As many of you will know if you follow me on Twitter, I am a huge fan of e-ink displays and technology. There are huge savings in terms of battery life running these panels and their readability in intense sunlight is well known. At CES 2023, Lenovo showcased two devices sporting the technology. This is exciting as there is a hope that this will drive the cost of e-ink technology down by increasing the opportunity for its adoption.

ThinkBook Plus Twist

The ThinkBook Plus Twist brings back the classic twist and fold style hinge that debuted back on the ThinkPad X41t which you can learn more about the history and the device in my video.

The device sports respectable specifications in its own right and the design reminds me of a mix between the ThinkBook line, the ThinkPad Z13 and the X41t. One item of course that separates the ThinkBook Plus Twist from the rest is of course the colour e-ink display on the back of the lid. This will potentially be a great solution for those that want to take notes on the go and have a solid tablet and laptop experience all wrapped into one.

The colour e-ink display is on the back of the lid of the ThinkBook Plus Twist.

The display is 12 inches can last several months on a single charge and features a 12Hz refresh rate and touch glass surface. The ThinkBook Plus Twist will be priced at $1649 and is expected to be available starting June 2023. For detailed specifications, see the chart below. Some might worry though about having a screen on each side of the lid when it comes to storage and transportation so fingers crossed it is built with durability in mind.

ThinkBook Plus Twist
Performance Processors Up to 13th Gen Intel Core Processors
OS Windows 11
Memory Up to 16GB LPDDR5X
Storage Up to 1TB PCIe Gen 4 SSD
Graphics Intel Integrated Graphics
Displays 13.3-inch 2.8K OLED with touch glass and pen support, 400nits, 60Hz, 100% DCI-P3, Dolby Vision support 12-inch front-lit Color e-Ink Touch display with pen support
Audio Lenovo sound with dual speakers and dual-array microphones, Dolby Atmos® support
Camera FHD RGB camera with shutter
Battery 56Whr
Physical Security Smart Power-on Fingerprint Reader Camera Shutter
Connectivity Ports 2 x Intel® Thunderbolt™ 4 USB-C ports
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
Wireless WLAN Intel Wi-Fi 6E 802.11 AX (2×2)
Bluetooth® 5.1

Lenovo Smart Paper

The Lenovo Smart Paper is the device I’m the most interested in between the two at the moment. There are several solutions for taking notes on an e-ink device but some are cost-prohibitive and rely too heavily on subscription services.

It comes equipped with a 10.3″ E-Ink screen that is dual-color and has an auto-adjustable front light. Lenovo also claims a great feeling while writing with a stylus that supports 4,096 levels of pressure, tilt and more for a robust writing and sketching experience.

The video above features the device in a few different settings but you get the impression that education is one of the sectors that they hope the device will catch on. Cloud storage is possible as well but exists behind a subscription paywall. Hopefully, it is more affordable than the competition.

Currently, the cost of the Lenovo Smart Paper is stated to be $400 USD and the subscription service is not known. That potentially puts it at the premium end of these note-taking devices but if the subscription service isn’t essential like it is for some of the competition, then paying more for the hardware would be acceptable. Speaking about the hardware, it does rather well in that department. For detailed specifications, see the chart below.

Lenovo Smart Paper
Processor(s) RockChip RK3566
4x 1.8 GHz
Operating System Android AOSP 11.0
Memory 4GB+64GB
Display 10.3” E-Ink Display, 1872 x 1404 resolution, 227ppi
Front light Dual Color Front Light
24 Brightness Levels (automatic screen adjustment)
24 Adjustable Temperature Tones
Microphone Dual Mic
Sensor Accelerometer (G) Sensor, Ambient L-sensor, Hall Sensor
Battery 3550mAh (Typ.)
Reading Time: 8500 pages in one charge
Note Taking Time: Write 170 pages of notes in one charge
Dimensions 195mm x 226mm x 5.5mm
Weight ~408g (~0.9 lbs.)
Colors Storm Grey
Ports USB Type-C 2.0
Wireless Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 5.2 support BLE
Software

Email
Calendar
Clock
Calculator
ebooks.com app

Compatible Accessories

Lenovo Smart Paper pen
Lenovo Smart Paper folio case

Looking ahead

There are a growing number of solutions for those seeking e-ink, note-taking capable devices and that is a good thing. The more choices, the better for the consumer. The challenge we have right now is that many common cloud or software packages do not natively support e-ink content creation which means that you need to invest in one of the existing platforms to produce, store and access your content. Eventually, it would be nice to see some common or even open-source software that can run and load notes between all of these devices. That way, you might not find yourself artificially locked into one particular platform or subscription. Regardless of all this, having two more choices to pick from offered by Lenovo, a well-established company, follows others and hopefully adds additional legitimacy and demand of these devices.

Foldables and Dual Screens

CES 2023 saw the introduction of the Lenovo Yoga Book 9i which has got a lot of people talking. There is clear DNA being shared between it and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 Gen 1. In fact, one of the patents that I thought would end up belonging to the Fold line-up actually appears to belong to the Yoga Book. Regardless, if you are making the choice between these two machines, you are likely in a niche bracket with some unique demands for your computing needs.

A patent that I found while digging around the archives as I was researching the X1 Fold 16 Gen 1 teaser trailer.

