A couple of years ago, for reasons that have never been quite clear to me, the tech world seized on the idea that foldable screens are the future. This movement has, so far, yielded things like the botched Samsung Galaxy Fold, its improved (but wildly expensive) successor, and a Motorola Razr revival that made disgusting noises when you tried to bend the screen.
In other words, foldable devices have done little to advance the notion that they’re the future of technology. Lenovo’s recently released ThinkPad X1 Fold may be notable for being the first foldable Windows PC, but it still doesn’t buck that trend.
This is an astoundingly ambitious hybrid tablet/laptop with a price tag to match— you’ll spend a minimum of $2,500 on this bending bad boy. On paper, this can be a work laptop, a propped up streaming device, or a tablet complete with a pressure-sensitive stylus. The ThinkPad X1 fold can do so many things in so many ways, but almost none of that is actually enjoyable for the user.
It’s got class, I’ll give it that
In the spirit of fairness, I’ll start with the device’s physical construction, inarguably its best quality.
The X1 Fold is handsome to the eyes and sturdy in the hands, with the 13-inch display accounting for the bulk of its footprint when fully unfolded. At 2.2 pounds, it’s more than a half-pound heavier than something like an iPad Pro. Still, I’d place it at the high end of that sweet spot where it’s not too heavy and not too light. Stick it in your bag and you probably won’t notice as you lug it around from place to place.
Available only in black, the X1 Fold has a classy look with a real leather folio cover on the opposite side of its screen. The leather feels fantastic to the touch, and is genuinely preferable to a normal plastic shell. A built-in kickstand folds out from the leather folio to keep the X1 Fold propped up when in tablet mode. This is obviously useful for watching streaming content or participating in a video call, and the kickstand certainly doesn’t feel like it’s going to snap off anytime soon. (I’m looking at you, Nintendo Switch kickstand.)
Lenovo included a mere two USB-C ports on the X1 Fold. When looking at the device unfolded in tablet mode (and propped up by the kickstand), one of these ports can be found on the lower-left corner, with the other living on the bottom edge. Buttons for power and volume sit on the upper-right side of the device for easy access, while a Nano-SIM tray occupies the opposite edge. A webcam is also included and can be found just left of center in the bezel around the screen.
One point of concern about the webcam, though: In laptop mode — which shifts the device on its side— its placement means you’ll show up sideways in video calls. Correct camera orientation can only be achieved in a tablet form factor.
Lenovo’s inclusion of just two USB-C ports is fine for a tablet, but for a device that’s supposed to double as a work laptop, it’s not enough. If you ever need to use the laptop while it’s charging, you’re left with only one port open. Need to use both a USB mouse and keyboard while charging the X1 Fold? Too bad.
But let’s be real: If you’re spending close to three grand for a folding computer, you likely care more about the folding than how many ports it has.
The X1 Fold can be custom-ordered with a variety of configuration choices, but the internal PC guts are fairly static across the board:
13.3-inch, 1536 x 2048 OLED touch display with 60Hz refresh rate
Windows 10 (Home or Pro)
Intel Core i5 processor
8GB LPDDR4X RAM
256, 512, or 1TB SSD storage (the only one of these specs you can customize)
Rated for up to 10.5 hours of battery with video playback
Those aren’t exactly eye-popping specs for $2,500, and the problem only gets worse when you factor in important and useful add-ons that increase the price by several hundred dollars. For example, expanding the storage to 1TB, adding the Bluetooth keyboard attachment (more on that later), and “Mod Pen” stylus balloons the price to $3,104. Three thousand dollars … for a laptop with 8GB RAM. Yeah.
Further lessening the value relative to the price is the fact that the X1 Fold’s general performance is merely fine. It’s not laggy or anything, but for everyday tasks like web browsing and video calls, it’s not noticeably faster or more capable than my (comparatively cheaper) work-issued MacBook Pro.
The X1 Fold is a little sluggish off the line, with a boot-up time between 20 and 30 seconds coming off a full shutdown. Apps and webpages can also take a half-second longer to load than you might expect from something this expensive. Again, it’s not actively bad or even mediocre, but the X1 Fold’s moment-to-moment performance didn’t do enough to negate my frustrations with the device as a whole.
There’s also no way to bump the display’s refresh rate up from 60Hz — an omission that sticks out given the gargantuan price Lenovo is charging for the X1 Fold. I’ll grant that a folding display of this size is probably exorbitantly expensive to manufacture, so corners need to be cut, but it’s still disappointing.
Aside from that, however, the OLED display’s high resolution (1536 x 2048) and vibrant colors make it one of the better aspects of the X1 Fold. When you unfurl it and set it up with the kickstand, it can serve as an excellent secondary display to stream Netflix or watch basketball on while you do chores, play video games, or do whatever else it is you need to do.
Loathsome as a laptop
Using the X1 Fold as a primary work laptop for even one day can best be described as “maddening.” You do this by folding the screen clamshell-style and magnetically attaching the Bluetooth keyboard (a $365 optional purchase) atop the lower half of the screen. Pairing the keyboard is easy enough, as all you’ll need to do is flip a small toggle on its right side, hold a special Bluetooth key for a few seconds, and follow some on-screen prompts on the Fold itself. That whole process takes maybe 30 seconds.
It’s what happens after that brings the pain.
Attaching the keyboard obscures half of the 13.3-inch display, effectively making the X1 Fold closer in size and shape to a netbook than a regular laptop. That big, nice-looking display I talked about earlier instantly becomes cramped and difficult to use in laptop mode. It can barely even fit a Windows taskbar with just a few items on it.
And then there’s the keyboard. Oh, the keyboard. What can I say? It’s excessively tiny, for one. It’s so tiny, in fact, that I can almost touch one corner with my thumb and the opposite corner with my pinky finger. That’s not ideal for something that’s meant to be used with two hands. And as if that wasn’t enough, the keys are mushy and unsatisfying to press.
Lenovo also made some minor (but aggravating) shifts to key placement, presumably to account for the keyboard’s small size. For instance, the colon/semicolon and apostrophe/quotation mark buttons sit right above the enter key instead of to its left. I have been typing on keyboards with those keys in the latter position for 20 years. There is no world in which I can train my brain to accept this change.
The keyboard also comes with a touchpad on the bottom that is, by no small margin, the worst touchpad I have ever used. It’s horizontally shorter than my index finger, just to give you an idea of how minuscule it is. So good luck doing anything that requires two fingers at once, like scrolling or zooming. Those sorts of commands work, but the touchpad is so small that it’s hardly comfortable to use.
Even more troubling than its size is how finicky the touchpad is. It simply cannot consistently distinguish between a click and a drag, no matter how light a touch you use. Anytime I tried to click onto a different browser tab and move the mouse cursor down onto the page, there was at least a 50 percent chance the touchpad would mistakenly drag the tab out into a new window because it registered my attempt to scroll as a click.
The compromised display when in laptop mode, atrocious keyboard, and nearly useless touchpad all conspire to make just one day of using the X1 Fold as a primary work machine more than enough for me. Normally, I would’ve typed this review out on the Fold itself, but no way. Not this time.
But hey, maybe you don’t need to do written work on the X1 Fold. Maybe you want to get the most out of that big display. If you do, I have bad news: That’s not great either.
Tedious as a tablet
As a foldable display, there are a few different ways to use the X1 Fold in tablet mode. The first and most basic is to use it as a completely flat display, iPad-style. It’s a little thicker and heavier than the average iPad, but this isn’t a terrible way to do things. Beyond that, you can fold it in a clamshell shape, with one half of the screen resting on a flat surface, or you can hold it like a book. It’s not locked to a 90-degree orientation in this mode, giving you some flexibility to adjust for your needs.
Doing either of those things will give you the option to display whatever windows you have open side-by-side, divided cleanly by the crease in the screen. This is a plus for multitasking, I suppose. Though, I will point out that you can also display windows like that on any other computer display for roughly the same effect. Regardless, this part works as expected. The X1 Fold automatically detects what you’re trying to do with it and is usually quick to rearrange windows to make better use of screen real estate.
