty light. But believe us when we say if we didn’t have to carry our laptop with us every day, we wouldn’t. Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 folding PC, though, is something that would have minimal footprint our bag and actually could be the ultimate in portability.
Years ago, in the pursuit of lightweight productivity (but certainly not performance), I used to drag around an Acer Windows 8 tablet with a folding keyboard and folding mouse. The setup charged from a phone charger and was invisible in a bag.
Being an Atom-based computer, it was literally slower than molasses (we eventually made peace with it). Still, it let me do almost anything that could be done on a “real” laptop—just slower.
What’s inside the ThinkPad X1 folding tablet?
We don’t expect Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 folding PC to be as slow as that Atom-based Windows 8 tablet. Lenovo won’t say what’s inside the folding PC except that it’s “Intel-based.”
Because it’s scheduled to ship sometime in 2020, we’d guess it might run Intel’s upcoming Lakefield SOC based on the Sunny Cove cores. That's just conjecture. Most of the hardware is a mystery outside of the 1,920x1,080 OLED screen that’s made by LG. Lenovo said there's also an IR camera and two USB-C ports with DisplayPort-out support. Thunderbolt 3 is not on the table.
The important figure of battery life is undisclosed, but Lenovo said it will be “all-day” battery life.
Will it break?
If you’ve followed the epic launch of Samsung’s Galaxy Fold (grab your popcorn before you read this) you know anticipation of any new folding phone, tablet or PC is going to be met with a dose of “when will it break?” skepticism.
Based on a few minutes with a prototype device that won’t come out until 2020, we can’t say how reliable the ThinkPad X1 will be. Lenovo officials said the hinge will be tested to exceed the duty cycles of its Yoga laptops by 2X. Theoretically, durability shouldn’t be an issue.
As far as the durability of the folded LG panel, well, who knows. Lenovo said the hinge itself is designed so the screen folds without compressing or stretching. That’s been a problem on some of the folding-screen devices to date.
The prototype we saw did exhibit a very light discoloration at the bend, and noticeable discoloration from off angles—but prototypes get a pass for now. Lenovo has some time to get it just right.