While both devices have a similar form factor initially there are a lot of differences between the two that make choosing between them relatively easy. For example, both have keyboards and pens and can be used without them. Both have a stand to help utilize them in a variety of configurations.

However, the keyboard accessory for the Yoga Book does not have a TrackPad or physical mouse input of any kind, meaning you are going to have to rely on the touch interface, pen or virtual TrackPad that appears on the bottom half of the screen and that might take some getting used to for many. One thing to note is it would appear the Yoga Book comes with all of the accessories in the box whereas the X1 Fold may ship with a version without the keyboard and pen. The Yoga Book also is designed to have its own unique style which will be appreciated by some, but not everyone. I suppose the problem with picking a colour that isn’t black is it doesn’t please everyone. We currently do not know if other colours will be available. 

The Yoga Book in its various configurations with and without its accessories.

Specifications Compared

If you are curious, you can see the specifications of both devices below compared where relevant. Some notable pieces are the Yoga shipping with 13th Gen CPUs versus the X1 Fold 16 Gen 1 currently shipping with 12th Gen CPUs. The Yoga also sports a larger battery but the reported battery life is actually similar to the X1 Fold with its dual battery system when both screens are in use.

Yoga Book 9i  ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 Gen 1
Processor(s) 13th Gen Intel Core i7-U15 Up to Intel vPro with 12th Gen Intel® Core™ U9 i5 and i7 Processors
Operating System Windows 11 Home
Windows 11 Pro
Up to Windows 11 Pro
Graphics Intel Iris® Xe Intel® Iris® Xe 
Memory LPDDR5X 16G Up to 32GB LPDDR5
Storage PCle SSD Gen4: 512G/1T Up to 1TB PCIe Gen 4 SSD
Display 13.3” 2.8K, 400 nits, OLED/DCI-P3 100%, 60Hz, 16:10

4-side narrow bezel (91% AAR) HDR, PureSight, Dolby Vision

16.3-inch (2024×2560) foldable OLED 600nit HDR/400nit SDR, DCI-P3 100%,

Dolby Vision, On-cell Touch with Pen support

16.3-inch when open / 12-inch when folded

Audio 2 x 2W

2 x 1W

Bowers & Wilkins speakers, Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos 3-speaker system (2 speakers work at any one time)

Dolby Voice enabled – 4x microphones (2x mics work at any one time)

Camera FHD IR+RGB (5M USB) Webcam with Privacy Shutter 5MP RGB+IR with Intel VSC option
Battery 80WHr 48Whr (optional additional 16 Whr based on configuration)65W AC Rapid Charge
Dimensions

(mm) 299.1 x 203.9 x 15.95

(inches) 11.78 x 8.03 x 0.63

Unfolded: 276.1 x 345.7 x 8.6mm (10.87in x 13.6in x 0.34in)

Folded: 176.4 x 276.2 x 17.4mm (6.9in x 10.87 x 0.68in)

Weight 1.38kg System: 1.28kg / 2.82 lbsSystem with Keyboard and stand: 1.9kg / 4.19lbs
Hinge 360° 180°
Colours Tidal Teal Black
Ports 3 x USB Type-C (all full function and Thunderbolt™4.0)

2 x Intel Thunderbolt 4

1 x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2

Nano-SIM card tray

Wireless Wi-Fi 6E

HW Support Bluetooth 5.2 OS Just support Bluetooth 5.1

Wi-Fi 6E 802.11 AX (2×2)

Optional 5G Sub 6 (LTE supported) Bluetooth® 5.2

Cost

The Yoga Book 9i (13”, 8) will start at $2,099.99 and is expected to be available starting June 2023.

The ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 Gen 1 was expected to be available from Q4 starting at $2,499. Whether this price is still accurate, we will need to wait until the launch window and configurations are confirmed.

Choosing

Ultimately, the device you choose will depend on a few simple choices.

  1. Do you trust the Foldable OLED screen on the X1 Fold 16 Gen 1? If not, the point goes to Yoga Book with two physical screens.
  2. Do you prefer 4:3 16″ or 13.3″ 16:10? If you prefer 4:3, then the point goes to X1 Fold 16.
  3. Do you want a TrackPoint on your keyboard? I know I would. If so, point to the X1 Fold 16.
  4. Do you want a larger battery and potentially more battery life in some situations? If so, point to the Yoga Book.
  5. Do you need 5G connectivity? Then the X1 Fold 16 takes it.
  6. Do you need more than 16GB of RAM? Then the X1 Fold 16 will win that too.
  7. Want to spend less money? Then the Yoga Book wins points in that category from what we know right now.
  8. Do you need vPro? Think about the X1 Fold 16 Gen 1 then.
  9. Black? ThinkPad, Blue? Yoga Book.

Some things that are likely not going to be factored in your decision as the specifications are more or less the same are:

  • Wireless and Bluetooth configurations.
  • Ports (The Yoga Book has one more Thunderbolt 4 port, but realistically, it won’t be a deal breaker for most.)
  • Weight, dimensions. (The colour and looks WILL matter though.)
  • Camera setup (The specs are the same, the Yoga Book sports a privacy shutter.)
  • Speakers
  • Storage
  • Integrated Graphics
  • CPU (It is a bit too early to say how these two will compare in real-world use.)
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 Gen 1 with TrackPoint Keyboard.

