The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold will be the first foldable PC on the market, but can it avoid the rough start of foldable phones? Laptops are often thick, heavy devices that require a lot of bag space and don’t play nicely in confined spaces. Giving them the ability to fold in half seems like a no-brainer – if you can pull it off. Lenovo feels confident that it’s up to the challenge, as the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold (starting at $2,499) intends to demonstrate.
I had a chance to go hands-on with the world’s first foldable PC at CES 2020, and was generally impressed with what I saw. The X1 Fold seems like an inventive, durable device with enough power for most productivity users, and a few clever spins on Windows 10.
On the other hand, ThinkPad X1 Fold won't necessarily be a must-have computer for every traveler as soon as it launches. It’s quite expensive, considering its modest specs, and its optional keyboard is on the small side.
Still, the X1 Fold doesn’t necessarily have to be the powerhouse that reshapes the PC world forever; it just has to convince people that foldable machines have a place in the world of business PCs. And I think it may be able to do just that.
ThinkPad X1 Fold design and durability
At first glance, the ThinkPad X1 Fold looks like an oversized tablet. With a 13.3-inch plastic OLED screen, a kickstand in the back, built-in speakers, an electronic stylus and a 4x3 aspect ratio, you could be forgiven for thinking that the device is just the latest entry in Lenovo’s line of thoroughly decent Android tablets.
However, the X1 Fold is a full-fledged Windows 10 PC. And what’s more – you can fold it in half for an ultraportable laptop experience, or close it completely to stash it in a small backpack or handbag (it weighs only 2.2 pounds). There’s no visible hinge in the middle, and the display stays on until you close the device entirely.
One of the most remarkable things I can say about the X1 Fold is simply that it works exactly as advertised. You can unfold the device and use it as a tablet. You can fold the device halfway, lay a specialized Bluetooth keyboard (sold separately, price TBD) across the bottom half, and use it as a tiny laptop. Or, you can fold the device entirely shut, with or without the keyboard, and carry it around. The plastic OLED screen is extremely resistant to scratches, and the outside case is made of leather, so the X1 Fold seems pretty hard to damage from either angle.
The hinge itself also seems pretty sturdy. Lenovo constructed it with a mixture of plastic, metal and flexible carbon fiber, which makes the display rigid when laid flat, and doesn’t put too much stress on it when folded.
Lenovo reps didn’t specify exactly how many times you could fold the device before something gave out, but it’s important to remember that no hinge lasts forever. Still, the company says the X1 Fold’s hinge should last somewhere between three and five years, at which point it might be time to get another device anyway. A traditional laptop can admittedly last for longer than that, so weigh your options accordingly.
Beyond that, the X1 Fold has an on/off switch, two USB-C ports, and not much else. As such, you'll want to connect most peripherals via Bluetooth.
ThinkPad X1 Fold price and release date
Lenovo expects the ThinkPad X1 Fold to start at $2,499, but that could still change between now and its full release in mid-2020. You’ll be able to customize a few things about your system, such as the storage space and whether or not you want its specialized keyboard.
ThinkPad X1 Fold display size and modes
When it’s fully unfurled, the ThinkPad X1 Fold has a 13.3-inch screen. You can hold it like a tablet to read or watch videos, and use a digital keyboard for any text entry that might come up. You can also prop open its kickstand, or set it up on an easel-style stand, which Lenovo will release in late 2020. That way, you can connect a wireless mouse and keyboard, then use the X1 Fold like a regular all-in-one PC.
You can also fold the PC, however, and lay the specialized Bluetooth keyboard across its lower half. This gives you what is essentially a laptop with a screen about seven inches across. That’s small, to be sure, but no worse than a lot of tablets on the market. Productivity in this mode would be a little difficult, but thoroughly possible.
One downside of the X1 Fold is that it won’t automatically shift orientations like a tablet would, however. As you rotate and fold the PC, you’ll need to tap an icon in the taskbar and input your configuration manually. It’s a small step, but if you fold and unfold the device multiple times per session, it could eventually get to be a grating one.
ThinkPad X1 Fold keyboard and touchpad
The X1 Fold has a touchscreen that works in both tablet and folded modes. Strictly speaking, you don’t need a keyboard to operate it. But as any productivity user can attest, typing out anything more complicated than a short e-mail on a digital keyboard is a recipe for insanity. That’s why Lenovo will release a specialized Bluetooth keyboard right alongside the X1 Fold, which attaches magnetically, and fits comfortably inside the PC when you snap it shut.
While the keyboard is nearly perfect from a size perspective, it’s not all that conducive to getting work done. The keys are tiny and tightly packed, and since the keyboard itself is so thin, there’s almost no key travel. At least on the unit we tried, typing was an error-laden, uncomfortable experience, made more difficult by a tiny touchpad.
ThinkPad X1 Fold specs and performance
If you decide to pick up an X1 Fold, bear in mind that you’ll be paying $2,499 for its physical design, not necessarily its performance. The X1 Fold’s specs are absolutely fine for a productivity machine, but they’re not nearly the sort of thing you’d expect in such an expensive PC otherwise.
The default X1 fold features 256 GB storage (upgradeable to 1 TB) and 8 GB RAM. It will also feature a fairly powerful Intel processor with integrated graphics, although we can’t get into any more specifics just yet. Suffice it to say that the X1 Fold will be able to handle everyday productivity with ease, but won’t be ideal for heavy gaming or multimedia work.
Users will also have the option of buying a 5G-enabled X1 Fold in case they want to use it on the go. How this will work in practice largely depends upon your preferred carrier’s 5G network, so it’s hard to give more details at the moment.
As far as my own experience with the X1 Fold goes, the model I tested didn’t have much installed, save for an Internet browser and some Microsoft office programs. Navigation felt fluid, and nothing lagged, but I also didn’t subject it to anything too strenuous. We’ll be able to give the device more of a trial by fire during our full review.
ThinkPad X1 Fold battery life
The X1 Fold employs a 50 WHr battery, which should last for up to 11 hours. That’s about the going rate for laptops of this size and power level, although we’ll put this claim to the test once we get a review unit in.
ThinkPad X1 Fold outlook
When I started using the the X1 Fold, I had one important question: “Why get this instead of a regular 13-inch laptop?” The folding technology is very cool, to be sure, and I was surprised that it worked so well. But the big advantage of foldables is that they save space and weight, and 13-inch laptops are already pretty thin and light.
The answer: The X1 Fold is the first device of its kind, and functions at least partially as a proof-of-concept. When the PC comes out, Lenovo doesn’t expect everyone to run out and buy it at once – but it does expect that the early adopters will find some very cool use cases for it, and that everyday users will start to learn about a world of laptops beyond the traditional clamshell.
Ultimately, the ThinkPad X1 Fold is a novel idea executed very well, at a price that’s probably too high for the average productivity user. Not everyone will need one; not everyone will want one. But every new technology has to start somewhere, and the X1 Fold seems like a promising debut.
Be sure to check out our CES 2020 hub for the latest news and hands-on impressions out of Las Vegas.