Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold Review


The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is the first commercial laptop with a foldable OLED display, making this 13-inch computer fit in an average purse. Beyond this technological feat, it might create new use cases and user habits, just like Lenovo’s 360-degrees hinge many years ago. Did Lenovo jumpstart a second form-factor revolution? Let us take a closer look.

Design: a look to kill for

You know from the photos that the ThinkPad X1 Fold looks awesome and edgy. It is unlike anything else on the market, and there is undoubtedly a swagger factor that comes with it. It is very similar to the first generation of Foldable phones.

The design was carefully crafted, and despite the technical challenges, minor issues were worked out during the prototyping phase (we saw an earlier version last year), thanks to the feedback from early users and technologists. The current design represents the best version you can build with today’s technology.

Since it is a ThinkPad, the X1 Fold is certified for a dozen MIL-STD-810G military standard tests. Interestingly, its OLED display is probably more durable than a standard laptop’s screen because there is no glass to shatter.

With two USB-C (3.2 Gen 2 10Gbps) ports, it has as much connectivity as many competitors with comparable volume. One of these USB-C ports is also a DisplayPort to connect an external monitor. We would have loved to see Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports for powerful docking capabilities, but that is probably next year.

The X1 Fold can be utilized in landscape mode, making it seem like a typical slate-style computer. In Folded mode, the hinge is stiff enough to support virtually all angles between closed and completely flat (180-degrees total).

A large and comfortable Lenovo Mod Pen is an optional upgrade (+$66 at purchase-time or $99.99 later), and so is the external keyboard (+$229.99). The physical keyboard can be neatly stored in the closed X1 Fold, thanks to very creative space management. A small loop to the left of the keyboard is there to attach the Pen firmly.

In Folded mode, the physical keyboard can sit on top of the display and stay securely in place with magnets’ help. When in that location, the physical keyboard is also wirelessly charged, ensuring its battery never runs out, which is a lovely touch.

The leather folio (back) cover is also a stand designed to support the computer in landscape mode, but I have also used it in Portrait mode. Curiously, the landscape mode makes the bottom USB-C port inaccessible, and it would have been better to locate that connector elsewhere.

Finally, the battery capacity did not suffer from the 2.2Lbs foldable design. At 50Wh, it is very comparable to full-size, heavier laptops that come with ~52Wh batteries. The chassis seems relatively easy to open for easier repair (vs. ultra-compact systems that use glue).

  • 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”

OLED Foldable display

Beyond the fact that it is foldable, the ThinkPad X1 Fold’s OLED display functions very much as one would expect. It has perfect blacks and excellent color coverage, with 100% of the sRGB color-space and 95% of the DCI-P3 space.

If you want to tweak the color profile, Lenovo has the Lenovo Display Optimizer software. However, I did not dig deep into that, and most users won’t need to touch it, except Creative pros, maybe.

“PERFECT BLACKS AND EXCELLENT COLOR COVERAGE”

The QXGA 2K (1536 x 2048) resolution is an excellent choice as it is noticeably sharper than FHD, without dropping a hammer on the battery life like 4K, or 3K, would. Lenovo’s specifications say that the brightness is ~300 NITs, but we measured it at 440 NITs with a light meter.

Because of the plastic screen surface, the glare is quite strong, and if you work in a bright environment, that might bother you if you cannot position the screen to avoid it.

Many people wonder if the crease in the middle is visible, and if you open the display completely flat, it is not visible. Lenovo has done a remarkable job of making the OLED surface extremely flat to avoid that problem, something that foldable phones cannot do so far.

Also, the display’s supporting structure is very rigid, so when using touch input, the display does not sink in or feel flimsy or soft. Lenovo has added a carbon-fiber supporting structure underneath the screen, and it works very well.

There is a 5.5 Megapixel webcam, which has higher specs than your typical laptop webcam, but the quality is still lower than most phone’s selfie cameras, especially when it comes to HDR. It will perform okay in a well-lit, low-contrast environment for work meetings.

The camera’s IR sensor is compatible with Windows Hello and will help unlock the computer using facial recognition.

User experience

Since this is a potentially transformative user experience, take away from it? In my opinion, the experience of carrying/transporting is as important as the experience of using it.

The form-factor is the “raison d’etre” of this laptop and makes the experience of carrying it around better. Although it could be argued that its overall volume is not that much smaller than other slate PCs, its foldability gives it a type of footprint that has no equal.

Just like foldable phones gave us a 7-inch tablet that fits in pants pockets, the ThinkPad X1 can be carried in small bags, purses, and other convenient means with superior display protection and durability.

It also offers new use cases when you hold it partially open, like a book, or act as a mini-laptop for video calls, video playback, and other low-input activity. I find it slightly heavy when holding it like a book, but if your hands are resting on your lap or a table, it is okay.

But that is not it: checking emails, websites, and other documents using the Folded mode can be extremely convenient and comfortable in cramped spaces like planes, public transportations, etc.

The fully-open slate form-factor and the 13″ display makes the ThinkPad X1 Fold a good Pen computer. Surprisingly, you do not even feel a crease when writing, but the plastic surface will feel a bit more sticky to the pen’s tip (than glass).

Whether you like the surface to be more slippery or rough is for you to decide. I did not feel like it was much better or worse than other recent Pen experiences, but I am no designer – I take notes and do simple sketches.

I do not think that the Folio case’s stand was designed for Portrait mode, but you can make it work. For text-heavy applications (writing, reading, PDF) that is my favorite mode, and I would love it if Lenovo found a way to make a stand a bit more suited to that.

Unfortunately, the stand is not very lap-friendly either and only works if you have a slat surface.

So far, I have talked about low (keyboard) input situations, and it is because the keyboard options are not conducive to high productivity. The virtual keyboard looks okay, but it is not on par in terms of speed, responsiveness, and perhaps even layout, with the iOS or Android equivalent.

I strongly recommend using a physical keyboard if you intend to write a lot, and that is a pretty pricey upgrade. Fortunately, you can also use any BT or USB-C keyboards, but none of them will be stored as neatly as the Lenovo one.

The tradeoffs are not new: the keyboard size reduces input productivity, and the chassis size typically impacts performance (via thermal limitations), leading to the next section.

To me, the unique use case for this laptop is that it is as a mini computer capable of scaling up in size quickly, when needed.

System specs and performance

All ThinkPad X1 Fold configurations come with the Intel Core i5-L16G7 (3Ghz max), Intel UHD graphics, and 8GB RAM (LPDDR4X, soldered). However, you can select PCIe SSD storage options: 256 GB, 512 GB (+$110) and 1 TB (+$330).

The 7-Watts TDP Intel Core i5-L16G7 is designed to consume less power, therefore dissipating less heat than processors typically used in 13-inch laptops. However, this also affects its peak performance potential. For example, the Core i3-1000NG4 and Core i5-1030NG7 are 20% and 25% faster, respectively.

If we compare the raw CPU performance of the i5-L16G7 with 15-Watts TDP  i7-10710U (X1 Carbon Gen8) using Geekbench 5, the i7-10710U is vastly faster.

“THE X1 FOLD DOES FEEL SLOWER THAN STANDARD LAPTOPS”

These differences are high, and yes, you can spot the difference in speed when using the X1 Fold versus a traditional laptop. The X1 Fold does feel slower than standard laptops you could otherwise buy with the same money.

The ThinkPad X1 Fold has many air vents, but during our tests, the fans did not come up often, and when they did, it was not very loud, so that is a positive point.

Our research suggests that people are primarily comparing the ThinkPad X1 Fold to another, the upcoming Microsoft Surface Neo. Since the Surface Neo uses a similar Intel hardware platform, the form-factor is the main criteria for potential buyers, not the absolute performance.

Battery life

The battery life can go as high as 13h if you do something straightforward like watching videos at a reasonable brightness. In our tests, the laptop was able to sustain 6hrs and 24mn of office app usage, with the brightness set to 110 NITs and the Power settings set to “Best battery life.”

That is reasonable, but if battery life is a priority, an iPad Pro or other non-Windows tablets would likely yield something higher.

Conclusion

The ThinkPad X1 Fold is a specialty-computer not destined to replace your typical 13-inch laptop but to usher in a new era of folding laptops with a futuristic-looking design.

Lenovo is catering to an audience ready to spend big to get the latest technology, computing experience, and cool factor. Without a doubt, carrying the X1 Fold around is more agreeable than any other 13-inch laptop. It is incredible.

“ULTIMATE EXECUTIVE LAPTOP”

I am confident that this form factor will be improved upon and copied by others. In some ways, this is the ultimate “executive laptop” for people who mostly read things, answer emails in short bursts, present content in face-to-face situations, and travel often.

Although it is possible to use it without the Pen or Keyboard, I cannot imagine myself using the ThinkPad X1 Fold without a physical keyboard, so either get Lenovo’s or any other alternative.

Finally, I would like to see better OS-level support for foldable displays in Windows. At the moment, Lenovo has done a fair amount of development to make this work, but Microsoft needs to get on board for perfect app integration.

The ThinkPad X1 was not created for everyone, but everyone wants to take it for a spin.

Filed in Computers. Read more about Laptop Reviews, Laptops, Lenovo, Lenovo Laptops and Lenovo ThinkPad.



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