Personally, for me, I think the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 Gen 1 takes it but that is because I really enjoy my ThinkPad experience, TrackPoint and all as well as the aesthetic that the design team has come up with to make the X1 Fold look like a really nice journal. That to me is right at home. My gut also says the ThinkPad will be more durable than the Yoga Book but the proof will be in the real-world experience of those that buy them. The other specifications are nice too but for me, sight unseen compared to the Yoga Book, that sleek black wins me over more than the crisp blue. However, I do realize that the slim and sleek nature of the Yoga Book is going to win many people over and rightfully so. Perhaps the Yoga Book 9i is designed to be more accessible X1 Fold 16 for everyone, but that will again be determined by those people that buy them.

Overall, it is great to have the choice between these two devices and I think Lenovo is trying to show this market they are trying to create is for everyone, not just business customers. Time will tell if people are ready for this emerging form factor. Feel free to let me know which machine you prefer wherever you saw this article posted and let’s have a conversation.

Motorola, who has been owned by Lenovo for quite a while now, announced the ThinkPhone at CES 2023 and while it has garnered a lot of excitement, it is specifically targeted at corporate customers and Motorola has no plains to sell it to general consumers. This might potentially make it hard for the average person or ThinkPad fan to acquire the device. 

Corporate only?

When asked, Motorola said that although it understands consumers would benefit from the phone’s functionality, it has no specific plans to make it a consumer product.

Motorola’s ThinkPhone is the coolest phone of CES 2023 — but you can’t buy it” – Digital Trends

It would appear that the ThinkPhone will not be a consumer product anytime soon and instead is part of Motorola’s, and I suspect Lenovo’s strategy to break into the corporate phone market. What better way to do that than to build a phone to work perfectly with the corporate fleet of laptops you already have? Most of the features that are detailed in the specification sheet at the end of this post certainly gear it toward corporate needs. The absence for example of a microSD card makes sense on a phone that you want to manage and worry about being stolen or data compromised.

The ThinkPhone features a TrackPoint-coloured programmable button on the side of the device.

ThinkPad fans around the world for years have imagined or created their own rendition of the ThinkPhone so hopefully, in time, these devices will make their way into the hands of fans that would like to see what an official ThinkPhone can do. You can see some examples below.

Availability

Device availability for Motorola can be hit or miss and according to the official press release, this is what we can expect:

“Lenovo ThinkPhone by Motorola will be available in the US, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, Australia and select countries across Asia in the coming months. For pricing, customers can contact their local customer representative.”

Meet the New Lenovo ThinkPhone by Motorola for Unmatched Business Device Experience” Lenovo News

So tentatively, it will not be available in my region unless Canada is included in the US, which traditionally does not occur. The downside of being a small market is it doesn’t make sense to deploy all devices to such a small customer base. In short, this device might be off-limits to non-corporate customers and Canadians alike.

Why now?

One question that does come to my mind is, the ThinkPhone concept has been around for quite a while with rumours going as far back as the Windows Phone era, so why is 2023 the year of the ThinkPhone? My only guess is that strategists at Motorola and Lenovo see the need to provide a corporate-level solution for smartphones that work well with their existing line-up of products. While many have compared this phone to a new spiritual BlackBerry (a corporate first phone) and believe there will be consumer demand; as I mention below, there isn’t a set of features that are going to disrupt the phone market as BlackBerry did. So in the meantime, I imagine it will mostly remain a business device as there are similar consumer products in existence from Motorola’s own lineup. If any other information comes my way as to why this might be I will update this section accordingly.

Details

While the specs are excellent, depending on the cost that the ThinkPhone will be sold for, there isn’t anything ‘show stopping’ that they needed to wait for to develop looking at what is on offer. That isn’t to say that the ThinkPhone won’t be a great and reliable device, but part of me wishes that there was a bell or whistle that helped it really stand apart as a debut device. The red button that calls back to the iconic TrackPoint cap is a nice touch, but something more would have been nice to see.

Overall I’m pleased to see this device exist and I hope it is successful. I also hope that success leads to future versions of the device that might be easier for somebody like me to try out.

For those wanting to know more about the technical details, then be sure to check out the ThinkPhone Specifications sheet that has been released.

2022 has been a very busy year for the channel with nearly 100 videos published. This year saw the beginning of many new projects, some that I have yet to announce and the continuation and expansion of others. To help celebrate, here are my Top Picks for each month of 2022.

January 2022

The year started strong and it was a tough race between an interview I did with David Hill regarding the TrackPoint cap and the ThinkMods NVMe to Express Card Adapter. Since it is my list, I refuse to choose and give you both of those fantastic videos.

February 2022

February saw the one-year anniversary of my Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano ownership which was a milestone to be sure. SaotoTech did steal the show a bit with their 3D-printed TrackPoint caps. See the video below to learn more about how to get a modern version of a classic TrackPoint cap.

March 2022

This month was especially busy with lots of laptops and Think Design Stories. My favourite has to be David Hill’s story about the Hardened ThinkPad Concept. Special thanks to Brian Leonard for the best photos that exist of this important concept.

April 2022

I finally looked at the IBM ThinkPad 600 which was a very important model for the ThinkPad lineup as it laid the groundwork for the T series that would shortly follow. Lots of design choices that are still with the ThinkPad brand started with this model. Special thanks to Tommy for getting this model to me.