Now for the bad news: The X1 Fold’s touchscreen is just not responsive enough when it comes to sensing human fingers. You can make it work, but if you try dragging a finger in a line in Paint, you’ll see several small breaks where the screen simply stopped registering your touch for whatever reason. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen with the $100 Mod Pen accessory, a straightforward pressure-sensitive stylus. The X1 Fold plays very nicely with the Mod Pen, though the extra cost necessary to make this already-expensive device better as a tablet is a bummer.
Even a better touchscreen wouldn’t fix the fact that Windows is just not a pleasant operating system to use on a tablet. Microsoft has fiddled with the sizes and shapes of various UI features over the years to work more naturally in a touch environment, but the fact of the matter is that Windows is still a pain without a physical keyboard and a touchpad or mouse. Tapping text boxes doesn’t always bring up a virtual keyboard; some buttons are much too small for my fingers, and so on. It just sucks.
That’s not Lenovo’s fault. But the fact that Windows is all you get with the X1 Fold means it’s worth pointing out how annoying it can be to use the device as a tablet due to the mere presence of a mouse-and-keyboard-based OS. Every problem I’ve listed above also came with the assumption that the X1 Fold functions at all, which, if you can believe it, was not a guarantee in my time with it.
Prone to failure
Battery problems colored my experience with the X1 Fold more than anything else. To be clear, I don’t simply mean a lack of battery life, though that’s certainly something to call out with this device.
Lenovo rates the X1 Fold for somewhere around eight to 10 hours on a charge, but I couldn’t stretch it that far. In one work morning, when all I did with the X1 Fold was attend two video meetings, it went from 100 percent to 30 percent power by lunchtime. That was also without using the Bluetooth keyboard, which surely uses at least a little extra juice to run. When using the Fold as a work device, it gave me closer to four or five hours of service before needing a recharge.
A more pressing issue is that the first X1 Fold I tested went kaput for no discernible reason within 24 hours of unboxing it. The device worked fine for a day. But by the next morning, with the device plugged in overnight, it couldn’t draw power at all. The battery had lost all its charging capabilities, displaying a zero percent indicator on the screen no matter how long I left it plugged in.
To Lenovo’s credit, its representatives were extremely helpful and we were able to get a replacement unit to me that largely fared better. But even that wasn’t without a scare. On the second day post-unboxing, the replacement X1 Fold went to sleep after idling for a few minutes and just…didn’t wake up. The power-indicating LED couldn’t be roused even when I plugged the unit into its charger. For all intents and purposes, it became a $2,500 paperweight with zero signs of life.
It took a hard system reset using one of those needle-sized buttons hidden behind the kickstand to restore its ability to even turn on. In fairness, Lenovo said neither of these things are known issues with the device. I could just have had tremendously bad luck. That said, I had two different X1 Folds cease functioning after going to sleep. On those grounds alone, it’s incredibly difficult to recommend that anyone spend such a large amount of money on this computer.
Foldable devices aren’t ready for primetime yet. We didn’t need the X1 Fold and its various shortfalls to know that. It’s just the unlucky one that got to be the example of why that is this time.
A foldable laptop/tablet hybrid that you can use in a bunch of different ways by manipulating the shape of the screen itself is ambitious, sure, but so is trying to jump so high that you reach the moon. Ambition is nothing if the end result doesn’t solve longstanding problems, create fascinating new possibilities, or even work on a basic level.
Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Fold doesn’t rise to the occasion in any of those senses. The part where you toy around with the bending screen works, but it’s not transformative enough to justify the exorbitant cost. The Bluetooth keyboard that turns the tablet into a laptop is a nice idea that’s hamstrung by being sized for ants. A mediocre touchscreen, poor battery life, and worrying hardware failures all add up to the conclusion that you should just ignore this novelty and get a regular tablet or laptop for the time being.