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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold review: Foldable displays are cool but perhaps still a niche product

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold FI Techaeris

Even now, I don’t feel fully prepared to judge the ThinkPad X1 Fold. There’s a lot to like about this device but an equal amount to scratch your head about.

Techaeris Rated 8.8/10

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is one of those devices that’s a little hard to understand. Given that the technology behind it is still in infancy and not widely available, it makes it that much harder to evaluate. I was excited to get my hands on the ThinkPad X1 Fold and play with it for a bit. We had already seen a prototype of the device at CES, so it was interesting to hold a production unit.

I’ve been sitting on this review for lack of words to express my thoughts on the device. I had to swim through a bevy of thoughts and emotions, I had to ask myself a plethora of questions about who this device was for, and I had to really get through a lot of initial doubt, skepticism, and frankly confusion about the device.

Even now, I don’t feel fully prepared to judge the ThinkPad X1 Fold. There’s a lot to like about this device but an equal amount to scratch your head about. That being said, let’s get into the full review of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Specifications

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold has the following features and specifications:

  • Processor: Intel® Core™ i5-L16G7 Processor (1.40 GHz, up to 3.00 GHz with Turbo Boost, 5 Cores, 5 Threads, 4 MB Cache) with Intel® Hybrid Technology
  • Operating System: Windows 10 Home or Pro
  • Display: 13.3″ QXGA Foldable 2K (2048 x 1536) OLED, DCI-P3 95%, touchscreen, 300 Nits
  • RAM: 8GB LPDDR4X 4267MHz
  • Battery:
    • 8.5 hours MM18
    • 10.4 hours of video playback
    • 50Wh with Rapid Charge
  • Storage: Up to 1TB PCIe M.2 SSD
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel® UHD graphics
  • Security: Discrete Trusted Platform Module (dTPM) 2.0
  • Audio: Dolby Atmos with 4 mics
  • Camera: Hybrid infrared (IR) / HD 5MP
  • Connectivity:
    • Optional Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 5G Modem-RF System
    • WiFi 6 802.11AX
    • Bluetooth 5.1
  • Ports/Slots:
    • 2 x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbps) (1 can be used as DP)
    • Optional Nano SIM Slot
  • Optional physical Lenovo Fold Mini Keyboard
  • Dimensions:
    • Folded: 27.8mm x 158.2mm x 236mm / 1.09″ x 6.23″ x 9.29″
    • Unfolded: 11.5mm x 299.4mm x 236mm / 0.45” x 11.79” x 9.29”
    • Weight: Starting at 0.99 kg / 2.2 lbs
  • Color: Authentic black leather folio cover

What’s In The Box

  • ThinkPad X1 Fold
  • Premium Slim UBS-C 65W (supports Rapid Charge)
  • 50Whr Internal battery
  • Quick start guide
  • Lenovo Mod Pen (Optional / Select models)
  • Lenovo Mini Bluetooth Keyboard (Optional / Select models)

Design

Lenovo’s Thinkpad line of computers has always been one of my favorites. Their sleek, dark, and minimal design language has a dark utilitarian feel, and I love it.

The entire device is enveloped in a very nice black leather; it feels supple and smells great. Around the bottom/back portion of the ThinkPad X1 Fold, you’ll find a diagonal hinge that houses a simple kickstand. When pulled out, a red felt material on the back protects the device when the kickstand is folded in.

I do have to say that I feel the leather will eventually get etched and marred over time. I’m not sure how that will look, but it’s certainly going to be different than if it was plastic or metal. Our review unit already has some etching and scratches, it doesn’t look bad, but you should be aware of it.

The only port on the X1 Fold is a lone USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port used for charging with the included 65W adapter. You can use this to plug in a hub or accessories. If you have a hub with a power passthrough, you could use that to add the I/O you need and charge the device.

Our unit came with the optional mini Bluetooth keyboard and Mod Pen. The keyboard attaches magnetically to the bottom portion of the display, and the pen has a loop holder on the keyboard. The keyboard is actually not bad, it is cramped and not full size, but it is better than the software keyboard. Although, the software keyboard takes up less room. The keyboard also has a small trackpad that is pretty difficult to use.

There is are cooling vents, a SIM card slot, volume rocker, microphones, and a power button along the perimeter of the ThinkPad X1 Fold but little else. The display is nice, and we’ll go into that in the next section. When the X1 Fold is open, it’s not too thick, but when folded for transport, it does get chunky. It’s about the size of a decent hardcover book.

Overall, the design is classic ThinkPad, and Lenovo does its best to keep to the aesthetic this line of laptops is known for. I think they do a good job; we must remember that this is a new device with no baseline to compare to, so there are bound to be improvements that Lenovo could make.

ThinkPad X1 Fold
Nice display

Display

The ThinkPad X1 Fold display is a colorful 2K OLED 13″ display with some brilliant color reproduction. As with most OLED displays, the color really pops off the screen. The brightness is just okay for me with a peak 300-nit offering. Considering this is marketed as an on-the-go device and likely to be used outdoors, I think a 400-nit or better brightness level would have been better.

It’s fine indoors and even outdoors, but you may struggle a bit in bright conditions and direct sunlight.

Touch responsiveness is great, and the pen works just as well with accurate taps. Pinch to zoom and scrolling were all good with no lag in response. All of the Windows 10 gestures and touch controls work fine here, and those who will use this in tablet mode should be pleased.

