I went hands-on with Lenovo's transparent laptop at MWC, and it's surprisingly functional

The company is demoing a new ThinkBook with a transparent display at Mobile World Congress 2024, and it may just be the king of concepts.
Written by Max Buondonno, Contributing Writer
Lenovo's transparent laptop concept from MWC 2024
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

On a snowy day in New York City, I saw the future of laptops. Well, at least what science fiction and, oddly enough, Nickelodeon have suggested are the future of laptops.

Also: Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Fold is the most bizarre, fun, and expensive laptop I've ever tested

At MWC 2024, Lenovo is showcasing a concept ThinkBook at its booth with one very neat trick. We saw transparent displays hit the mainstream back at CES in January when LG and Samsung both unveiled TVs using the technology. Now, Lenovo has incorporated it into a laptop, making it one of the coolest ones I've ever seen (even outpacing Lenovo's own ThinkPad X1 Fold) and one of the first laptops to have a display of this caliber.

I spent some time with the concept device a couple of weeks before MWC in New York, and let me tell you, my jaw dropped several times.

Close up of ZDNET on the Lenovo ThinkBook transparent laptop concept.
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

The 17.3-inch Micro-LED display looks like a piece of clear glass with Windows icons floating in it. Moving the cursor feels trippy since it's like you're moving it around in mid-air, and interacting with apps is reminiscent of what you'd see if you used an Apple Vision Pro. Lenovo said the screen can reach up to 1,000 nits of brightness, and in the well-lit demo room I was in, you could certainly tell that it's one of the brightest laptop screens out there.

The rear corner of the transparent ThinkBook concept laptop from Lenovo at MWC.
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

I walked around to the other side of the table to look at the screen from behind, and you could see everything you were doing pretty clearly, albeit at about 55 percent of the frontside brightness. Lenovo says it's working on software to black out the background of the display, but in my demo, you could see right through it. I suppose that means you won't be working on any secretive documents on it any time soon.

Also: I saw Samsung and LG's new transparent TVs at CES, and there's a clear winner

Lenovo showed me a few examples of running a web browser, playing videos, and interacting with the Windows interface during my briefing, all of which were very cool to look at. But Lenovo wants the transparent screen to extend beyond its looks -- it wants to make it functional, and one idea it floated was using a camera and AI.

The back of the transparent ThinkBook concept laptop from Lenovo.
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

On the back of the ThinkBook, below the display hinge, sits a camera that faces outward. With it, Lenovo says the laptop could be used to identify objects behind the screen display and show information about them using object identification and generative AI. The software behind the feature would be powerful enough to identify the edges of the object and show the generated information next to it on the screen. The company gave an example of placing a flower behind the screen and watching the name of it pop up soon after.

Also: A smartphone without apps? This AI assistant aims to replace them all

Unfortunately, this feature wasn't available to demo during my briefing, but it's another hint that Lenovo wants to push the idea of AI-powered PCs even further in 2024 and beyond. This transparent laptop might be a reality one day, and object identification could prove to be a useful feature. Until it actually ships to customers though, we're left guessing whether it'll be worth it.

Lenovo's concept ThinkBook transparent laptop keyboard and trackpad.
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

The rest of the laptop was equally insane, I must say. Lenovo included a second touchscreen on the bottom that displays a capacitive keyboard and trackpad and could morph into a full-blown Wacom-style drawing surface. It had crazy blue accents everywhere and a glossy finish to boot. 

The laptop was chunky and heavy and boasted decent specs like a 13th-gen Intel processor and gobs of RAM. The display, while obviously fancy looking, was low resolution at Full HD, and there was some haloing around lightly-colored objects.

Lenovo ThinkBook transparent laptop concept showcasing ZDNET.
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

Overall, this is by far one of the coolest laptop concepts I've seen in the past five years. Lenovo built a laptop that I've only ever seen in sci-fi shows and old Nickelodeon programs (remember the Pear Company?), and yet it seemed practical and useful at the same time. Obviously, this particular ThinkBook won't be coming to market anytime soon, and I couldn't get an answer from Lenovo about when it might eventually ship a transparent laptop. But the mere fact that they're thinking about it is a sign that they're considering a future product with the tech onboard, and I'm here for it.

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