Nice OLED screen
Tight keyboard and touchpad
Accessories cost extra
This should be the year of the foldable dual screen laptop. With Microsoft Surface Neo in the pipeline and a specially developed version of Windows, we felt we were entering a new era of PC design innovation.
Then happened in 2020. Like many things we have been looking forward to, all of this has either been delayed or canceled entirely. Microsoft itself seems to be bowing out of the running.
Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Fold is still the only laptop that can be brought to market with a flexible screen. It's one of the most unique PCs ever made, and allows for some new experiences that feel really fresh. But is the ThinkPad X1 Fold, as a first-generation product, now with no competitors, too strange to look at by itself?
When everything is folded up, the ThinkPad X1 Fold resembles a Folio notebook. With its synthetic leather case and small footprint, you'd never guess that it could fold up into a full PC – including a keyboard and 13.3-inch screen. The professional aesthetic fits right into the ThinkPad X1 line, which was designed for a discerning and modern businessman.
All of the elements of the X1 Fold hold tightly together and it is possibly the most impressive design feature. The screen closes just as well with the keyboard as it does without. This is important because the $ 2499 base model doesn't include it.
You don't have to worry about space either. The ThinkPad X1 Fold is half the size of a standard 13-inch laptop and fits easily in a handbag or small pocket. This is the first perk of a bendable screen laptop that Lenovo uses many of them.
As a problem with many foldable devices, the ThinkPad X1 Fold cannot be as thin as other tablets or laptops when folded. It is 1.09 inches thick, closed and 0.45 inches open. Portability is the main selling point of this device and it weighs only 2.2 pounds. This makes it one of the lightest laptops you can buy.
The real magic, of course, is when you bend the screen back and see the design in all its glory. The X1 fold uses a silicone hinge and many layers of plastic to ensure that the screen can "fold" without damaging the glass. Using leather to cover the unsightly hinge on the back is awesome. The Galaxy Z Fold 2's aluminum hinge looks classy, but the ThinkPad X1 Fold makes you forget it's there itself.
The foldable screen enables a number of different “modes” for using the ThinkPad X1 Fold. The first is like a Windows tablet. You can open it flat and use it as a large screen or, easily folded, as a book. This is probably the mode I have least preferred. Windows just isn't a great platform for app-driven touch-only experiences. A bendable screen won't change that. We'll have to wait for Windows 10X to support a more rugged tablet experience.
The device has a built-in leather stand that lets the screen stand on its own and offers some helpful angles for things like zoom and YouTube. I've found that I don't use it any differently than a Surface Pro or iPad, except that the ThinkPad X1 Fold can be folded in half. The kickstand still feels a bit weak, however, and the 720p webcam above isn't as good as the 1080p options found on many tablets.
All in all, Windows software limitations would be a deal killer if only tablet use were good for the ThinkPad X1 Fold. There's even more to the story thanks to the innovative keyboard implementation.
Keyboard, touchpad and pen
The keyboard is important in making the ThinkPad X1 Fold a working product. The implementation itself is pretty clever. First, it can be magnetized to fit in the bottom half of the foldable screen, mimicking a mini laptop. The magnets feel strong enough to hold the keyboard in place but loose enough to be easily removed. With just half a 13-inch screen, it comes as close to a netbook as any laptop that hit the market in the past 10 years.
The wireless keyboard connects easily via bluetooth and charges the keyboard while it is at the top of the screen. Once the keyboard is in place, the system will automatically darken half of the lower screen and resize the screen to the upper half. It's a pretty fluid transition, switching between the different modes and orientations. Lenovo also created a manual mode switch in Windows. However, if everything is working correctly, you shouldn't have to use it.
The keyboard layout is downright strange.
When developing the keyboard, it was clear that Lenovo was careful to keep the QWERTY distance known. My hands, of course, fell right on the size and shape of the keycaps, as opposed to some smaller layouts like the Surface Go 2 Type Cover. I am happy for that. The layout, however, has a major tradeoff.
For example, your right little finger lands on the Enter key instead of the semicolon. The colon, semicolon, apostrophe, and quotation mark are blocked by the P key, which requires many keystrokes. It took some getting used to, and I would have preferred a shortened Enter key instead. It is similar with the hyphen and the plus keys.
The biggest culprit is the question mark key. It no longer has its own key, which is very inconvenient and difficult to get used to. Again, I'd be happier with a shorter shift key.
Beyond the layout, the keyboard is surprisingly easy to type. The trip is very flat but it's about what I would expect from a device like this. After all, keeping it as thin as possible is of the utmost importance. It feels a bit thick to type as a laptop because the palm rests are almost non-existent. This also means that the touchpad is very small. That is unfortunate. It's going well enough, but it feels tight.
Fortunately, once you pull the keyboard away from the screen, the device thickness problem is resolved. This is my preferred way of using the ThinkPad X1 Fold. With the screen fully open and supported by the stand, you can sit back with the keyboard and use it however you want. This is an attitude that even the Surface Pro cannot replicate. I found it ideal for getting work done thanks to the 4: 3 13-inch screen.
Of course, you'll still face the limitations of the keyboard, but the freedom of movement is excellent. If only the ThinkPad X1 Fold could act as a secondary monitor! You can of course use one of the USB-C ports to connect to an external display while the other is used for charging.
The second problem with both the keyboard and the pen, however, is that none of them are included. As with other Windows 2-in-1 devices, I would be very disappointed if I only bought the ThinkPad X1 Fold without a keyboard. This is a bummer, especially when the keyboard feels like such an essential aspect of the device.
