Lenovo’s folding screen laptop went on sale Tuesday, making it the latest gadget trying to capitalize on the development of folding glass displays. There are no reviews yet of the new ThinkPad X1 Fold, which debuted at CES in January, but the announcement illustrated some of the perils of jumping out ahead of the pack to integrate the newest technologies.
When the tech industry makes a big breakthrough, it’s up to individual companies to decide how and when to add the potential new feature to actual products. Move too soon and consumers may ignore an overpriced or unreliable product. Move too late and rivals can steal market share.
The first iPhone famously eschewed then-current 3G wireless connectivity, without much harm, while Microsoft helped spark a new category of combined laptops and tablets, now called 2-in-1s, with its first Surface device.
Lenovo’s new laptop includes two shiny new technologies: 5G wireless and folding displays. The ThinkPad X1 Fold has a 13-inch OLED touch screen that folds down the middle and an optional 5G modem that offers superfast wireless connectivity, at least in places covered by 5G mobile networks. It’s the first folding screen laptop and one of the first 5G laptops (Lenovo’s Flex 5G, out this summer, was the first). Starting price: $2,500.
The 2.2-pound laptop is designed to take up much less space than a typical device. When folded, the laptop is only 6.3 inches long, versus 12 inches when unfolded. But the laptop has no built-in keyboard, instead offering an optional removable keyboard that snaps into place with magnets and connects via Bluetooth.
Despite the neat folding trick, the laptop’s weight is about the same as rival devices like the LG Gram 13 and Acer Swift 5, which include built-in keyboards. And it’s only half of a pound lighter than Lenovo’s own regular ThinkPad X1 Carbon, also with a built-in keyboard. The rivals also offer brighter screens, longer claimed battery life, and prices close to half of the X1 Fold’s.
So other than bragging rights, why would a consumer opt for the X1 Fold? The higher price brings a generally weaker set of features unless fitting the laptop in a small physical space is an essential need. The Fold’s new keyboard also will have to rate against the ThinkPad’s almost 30-year history of industry-best laptop keyboards.
The smartphone market offers another warning signal. Lenovo’s folding laptop arrives after phonemakers have spent the past two years focused on creating folding devices. None have sold particularly well. Like the X1 Fold, the folding screen phones generally carry premium price tags, compromised specifications, and questions about utility.
And while 5G in a laptop can come in handy for downloading large files or working with cloud apps, U.S. consumers trying to preorder the X1 Fold on Tuesday might be disappointed to discover that 5G models are not yet available. (Models including 5G will be rolled out from October through December in different parts of the world, a Lenovo spokesperson said.)
So for the first folding screen laptop, it may be too much, too soon, at too high a price.