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Lenovo debuts first-ever foldable-screen computer at CES 2020

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

Tech giant Lenovo always rolls into CES, America’s biggest consumer electronics show, with slick new products from new gaming laptops to hot new Google (GOOGGOOGL) Assistant-powered smart displays. But for 2020, the company has absolutely blown away any of its previous debuts with its new ThinkPad X1 Fold.

A totally foldable computer, the Fold is, more or less, a laptop display that folds completely in half like a Moleskine notebook. And while companies like Samsung and Huawei have shown off their own foldable smartphones, the X1 Fold is the first commercially available foldable PC, packing a far larger 13.3-inch OLED screen that the company says is as durable as any of its business-centric ThinkPad devices.

It's going to cost you a heck of a lot to get your hands on this technological marvel, though. We're talking $2,499. For comparison, Lenovo’s stellar, and pricey, ThinkPad X1 Carbon starts at $1,253. 

Why the fold?

So what's the point of a device with a foldable display? Lenovo has laid out a number of potential usage scenarios and their advantages.

Completely unfolded, the Fold can be stood upright using its built-in kickstand. You can then use the included wireless keyboard to type away as if working on a standard laptop. When you're done, you fold up the system, sliding the keyboard into the gap between the two halves of the display. It creates a fairly thick, but compact, setup that you can toss into your bag.

Lenovo had debuted the ThinkPad X1 Fold. Image: Daniel Howley

Bend the display in half and use it in portrait mode, and you can use the top half of the display for content, and the bottom half as a touchscreen keyboard. You can also place the wireless keyboard on top of the touchscreen board for longer typing sessions. You'd likely use this in more cramped spaces like, say, an airplane or bus seat.

Lenovo says you'll also be able to use either side of the Fold's screen as separate displays, making for improved productivity. One example the company offers is video chatting with a coworker with one half of the screen, while editing a presentation with the other half. Of course, we’ll have to see if this improves productivity in the real world.

Holding the Fold, and, well, folding it, while strange at first, quickly becomes natural. That's likely thanks to the unit's leather case, which makes it feel like you're holding a book. A very expensive book, but a book nonetheless.

Outside of the potential for improved productivity, there's another, more basic case to be made for the development of a foldable computer: manufacturers need new form factors to get customers buying devices again.

The laptop and PC market hasn't seen meaningful growth in some time, and a new, more exciting design like the Fold's could get more consumers to open their wallets.

Years of work, and a lot of testing

The X1 Fold is the result of more than four years of work by Lenovo, Intel, and LG. LG worked on the display technology, while Intel helped ensure the Fold offers Always Connected PC technology, meaning the system will stay online even when you fold it up.

Lenovo gave Yahoo Finance a chance to check out the Fold's inner workings, and to say it's got a lot going on behind the screen is an understatement.

The company had to develop a special interlocking carbon fiber back plate behind the display to ensure that it remains taut and doesn't flex too much when used over and over again. Even the leather folio casing had to be outfitted with a series of springs to ensure that it moves smoothly across the Fold's exterior when you open and close it.

Then there are the hinges on the top and bottom of the fold. Lenovo had to specially develop them to withstand repeated use, while ensuring they lock in place so the system doesn't slide closed if held at an angle.

The company settled on a multilink torque hinge that is both durable and is still able to fold flat.

Lenovo recognizes this is the first generation of what it is a growing category of foldable, and dual-screen computers, and knows there will be future iterations on it. We’ve already seen Intel’s foldable concept and Microsoft’s own dual-screen device.

In fact, Lenovo has already said it will offer a version of the Fold complete with Microsoft's dual-screen and foldable-ready Windows X operating system in the future. For early adopters, the Fold could be the kind of laptop that's too irresistible to pass up. If they've got the cash.

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