Lenovo X1 Fold: First look at the folding computer

With OLED panels that can be bent so strongly that it is (almost) possible to call them folded, the step is not far to foldable gadgets with screens like this. It started with mobiles like Samsung Galaxy Fold, Huawei Mate Xs and Motorola Razr. But LG, which dominates the OLED market, has been diligent in producing flexible screen panels even in larger formats.

This is the kind of screen that underlies the Thinkpad X1 Fold from Lenovo. They call it “the host’s first foldable computer”, which feels a little strange when every single laptop is actually foldable. But “the world’s first computer with a folding screen” is perhaps not as catchy a slogan.

We already looked at a not completely final version of the computer last winter’s CES trade fair, but even then Lenovo had some refinement before it was ready for the market. It was completed in the autumn and has been available for purchase for a few months now.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Fold lined up
Thinkpad X1 Fold with included keyboard. It also sells a consumer version of the Fold that comes without a keyboard and pen. With it is not significantly cheaper so we see no point in it.

First out on the market

But it was introduced in secret, without fanfare. Now Lenovo wants to show it off and we were invited to get a demonstration and the opportunity to try it out on our own. Lenovo, on the other hand, does not lend any copies for testing, we cannot get any closer to tests than this at the moment.

It is an exciting little device. Basically a 13.3-inch Windows tablet, with an inch-thick chassis and a grip-friendly silicone-covered frame around the screen – with a hinge placed in the middle, so that the entire plate can be folded. The hinge is hidden with a leather-like exterior that also doubles as a folding support.

All bendable screens we have seen are drawn with a couple of unaesthetic peculiarities, partly a slightly wavy surface overall, as there is not a glass surface in front of the panel, partly extra deformation at the fold itself, which does not disappear even when the unit is fully raised. However, Lenovo manages to minimize these better than what we saw in the first generation of foldable mobiles. The surfaces are relatively smooth and the crease in the middle is only visible at narrow viewing angles.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Fold folded
When folded, it becomes nicely compact to carry. Like a hardcover book, in a rough way.

The small keyboard does the trick

The extra component that makes this a workable laptop is a small wireless keyboard with a built-in mouse pad. It is as wide as the plate is high, and fits exactly between the halves when we fold the computer. It attaches with a magnetic lock and on site it also automatically charges the battery in the keyboard.

With the keyboard in place and the tablet folded, Lenovo has managed to eliminate the gap that otherwise occurs, as the screen can not be folded too sharply. Otherwise, there may be a risk of dust and dirt penetrating and causing damage.

With its minimal format and lack of backlighting – to save space and battery, we assume – it is not an optimal experience to work on. But it works. The mouse pad is perhaps what suffers most from the small format. On the other hand, you have an excellent touch screen to navigate instead, so it feels less important here than in a regular laptop.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Fold weight
Nice screen and not too noticeable shifts around the crease in the middle.

Large tablet or small laptop

The computer has three main modes for use. Fully folded up, you can have it as a handheld, albeit large and heavy, tablet. Or you place it on a table with the support at the back folded up and place the keyboard in front. Then you get a Surface-like 13 inch PC.

If you fold up the tablet halfway, you can instead get an extra compact laptop. Then the keyboard is in its “charging position” and covers half the screen and the desktop surface automatically shrinks to the upper half of the screen. The result is an experience reminiscent of compact old Netbooks. Fixed with better screen and modern notebook performance under the hood.

This computer contains a tenth-generation Intel processor of the extra power-efficient Core i5-L16G7, eight gigabytes of RAM and a 256 or 512 gigabyte ssd. It is without a doubt fully capable for office work, media streaming, surfing and presentations. It also has built-in fans and active cooling, but during our time with the computer they do not start and we can not say how loud and disturbing they may be.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Fold
If you have a keyboard next to it, you get an elongated screen to use. If you place the keyboard on the lower part, it will be the usual laptop format on the upper half.

Nice picture, dim light

Since the full-frame screen has a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 pixels, you still get quite a few pixels and a nice sharp image in this mode. The screen is really high class, with close dci-p3 standard in color range and the oled panel’s 100% contrast. However, the brightness seems to be meager and can be a problem if you want to be extra mobile and be able to work in daylight. In addition, it has support for the stylus pen, which you also get on the purchase.

If you choose to run without the keyboard, you can of course use the entire screen area, but at least in the current situation there is a lack of good software applications for this, but all you get is a screen on a vertical edge with a fold in the middle. Sure, you can use the Windows on-screen keyboard, but it’s clearly inferior to a real one with physical buttons. This may change in future, similar computers, with Windows 10 X designed from the ground up for a split screen experience.

Finally, you can have the Thinkpad X1 Fold half folded up like a book. An additional feature in the software allows you to quickly split the screen into two windows. If we fold the screen a little, a small menu will appear in the corner where you choose to “split” the screen or run it continuously. It does not really share anything, but it guides open windows to one half of the screen each.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Fold

Gadget with potential, but everything depends on the apps

Does it work perfectly? Well, it’s important to be quick with the selection, the pop-up window where you can select the mode, is up annoyingly short time and when we test it does not even appear every time we fold the screen. But once in split mode, it is convenient to use and we can move windows between the two surfaces, which then automatically snap right.

But what is really needed here are good killer apps that support this type of split screen, both in height and width. And there is Lenovo’s dilemma that they are the first to enter the market. If this becomes a computer type that is more established in a year or two, more and better apps may come. Otherwise, Lenovo has to develop them themselves. We have not explored what they have to offer on that point, but it takes a lot and be well thought out to make it feel like an investment worth the money.

So far, this still feels more like a cool tech demo than a computer for everyone. Especially considering the breathtaking price of around SEK 35,000. Then it is required that you are a user whose needs match to one hundred percent what the Thinkpad X1 Fold can offer. But as a look ahead to what may become more mundane in the future, this is the best experienced experience so far.

This is what it looked like when M3.se checked out a prototype of the computer at the CES show in Las Vegas: