Hands on: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 foldable tablet prototype review

The foldable future of mobile computing

What is a hands on review?
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 foldable tablet

Early Verdict

Lenovo aims to position this device as one that can serve as your main PC, replacing your laptop as well as your tablet, aimed at mobile workers and bleeding-edge tech enthusiasts. Much – if not all – of that rests on the reliability and versatility of its folding screen hardware and software.

For

  • Impressive folding display
  • OLED at 2K resolution
  • Solid stylus support
  • Versatile use cases

Against

  • Somewhat laggy OS response
  • Rather thick bezels
  • 4:3 aspect ratio could be strange

Is the future of mobile computing foldable? That’s what Lenovo seems to be placing a major bet on, with a new prototype device it showed to TechRadar during a recent press briefing.

So far, Lenovo is simply calling it a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 foldable tablet prototype, but more precisely it’s a tablet PC device with a foldable, OLED 2K display measuring 13.3 inches when completely unfolded and 9.6 inches per side when folded to work like a laptop. This is essentially designed to replace every other piece of mobile computing tech in your life.

It’s too early in the product’s life cycle to judge whether the device will deliver on this promise, but consider us wowed by what Lenovo has been able to achieve this far.

Price and availability

Lenovo tells us that this device has been in development for three years in secret, with what you see here being the product of that work. Essentially, this is just enough to show the press a proof of concept to get readers excited about.

With that in mind, Lenovo is simply too far from release to even consider a price for this device yet. However, we do know that Lenovo is targeting a 2020 release for the device, under the ThinkPad name to communicate its commitment to quality and rigorous testing.

Of course, we’re expecting a rather premium price tag to come along with such a device, if the pricing for the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X are anything to go by.

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Design

The prototype tablet naturally goes for an “innie” foldable display design in this case, meaning that the display folds in on itself, considering that an “outie” design wouldn’t be practical for use as a laptop. There’s not much to be said of the product’s design otherwise, as it’s merely a prototype and will likely change dramatically before final release in 2020.

At any rate, the LG-made display is coated in plastic rather than glass, as the latter has not yet been developed to support bending. This fact likely will not change between now and release.

The rather wide bezels are joined by a singular torque hinge that protrudes a bit from both sides of the device’s mid section with some sort of rubberized fabric used as the connective tissue conducive to bending. An included Wacom stylus magnetically attaches to the device.

Of course, this means that not only does the display support pen input but also multi-touch. The former works well enough to our liking, exhibiting broad pressure sensitivity and the fact that it’s quick to follow the pen’s tip.

The latter works well enough as well, with a new touch typing interface in the works in conjunction with Microsoft, as this will be a Windows device. However, there will be no haptic feedback in this product for touch typing, which we will certainly miss. Haptic feedback may be simply additive to touch typing, it does add a level of physical fidelity to the experience.

One bugbear we noticed with the display and interface is that it takes more time than we’d like – about half a second – to register when the device has rotated and adjust its orientation accordingly. This delay also occurs when the tablet is opened from a closed state. We hope that this delay will be reduced before final release, as right now it’s not the best look.

Also, being a plastic panel, glare is a notable concern. But, again, this is early days for the prototype, and it is little more than a proof of concept for something we’ll see in the wild next year.

Ultimately, we’re well impressed by the thing and what it could mean for computing in the future. With support for a Bluetooth keyboard available, this could truly be a portable PC with a pseudo-dual-screen environment just a flip away.

Reading ebooks on this device would be a particularly pleasing experience, as could watching videos on the go (i.e. in a plane) at a slight bend. The screen displays content at 4:3 aspect ratio, however, which could be weird for all sorts of use cases – but nothing distractingly so.

Lenovo says that, because it expects this screen to be folded and unfolded very frequently, the company is doubling the amount of hinge testing it normally conducts on laptops for this device, using a torque hinge specifically to maintain its position at several angles.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 foldable tablet

Performance

It’s impossible to predict how this device will perform in the end, knowing nothing more than it will be based on Intel processor technology and run an unnamed version of Windows. Of course, we do know that the device pushes a 2K display equipped with OLED technology, which will require a processor of some strength to do well alongside all other computing tasks.

This will obviously not be a gaming device, but will hopefully be powerful enough to handle the complex work loads that its versatile form factor invites, particularly multitasking and dual-screen support.

To that end, the product will house two USB-C ports, but whether they follow the USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt 3 specifications is anyone’s guess at this point. Either will be able to support external displays as well as power charging and speedy data transfers – it’s just the extent to which we're still in the dark on.

All told, Lenovo expects the device to produce “all-day battery life,” but hasn’t said exactly how many hours that means. We’re hoping for eight hours on a charge so as to last for a whole working day.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 foldable tablet

Early verdict

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 foldable tablet prototype is certainly looking to push the boundaries of what we think of when we hear the phrases ‘PC’ or ‘laptop’. Being able to replace your tablet has been the dream of every 2-in-1 device that has come before it, and this just might be the one to achieve that.

Lenovo aims to position this device as one that can serve as your main PC, replacing your laptop as well as your tablet, aimed at mobile workers and bleeding-edge tech enthusiasts. Much – if not all – of that rests on the reliability and versatility of its folding screen hardware and software.

However, foldable displays as a proven technology has had a rocky start, to say the least, something we can only hope Lenovo will be able to iron out in time for a 2020 release. If Lenovo can pull this off, we could be looking at the future of laptops forever changed. If anything, it’s sure neat to look at and play with.

  • Images Credit: TechRadar

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.