Hands-on with Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 foldable Windows PC

Windows PCs are about to get a whole lot more exciting thanks to foldable screens.

Lenovo, the legendary computer hardware experimenter (remember its dual-screen, half e-ink Yoga Book?), announced today what it’s calling the world’s first foldable Windows PC.

The device unfolded is a full-fledged 13.3-inch tablet running Windows. But bend it in half, and the device (branded as part of Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 family) transforms into a mini laptop about the size of a paperback.

As with foldable phones, I’m still incredibly skeptical of devices with bendable screens. Don’t get me wrong: foldable devices look super cool. But whether they’re practical and durable enough to withstand the rigors of day-to-day use is something we just don’t know yet. Samsung’s Galaxy Fold isn’t off to a great start, for example. Can you really trust Lenovo to build a foldable PC?

Though Lenovo’s device won’t come out until next year, the company did show us a working prototype to play with for a few minutes.

But first, let’s talk about the hardware. Lenovo was reluctant to share too many details — it’s understandable since the device launch is still a year away and many features could change — but we have some specs:

  • Intel processor (unspecified)

  • 13.3-inch OLED display (2K resolution) made by LG Display when open

  • Dual 9.6-inch screens when folded up

  • “All day battery” (unspecified hours)

  • 2x USB C ports

  • IR camera

  • Stereo speakers

  • Supports Bluetooth keyboard and Wacom stylus

As a device that’ll sport the ThinkPad X1 branding, Lenovo envisions the foldable device being used mostly by working professionals. Lenovo says it thinks the foldable device will be a good fit for road warriors and business executives who want the versatility of a device that’s capable of handling “real work” normally accomplished on a laptop, but also demand portability.

Lenovo's foldable device is about the size of a paperback when it's folded up.

Lenovo’s foldable device is about the size of a paperback when it’s folded up.

Image: raymond wong / mashable

In my demo, Lenovo showed me a variety of ways in which the foldable device might be used. In full-screen mode, the device works like a large tablet and users can watch a video or toss up a PowerPoint presentation.

You really can't see the crease in the display when the device is completely open in tablet mode.

You really can’t see the crease in the display when the device is completely open in tablet mode.

Image: raymond wong / mashable

Here you can see how the screen folds in half like a book for display two "pages" of content.

Here you can see how the screen folds in half like a book for display two “pages” of content.

Image: raymond wong / mashable

Folded up, though, the tablet morphs into small laptop-like device with half of the screen used as a regular screen and the other as a touchscreen keyboard. This is just one scenario where the bottom screen can used for input. It’s possible other apps could use the second screen for different control layouts. For example, I could see a DJ app using the bottom half of the foldable screen for a digital deck, knobs, and sliders.

Unlike on an iPad, a foldable display allows the on-screen keyboard to not block the body of an email.

Unlike on an iPad, a foldable display allows the on-screen keyboard to not block the body of an email.

Image: RAYMOND WONG / MASHABLE

Not everyone’s gonna enjoy typing on the touchscreen display, though. For more serious users who need a more tactile typing experience, there’s also a slim Bluetooth keyboard included. A Wacom stylus is also included for handwriting, drawing, and annotating.

A Bluetooth keyboard comes with the foldable device and is a must for working professionals.

A Bluetooth keyboard comes with the foldable device and is a must for working professionals.

Image: RAYMOND WONG / MASHABLE

However, the burning question everyone wants to know about is: How does the crease look? Actually, not bad! The crease is more visible in photos and videos, but in person, when the device is completely unfolded, it’s almost impossible to see. It’s impressive to say the least and one of the most impressive bendable screens I’ve yet seen so far.

How well the foldable screen holds up long term is a different question. Lenovo says it’s engineered the device to the same durability standards that ThinkPads have come to be known for. As such, it’s testing the hinge to endure twice the amount of cycles that hinges are rated for in its regular laptops.

Lenovo says the hinge will be tested to be more durable than the hinges on its laptops.

Lenovo says the hinge will be tested to be more durable than the hinges on its laptops.

Image: RAYMOND WONG / MASHABLE

My time with Lenovo’s foldable PC was short. The software was buggy and the device crashed a few times. Still, it was enough to get an idea of what a foldable PC is going to look like and what it’ll be like to work on one. I’m most impressed by the foldable screen when it’s open, but there’s no getting around the thickness when it’s closed up. 

There’s still a lot of details we don’t know about the device like how much it’ll cost (my guess is it’ll be really expensive) and how well apps will adapt to the different modes when the screen is bent.

Lenovo’s never been shy to try new form factors and its foldable Windows PC is definitely eye-catching and refreshing, but is it really solving a problem? In a world where iPad Pros are getting more PC-like for “real” productivity, small 2-in-1s like the Surface Go are enough to get real work done, and more people are using phones to do most of their mobile computing, I’m not really sure road warriors are pining for this kind of product. 

Maybe I’m wrong and foldable PCs are the next big thing, but I remain skeptical they’ll be more than a passing fad.

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