(Pocket-lint) - Is it a tablet? Is it a laptop? Is it a multi-functional folio? It's all of those yet none. It's the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold: the first 'folding-screen PC'.

First teased back in May 2019, the X1 Fold is a very different way of thinking about productivity and scale. Its folding OLED screen and included magnetically-attached keyboard and clip-on stylus mean you can assemble a mini laptop-like workstation, or pop the unfolded screen onto a stand for a full-blown PC-like experience, or simply use it as a tablet.

With folding devices finally breaking through - such as the Samsung Galaxy Fold - the Lenovo finds itself in an all-new space, upscaling the potential of where such devices can reach. But is a folding screen really necessary and what does it feel like to use? We got out hands on one ahead of its official unveil at CES 2020 to bring you more...

Folding Screen Design

  • 13.3-inch Plastic OLED display, 4:3 aspect ratio, 2048 x 1536 resolution (QXGA)
  • 2x USB-C (1x Gen 1, 1x Gen 2), 1x SIM card (4G & 5G options)
  • Attached folio cover, finished in leather
  • Unfolded: 299.4 x 236.0 x 7.8mm
  • Folded: 158.2 x 236.0 x 27.8mm
  • Weighs: 999g

With the X1 Fold sat folded on a tabletop and you'd be forgiven for thinking it's just a notepad or folio. Something this small, which appears like a little book, defies the typical laptop or PC scale.

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With a leather cover attached, a small part of the screen's rear is visible where the attached stylus is clipped onto its loop. Unfold the device, however, and this cover slides to completely cover the rear, the screen dominating in a fully flat 13.3-inch form.

In a similar way to the Moto Razr phone, the Lenovo hinge is designed to form rigidly. There's no flex or flim in the fully unfolded product - although you can see some essence of a crease to the centre, just as you can with the Samsung Galaxy Fold. It's not too much of a bother, though.

The bigger deal with the screen is that it's Plastic OLED (often called POLED), the OLED panel covered in plastic for protection. Lenovo has been working with LG to make a unique plastic covering, with a H6 hardness resistance to avoid scratches. That said, many phones have scratch protection but are still vulnerable.

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The bigger thing to take away from POLED is just how reflective that coating makes it. Sure, the screen's depth is superb thanks to OLED black levels and colour richness, but the coating represents foldables in their first-gen form. Over the years, we expect that will evolve.

The POLED screen is surrounded by a silicone edging, which allows for a close seal to avoid any gunk getting underneath and affecting the panel itself. This pre-production unit doesn't look like the totally finished article just yet, with the seal not seeming consistent, so it'll be interesting to see how the final product fares in this regard.

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With a weight that's one gram shy of a kilo, the X1 Fold is light enough to cart around - even in a particularly small bag. And that includes the included keyboard.

Keyboard & Stylus

  • Lenovo Mini Fold Keyboard (with wireless charging)
  • New Active Pen stylus

So how does the X1 Fold operate? It can be unfolded flat to make a 13.3-inch tablet. It can be folded to halfway, to make for a half-size laptop form - the physical keyboard magnetically attached to make for a true typing experience. It can be folded halfway, with software separating top and bottom sections (in both portrait and landscape) to use with virtual keys and windows. Or it can be stand-mounted (sold separately) for a mini-PC-like experience.

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The included keyboard is an interesting take: it magnetically clips onto the screen's surface, producing a real laptop-like experience with full key feedback. Better still, fold the X1 Fold shut and the keyboard automatically recharges, wirelessly. How clever is that? So you can carry the keyboard around no bother.

There's also a stylus included, which lives in a loop on the front of the device. It's got some likeable weight to it, too, rather than some of the overly flimsy plastic pens we've seen in some laptops, which makes it feel great to use when scrawling on the tablet screen.

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With the X1 Fold setup as a mini laptop the keyboard position is a little raised, given the thickness of the product, which is slightly odd to the edge against the wrists. The keys travel well enough, though.

Performance & Spec

  • Intel Core Processor with Intel Hybrid Technology
  • Integrated Intel UHD Gen 11 Graphics
  • 8GB RAM (LPDDR4X 4267MHz)
  • Up to 1TB SSD storage
  • 50Wh battery

The part that will take most getting used to is the addition of software to allow Windows to split the screen. There's a little virtual button to the bottom bar which allows for portrait, landscape, and landscape with virtual keyboard splits. It's a little slow to put the chosen option into action, but it should improve before launch. And we're surprised there's no automated activation when the keyboard is magnetially clipped into place.

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In terms of raw power, the X1 Fold was produced in conjunction with Intel, delivering an ample amount of grunt. But don't expect ultra-powerful here, it's rather more about small scale and its point of difference. There 8GB RAM and up to 1TB storage should keep things ticking along nicely though.

Lastly there's battery power, which we've obviously been unable to test out at this stage. Lenovo claims up to 11 hours of use per charge, with fast-charging via the USB-C port able to rejuice that in double time. We suspect that'll be optimistic battery life, though, as is typical, so you're not going to get the longest lasting experience in this form factor, which isn't a surprise.

Why so expensive?

  • Lightweight alloys and cabon fibre construction
  • Luxury leather folio cover
  • LTE CAT 20, 5G option
  • ThinkPad legacy

So why the anticipated $2,499 starting price when the X1 Fold arrives in mid 2020? That's down to a variety of factors, from the sheer expense of years of research and development, to the materials used.

The hinge mechanism took four years to get right, while the combination of lightweight alloys and carbon fibre for the reinforced frame plate, all adds up.

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In context the X1 Fold isn't that expensive either. Think about it: the 7.3-inch Galaxy Fold was priced at $2,000 when it launched in 2019. The Lenovo product is not only larger, it also includes mobile connectivity, in 4G and 5G forms, plus Windows licensing.

For what you're getting, and the fact that ThinkPad laptops are typically well into four figures anyway, we think the X1 Fold arrives at a price point that's reflective of the product. It might be out of reach for most, but it's aspirational.

First Impressions

Anyone who sees the ThinkPad X1 Fold will be impressed. It's like nothing else out there. It's a revolutionary piece of kit.

But it might not always be practical. The reflective quality of the POLED display. The slight crease to the centre. The small-scale design not being reflective of a usual laptop experience. The high price. All these are things to consider.

But it's a new way of thinking and among the defining products to be announced at CES 2020. The ThinkPad X1 Fold is an innovation that's worth getting excited about.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is expected to launch mid 2020, with prices expected to start at $2,499.

Writing by Mike Lowe.