All of the normal niceties are here, except for 4K, but I think 2K is the right spot for resolution with a display this small. But this display has more to it than just its colors and quality; the damn thing folds, and that’s what separates the ThinkPad X1 Fold from anything else.

The folding display is really a conversation starter, no doubt. I’ve shown it to several people, and they are freaked out and amazed that this is possible. There is no doubt it’s a very cool feature, and Lenovo seems to have done an outstanding job building this system.

This isn’t the first folding display I’ve played with; I’ve used Samsung and Huawei mobile phones with folding displays. What they all have in common is the look and feel of being fragile. The display on the ThinkPad X1 Fold is covered in a protective layer, but I felt this layer was still pretty vulnerable along with the display.

Users will need to take extra care with this device to keep the display from being damaged. My biggest fear is small particles getting logged into the folding mechanism and eventually creep under the display. Of course, Lenovo has taken steps to mitigate the issue, but we can’t know for sure until we have long-term users reporting back.

Other than the fact that this technology is new and there will be some risks, the display on the ThinkPad X1 Fold is really nice. Colors, blacks, whites are all nice, and the text is crisp and clear. The folding feature works great, and touch responsiveness is perfect.

The only downside I see to the display is that it is a new technology, and people buying this device are essentially long-term beta testers, and brightness could be better. Not to mention that the 13″ display becomes very small when you attach the optional keyboard.

Software/Ecosystem

There’s not much to say about Windows 10. Microsoft’s software is a hybrid between desktop and tablet and works as usual. Personally, I am still not a huge fan of Windows 10 on a tablet but it does have its uses and I think in a business environment it may even be more useful for those users.

Performance

I had no performance issues when using the ThinkPad X1 Fold. I didn’t test any photo or video editing apps on it as I don’t think that’s what it’s meant for. Office 365, browsers, email, and normal business type work all performed well without issue.

The hardware under the hood is decent enough for normal use with its Core i5 and 8GB of RAM. I think business users will have all the performance they need from the ThinkPad X1 Fold.

Speakers/Sound

Speakers and sound aren’t great, in fact, they’re weak. Lenovo says these speakers support Dolby Atmos and they probably do, but we can’t expect miracles from speakers this small. So while I think they are weak for entertainment and music, they work very well for what they’re intended for and that’s zoom calls, video conferencing, and YouTube.

Camera

Not much to say about the ThinkPad X1 Fold camera, as with most cameras on laptops it’s basic but gets the job done well enough.

ThinkPad X1 Fold
Tablet mode

Battery Life

Battery life is subjective and highly dependent on what software you’re using and how bright your screen is and other factors such as speaker use and Bluetooth connections. That all being said, Lenovo says the X1 Fold should get just over 10-hours of video playback. Here’s what Lenovo says about battery testing and benchmarking:

All battery life claims are approximate and based on two methods of testing: MobileMark® 2018 battery-life benchmark (with 200 nits brightness on a factory preload image) and continuous 1080p video playback on the latest update of Windows 10 (with 150 nits brightness and default volume level). Actual battery life will vary and depends on many factors such as product configuration and usage, software use, wireless functionality, power management settings, and screen brightness. The maximum capacity of the battery will decrease with time and use.

Lenovo

That being said, our battery life got us through our day just fine making normal tasks like Office 365, email, browsing, streaming music, YouTube, and we had the display set to max 300-nit brightness. Lenovo’s testing only took it to 200 and 150-nits, so if you like your brightness high, your battery life will be less.

Overall, battery life is acceptable but could be better. Of course, the folding display and its mechanics probably take space up in the chassis, so maybe future versions will be more streamlined, allowing for a bigger battery. For now, I think most users should get at least a full day of use; even if they don’t, it does have Rapid Charge, so topping up should be easy enough.

ThinkPad X1 Fold
Covered in leather

Price/Value

This is a tough category to judge as the ThinkPad X1 Fold is such a new device with no other devices to compare to. You’re talking about a folding tablet/laptop that costs well over US$2000. That’s a lot of cheddar for anyone for a device that’s really still being tested and refined.

If you’re an early adopter or a business that likes adopting new technology, you’ll be happy with the investment. This is probably a pass for those who aren’t ready to deal with the issues and challenges of new technology. Save your money until Lenovo works out some bugs and refines the technology. I think it’s also best to wait to see what other device makers will eventually make, improving prices and improving design and performance.

Wrap Up

The ThinkPad X1 Fold is a solid first attempt at folding a laptop/tablet from Lenovo. As with any new category of device, it’s not for everyone; it’s expensive, it has some improvements that Lenovo could make, but early adopters will enjoy this device for what it is. If you’re looking for a seasoned and proven device, you should wait; Lenovo will improve this. Waiting will also bring the cost down, especially when other manufacturers enter the same market.

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ThinkPad X1 Fold

Starts at US$2499

Design

9.0/10

Display

9.0/10

Software/Ecosystem

9.5/10

Performance

8.5/10

Speakers/Sound

8.5/10

Camera

8.5/10

Battery Life

8.5/10

Price/Value

8.5/10

Nailed it

  • Very cool design
  • Foldable display
  • Super portable
  • Supports pen input
  • Optional hardware keyboard
  • The option of LTE connectivity for mobile use
  • Display is vibrant

Needs work

  • Thick when folded
  • 13" display is small and smaller still when the hardware keyboard is being used
  • May be underpowered for some users
  • Windows on a tablet is still not great
  • Display brightness could be better
  • Weak speakers and basic camera
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