Lenovo used CES 2020 to officially unveil ThinkPad X1 Fold, the foldable PC that has been four years in development and through six designs and will launch in the second half of 2020, starting at $2,499.
At enterprise and strategy events, Lenovo has teased the foldable PC (in 2019 and 2017) but declined to give timelines. Now Lenovo says it is ready to launch a ThinkPad with folding OLED display. The ThinkPad X1 Fold could also give businesses more mobility options as they navigate foldable phones, tablets, and convertible devices.
Christian Teismann, president of Lenovo's commercial PC and smart device business, said the company has been looking for new form factors for years starting with its Yoga franchise. "A PC is only usable for full productivity at a certain size, about 12- to 13-inches," explained Teismann. "We ultimately came back to something fundamental like a book form factor in business."
The big challenge was developing a foldable device that could span the 3- to 5-year lifecycle and usage of a PC. Teismann said the first working sample was handed out about a year ago and added that the ThinkPad brand could continue to evolve.
The ThinkPad X1 Fold will start at $2,499, but exact pricing will be revealed closer to the second half 2020 launch date. Teismann said that the ThinkPad X1 Fold would be available for order early in the second half of 2020 with shipments in the middle of the second half. If that timing holds, Lenovo will be shipping its X1 Fold about the same time as Microsoft debuts its Neo and Duo devices.
Among the key points:
- ThinkPad X1 Fold has multiple modes and can be a fully flat 13.3-inch display.
- X1 Fold was co-engineered with Intel and uses Core processors as well as Windows 10. There will be an option for Windows 10X at a later date.
- 5G connectivity will be an option.
- Lenovo said it had developed mode-switching software for Windows 10 to handle multiple use cases and modes on the ThinkPad X1 Fold. That point is notable because I've found Windows 10 to be a bit laggy on convertible laptops.
- ThinkPad X1 Fold weighs less than 2.2 pounds.
- There's a Bluetooth Mini Fold Keyboard as well as a leather case. When folded closed, the keyboard is stored and wirelessly charged inside the system and secured with magnets.
- A full-size keyboard, mouse, and second display can connect via USB Type-C. There's also a ThinkPad X1 Fold Stand that can be used in portrait or landscape mode. Those options may make ThinkPad X1 Fold more of a desktop option.
Designing the ThinkPad X1 Fold
What remains to be seen is whether Lenovo can avoid the hiccups that have plagued foldable smartphones and similar devices. Samsung, Huawei, and Lenovo's Motorola have all had to put off foldable smartphone launches due to durability concerns and glitches.
Lenovo argued that it has put in the development time, iterated and been through four primary designs for the X1 Fold. Ultimately, Lenovo went with a 4x3 ratio and a 13.3-inch display. The pOLED (plastic OLED) screen is delivered via a partnership with LG Display.
"You need strong partnerships, and we began working with LG Display on this one three years ago. We also had deep engagement with Intel," said Teismann.
And then there are the hinges, mechanical parts, and engineering challenges. Given Lenovo's heritage in laptops, it understands hinges, testing, and reliability, so there's a possibility that the X1 Fold's core selling point won't be a tech issue.
Nevertheless, Lenovo has to convince business buyers that the X1 Fold has the same reliability as the ThinkPad lineup overall. Officials noted that Lenovo worked through six hinge designs with 20 different variations. Ultimately, Lenovo went with a hinge that uses lightweight alloys with a carbon fiber reinforced frame.
The pOLED display has also been tested extensively for taps, tracing, and drops.
The big questions ahead
While the ThinkPad X1 Fold is enticing, it remains to be seen how it is ultimately used. Teismann describes use cases such as video conferencing in the top half of the screen and using the pen to take notes at the bottom. There are also interesting screen arrangements and docking options going forward.
Mobile workers will ultimately determine how the ThinkPad X1 Fold is used. Use cases will likely be a blend of work and play. "There is just no one enterprise use case anymore. The next generation that selects Windows wants a device for business scenarios and private uses," said Teismann.
Other items to monitor as foldable devices roll out in 2020.
- Hinge expertise and durability will be everything. After the Galaxy Fold delay and screen issues, physical hinges seem like more of a sure bet. Lenovo knows hinges well, and its Motorola unit has one of the more realistic foldable device designs with the Razr reboot.
- Use cases will be key. The knock-on convertible 2-in-1 PCs is that they are used in one form factor for the most part. The ThinkPad X1 Fold has to offer enough to entice users to think beyond the clamshell.
- Pricing will matter. The ThinkPad X1 Fold starts in the $2,500 range, which is pricey. But when you compare a laptop to an expanded smartphone that runs the same, it almost seems like a deal. Something in the foldable market will have to give. My guess is foldable tablets/phones will have to come down in price.