Adding both peripherals costs an additional $ 250. This is more than what Microsoft charges for the Surface Pen and Type Cover.
Display and speaker
The foldable OLED display is the star of the show. It's a 13.3-inch screen with a resolution of 2048 x 1536. This is an aspect ratio of 4: 3 and makes the screen so different from your standard 16: 9 or 16:10 laptop. The square shape makes for a better tablet and a wonderfully large work area. Lots of space to distribute apps and display the entire length of the web pages.
The screen has a pleasantly warm tint and the color accuracy is not the strength of this laptop. Thanks to the performance limitations, you shouldn't be doing much beyond basic photo editing here anyway. With the large color spaces (100% sRGB and 97% AdobeRGB) and the striking contrast of the OLED, the ThinkPad X1 Fold is a great device for watching videos and films on the go.
The folding aspect of the screen cannot be pulled off as seamlessly as on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2. In contrast to the single fold of this device, the ThinkPad X1 Fold has a double fold. This is especially noticeable when the brightness is lowered or when the touchscreen is used, similar to the Motorola Razr folding phone in this regard. Lenovo has got off to a good start with this technology, but the creases and the obvious layer of plastic on the screen feel a little cheap under your fingers. Samsung's implementation still feels higher quality. The ribs along the bezels of the ThinkPad X1 Fold along the hinge don't help, and are highlighted by some of the thickest bezels you will ever find on a product released in 2020.
But none of that takes away the cool factor of the ThinkPad X1 Fold. It feels futuristic every time you unfold this screen and it is sure to delight your friends. Do I wish Lenovo had cut off some fat and cleaned up the bezels? Sure. If we ever get a second generation of this, there is certainly room for improvement.
The speakers suck. They're labeled Dolby Atmos, but that doesn't mean much these days.
Many tablets have fantastic audio, like the iPad or the Pixel Slate. These benefit from the fact that the speakers are located at the front next to the display. The ThinkPad X1 Fold's speakers are on the sides, which is not ideal. In addition, they sound terribly thin. Unfortunately, you get richer audio with an iPhone.
The ThinkPad X1 Fold is unique beyond its form factor. The processor inside is also an experiment. It is one of the first devices to run on Intel Lakefield chips. These are hybrid processors that combine elements from the mobile and desktop architecture. One “big” core for laptop-like performance and five “small” cores for tablet-like efficiency. The ThinkPad X1 Fold manages that, but in the end it feels more like a low-performance laptop.
Using PCMark 10 as a benchmark, the ThinkPad X1 Fold is about 25% slower than a standard laptop for basic tasks such as surfing the Internet and word processing. This has been tested on laptops like the HP Specter x360 and the Dell XPS 13, which are your standard class of Intel U-series Ultrabooks.
In Geekbench 5, it even loses to Core m3 laptops like Microsoft Surface Go 2 or Windows to ARM laptops like Lenovo Flex 5G. This applies to both single-core and multi-core processing. For a device valued at $ 2,499, that's not too promising.
The chunky performance was definitely felt when I used the ThinkPad X1 Fold for my daily work with web apps, multitasking, and productivity. Heavier tasks like 3D gaming or content creation are not allowed as this Lakefield chip does not benefit from Intel's improved Iris Xe graphics in 11th generation Tiger Lake.
The performance limitations seem reasonable when using the X1 Fold as a netbook or simple tablet. You probably don't want to do more than one task at a time with such a small screen. But when I was working with the keyboard unfolded, I wanted a faster processor.
My test unit came with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage, though you can upgrade that to 1TB for a whopping $ 3,099.
The ThinkPad X1 Fold does not have a long battery life. Thanks to Android tablets and iPads, I always expect devices like the X1 Fold to have long-lasting batteries. You always disappoint.
It pales in comparison to an iPad, but also an average laptop. The ThinkPad X1 Fold lasted six hours and 13 minutes on a single charge when surfing the Internet very lightly – but with a full display and no keyboard. Get an hour and a half more in laptop mode. That's better, but still not quite as good as similar laptops or tablets.
Most of what you can get out of the X1 Fold is more than nine hours that the device took on local video playback.
The ThinkPad X1 Fold is the kind of laptop I want to love. There were moments while using the device that I experienced the spark of innovation that makes it so unique. It remains one of the most exciting PCs to hit in 2020.
But between these exciting experiences lie moments of frustration, confusion and disappointment. Too many to make this one that can be recommended to everyone except the most adventurous early adopters.
Are there alternatives?
The ThinkPad X1 Fold is the first of its kind. However, the experience of using it is most similar to a 2-in-1 device like the Surface Pro 7, Surface Go, or even an iPad Pro. The ThinkPad X1 Fold is by far the most expensive of these devices – and the slowest.
But once you include its foldable screen, it stands alone. On the smartphone side, however, devices like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 or Motorola Razr could cause the same pliable screen scratch.
How long it will take?
Durability is an open question about the ThinkPad X1 Fold and not one that I can currently answer. You open and close it much less than on a smartphone, that's for sure. For what it's worth, the hinge feels sturdy enough for years to come.
The bigger problem is performance and software. The X1 Fold already feels chunky and that won't improve over time. With Microsoft's lighter Windows 10X operating system coming out next year, you might want to too
Should you buy it?
No. It's expensive, first-generation hardware that doesn't have the software support to be successful.