Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold: The Future's Not Quite Here Yet
PC Magazine|January 2021
It’s somewhat surprising that the world’s first foldable-screen PC is a ThinkPad. When foldable screens debuted on phones last year, they were expensive gimmicks with questionable durability. ThinkPads are mostly expensive laptops, to be sure, but they’re legendary for being the opposite of gimmicky and flimsy. Fortunately, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold has the benefit of years of testing and research, and, at least as far as physical design is concerned, this Windows tablet mostly lives up to its ThinkPad name.
TOM BRANT

That said, it compares poorly with established Windows tablets such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 on price, battery life, and computing performance, making it a tough sell for the general public. Still, this revolutionary tablet PC is rugged, futuristic, and unlike any Windows device you’ve ever seen. Like the controversial original Samsung Galaxy Fold, the ThinkPad X1 Fold has an undeniable cool factor that will appeal to early adopters. Everyone else should wait a year or two in the hopes that a more reasonably priced and powerful sequel comes along, and that Windows integrates foldability better.

THE FIRST FOLDABLE WINDOWS TABLET

The X1 Fold is a twin-faceted computing revolution. The most groundbreaking innovation, of course, is the physical design of the tablet. From the Apple iPad to the Microsoft Surface Go, most tablets have screens with diagonal measurements of around 12 inches or less. The X1 Fold’s 13.3-inch display is slightly larger, a more fitting size when you’re viewing feature-rich websites or editing spreadsheets. While the tablet isn’t heavy (2.2 pounds), I’ve found that the best way to make use of the screen’s full expanse is by propping it up on a desk with its built-in kickstand, much the same as you would with the Surface Pro 7.

But the ThinkPad X1 Fold has a trick that neither the Surface Pro 7 nor any other large tablet can match: The screen bends in the middle, turning the device into something resembling a hardcover book and rendering it immensely more flexible. With the screen folded, you can use the X1 Fold to catch up on the morning news in your magazine app or as an ebook reader. You can also bend the two halves slightly together and set one of them on a tight space—say, an airplane tray table—to use the X1 Fold as a mini conventional clamshell laptop. Set up like this, the bottom half of the display can show the virtual touch keyboard built into Windows, while the upper half that’s tilted toward you displays content. Voila: You’re now using a 7-inch laptop.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold

PROS

Revolutionary foldable screen. Nifty optional wireless keyboard with inductive charging. Luxurious built-in leather cover. Integrated kickstand. Optional LTE connectivity. Meets MIL-SPEC durability standards.

CONS

Expensive. Sluggish computing performance. Clumsy, limited software. Some awkward design elements. Mediocre battery life. Lacks a rear camera.

BOTTOM LINE

Lenovo’s durable ThinkPad X1 Fold, with its detachable keyboard and revolutionary foldable screen, is the most futuristic Windows device of 2020— though far from the most practical one.

Finally, you can fold the screen completely in half like you’re closing a book. Not only is the screen protected in transit this way, but the integrated leather exterior of the tablet also folds with the screen, negating the need for a case to protect the X1 Fold’s outer chassis.

When folded, the tablet measures 1.1 by 9.3 by 6.2 inches (HWD), making it compact enough to fit nearly anywhere. Unfolded, the X1 Fold is 0.45 by 11.8 by 9.3 inches, slightly larger than the Surface Pro 7 with its 12.3-inch display.

INTEL’S ‘LAKEFIELD’ EXPERIMENT INSIDE

The X1 Fold’s second revolutionary aspect is its use of an Intel “Lakefield” processor. Intel designed Lakefield specifically for tablets and other extremely compact PCs. Introduced earlier this year, Lakefield more closely resembles the processors that power phones and Android tablets than those made for traditional laptops and desktops.

Instead of having four powerful processing cores, as most late-model Intel Core i5 and Core i7 laptop chips do, Lakefield comes with five single-threaded cores of varying abilities. A single 10-nanometer (nm) “Sunny Cove” core on the Lakefield chip can handle the heavy-lifting applications, while four 10nm “Tremont” cores can be leveraged for less-intensive computing tasks.

Intel was able to minimize Lakefield’s footprint by ditching the traditional method of laying the PC’s components across a circuit board. Instead, a 3D-packaging technology called Foveros stacks components, including the DRAM, on top of one another, saving on space.

Intel markets the Lakefield variant in the X1 Fold as a Core i5-L16G7. Similar to other Core i5 chips, it has a 1.4GHz base clock speed. While the four Tremont cores can only be boosted up to 1.8GHz, the Sunny Cove core can run as high as 3GHz.

Theoretically, Lakefield promises benefits similar to those of competing low-power processors such as the Apple M1 and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx, including long battery life without sacrificing computing performance when you need it. Unfortunately, as you’ll see in the performance discussion below, the X1 Fold falls far short on these promises. It behaves more like a processor intended for inexpensive devices like Chromebooks, offering neither impressive battery life nor adequate performance for anything beyond light tasks.

ACCESSORIES COST EXTRA

You could use the X1 Tablet exclusively as a tablet, tapping on the screen with your fingers as the sole means of input. It’s actually a satisfying experience for casual web browsing, thanks to the robust touch support built into Windows 10, and I spent much of my time testing the X1 Fold using it like this.

But you could do the same tasks with a conventional tablet that costs far less, so part of the X1 Fold’s uniqueness lies in the optional accessories designed to complement the foldable screen—especially the nifty keyboard. Lenovo could have offered the X1 Fold with a more traditional folio-style keyboard, like the Microsoft Surface Type Cover, but that would be impossible to store with the X1 Fold when it’s folded like a book. Instead, the company is offering the new Lenovo Fold Mini Keyboard, an adaptation of its legendary ThinkPad keyboard in laptops.

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