Two Months With a Foldable PC

Over the last two months, I have had the opportunity to work with and test Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Fold, the first truly folding laptop in the market. I actually got to see a prototype of the ThinkPad X1 Fold at a Lenovo customer event in Orlando, Florida in May of 2019. What I saw there was perhaps one of the most fascinating portable computing designs I have ever seen. The notebook has always held a specific passion for me as one of my earliest projects was helping IBM work on the first clamshell laptop they brought to market in 1986.

While laptops, especially over the last 10 years, strived to be faster, smaller, lighter, and with great battery life, the actual clamshell design has had very few fundamental design changes. We did get 2-in-1’s, where the screen is detachable so it could be used as a tablet, but most still end up being some type of a clamshell design in the end.

With the Lenovo X1 Fold, this China-based PC maker has pushed the laws of physics with its clever hinge designs that are patented. They integrated a folding screen in a mobile form factor that is more like carrying a book, than any type of portable computer.

After two months of using the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold, here are some of my observations about this product, as well as my thoughts about the future of folding laptops.

1-Impressive design. One cannot look at the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold and not be impressed with its design. When you open it up from its book-like form factor, the screen folds out to become a 13 ” screen that has a stand behind it allowing it to sit upright in front of a person as a normal laptop screen does today. The keyboard sits in the center of the fold when the screen is folded. Once the screen is in place, it charges while sitting in the center of the fold and can be taken out and used for typing input. One big issue with this keyboard is that it is half the size of a full travel keyboard; so, getting used to typing on a smaller keyboard was problematic for me with my chubby fingers.

2-The screen. The screen itself is not a high-resolution screen but offers crisp text and images and is very readable. The key reason for a lower screen resolution has to do with the folding screens being made by companies like BOE and others who perfected folding screens using lower resolution screen technology. They promise the next versions could support higher resolution screens, but the first generation of folding smartphones and laptops use the best possible folding screens available at the time.

4-It uses standard Windows 10. One of the bigger promises of any folding device is having an OS that can support folding dual screens and is optimized for the kind of multitasking that should come with folding designs. Microsoft is working on a version of Windows called Windows 10X for foldable devices, but it was not ready for Lenovo to use in their first folding laptop.

When the screen is unfolded and placed to use as a normal Windows laptop, the ThinkPad X1 Fold works exactly like a normal laptop, albeit with a smaller keyboard. This is the way I used the X1 most of the time and, at least for me, this was more like a normal laptop experience I am used to using daily.

When in the slightly folded mode where you can have dedicated screens and apps to use, Windows 10 is not designed for this type of function. Yes, you can do multitasking and have multiples screens open on a Windows 10 computer, but in a foldable device, Windows 10 is not optimized yet for this type of form factor.

5-Battery life. The ThinkPad X1 fold’s battery is quite limited. At best I got about three hours of continual use. If I wanted to watch a streaming movie, battery life was just over two hours.

6- The X1 Fold has a SIM card slot. Lenovo believes that this type of device will be one you carry with you everywhere and made sure to include a sim card slot for wide-area networking. It only supports 4G in this version, but future models will support 5G modems too.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 is a marvel of innovation and design. I found it to be highly portable and most of my experiences with it were positive. I am anxious to try it with Windows 10X, but for now, and by using it more as a laptop, than an optimized folding portable, I was pleased and surprised at its ability to meet my mobile computing needs.

The bigger question that eventually needs to be answered is if there is a market for folding portable computers?

I don’t think we can answer this question based on just one folding portable computer available today. Over the next 12 months, we should see at least two other big-name PC companies release some type of folding portable that would compete with the ThinkPad X1 Fold.

We are asking a similar question about folding smartphones. We are also too early in the folding smartphone market to answer this question too. Both folding laptops and folding phones are in the highest price range in each of their categories. That means only high-end enthusiasts and ultra-early adopters will even buy these first versions.

The biggest takeaway from my experience with the ThinkPad X1 Fold is that since laptops hit the market back in 1985, we are seeing radical designs that break the clamshell mold. Thanks to folding screens, breakthroughs in hinge design, new battery technology being created for foldable of all types, PC makers are gaining a new toolbox of components that make it possible for them to innovate in mobile devices of all types.

While we may not have the proper business cases yet for folding portable computers, I truly hope that the PC makers keep the drumbeat of innovation going in mobile computing.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

2 thoughts on “Two Months With a Foldable PC”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *