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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold review: Hands on with the most revolutionary laptop of CES 2020

Tim Danton
6 Jan 2020

Lenovo joins the ranks of manufacturers building folding devices with pro-focused ThinkPad X1 Fold

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Words to describe the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold? Let’s start with “innovative”. When describing the ThinkPad X1 Fold to me, my Lenovo guide used a sentence that included “new wave”, “sea change” and “inflection point”, and he’s right to be so excited: there has never been a product like the X1 Fold before. The question I hope to answer in this first-look Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold review is whether you should horde your pennies to buy it when it’s released this summer or whether you should dismiss it out of hand and simply buy a normal laptop.

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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold: Key features and release date

  • Flexible 13.3in 2,048 x 1,536 resolution OLED
  • Intel Core Processor with Intel Hybrid Technology
  • Intel UHD Gen11 Graphics
  • 8GB LPDDR4X 4,267MHz RAM
  • Up to 1TB PCIe SSD
  • Bluetooth keyboard and Active Pen stylus included
  • Wi-Fi 6 (802.11AX) wireless
  • 1 x USB Type-C Gen 1, 1 x USB Type-C Gen 2, 1 x SIM card, 1 x DisplayPort via USB Type-C
  • 299 x 236mm x 11.5mm (WDH unfolded including leather cover)
  • 158.2 x 236 x 27.8mm (WDH folded with cover)
  • 999g
  • Price: $2,499 from www.lenovo.com/uk
  • Release date: Summer 2020

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold: What is it anyway?

First and foremost, this is a Windows 10 Pro computer. It’s based on what Lenovo refers to as an “Intel Core processor with Intel Hybrid Technology” and Lenovo insists it’s designed to be your primary device: it isn’t a companion system. While there’s only 8GB of RAM, you can order it with up to 1TB of storage.

Its key ingredient is, of course, the foldable screen. When folded out flat, it’s a 13.3in tablet. When folded up, it’s roughly the size of a paperback book. It comes complete with a detachable keyboard and a stylus, too, meaning it can double up as a laptop and a digital notepad for meetings.

In short, it’s damned clever.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold: Why would I want this?

Before I answer this question directly, it’s worth noting where Lenovo is positioning the Fold. ThinkPad is Lenovo’s flagship business line of laptops, and the X1 its top-of-the range line for the highest of high-flying executives. This is a computer aimed at a similar type of person, and it’s priced to match: $2,499.

So, I’ll be blunt. One reason you might want this is for the pose factor. “Oh, have you all brought laptops? How 2019. I’ve brought my foldable computer.”

But there are other reasons to consider it. If you’re travelling all the time, having a computer the size of a paperback means it takes up less room in your bag (Lenovo quotes a weight of 999g, but that’s without the keyboard). Plus, thanks to a clever stand built into the leather case, you can pop it in a standing position - perfect for watching films.

Alternatively, you might on a train and start off the journey standing up as there’s no room. Here, you can hold the X1 Fold like a book. When you get a seat, you can open up the Fold to enjoy the full 13.3in screen.

Tenuous? Maybe. But bear in mind this is a new form factor. Software and services may yet arrive that make it useful in ways we can’t currently imagine.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold: The software

As I mentioned at the top of this review, the X1 Fold uses Windows 10 Pro. Lenovo isn’t ruling out releasing a version with Windows 10X, the version of Windows specifically designed for dual screens, but that may well come later.

For the moment, it’s added its own software to make window handling work. You can see it in the screen below: simply take your pick from the three options.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold: the keyboard

You can tap away using Windows’ on-screen keyboard but by far the better option is to use the (bundled) detachable, Bluetooth, mechanical keyboard. This slots neatly into position over the lower-half of the screen, and the X1 is designed so you can fold it up with the keyboard in place. It even charges the keyboard while tucked inside, which is very neat.

In some ways, it’s an excellent keyboard, too. It has enough travel on the keys to give each press a decisive feel and Lenovo does its very best to squeeze as much out of the space available as it can. There’s even room for a tiny touchpad underneath.

Inevitably, though, you will hit compromises. I’m a half-decent touch typist but on my first foray with the X1 Fold’s keyboard I mishit about one key in four. I’m optimistic that will improve with practice but it’s never going to rival a full-size keyboard.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold: the folding technology

The Fold uses an OLED screen, and note that it has to be OLED. All bendable screens need a plastic substrate rather than glass, and IPS technology uses a glass substrate.

Lenovo is keen to point out all the effort it has put into creating a folding mechanism that will last the life of the X1 Fold. In particular, it’s been designed for a “three-to-five-year lifecycle” but Lenovo wouldn’t say exactly how many folds that means.

The three main challenges it faces are impact, dents and scratches. The latter is handled by a layer of Corning-made glass (Corning manufactures Gorilla Glass), while there’s a sheet of stainless steel under the panel to protect against dents and impacts.

Further protection comes from a pair of carbon-fibre plates which the steel attaches to. When you flatten out the fold, these slot into place to create one solid plane. However, when you unfold the Fold they split into two. A reinforced plastic hinge “protects and cradles” the device.

The final protection comes from the X1 Fold’s magnesium chassis and leather surround. This means the Fold is relatively fat when compared to a modern tablet like the most recent iPad but I know which I’d be happier to sling unprotected into a bag.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold: Early verdict

The ThinkPad X1 Fold is clever, innovative and striking. If you buy one, you will surely be the talk of your town/office/train carriage. Is it the start of something truly revolutionary? If I was to be forced to answer yes or no at gunpoint, which I’m hoping won’t happen, then I’d say no. The “use cases” simply aren’t compelling enough.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a waste of money if you do decide to buy one. If, as Lenovo promises, there’s enough processing power to use the X1 Fold as your main computer then much of the time its form factor will be irrelevant. You’ll be using an external keyboard, mouse and monitor anyway. Lenovo will also be selling a simple stand, for $24, designed for use on a desk.

There are questions I’d want answered before I were to commit, however. First, battery life. Lenovo promises up to 11 hours from the 50Wh battery but let’s test that before we get too excited. Second, am I liking that keyboard after a week’s use or do I want to cry every time I see it? I just don’t know yet.

The summer, when it’s due for release and a proper test, can’t come soon enough.

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