May 2022

This was a quieter month in terms of easily stand-out machines but it did see me tear down the ThinkPad E580 which went to show that good value still exists in series outside the T series.

June 2022

June soldiered on and several machines came and went but one that couldn’t quite go fast enough is one of the least repairable laptops ever made, the Surface Laptop 2. It is impossible to over this device without destroying several components.

July 2022

July was insane with 17 videos released. Two of my favourites from this time were my review of the Keychron K8 and Q0 keyboard and number pad. I did particularly enjoy the IBM ThinkPad A20m video as it gave me the chance to highlight Rob Herman’s work again as I finally got the chance to look at the first A Series on the channel.

August  2022

This was easily the quietest month of the year since I was already hard at work on my celebratory planning for ThinkPad 30th’s birthday. A lot of work was going on behind the scene so the fewest videos were produced during this time. I did manage to squeeze in a few videos and the Lenovo ThinkPad E14 Gen 1 was one of the good ones..

September 2022

September began the rolling release of the videos that celebrated ThinkPad’s 30th anniversary. I collaborated with not only David Hill, but Tom Hardy who shared some amazing stories about their time with ThinkPad and Design. Here are some of the many videos that were produced:

October 2022

With the ThinkPad 30’s celebrations in full swing, there was a lot to talk about. I strongly recommend you check out the playlist of Interviews for all the goodies that were happening at that time.

November 2022

This year seemed to have been dominated by ThinkPads. November saw the examination of the X390 which was the last three-digit X model before they went to the X13 variants. It is a strange evolution that I got the pleasure of unpacking for the channel.

December 2022

December and much of November were very busy months for me, unfortunately not channel related so there were many projects that I didn’t get started, or finished. I hope to start the next year strong and wanted to get two wonderful donations filmed. The Lenovo ThinkPad X61s and the Lenovo ThinkPad T430u. Thanks to Justin and Kemish for making that possible.

Looking Ahead

Looking into 2023 I feel like there is much left undone. I’ve been generously provided several donations I still need to film. I have several collaborations in the works that need to be continued that ideally, would be further along and I am definitely the slow factor. As I mentioned earlier in the article, things got busy outside of the channel and I never was able to claw that time back.

I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunities that are new that have also come my way that I cannot wait to share them with everyone. All of it, every success the channel has had this year and years previously has been a direct result of your kindness and support of what I do. Laptop Retrospective remains a wonderful hobby that I’m excited to work on every time I sit down to write notes for a video or edit together the next episode. I hope you will join me in the year ahead, we have so much to explore together.

ThinkPad enthusiasts will likely know that at the very beginning of the history of ThinkPad, black was not the only colour used for these iconic machines. As hard as it might be to believe there do exist Beige/Pebble Gray ThinkPads, it is a strange sight to behold. You can tell by looking at it that the hard work and consideration that Richard Sapper and Kazuhiko Yamazaki put into the design is impacted when the machine isn’t the colour it was designed to be. The Pebble Gray colour choice was available on several models, not just the 700C.

According to the IBM Mobile Systems Hardware Maintenance Manual Volume 2: ThinkPad Computers April 1995the following models had “gray” part options that were designated “For Germany.” They are listed below:

  • IBM ThinkPad 700 and 700C
  • IBM ThinkPad 720 and 720C
  • IBM ThinkPad 750, 750P, 750Cs, 750Ce
  • IBM ThinkPad Dock I
  • IBM ThinkPad 300 Monochrome (See PSREF below)

It is worth noting that the different colour parts are shared between some models. For example, the 700 and 720 shares the same housing components.

So where and why do these machines exist? Let me try and offer as complete of an answer as I can using the information I have collected, some of it recently.

The “Why?” question was partially answered by Arimasa Naitoh during the 20th Anniversary of ThinkPad.

The ThinkPad models in the 1990’s had documentation stating that they are to be made in black cases, in accordance with Richard Sapper’s guidelines set in his collaboration with the Boca Raton Team. Why were there variations from this, where, for instance, the 700/ C, 720C and 300 are in grey?

Naitoh-San: In the 1990’s, we had the retail models of ThinkPad painted in grey to be distinguished from the original enterprise models.

Happy 20th birthday, ThinkPad! Lenovo Forums Post

Official IBM documentation of the Beige/Pebble Gray ThinkPad is spotty at best. In the Personal Systems Reference IBM ThinkPad Notebooks 1992 to 2001 – withdrawn January 2001 – Version 214, the only model not listed as being offered in black was the ThinkPad 300 monochrome model and it was listed as “Charcoal grey” (page 4) as opposed to black. We know from the Hardware Maintenance Manuals from above that there was a more comprehensive offering of ThinkPad in Beige/Gray. This is likely to do with the markets they were sold—more on that in just a moment.

To answer the “Where?” part of the question, we can look at the keyboards and see that nearly all of the photographed examples have one item in common and that is a QWERTZ keyboard layout. I found one example sporting a French European keyboard layout. Both of these keyboard layouts are exclusive to Western/Central Europe and the QWERTZ layout is often simply referred to as the German keyboard layout. Now, this raises an interesting and somewhat plausible connection to the interview I did with Tom Hardy where he discusses the challenges he had with German DIN standards and IBM Germany at the time. See the video below for that whole story.

