Folding laptops are the future

Small laptop with a big screen – really a contradiction in terms, but foldable laptops make it possible. Instead of a screen and a keyboard, the device has only one large continuous flexible screen.

When fully opened and placed in landscape mode with an external keyboard in front, a foldable laptop offers more screen real estate than a laptop of the same size – for working, watching movies, playing

At IFA 2022, Lenovo and Asus presented two foldable laptops that I thought would replace my laptop at some point:

  • Asus ZenBook 17 Fold OLED
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16

Wow, a giant screen!

Lenovo already released the ThinkPad X1 Fold in 2020, which is why the new ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 is also called the ThinkPad X1 Fold G2 (G2 indicates the second generation). At 13.3 inches, the X1 Fold G1 is smaller and therefore used differently. His colleague Jürgen Vielmeier then wanted a bigger device (just follow the link above). This is the first foldable laptop for Asus.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 in landscape format: wider and higher than a standard laptop (Photo: Lenovo)

Both the new devices are almost identical in size. The ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 measures 16.3 inches diagonally when unfolded. Designed like a regular laptop with a keyboard on the bottom half, it measures 12 inches. The Asus ZenBook 17 Fold OLED is slightly larger at 17 inches and 12.5 inches.

When opened, both have a 4:3 aspect ratio, which is more commonly found in mainstream laptops for business customers.

But you can also comfortably watch a movie in 16:9 format. The black bars at the top and bottom waste space, but the image is wider than a normal laptop. A win for every viewer. For me.

Five ways to use the screen

You can use a foldable laptop in different ways. In general, there are five ways to configure or align the screen:

Turn 180 degrees, stand up, keyboard in front. This way, the screen is still larger than a laptop of the same size with an integrated keyboard.

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The Asus ZenBook 17 Fold OLED can only be configured in landscape format, not portrait format (Photo: Asus)

90 degree opening like a typical laptop, physical keyboard on the bottom. The palms of the hands are higher than usual because the device is thicker with the keyboard.

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The Asus ZenBook 17 Fold OLED can also be used in classic laptop mode (Photo: Asus)

Open 90 degrees like a classic laptop, the keyboard is on the front. This layout takes up more desk space but allows more of the screen to be seen, although the bottom half lying on the desk may reflect a ceiling or table lamp that is unattractive.

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Use it like a regular laptop, remove the keyboard and there’s more screen space on the Asus ZenBook 17 Fold OLED (Photo: Asus)

Unfold 180 degrees without keyboard. It’s tablet mode – when it’s about consumption: lay on the couch, bend your legs, put the tablet on it, enjoy.

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The Asus ZenBook 17 Fold OLED can also be used without a keyboard – like a tablet (Photo: Asus)

Open 90 degrees like a regular laptop, revealing the on-screen keyboard. The variant when things need to be done quickly, but the keyboard can or should stay in your pocket.

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When time is of the essence, the Asus ZenBook 17 Fold OLED can also be operated via the on-screen keyboard (Photo: Asus)

The difference between the two devices: Asus has included a leg. It allows you to position the screen in one direction only, ie landscape and angled.

The Lenovo, on the other hand, includes an external stand that allows the display to be placed in either portrait or landscape orientation at whatever angle best suits your sitting position or the amount of incoming light. Personally, I really like the Lenovo X1 Fold’s portrait mode.

Can a foldable laptop fit on your lap?

The stand – whether integrated like the Asus or separate like the Lenovo – makes a foldable laptop a fragile thing. It needs a firm surface and more space on it.

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Plenty of space at the top: The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 in portrait or portrait mode (Photo: Lenovo)

I use a laptop instead of a desktop because I use the device elsewhere. Elsewhere on the table, that won’t be a problem even with a foldable laptop. Great on small train tables or on knees or lying on bent legs.

Most laptops when they were over three kilos were almost like foldable laptops: a way to work with one device in multiple places.

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The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 is actually a 12-inch laptop and therefore really small and compact (Photo: Lenovo)

However, the mode with the keyboard on the screen or with the physical keyboard placed on it also makes it possible to work on small surfaces or on the knees. It’s just that the screen is really small – like a 12-inch laptop.

Lenovo even gives the X1 Fold 16 a real Thinkpad keyboard with an integrated TrackPoint – similar to the Lenovo TrackPoint Keyboard II. When lying on the device, it is 17.4mm tall – tall enough for a palm rest and tiring for the arms.

How to carry the foldable laptop?

Since the keyboard is not permanently installed in the foldable laptop, the question arises how it is stored in the bag. The Lenovo X1 Fold 16 also has a separate stand.

Asus has just solved this problem: the stand is firmly integrated into the back, even though it implies that there is only one way to configure the screen. The keyboard disappears between the two halves when you fold it, so it’s inside and therefore protected.

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The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 folds for transport and the keyboard (below) is magnetically anchored (Photo: Lenovo)

This construction also means that the screen is less curved. If this makes it more durable than the Lenovo X1 Fold 16, that would be a definite plus. But only a long-term trial can show this.

Asus ZenBook 17 Fold OLED:

  • Weight without keyboard: 1.5 kg
  • Weight with keyboard: 1.8 kg
  • Dimensions (unfolded): 37.9 x 28.8 x 0.9-1.3 cm

Lenovo has paid for more flexibility of use with less situation when carrying it. There is a separate stand that allows it to be placed in portrait or landscape format, as well as at different angles.

There are three parts to store: the laptop, the stand, and the keyboard. You can attach both magnetically, one side on each side, so you can grab the package with one hand and keep it in your pocket.

Lenovo X1 Fold 16:

  • Weight without keyboard: 1.28 kg
  • Weight with keyboard: 1.9 kg
  • Dimensions (unfolded): 34.6 x 27.6 x 0.9 cm

When folded, both packages are very thick. They are heavier than a light business laptop (Ultrabook), but not as heavy as a normal laptop.

Is the technology mature?

This is the second foldable laptop for Lenovo and the first for Asus. The question then is reasonable: is the technology sufficient? It took a while for smartphones with foldable screens (Samsung Galaxy Z Flip and Galaxy Z Fold). However, laptops probably benefited from this development.

Asus promises 30,000 folds and says that’s enough for five years. This is equivalent to 16 processes per day. So open 8x and close 8x. Might fit.

Conclusion: waiting for future generations

Folded laptops are an interesting concept. Ultimately, everyone has to find out for themselves if this way of working, netflixing, and playing is right for them. I can definitely imagine it and wonder if the devices will grow even more in the next few years.

The prices are still very high, but if the technology proves itself, on the one hand the prices will fall and on the other hand the devices will be available with different equipment, which will further reduce prices.

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Working with a stylus is also possible in the tablet mode of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 (Photo: Lenovo)

I didn’t go into the technology here in the text: processor, battery life, etc. If you are interested, you can find the manufacturer information. This is certainly enough for a normal work computer. My favorite is the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold because I can hold the screen vertically and I really like the ThinkPad keyboard.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 will be released in the fourth quarter of 2022 and will cost 2,999 euros. The Asus ZenBook 17 Fold OLED will appear at the same time, but will cost more than 3,699 euros.

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