Lenovo is holding its corporate Lenovo Accelerate event today and revealed a preview of the first foldable PC, a 13.3” foldable OLED design that resembles a notepad when closed.

Lenovo is no stranger to OLED displays, and you might remember the OLED Yoga X1 Carbon we reviewed a couple of years ago. However, going “foldable” isn’t just about display quality; it’s first and foremost about changing the usable model altogether.

This is a preview, many details are still missing as Lenovo does not want to tip off the competition, but here are the key points about this computer, more below:

  • It is part of the ThinkPad X1 family as it is Lenovo’s brand for cutting-edge consumer technologies
  • It’s 13.3” OLED display folds to reduce the footprint by half (9.6”)
  • It’s a 4:3 2K display that uses an LG OLED panel
  • Infra-red webcam
  • It was demonstrated using an Intel processor
  • Lenovo has been working on this for the past 3 years
  • It has stereo speakers
  • Pen and wireless keyboard (BT) are included in the box
  • It is a “Windows-based” device
  • 2x USB-C ports

All in all, we spent about one hour with the prototype, and the goal was to explore the concepts rather than doing a “pre-review” because the hardware is likely to change somewhat.

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The next evolution of ultra-portables?

Lenovo thinks that this kind of laptops could be the primary laptop for many people such as road warriors, executives and high-tech enthusiasts. That’s a proper assessment because that’s the typical market for the ultralights today. These users typically don’t need a lot of computing power or storage, and mainly use their computers for communications and multimedia/presentations.

The goal is to make PCs more portable than ever, and that includes one-handed usage in some situations. All of that while maintaining a degree of productivity that is the main attractiveness of PCs, versus phones or tablets.

Just like the Microsoft Surface shook things up with its tablet-first design, this Lenovo foldable ThinkPad could take ultralights to the next level, and so far, things are looking great.

Talking about Microsoft, the wording that Lenovo uses when it says “Windows-based device” hints to a couple of things:

  1. A lot of functionality necessary to foldables (screen split, app continuation, virtual keyboard integration) is going to come at the OS level.
    1. If that’s the case, other OEMs will launch similar designs too
  2. The “Windows” OS may not be Windows 10, so there could be a major Windows revision or branch down the line

Use cases and key concepts

It is evident that the overall volume of the product is going to be very competitive against the lightest laptops available on the market, but that’s a small part of the story.

The nature of the Foldable ThinkPad gives it a native advantage over both laptops and tablets in certain everyday situations. Let’s take a few straightforward examples to illustrate this.

Public transports: admittedly, using a 13.3” laptop is possible in a bus or subway, but certainly not if you’re standing. This foldable computer occupies MUCH less space as you don’t need to unfold it completely to read your news standing up and is usable one-handed. You can also keep things a little more private by leaving it partially folded.

On a place or other seated areas, you can choose to use a half screen or the entire screen, depending on how much surface area is available on the table.

If you choose to catch up on email, you can get a large virtual keyboard and a screen correctly facing you at the same time. It’s not possible with an equivalent-size tablet or laptop today.

In bed: tablets can be annoying in bed because unless you have a clamshell case, they face up. That’s why many people use a (clamshell) laptop on their chest and recline the screen to face them. This laptop can be folded in 9.6” format or can stand on its own on your chest if you accept to slightly fold to provide for a stable base.

Lunch/Cafe:  the partially folded design is arguably an excellent option to check the news or social media as you eat or have coffee. It’s not as bulky on the table as a laptop, but provide a much better content experience than a phone.

You still get to scroll using a flat surface, but the screen faces you and provides a more comfortable viewing experience. For Instagram, it’s undeniable that a larger screen makes for much better user experience.

At home/office: it’s not an advantage, but it’s important to point out that the USB-C port can be a single-connector for charging and port extension. At the moment, there are no official specs, so whether the port is USB 3.1 Gen ½ or Thunderbolt 3 remains a mystery.

All day battery: that’s what Lenovo promises, but that depends on your usage model. At the very least, it means that you can watch a whole lot of movies with it, we speculate between 8 and 10 hours, but only real-world tests can tell us for sure.

Are foldable laptops ready for prime time?

Since this won’t be available this year, Lenovo remains tight-lipped on a lot of technical aspects such as final processor, memory, storage, etc. As such, a lot of the final user experience will depend on how performance the components will be.

The good news is that in this specific market segment it’s likely that Lenovo can build something fast enough to power the experience described above. After all, there was a big leap in performance between the first-gen Yoga Book and the second-gen Lenovo YogaBook C930.

However, this sentence from Lenovo’s announcement is interesting: “This is not a phone, tablet, or familiar hybrid; this is a full-fledged laptop with a foldable screen.” Does it mean that it would be possible to get a 15-Watt TDP processor as most 13.3” laptops have?

It’s not much of a stretch to think that a product that will ship “in 2020” (according to Lenovo) will have enough computing power to provide an excellent user experience as envisioned by Lenovo.

By the way, Lenovo says that the weight is not distributed evenly, so there are a “bottom” and “top” sides of the screen to make sure that the device doesn’t tilt over when in clamshell mode.

From a technological standpoint, there’s nothing that prevents Lenovo from building a performant foldable within the form-factor presented, and that leads to the next question.

How Durable Will It Be?

With the recent reliability troubles that Samsung got into with the Galaxy Fold (the first OLED foldable phone launched) and the pending questions about Huawei’s alternative design, this is a big question mark.

Given the size difference, we think that it is less challenging to build a durable, foldable laptop than it is to build a foldable phone. The prototype shown to us seems sturdy, and there was no apparent weak point that we could identify.

Because the screen folds inward, it is protected during transportation and because the bezels are not ultra-thin, sealing the display should be much easier than it is no a handset.

Lenovo says that it is expecting people to fold and unfold it very often, so the company is “doubling” the number of hinge tests. Lenovo also points out that it is testing bending and holding under various angles.

Additionally, Lenovo said that as a ThinkPad computer, it would pass rigorous quality specs and testing. Admittedly, making the keyboard spill-proof should be easy on this one, but we hope it means that it will get a Mil-810G-STD certification, just like many ThinkPad laptops.

Conclusion

Lenovo created a whole new category of laptops when it introduced the first convertible PC with the Yoga laptop. Today, it pushes the envelope again by revealing the first foldable laptop design that may introduce new concepts and usage models that will change the PC industry and user behaviors for years to come.

This is the most exciting laptop development we’ve seen in a long while, and ultra-portable lovers will eagerly wait for its arrival and for the first in-depth reviews.

Again, it is coming in “2020,” and there’s no word about pricing now. Keep an eye out for updates about this product, and now would be an excellent time to subscribe to our notifications to be alerted when it happens.

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