It is impossible to know how many of these machines were produced but it is highly likely the German DIN standards of the time had an impact on their creation. If Naitoh is correct in the above statement, where the retail models were designated that colour, that seems counter to the requirements of the German standards which would require business/enterprise machines to be beige or gray, not the other way around. If IBM Germany was initially unwilling to pay for the additional colour as Tom Hardy stated, it leaves a bit of a mystery of who was bankrolling the painting change and for what market.

Here is a possibility of how all this comes together by working under the assumption that all the information we have is accurate.

Firstly, as Tom Hardy stated in the interview, the section of the German DIN standards that did not allow computers to be black was revoked sometime after the release of the ThinkPad 700C, this would mean that black could be used for Enterprise machines as Naitoh states in the interview. If the DIN standard was no longer required however then why spend the money to create the gray models for a German market that would no longer require them?

Changing standards takes time and I suspect between Tom Hardy leaving IBM and German businesses slowly moving away from the DIN Standard took just over a year. David Hill also mentioned that recalled some pushback against changing the standards to allow for black machines. If the last ThinkPad that was offered in gray was made in November of 1993 (began manufacture), the standard likely would have been revoked around that time. Some German businesses would be able/willing to overlook the standards and buy the black machine regardless, however, others might have not had that flexibility and the pebble gray was brought in to meet their needs. Perhaps IBM Germany just passed on the cost in the price of the machine. 

After the product lifecycle was complete, it wouldn’t need to offer the gray/beige machines afterwards, standardizing the line and reducing manufacturing costs. Perhaps any remaining inventory was sold off as retail units as Naitoh stated in the interview above. What we can say for certain is, after 1994, no ThinkPads were made in the pebble gray/beige colour.

David Hill also stated in the book “ThinkPad: A Different Shade of Blue” there were other challenges to making ThinkPad the classic black we know today:

“There were a lot of barriers to getting the original IBM ThinkPad design approved. Many were opposed to using black as the color of the notebook. At the time, black was very radical in personal computing, even though it was accepted in earlier computer products. If you went back and looked at the IBM System 360 mainframe from the 1960s, it was primarily black. It was in the computer room behind glass windows and was supposed to look outstanding. The black color allowed clients to show off their prize possession to visitors.

“But personal computers weren’t black at the time. That’s because we wanted to make PCs fit naturally into the office so they wouldn’t be noticed. So, we made all of them in pearl white, a sort of cream color that no one would notice. But, then along comes the ThinkPad, and we wanted to make a bold statement that was just the opposite. We wanted everyone to notice it, so we adopted black. A lot of people objected to our using black as the color of ThinkPad, thinking it wasn’t like ‘IBM.’ Eventually everyone saw it as something that would really differentiate IBM.

-“ThinkPad: A Different Shade of Blue” by Deborah A. Dell and J. Gerery  Purdy, Ph.D.

What do you think about these ThinkPads? Have you ever seen one in person? Let me know by @ me on Twitter. As always, if any new information is acquired, I will update this article accordingly.

Lenovo Tech World 2022 opened today with a flurry of announcements, keynotes and teasers. One of which that caught my eye is the rolling screen technology seen in the short YouTube video below:

Besides looking cool, the practical applications this has for phones and mobile devices intrigue me. This is actually because I’m not entirely sold on the idea of foldable mobile phones.

Full disclaimer, I’ve not used a folding phone or any similar device, let alone seen one in person but when it comes to phones, there are some big rocks I cannot quite get over that I think the rolling screen could actually solve.

Firstly, I do not like big and bulky devices. I’m one of those who likes a device that fits comfortably in various pockets. Phones bigger than my Pixel 4a or previous to that, my Samsung Galaxy S8 just seem overlarge. Folding phones while they are indeed small when folded, can be thicker and bulkier and depending on how they fold, challenging to fish out of a pocket.

Secondly, many folding devices need to be unfolded to actually be fully used. Companies have made several efforts to address this by putting an additional screen on the exterior but I feel that it just further goes to show that how we have used phones has changed fundamentally and a screen on the outside is a compromise. Granted I haven’t had any opportunity to try one out, but I remain skeptical.

Thirdly is getting around the issue of screen durability and creasing depends on how the device is folded and the screen stored. Different companies have spent significant research and development time and money to combat this to varying degrees of success.

How does the rolling screen address these issues? Easy. The device when the screen is rolled up appears to be a great handheld size. When you need the additional screen, it rolls out and the content automatically resizes with the screen, then when you are done, it can go back to its compact size. All the plus of a large phone with the benefits of it being able to fit into your pocket. It also addresses the issue where the main screen is always accessible. There isn’t a need for an extra exterior screen to reduce the need to open the device because it is always open. I would also imagine because the screen is rolled, creasing really isn’t a concern, nor would durability as there is something firm to support the screen at all stages.

Overall I’m pretty excited about the concept and hope it makes it to market so it can get tested in the real world. Could it overthrow the foldable as the new desirable form factor? I think the potential is very real.

While I was hunting around for new and interesting patents, I of course found the dual screen patent I posted earlier. This was exciting since it could mark the return of the style of laptop we haven’t seen since the W700ds and W701ds. It could also mark a departure from an over-focus on thin and light where users might happily trade some weight for some additional features.

Oct
02

The Return of the Pull Out Screen (The W701ds Lives Again?)

