We’ve been messing with PCs that could convert into tablets since the early part of this century, and it hasn’t been a pretty trip. Initially, they were expensive, bulky, and had impressively low battery life for a tablet. We didn’t know how bad that was until the less expensive iPad came out, and we got to see what a then-next generation tablet could be. Since then and up until now, we called them 2-in-1s, but they still weren’t ideal, and most of them performed like laptops, never really using the tablet capability for which users were paying. This behavior is like people who buy convertible cars but never put the top down, or SUVs on the West Coast who never actually go off-road or drive in the snow.
The new Lenovo ThinkPad Fold, starting at $2,499 and ending at $3,099, isn’t a cheap date, but it is the first laptop in some time that tries to increase the flexibility of the product. I’ve been involved with this thing since I first saw the prototype years ago, and it is a fantastic piece of technology.
Let’s talk about that this week.
The Lenovo X1 Fold
The Lenovo X1 Fold took an impressively long time to bring to market. The problem was getting rid of the crease in the screen that was evident in the early prototypes and assuring that the screen would hold up under regular use. The product is branded ThinkPad, and that brand is connected to high reliability and durability. If the screen broke, that would degrade the brand, so a ton of effort went into making a foldable screen product as robust as a laptop that didn’t have that screen.
This product is based on 50 unique patents and years of trial and error to get both the design and the usability right. The result is a product that is a light, foldable 14-inch tablet and PC that can perform reasonably well—not only in those two modes but also as a portable all-in-one WAN 5G PC.
The screen isn’t the only breakout feature of this product, but it is the killer feature. It is a 13.3-inch foldable display gives the product a 0.45 x 11.79 x 9.29-inch unfolded size and a tiny 1.09 x 6.23 x 9.29-inch carry size. And it weighs in at a svelte 2.2 lbs. (for reference, the iPad Pro with WAN is 1.42 lbs.). While it is too big to fit in a pocket, it does carry nicely in your hand, and it fits in most medium to large purses.
Battery life is decent for a small product with a big OLED screen at 10.4 hours of video playback and close to 8 hours doing light work, such email and word processing. This product is no gaming notebook, but it does use the new Intel Core i5 hybrid processor with a performance range for 1.4 GHz up to 3 GHz.
This laptop is one of the first 5G and Wi-Fi 6 notebooks, and it is a ThinkPad, so it has a Trusted Platform Module (2.0) for added security. For sound, it has four microphones and an Atmos branded speaker system. It won’t be a boombox, but it should do a decent job with music and especially with video conferencing calls. It carries basic Intel graphics, so again no gaming machine, because its focus is more on portability than on performance.
The base product comes without the optional wireless keyboard, portable mouse or pen. You can use it with any third-party mouse, and you may not need the pen, but the magnetic keyboard is a must. This is because that’s what expands this product’s flexibility—the keyboard nests on top of the screen, allowing the product to be used as a small notebook.
Now, this product shines for those that still need to work on public transportation or in coach on a plane. In laptop mode, it is exceedingly small and fits on a seat back tray very nicely. But when you get to a place where there is more space, you can unfold the display, remove the keyboard (it is Bluetooth-enabled) and break out the mouse for an all-in-one like experience. The display has a kickstand so it can stand alone in 14-inch mode, and you end up with close to a desktop experience with a portable product. That’s what makes this so flexible. In effect, you have a tiny laptop, a large tablet and a small all-in-one in one product.
Oh, and it is covered in leather, which makes carrying the product dream. I have another product covered in leather, and when I travel with it, I tend to leave my large backpack at home and carry the leather-covered laptop. It is impressive how good leather feels against plastic or metal when you have to carry a laptop all day.
I love having a product that no one else has, and a foldable screen laptop has a wow factor that I don’t think any other product in the market has today. For most, the X1 Nano, which launched alongside the Fold, is the better offering in that it is around half the price, has the same weight, nearly the same size screen, and uses the more powerful Intel Tiger Lake 11th-generation processor. Oh, and it has exposed carbon fiber on the lid, which has its own wow factor and a proximity sensor that logs you in faster than any other laptop I’ve played with so far. But it is too big for a coach airplane seat and doesn’t have the ergonomics of an all-in-one with a separate keyboard.
In the end, the product I lust for, and it is lust, is this Lenovo X1 Fold. If you need to work in coach or tight places, want more of a desktop experience when you have space (and a large screen movie viewer even when you don’t), this is an iPad Pro-class tablet. And, you also want exclusivity and can afford the cost of that exclusivity, the Lenovo X1 Fold may be the product for you.
Even if you don’t get it, it is worth checking out because the cost of foldable screens will drop, and this could still represent a future laptop purchase once the price drops into your range (I give it 3 to 5 years). Much like smartphones are exploring multiple and foldable displays, so are laptops. We’ll see how far both tend to get before head-mounted displays make them all obsolete.
Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is a nationally recognized analyst and a longtime contributor to eWEEK and Pund-IT.