Are you thinking of choosing between a laptop and a tablet? Lenovo’s answer to that predicament is simple — why not have both? And their solution comes in the form of one of their newest products, Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold.
It’s a device with a foldable that can essentially function as both a laptop and a tablet. Now, foldable screens are nothing new, having already been out on the market for a couple of years, but the technology has been chiefly used exclusively for smartphones. The X1 Fold would be the first foldable to come out for PCs.
Indeed, Lenovo has even elected to introduce it through their ThinkPad line, primarily renowned for having some of the most premium quality laptops available, so it is intriguing to see whether the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold has earned the right to be alongside their quality.
Build Quality and Design
With this being the first of its kind, it’s no surprise to see the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold coming with its unique design.
When folded, it’s hard even to distinguish it as something electronic. The exterior comes clad in this leather cover with just a portion of plastic around the edges. When you carry it around, it looks like you’re holding onto a really nice-looking hardcover book, and it is functional as well since the material makes it easy to grip and hold on.
Opening the device Fold has the cover intelligently sliding out to cover the plastic area, so when the device is fully unfolded, the back is completely covered in leather. But it doesn’t just look good; it also has another trick up its sleeve as well. You can pop out one of the edges to reveal a hidden kickstand to prop the device upright, and it holds it up well too, at least when it is in a landscape position. Propping it up to use vertically is decidedly less balanced and stable.
An optional special mini keyboard can be purchased for the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold as well, and it integrates well with the device. It connects wirelessly to the X1 Fold, and it simply snaps onto the device magnetically.
And there isn’t a need to get a carrying case for it too, you can simply close the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold with the keyboard still attached, and it will sit snugly in between. Also, some props should also be given to the keyboard having a small loop at the side that helps hold the included pen stylus.
There is an inherent sleekness to the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold, from the premium look and build to how everything operates in tandem — it shows that a lot of thought was put into the overall design and functionality.
The only real nitpicks that I have about it functionally is that the device is a little hard to open because of how strong the magnets are. It’ll take you some time to get used to finding the kickstand if you’re blindly feeling around; there’s a chance you’ll accidentally pull the wrong edge and damage the device if you aren’t careful.
And while I am very pleased with how it looks aesthetically, I would be mindful of how long it can actually last. Already I can see hints of creases on the area of the leather where it is being folded.
For the screen, visible bezels surround it, but it’s not that much thicker than what you get with the iPad Pro; it isn’t quite minimalist, but it isn’t terrible. It does make the laptop mode a little less appealing to use though, as the bezels are a tad more since you can only use half the screen.
The thicker bezels do mean that Lenovo was able to fit a webcam onto the device. However, from the way it is orientated, it would seem that the only way to get a good angle to use the camera would be to have the X1 Fold in a landscape position.
Port selection is unfortunately very limited on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold, with only two USB-C ports and a micro SIM card slot available. No headphone jack is undoubtedly a massive miss.
The placement of the USB-C slots is peculiar as well. When using the X1 Fold as a laptop, the slots can be found at the screen’s top and left side. Most USB-C hubs use a short wire connector, and it’ll immediately become clear that there isn’t an elegant way to connect to the port — the side port is slightly elevated, meaning that a hub will not sit flat against a surface while connecting it to the top port will have it dangle precariously.
While not to the same extent, using it with the full screen also presents its own issues. Because of where it is located, one of the ports becomes unusable when the device is propped up with the kickstand since it is situated on the underside and is obstructed as it rests against the surface. The loss of one port isn’t the be-all and end-all, but it could prove annoying when trying to charge the device while using it if your hub does not have charging capabilities.
On the weight of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold, though it doesn’t weigh heavily in comparison to laptops, it does comfortably outweigh the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro (coming in just shy of a kilogram).
The weight is more compact, so there is a heft feeling when carrying it, especially when it is closed and unfolded. That isn’t to say that the device is hard to carry, but you might get thrown off by how the weight is distributed when it looks so small.
When fully unfolded flat, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold’s screen measures at 13.3-inches, which is typical for what you’ll get in an ultrabook but is enormous in terms of tablets. You also get touch capabilities with the display, though it unfortunately comes with a rather unglamorous glossy finish that attracts a gross amount of fingerprints.
I’m a big advocate for big screens, and using the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold’s full display as a tablet/monitor is so satisfying. Seeing web pages and videos appear large and easy to see is an absolute delight. Perhaps it’s because I’m thinking about it from a tablet user’s perspective — everything being bigger just makes the experience feel better.
With its resolution coming in at 2048 x 1536, whatever is showcased on the display comes out sharp and crisp. It also gets you a unique aspect ratio of 4:3, which for the most part, didn’t hinder me.
The panel it uses is also an OLED one, so colours look exceptionally rich, which has been great for my video-watching experience either on YouTube or Netflix. The screen isn’t the brightest however, so you might find trouble with it under environments with bright lighting, especially since the screen is so glossy.
Being a foldable device though, the screen can be split in half to present different ways to enjoy the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold. The device has software built into it called “Lenovo Mode Switcher”, which detects when you fold the screen and asks if you want to split your programs onto the screen’s two halves. It then places your programs on either side of each other to view, like a book.