The ThinkPad with two screens might live again in the discovery of a new patent application for a dual-screen laptop. The ThinkPad W700DS and W701DS are insane systems to behold for two reasons: They are one of the largest, working production ThinkPads out there. They have a pull-out screen for extra productivity. You can see […]

But it wasn’t the only patent I found that was interesting. It looks like Lenovo is freeing up some space inside their machines for a different kind of storage; a place for you to put some wireless earbuds or several other devices. You can see one of their ideas on how this would work in the patent drawing at the top of this article. The earbud version of this modular system has already been announced on a ThinkBook device but the rest of the items in the patent detail some devices that we have yet to see. Thanks to Twitter user Benni for pointing this out.

The patent shows some details on how they would fit inside and charge when the mechanism is closed. There are also some drawings of another potential storage method which are illustrated below (Figures 13A to 13C). But more importantly, at least to me, there are also some diagrams and claims about this storage bay being used for other devices such as lights, cameras or speakers (Figures 16A-16D). This is where things get really interesting. We have seen other companies like Framework explore modularity in laptop design, but that was limited to whatever fits in a very small space and ultimately needs to connect to a USB-C connector. The Lenovo patent seems to be using a similar USB-based solution but making an internal component rather than an external one.

The patent describes everything from cameras, biometric devices, SSDs, speakers and more being able to sit in the tray. It is clear they want to take advantage of the additional space they have created as other components get smaller.

One of the things I find curious is the willingness to make room for the feature as it probably means the laptop that houses this technology would need to be a minimum thickness to properly hold the earbuds or other items in question. 

What do you think of this idea? Is this something that you would use or seek out in your next laptop or do you think the effort might fall on deaf ears? I have to admit the idea of having a high-quality camera I can take out and use with my laptop intrigues me greatly. Let me know what you think by @ me on Twitter. As always, the patent document is below for your review and I will update this story as new information becomes available.

US-11457303-B2_I

The ThinkPad with two screens might live again in the discovery of a new patent application for a dual-screen laptop.

The ThinkPad W700DS and W701DS are insane systems to behold for two reasons:

  1. They are one of the largest, working production ThinkPads out there.
  2. They have a pull-out screen for extra productivity. You can see it demonstrated below.

These have captivated people and collectors for ages and now, it looks like Lenovo might be thinking about making another one.

I was diving into the patent database again and came across a new patent filed on September 27, 2022 with these drawings:

That patent also directly references the Lenovo ThinkPad W700, W700ds, W701 and 701ds Hardware Maintenance Manual under “Other Publications” strengthening the connection. But they aren’t stopping at just remaking the classic, it looks like they have plans on improving it as well.

The patent details this new system as rather than having a second screen, it is in fact a tablet computer. This isn’t too surprising looking at what Lenovo has been doing with their ThinkBook line and integrating a tablet into the palm rest. This, however, makes a lot more sense to me. The tablet can be used as an additional screen like the W700ds and W701ds but it can also possibly be removed and potentially reoriented or used in a wireless mode. It can be a bit tricky to tell what exactly the final product will look like from patents as they try and cover variations within the claims. This secondary screen or tablet also is mentioned to have its own web camera that would be activated once the secondary display is removed a certain distance from the housing.

It also appears from the description that it might be able to detect the position of the secondary screen/tablet and only use the exposed screen real-estate. Figures 7 through 15 illustrate the methodology of several screen states and their effect on how the secondary screen would behave.

Now which model this could ship on is anyone’s guess right now. Like many patented ideas, it might never come to pass. If I had to make a guess though, this seems like it would be at home on a workstation-class machine like a P-series. Time will tell if it makes it to production.

To see the complete patent, please click the link below and feel free to @ me on Twitter to let me know what you think about this new patent. If I learn anything new, I will update this article accordingly with new information or corrections.

US-11455015-B2_I

A Sticker

If you are like me, you have spent some time looking through Hardware Maintenance Manuals for ThinkPads. It was actually while looking at the HMM for the T41 to disassemble and remove the WLAN card that I noted some interesting references to LG-IBM branding. Specifically, stickers were to be placed over any replacement parts bearing the ThinkPad branding for the South Korean market.

One of many references to the LG-IBM models in the T40 HMM.
LG-IBM R40.
Photo generously provided by Hidde J.

A friend and avid ThinkPad collector Tasurinchi shared an article with me that mentioned the breakup of the deal. This was clearly the tip of the iceberg of an interesting story. We both knew about the Acer partnership where Acer was contracted out to build several laptops under the ThinkPad brand. However, it would appear that the ThinkPad R40 and R40e (pictured above) were built in South Korea in LG owned factories. The sticker located on the bottom of my R40 confirms this (Made in Korea) and the schematics as discovered by Thinkpads.com forum user Screamer found the manufacturers were “LG Gryphon” and “LG D3 Entry” respectively for these two machines.

Bottom label showcasing the LG-IBM branding.
Photo generously provided by Hidde J.

So where did it all begin?

A Partnership

In 1996, IBM entered into a partnership with LG to break into the Korean market. The arrangement created LG-IBM and saw IBM owning 51% of the company controlling the manufacturing and marketing of PCs while LG’s 49% was focused on other consumer electronics. This allowed IBM to break into the market, shipping their PC solutions and it gave LG an excellent opportunity to learn everything it could from IBM.

