Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold Hands-On: Foldable PCs are the Future
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from testing foldable devices over the past couple of years, it’s that the gen-two version is always much better than the original — so much so that the gen-one version immediately looks clunky and outdated. This was the case with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2, the Motorola Razr 5G, and the Royole FlexPai 2. Knowing that makes me very, very excited for the next Lenovo foldable PC because this pioneering first one I’ve been testing for the past couple of days — namely the ThinkPad X1 Fold — is already making me feel a sense of awe and excitement that I, as someone who reviews gadgets for a living, rarely feel anymore.
Unfortunately, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is also crazy expensive compared to similarly-powered machines on the market, and as usual, and there are some software shortcomings that, even if they’re mostly Microsoft’s fault, likely aren’t going away in this generation. And so this makes the ThinkPad X1 Fold a device that few, if any, average consumers should actually buy.
But I am so glad this thing exists, and I can’t wait for the gen-two model which will either bring a significant performance boost or perhaps a lower starting price.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold Specifications
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The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is more than a 2-in-1
The term 2-in-1 is often used to describe “convertible” laptops that can double as a tablet. Well, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is at least a 3-in-1, perhaps a 4-in-1 if you’re being generous. In its core form, the device is a large tablet with a flexible 13.3-inch OLED screen that can be folded in half. With a body constructed from a combination of carbon fiber and magnesium alloy, and covered with black leather, the ThinkPad X1 Fold is a bit hefty, measuring half an inch thick (when unfolded) and weighing 2.2 pounds. But it’s completely serviceable as a tablet once you’re used to the weight. The touchscreen is responsive, and the display pumps out gorgeous colors, so doing anything in this form — reading news articles or e-books, playing games, or trawling Instagram — is an immersive experience.
Pair the ThinkPad X1 Fold with a Bluetooth keyboard (Lenovo sells one just for the ThinkPad X1 Fold, but any Bluetooth keyboard will work), and pull the kickstand out that’s hidden inside the leather flap, and the device becomes a fully functional all-in-one computer, with Intel’s Lakefield Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM handling Windows 10 without issues. The 13.3-inch screen has a 4:3 aspect ratio, so it’s more square-ish than the usual rectangular laptop screens, which gives the screen valuable real estate. In fact, I wrote most of this article at a coffee shop with the X1 Fold.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold can be paired with a stylus (another optional purchase), and while its latency is nowhere close to the excellent Apple Pencil, I can sketch and annotate documents on this tablet without issues. Palm rejection works well, and the stylus is roughly the same size as a “normal” pencil, so it’s easier to hold than, say, the tiny S-Pen in Galaxy Note phones.
But as I mentioned, the screen folds. So bend the screen slightly, and the software automatically offers you the option to go into the split-screen mode, which treats the folding point as an invisible divider. This way, you can do two things side-by-side with clear boundaries between the two. Because of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold’s premium leather back cover, holding it feels like holding a Moleskine journal — albeit a thick one. Anytime I get a chance to sit down, either at home or out and about, I use the device like this, with Twitter on one side and email or Instagram on the other.
That’s not all, though. You know that official Lenovo wireless keyboard I mentioned earlier? It can snap onto the bottom half of the tablet. It clips on magnetically, and once attached, you can fold the screen at a 90-ish degree angle and have yourself a small clamshell laptop. This is ideal for tight spaces like airplane tray tables, small coffee shop tables, or on a lap.
When you’re done working, you don’t have to remove the keyboard, as you can just fold the ThinkPad X1 Fold shut with the keyboard sandwiched in between the folded screen. Yes, this sounds scary considering the much-covered, supposed fragility of folding screens, but Lenovo’s design is ingenious: The keyboard’s base doesn’t quite touch the screen thanks to the elevated bumper. Plus, the ThinkPad X1 Fold impressively is rated MIL-STD-810H, meaning it’s passed a standardized rugged test.
The whole device may feel a bit bulky, but I find the design clever. In one package that is roughly the size of a hardcover tome, I have a mini laptop, a tablet, a notepad, and a desk computer.
The hinge: Samsung should take note
Let’s talk about the hinge, since it is arguably the most important part of a folding device. Lenovo has knocked it out of the park here. The hinge is sturdy, allows the screen to stay in place at any angle, and best of all, it leaves almost no crease thanks to clever engineering that has the screen sliding slightly when folded so the bend is not as sharp.
In terms of ports, the ThinkPad X1 Fold has two USB-C ports to account for the fact that the device can be used in various forms or orientations. Both ports can top up the 50Wh battery and transfer data. Disappointingly, there is no headphone jack.
The Lakefield i5 processor is a hybrid processor meant for ultrabooks, so it’s not the most powerful processor, but it’s been fine for my writing work. Opening a half dozen Chrome apps didn’t slow it down, and playing some graphically intensive first-person shooters like Modern Combat 5 ran without issues too. But the machine struggled when editing 4K videos with Power Director; scrubbing through the timeline resulted in stutters.
The 50Wh battery is just okay. For my normal workday usage, which includes mostly writing in WordPress, chatting on Slack and WhatsApp Web, scrolling through Twitter, and streaming Spotify, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold lasted me about seven hours. If I am streaming NetFlix with max brightness and high volume, a two-hour movie will have drained about 40% of the battery already.
Earlier, I mentioned that the device is just “serviceable” as a tablet; the reason it doesn’t score higher is no fault of Lenovo, but Microsoft’s. Windows 10 is just not well-optimized for tablets. Maybe it’s because I’m used to an iPad, but everything from animations when switching the orientation to the touch gestures on the ThinkPad X1 Fold leave a lot to be desired. Even in the dedicated “tablet mode,” some buttons are still tiny, as if Microsoft can’t tell that a grown adult fingertip is thicker than a mouse arrow.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is expensive, but I love its versatility
Priced at a whopping $2,499 for just the tablet and nearly $2,800 for the full package, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is really expensive, considering devices running Lakefield are usually less than half the price. But then again, none of those devices have the versatility of the ThinkPad X1 Fold.
I’ve been carrying it with me everywhere I go, and to be able to switch between reading a digital comic, sketching, and writing a full article in one seat is such an impressive, unique experience.
As I said, history suggests the next version of this foldable PC — whether it’s from Lenovo or another company — will likely make the ThinkPad X1 Fold look chunky and clumsy, so I’m trying to convince myself to hold off splurging and wait until the next one. But I got to admit, the gadget geek in me who loves to impulse buy is really tempted to buy the ThinkPad X1 Fold for myself after this loan unit is returned to Lenovo.
No matter what, I’ve been convinced that foldables are the future, and my experience with Lenovo’s foldable PC further cements my belief. Imagine a few years from now when we can pull out an iPhone that doubles as an iPad — and a MacBook?