Alternatively, you can reposition the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold to a clamshell position and attach the mini keyboard on the bottom half of the screen to have it function as a miniature laptop.
Both ways are usable, with the former catering to the multi-tasking crowd in particular. Some may not like using it in clamshell mode though, given that the screen size is cut in half; the loss in screen real-estate limits what you can see at one time.
Of course, creases on the screen is a particular issue that people are wary of. When not in use, you can see creases when the device folds. Luckily, this does not extend over to when the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is switched on. It is indistinguishable to the eye when things are visible on the screen.
The only instance where you might notice the crease is when you get glare and reflection onto the screen under bright environments, and even then, it is only really obvious when you look at the display off-centre.
As mentioned before, the mini keyboard is an optional purchase. But with how it is constructed, I believe that it is an essential part of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold.
It is an impossibly thin keyboard that is also light to carry, but the best thing about it is that it still could recreate the feeling of typing on a ThinkPad keyboard — a key selling point for the ThinkPad series.
Of course, it doesn’t quite have the key travel distance as their regular laptops, but it is certainly evocative. The mini keyboard gives off a satisfying level of actuation force when pushing down on it, and the same U-shaped design on its laptop counterpart also is featured here, which adds that extra level of ‘oomph’ when typing on it.
They’ve also managed to get a touchpad onto it despite its small size, and it has most of the swipe gestures that we’ve become accustomed to and clicking onto it registers a good amount of feedback. The cost of including it means that its size is much smaller, and your fingers have less space to travel when using it.
Though I’ve mentioned that the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold can feel a little hefty, it still is a device with a tiny form factor. So it is a wonder how they managed to pull off fitting in a CPU onto it. This was possible with the choice of processor Lenovo went with — an Intel i5- L16G7 Core Processor.
If you aren’t familiar with what it is, it is a processor with a hybrid CPU architecture specifically designed for devices on the smaller end of the scale like ultra-thin laptops or tablets — think something like the ARM architecture.
Lenovo boasts that the processor is still able to provide enough power for things like content creation, but they are perhaps a little too optimistic with this.
Running Cinebench R23 on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold did not yield great results, getting a score of 1719 and 523 for the Multi-Core and Single Core tests, respectively. Those are really low scores, especially when you compare it to budget or mid-level laptops that cost three or four times lower and can attain similar, if not better scores. Simply put, if your workflow requires editing processes, this device should not be near your considerations.
Coupled with the equipped Integrated Intel UHD GPU, unless you plan to play the most casual of casual video games, I would consider trying to game on it to be bordering on suicidal in terms of experience. Something like the first Portal game is fine, but anything more doesn’t work great — even 2013’s Tomb Raider has trouble hitting 30 fps on the lowest setting!
With such drab results showcased, it was a pleasant surprise to see that using the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold for productivity work wasn’t bad. In fact, it was alright!
There’s some sluggishness to web browsing for sure; going full screen, for instance, takes just an extra second for the device to do. But otherwise, the experience has largely been consistent across the board. It can handle multiple programs and tabs on the web browser without really seeing any slowdown.
Instead, much of the problems I’ve noticed with the device comes down to the software. Sometimes, things don’t work. I’ve had multiple occasions where the X1 Fold doesn’t recognise that I’ve unattached the mini keyboard from the screen and half the screen stays blacked out until I redo the process.
Another frustrating thing that I’ve experienced is that browser windows won’t stick to one side of the screen in the split-screen mode when you maximise it. Instead, it takes up the whole screen, so you have to manually use the Mode Switcher again to set it up correctly. It simply isn’t optimised right now, and I’m not sure how long it will take for Windows to update it to a more acceptable level.
A final drawback of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold that I would like to point out is that despite being able to use it as a tablet, you miss out on a lot of great tablet functionality. This is a Windows computer through and through, and a lot of things that would otherwise be a cinch on tablets — like navigation — take a longer time to do on this device.
With the processor advertised to compare similarly to ARM-based devices, there would be some expectation that it’ll also get the same benefit of having a long battery life, but that would not be the case for the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold.
The equipped 50 Wh battery inside nets you slightly below 7 hours and a half hours worth of video playback use. This was garnered from using 80% brightness and being on Better Battery mode.
Using just one half of the screen doesn’t elicit much better results. I was only able to get an extra 50 mins or so before the battery went dead.
Now, the performance seen here isn’t terrible by any stretch, but it is pretty average considering the price it is asking for. Luckily the power cable it comes with isn’t huge, so bringing it along isn’t as annoying since you’ll probably need to charge it frequently.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is a unique take on foldable computing, with many great ideas brought to fruition through how it is designed and functions. However, this is still very much a device with the “first-generation complex”, where the performance does not line up with the promise.
Despite the opportunities it presents, it is hard to recommend a device that is essentially still working out its kinks, especially since it commands such a high price; there are simply better devices to get that are cheaper and perform better as well.
Maybe when the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold has had a couple of solid iterations to improve upon itself, will it be something to consider.
Photos by Darren Chiong of the DANAMIC Team. Additional Visuals courtesy of Lenovo Singapore.