At a time when smartphones with foldable screens are being looked up to as the next big tech wave, Lenovo has announced what it says is the world’s first ‘foldable PC’.
The prototype is not just a tech demo, says Lenovo, which has been developing this for over three years and plans to launch a finished device in 2020 as part of its premium ThinkPad X1 brand. The goal here is a premium product that will be a laptop-class device, not an accessory or secondary computer like a tablet might be.
Conceptually, it is the opposite of what most of the foldable phones out there are trying to do. While companies like Samsung and Huawei are trying to double the display area of a regular smartphone with their devices, Lenovo is taking a full-sized PC and making it smaller but with the same capabilities.
The result is a 13.3-inch 2K OLED display in the 4:3 aspect that can fold up to about the size of a hardcover book, and weighing about as much as a hardcover copy of a larger book.
The prototype showed that the screen does fold, as advertised, and Windows worked well enough as a touch interface. But the real magic here — if it happens at all — will come with software and optimizing things to run on the unique form factors that a folding screen can provide. Let us hope Lenovo puts a proper e-reader software for a futuristic, two-page digital book. The glitches in the prototype, and there were several, will hopefully be sorted out before a full-blown product makes it to market.
The versatility of the product is what appeals. You can use it completely unfolded like a large tablet or partially folded in a book-form factor. A built-in kickstand lets you prop up the display on a table for use with an included wireless keyboard and trackpad. And, perhaps most interestingly, you can turn the device on its side and use it in a traditional, but smaller laptop style form factor, using the bottom surface as a digital keyboard or writing pad. Cleverly, the right side of the display, which serves as the ‘bottom’ portion when used in laptop mode, contains the entire battery, which keeps it weighed down so it will not topple over.
Lenovo remained tight-lipped about specific details about the product, but what we do know is that it will run Windows and offer an Intel CPU. There are no details beyond that, and specs like RAM or even battery life estimates are being kept under wraps. There are also plans for cellular support of some kind, a bundled Wacom pen (which clips to the front of the device, and slides forward to the side when unfolded), and it will charge over USB-C.
Despite having no price, no release date, and only an unfinished hardware to look at, the idea is still an ambitious one, and it is encouraging to see that Lenovo is pursuing folding technology for larger devices than phones. Whether that actually works in practice when the eventual finished hardware launches next year is anyone’s guess.