Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold: Excellent idea, but depends on how you use it

The world's first touchscreen laptop is not without some compromises.

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The ThinkPad has never looked sexier. Although ThinkPads in recent years have done well to shed their blocky, utilitarian look, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is perhaps Lenovo’s most daring attempt to be explicitly cutting edge.

That’s not a slight on Lenovo, of course, but looking the X1 Fold and then looking at the rest of its offerings might throw up a little cognitive dissonance. As we all know, the ThinkPad isn’t a particularly flashy laptop – or so we thought.

If you have the X1 Fold right in front of you right now, I’m sure you’re bound to agree. In its folio form, this is like the ultimate gadget for C-suite types; for people who get work done and all that jazz. If I could, I’d just walk around all day from cubicle to cubicle, never opening the laptop at all – the folio form is gorgeous. It’s got the right amount of heft in your hand without feeling unwieldy, and that leather trim is such a wonderful touch, in more ways than one. Simply put, just carrying it around is bound evoke stares of envy from anyone spends a lot of time on a work laptop.

Not perfect

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is a classic ThinkPad, but a tad cooler
The X1 Fold is a classic ThinkPad, but a tad cooler.

But a perfect laptop, it is not. Some might argue that the bezels are huge and it’s not an edge to edge display or something to that effect but I have to disagree and say it looks good this way and is perfectly in line with the ThinkPad aesthetic. But it’s just my opinion. The hinge covers look like tape, and criticism is arguably less subjective. Yet, I can’t blame them for not having a better solution for this right now.

And not that you’ll notice it much, because the mild crease in the middle sticks out a little more. To be fair, there’s no way to avoid that on a folding screen, and you will forget about it soon enough. The 13.3" OLED display is a gorgeous distraction, though it does have a slight blueish tint that is apparent at steeper viewing angles. This isn’t new for OLED, but because you fold the laptop often, you see it often as well.

Not exactly a mobile warrior

There is a bigger caveat in-waiting: the processor. I understand that this is not the speediest notebook in the world and we’re fine with that because this isn’t that kind of laptop. This is supposed to be a stylish companion that is also surprisingly versatile as a productive tool. Well, kind of, with some caveats.

What we get is a Lakefield i5 processor with Intel Hybrid Technology, which is essentially a low-power mobile solution and it certainly feels like it. I wouldn’t say it is sluggish (again, my view) but it isn’t lightning-quick responsive either. The trouble is that people tend to make comparisons, and inevitably they will turn to the iPad as the benchmark. ‘Good enough’, seems to be the operative words, unless of course, you’re furiously switching between spreadsheets and word documents and zoom calls. The long and the short of it: The X1 Fold works, but don’t bring it along to helter-skelter, life-in-the-trenches situations. After all, this is a premium device; surely the processor should be a little beefier?

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold will inevitably be compared to an iPad
It will inevitably be compared to an iPad.

I wouldn’t have minded If it was a justifiable trade-off for battery life. It’s not. If I need this for a full work day’s efforts then I might be sweating bullets come 4 pm because I’m not certain if I can make it through. And that’s only with conservative use, mind you. If you are frantically multitasking you might be looking at something closer to five hours. The upside is that if you have a beefy power bank that supports PD or high power draw, it can help you last the day. But that’s more like a last resort (you can’t just borrow any power bank will-nilly and expect it to work).

An experiential concept

The various screen modes are what makes the X1 Fold so desirable. The book mode is perhaps its most unusual and coolest mode ever, even though I’m sure it’s not exactly a productivity tool. But if your PDFs are formatted nicely, it sure does feel good reading it like a book. It feels even better when someone sees you reading off it and gasp. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to the gaggle of admirers.

I’m not an artist and I can’t imagine being an artist, so I can’t evaluate how refined the Mod Pen is. I’m not an executive, but I can imagine being one, and I can sheepishly say that the pen is responsive and is really handy to have, especially since you’ll tend to treat the X1 Fold a little more like a tablet than a laptop.

Tablet, laptop, book, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold can do it all
Tablet, laptop, book, it can do it all.

I feel that the X1 is best used is when the screen is unfolded entirely. The stand is fairly secure and I thoroughly enjoyed having a large display to work on when at a desk.

If anything, I found myself enjoying the X1 most in casual settings. Or at least in less intense situations when its weaknesses have little to no bearing on my experience. I can get a little work done, enjoy some reading just about anywhere I want to go. And thanks to the various modes it folds to – laptop, tablet, AIO-style desktop, and book – I never feel that my location compromises how I can use the device.

One caveat

Switching between screens isn’t always the most pleasant experience because (at the beginning at least) it’s not always intuitive – sometimes it doesn’t recognise which mode you want to be in and you have to force the issue manually, which detracts a little from the experience. Things got better the longer I used it and got used to its quirks and changes become more seamless. And sometimes, it’s a bit finicky to get Vantage to split the apps onto the screen the way you want it. But it’s clear that the Vantage software can be improved on. Such are the pitfalls of being a first mover in the Windows world, which is a shame because the hardware is impeccable.

The tablet mode of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is great for browsing websites
Tablet mode is great for browsing websites.

The other elephant in the room is that the complete Fold experience is beholden to software developers making apps to take advantage of its screen format and I’d rather err on the side of assuming that extensive support is not forthcoming.

A surprisingly crisp typing experience

Special mention must be made for the included wireless keyboard. It sits on one half of the display and held in place by a magnet. It also charges when seated on the X1, which is nice. The keyboard is secure enough to stay still when you type, and yet it comes off easily when you need to use the entire screen. I had some issues initially in pairing the keyboard – at first, it couldn’t pair, then it couldn’t recognise that I don’t want to use the on-screen keyboard. But I put that down to ‘user problem’ and true enough, I did not encounter any issues thereafter. But it could be made simpler though, just saying.

The ThinkPad experience is incomplete without an excellent keyboard
The ThinkPad experience is incomplete without an excellent keyboard

Thankfully, the bread and butter – the typing experience – is almost perfect. Despite its diminutive size, it seldom feels like a compromise, and there’s a satisfying click every time you hit the keys. Oh, I said almost, right? If you’re thinking that you’re going to fly with your touch typing skills then take a look at the keys again. Yes, some keys have been combined, meaning you have to relearn if you want to type fast. The touchpad feels good and clicks nicely but it is a tad small. Luckily, you’re always so close to the touchscreen it doesn’t matter.

Fewer connectivity options but it’s fine

The only other misstep was not adding a second camera that can be used in laptop mode. The X1 Fold is 5G enabled, so it can be used for conference calls on the move. It feels like a missed opportunity to not allow people to do zoom calls while in laptop mode because one might not always have the luxury of an open table at hand.

There aren’t many ports as well, though I can’t imagine why the X1 Fold would need them. The two USB-C ports are located in different locations, which is a good thing because it’s easy to charge the X1 Fold regardless of what orientation you are in. There’s no headphone jack included, but hey, ballers don’t need wired headphones.

Conclusion

What makes or breaks the X1 Fold comes down how you use it. We’ve established that it’s not a workhorse, and I suspect it was never designed to be so. The X1 Fold is a great idea that just about gets there and it does come with compromises.

I suspect that the bulk of its issues can be mitigated with software updates – even speed and battery life – but it’s difficult to recommend a product on the basis that there’s a chance it will improve down the line. Either you like it now, or you don’t.

I suppose that its biggest flaw is the burden of expectation and the price. I find myself enjoying the X1 Fold experience in patches but knowing a comprised performance at an uncompromising price doesn’t augur well with my subconscious. So, if you still think that the negatives of the Fold X1 will not bug you, then congratulations, the X1 Fold will be a truly enjoyable secondary device to own.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold

  Features - 9/10

  Value Proposition - 6/10

  Performance - 7/10

  Design & Build Quality - 9/10

  Overall - 7/10

  Verdict

A well-built device with a great concept but is limited by software. Fortunately it's not supposed to a workhorse, so its shortcomings are not an absolute deal-breaker. That would more likely be the price tag.

Specifications

From $3,650 (Mod pen included), Mini keyboard add $229

OS Windows 10 Home or Pro
Processor Intel i5- L16G7 Core Processor with Intel Hybrid Technology 3.0 GHz
Graphics Integrated Intel UHD 11th Gen Graphics
Memory 8 GB LPDDR4
Storage 256 GB/ 512 GB/ 1TB PCIe-NVMe M.2 2242 SSD

Display 13.3” Flexible QXGA OLED 4:3 (2048 x 1536, 300 nit) DCI-P3 95% Touch
Camera 5MP HD RGB + IR camera
Audio Dolby Atmos Speaker System

WLAN & Bluetooth Wi-Fi 6 WLAN 802.11 AX, 5G sub 6GHz with 4G LTE coverage (Optional), Bluetooth 5.1
Ports 2 x USB 3.2 Type C Gen 2, 1 x micro SIM card slot
Battery 50 Wh (Battery Life 8.5 hours MM18 & 10.4 hours video playback)

Dimensions Unfolded: 299.4 x 236.0 x 11.5 mm, Folded: 158.2 x 236.0 x 27.8 mm
Weight 999g

Keyboard & Pen Lenovo Fold Mini Keyboard- Bluetooth, Wirelessly Charged (Bundled or Separately) Lenovo Mod Pen- Premium AES 2.0, Li-On

Mil-Spec test MIL-STD-810H military testing