The LG-IBM PC LKB 0107 was seen at a thrift store. Photo by moghismv (https://www.reddit.com/r/MechanicalKeyboards/comments/jegu7j/anybody_know_how_much_this_keyboard_is_worth_lg/)
Top case of R40.
Photo generously provided by Hidde J.
The top case of an i-Series ThinkPad with the LG-IBM sticker. From Kbench.com

 

A Scandal

In 2004 the announcement came that the two companies would be splitting off, each essentially retaining their own rights to their respective properties. IBM would retain their rights to all of their trademarked properties like ThinkPad and LG would continue developing their own line of laptops called the Xnote. Interestingly enough, both IBM, LG-IBM and LG were targets of a bribery scandal that both parties claimed was unrelated to the announcement to split.

The two companies said the separation was unrelated to the indictments early this year of three officials of LG IBM and three from IBM’s Korea unit on charges of bribing government officials in order to win contracts to supply computer parts and services.

After the indictments were issued, IBM said that it had dismissed its three officials and that the three from LG IBM were no longer working there. The three former IBM Korea employees were convicted by a Seoul court in February, according to Reuters news agency. – Wall Street Journal September 15, 2004

The company was hit with a bribery scandal early this year. Former executives of IBM Korea have been jailed for bribing government clients and rigging bids, while officials of LG Electronics were fined. – Korea JoongAng Daily August 30, 2004

While these types of scandals weren’t unique to LG or IBM and weren’t likely directly related to the ending of the partnership, the details of these bribery scandals need to be read to be believed.

From 1998 to 2003, over $207,000 USD was paid in cash or gifts to officials by IBM-Korea and LG-IBM. These payments were delivered in large LG-IBM branded envelopes to shopping bags and exchanged in locations including but not limited to parking lots near the managers’ and officials’ places of work or home and on one occasion a parking lot of a local Japanese restaurant. All of these bribes were targeted at individuals making purchase decisions, ensuring that LG-IBM would win the contracts. These contracts were worth tens of millions of dollars leading to an “improper gift” of $9,546USD landing a contract valued at $1.3 million USD. IBM-China also had similar issues with bribery. For more details, see this document which outlines the details of these scandals. 

There is a more likely reason for the end of the partnership beyond these issues.

A Deal

During this time, IBM was in active talks with both Texas Pacific Group and Lenovo to sell off IBM’s PC division. Dell was also a contender for a brief amount of time. IBM CEO Samuel j. Palmisano the summer of 2004 was hammering out a complex deal with Yang Yuanqing (Lenovo) and it isn’t too hard to imagine that part of the preparations for negotiations would have involved complete ownership of control of all the markets IBM was present. This would be especially true for a purchasing company that was already established in that area. This would mean that LG-IBM would need to be renegotiated or simply cease to exist. It isn’t too hard to see which makes more sense to both parties to create a clean and tidy deal.

IBM would sell Lenovo PCs through its sales force and distribution network. IBM also would provide services for Lenovo PCs—and allow Lenovo to use the vaunted IBM brand name for five years. In turn, Lenovo, leveraging its connections with the government’s Chinese Academy of Sciences, would help IBM in the fast-growing China market. – The Race for Perfect: Inside the Quest to Design the Ultimate Portable Computer, Steve Hamm

An Ending

So overall the historic deal between IBM and LG seemed to be mutually beneficial to both parties. IBM gained access to another market (under a different brand) and LG gained access to IBM’s information and experience. When it came time for IBM to sell its PC Division though, it was clear that IBM would need to distance itself from IBM-Korea and LG-IBM as quickly as possible to ensure that the scandals and exclusive access to the South Korean market wouldn’t sour any potential deal with an interested party.

But what about the penalties for the previously mentioned scandals? Who had to take responsibility?

Ultimately that would fall to IBM. While they didn’t own several of the assets that would have been involved, it makes no sense for the new owners to be fined for the mistakes of the previous owners.

On March 18, 2011, without admitting or denying the SEC‘s allegations, IBM consented to the entry of a final judgment that permanently enjoins the company from violating the books and records and internal control provisions of the FCPA. In addition, IBM consented to pay disgorgement of $5,300,000, $2,700,000 in prejudgment interest, and a $2,000,000 civil penalty.

Steps Taken by State Parties to Implement and Enforce the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in
International Business Transactions
AS OF JUNE 2011 WORKING GROUP ON BRIBERY MEETING

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

It would appear the LG and ThinkPad story is not over yet. Fast forward to the year 2021 and it seems that LG might have run afoul with Lenovo with LG’s ThinQ branding coming a bit too close to the well-established Think branding they inherited from IBM. To read the case details, including court documents and its status, follow this link. or you can head right to the source at the United States Trademark and Patent Office.

While many people have heard of Moore’s Law, which I’ve discussed in a previous article, fewer might know about the potentially even more important Wirth’s Law.

Wirth’s Law states that software is getting slower more rapidly than hardware is becoming faster. A real-world example of this is illustrated below:

In a 2008 article in InfoWorld, Randall C. Kennedy, formerly of Intel, introduces this term using successive versions of Microsoft Office between the year 2000 and 2007 as his premise. Despite the gains in computational performance during this time period according to Moore’s law, Office 2007 performed the same task at half the speed on a prototypical year 2007 computer as compared to Office 2000 on a year 2000 computer.

Kennedy, Randall C. (2008-04-14).“Fat, fatter, fattest: Microsoft’s kings of bloat”.InfoWorld.

This is one of the reasons that the RAM that got humanity to the Moon wouldn’t even be able to load a single tab in Chrome. The issue of software development is more complex than a direct comparison giving us all the answers and some even go as far as to call modern software ‘fatware.’ Have you ever stopped to think how much of the program that is in front of you, or hidden within the code is actually needed to do the job you are asking that program to do? Wirth pointed to both of these as being contributing issues to the expansion of software that didn’t have a significant increase in function. Did the above example take into account any significant feature changes between those two versions of Office? One point that should be mentioned of course is that some of those additional systems allow the software to be accessible to a greater number and diversity of users. That of course means more people are able to access the benefits of a computer and in a colder sense, you have more consumers for your product as a software developer.

Consider a basic computing task: word processing. The very first very of Microsoft Word came on a 3.5″ or 5.25″ diskette. Microsoft Word 6.0 came on seven diskettes, Word 95, 97 and 2000 on a CD. A modern Microsoft Office 365 install (admittedly containing Word, Excel and PowerPoint) is 4GB. That is a significant evolution of space required for an application to type words onto a computer. Now of course it isn’t quite that simple since the modern word processor has to do a few more things and has more features, but it is hard to imagine that the application truly utilizes all of the space it requires to its fullest potential. As an aside, OpenOffice is a  143.3MB install and LibreOffice that carries its torch is 332MB in size which really makes you wonder what is going on under the hood of both products that these differences are so vast. I doubt SmartArt support makes up the difference. A part of that is likely going towards Microsoft’s efforts to make its software as easy to use for as many different people as possible; that functionality has to come at a cost of resources.

Let’s examine another oddity, the modern web browser. Tom’s Guide did a great little comparison back in 2021 with the following results:

  Google Chrome Microsoft Edge Mozilla Firefox
10 tabs 952 MB 873 MB 995 MB
20 tabs 1.8 GB 1.4 GB 1.6 GB
60 tabs 3.7 GB 2.9 GB 3.9 GB
2 instances / 20 tabs apiece 2.8 GB 2.5 GB 3.0 GB

If we compare that to Netscape Navigator 1.0 in 1994, it required 4MB of RAM. Jumping ahead to 2000, Netscape 6.0 required 64MB of RAM. Internet Explorer 1 required 8MB of RAM in 1995. Internet Explorer 6 in 2001 required 16MB of RAM. This jumped significantly in 2006 when Internet Explorer 7 required 64MB. We would see another significant jump with Internet Explorer 8 with 512MB on Vista and again with Internet Explorer 10 demanding 2GB.

Why is this? The short, oversimplified answer is the internet and the code that runs it is more complicated. In 1997 HTML 4 was brought in with CSS sheets and the rest was downhill with modern web browsers having to support streaming video, WebGL, XML documents and several other standards. In other words, we made the internet do more, so it needs more resources to run. Building all of this functionality in meant it was generally easier to use and provided more functionality but that will of course come at again at the cost of resources.

So how does this all stack up historically? Are we really using that much more resources? Well, the answer wasn’t as clear as I originally thought.

To examine this I picked a laptop from the time period and calculated rough percentages for the software and the demands it placed on the system.

Wikström, Johan, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

IBM ThinkPad 360:
Released in 1994.
Max RAM: 20MB
Max HDD: 540MB

Resources used by Word 6.0: 4MB RAM, 25MB Disk Space or 20% of the RAM capacity and 4% of the HDD
Resources used by Netscape Navigator 1.0: 4MB RAM, 5MB Disk Space or 20% of the RAM capacity and 1% of the HDD

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano:
Released 2021.
Max RAM: 16GB
Max SSD: 1TB

Resources used by Office 365: 4GB RAM, 4GB Disk Space or 20% of the RAM capacity and 0.39% of the SSD
Resources used by Google Chrome: 128MB RAM (~per tab averaged), 100MB Disk Space or 0.78% of the RAM capacity per tab* and 0.010% of the SSD
*It is not common for a user however to just have a single tab open in a modern web browser so this percentage is often considerably higher. However, using the worst-case scenario from the chart above, it still doesn’t break the 20% mark on a higher-end system. It would be more significant on a mid-to-low-end system.

What conclusions can we draw from this easily? Not many as there are many factors that these statistics simplify. It would appear however we have programs that respect our advancement in storage media more than our RAM. Or our advancements in storage technology have outpaced our advancements in RAM. Perhaps an argument could be made the computer will show its age the fastest is the one with the least amount of RAM as there are limits on how much can be paired with each chipset. Another point to consider is how much software does the typical user actually actively use at any given time? Granted there are those of us with 40+ tabs, virtual machines, and various document and project editors open but we are not the majority.

Wirth’s Law might not always be true, but there is some merit to the underlying reasons that it was proposed in the first place. We are asking our software to do more than it has ever done before and computing tasks are growing more complex as the end-user demands more complexity in what is possible while at the same time lowering the bar of entry in terms of the knowledge required to do those tasks. The big question of course is, will it be worth it? Are the tradeoffs worth the cost in performance? With the possibility of our CPUs not getting much more complex according to Moore’s Law beyond the year 2025, is there going to be a renewed need for software optimization?  Feel free to reach on to me on Twitter, I’d love you hear what you think.