The Folding Machine

Folding devices, even years after being introduced are somewhat of an oddity. I have been the first person I know to own or handle any and I cannot recall seeing one in public at the end of 2022 and the owners I met in 2023 I could count on one hand. I believe the general population is still trying to figure out where the folding device fits in their world and I completely understand the sentiment. For phones, it seems like an extra step to unfold your device to access it when we have grown accustomed to just pulling it out of our pocket and instantly having our technology ready for us. Thankfully Motorola sorted that out with newer editions of the Razr with a full screen on the exterior. The wearable concept they showed off at Lenovo TechWorld 2023 is also another example of this form factory gaining some legitimacy.

The portable computer of course has tablets that run operating systems that allow for differing levels of productivity but there are often compromises. Applications are centred around consumption, not production. Accessories are not designed with creation or productivity at the centre or if they are, the processing power for serious applications can leave many power users wanting more. There is also the issue of screen size and portability as many tablets prefer to keep a lower profile, perhaps to avoid comparison against their laptop counterparts. But what if a device invited that competition and tried to solve all these problems?

The Beginning

Enter the first-generation Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold. Announced at CES 2019 as the world’s first folding PC, the X1 Fold was a thought experiment that got the entire technology community talking. Understandably there were a lot of questions about how viable this brand-new form factor would be and I will admit to being one of those people who looked at it with curiosity, but also some skepticism especially the CPU configurations the original X1 Fold shipped with being so underpowered. The device was well built as a ThinkPad should be but there were worries about the size and power that the device was equipped with when it launched. The form factor also meant that the keyboard (not to mention the absence of the TrackPoint) that you could get with it was smaller than average which was noted by many reviewers at the time. It was clear that this was a challenging device to build and not many companies had the resources and innovation on hand to make it happen. For additional insights into some of the challenges, you might enjoy this short clip that Lenovo released in January 2020.

In many ways, it reminded me of the Lenovo ThinkPad X300. The X300 was Lenovo showing what it could do to push the laptop forward. It was, for the time, a bleeding-edge device in terms of specifications, design and size. If you want to learn about the importance of the device and what it set out to do, I strongly encourage you to watch my older mini-series, Project Kodachi. It will provide some insight into the conditions under which these devices are made and what the objective of their creation is on a grand scale. If you look at the machines after the X300, many trace their lineage back to that product. It made the Lenovo X1 Carbon line possible, one of the flagship models for the company and the brand. It was a halo product that would help launch many others and I think that is what we saw here with the X1 Fold Gen 1.

The Hype

While I might have been skeptical of the X1 Fold Gen 1, when rumblings of the X1 Fold Gen 2 were growing, I found myself very curious about what improvements were to be made. It was clear that Lenovo hadn’t given up on the form factor with this announcement but what had they improved? Was it just going to be a specs refresh or were they going to push the boundaries even further? When the teaser trailer dropped, I found myself going through the trailer with a fine-toothed comb along with anything else I could learn about it. If you want to see my efforts, consider viewing the article below.

Jul
13

Why the new X1 Fold might be exciting

Lenovo has been promoting this short trailer over the last few days and many believe it points to the teasing of a new X1 Fold. After taking a look at the trailer a few times and snooping around, here are some possible reasons to look forward to the new X1 Fold and some of the […]

 

The X1 Fold Realized

Through my participation with the Lenovo INsiders program, I was sent an early sample model of the ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 Gen 1 and I have to say that in all honesty, it met expectations and after using it for a few days, exceeded them in several areas. The packaging is unassuming and 100% recyclable. Once inside you are immediately greeted by the huge tablet, laying flat. It at first might be too big, but after folding it a few times, you realize the size is very important to its usability. 16″ (2560×2024, OLED Anti-smudge 600nit) unfolded in a 4:3 format means you can do anything you want on it with screen real-estate to spare. Once you fold it, you have a 12″ compact 16:9 format for everything else you need. The included full-sized keyboard with TrackPoint, stand and pen is also a welcome addition to the kit I was sent. There is a base model that is just the tablet and because of the size, you can get away with just using the on-screen keyboard if needed.

Calling the X1 Fold 16 a laptop or a tablet isn’t accurate, it’s a system. That’s how you know this experiment has been successful because it has achieved a device that is everything those devices are at any time it’s required but without any real compromise to the user experience. I cannot say the same for other tablet-style machines that also have a keyboard accessory. The internals in the model I was provided were top shelf with a 12th Gen Intel i7 CPU, 32GB of RAM (LPDDR5)  and 1TB of storage; everything you would want in a high-end ultrabook. Two Thunderbolt 4 and one USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 ports let you connect whatever you want with the correct adapter, dongle or hub. The two batteries (48 Whr plus an optional 16 Whr based on configuration) give you all day (10-11hrs) battery life for light and moderate tasks. Of course, you will want to keep the charger nearby for heavy lifting as that will tax the battery.

The hardware is impressive, no question. Hardware can be let down by clunky software if it isn’t up to the task. Thankfully, the experience with Windows 11 feels seamless. Logging in with the Windows Hello camera next to a 1080p web camera is the fastest I’ve ever experienced. The optional keyboard has a built-in fingerprint reader just to the right of the spacebar. Rotating the screen, adding the keyboard on top of the bottom half and having the magnets attach are also trivial and do not interrupt the productivity of the user.

Speaking of that keyboard, the TrackPad features a haptic technology where you can adjust the force feedback you get during its use. Good job from the team over at Sensel for producing this TrackPad while respecting the TrackPoint user experience. The TrackPoint buttons were not enabled by default but can be turned on with a quick click and you can adjust the feedback of the TrackPoint button area and TrackPad area independently to be two different experiences making it easy to tell where you are clicking from feel alone. Rounding out the experience is the introduction of the TrackPoint to the X1 Fold family and it comes with the same double-tap menu on the reintroduced Z series where double tapping the top of this iconic red cap gets you a radial menu you can customize.

To learn about what has changed between this device and the production version, check out this article: https://news.lenovo.com/thinkpad-x1-fold-still-defines-a-category-lenovo-created/

 While the device was delayed to make the improvements above, collecting and responding to that feedback was essential for a product that was going to wear the ThinkPad badge. A compromise here would be fatal for the form factor. As you can see from the images below, some of the testing I did seems to be visible in the report linked above. I would like to think in some small, very tiny way, that I was able to help make this device better. Regrettably, I have not had the pleasure of seeing any newer versions of the device so I cannot weigh into all of the changes and improvements that were made.

The Experience

So the software plays nice with the hardware and the hardware is functional; excellent. What is it like to use?

Coming from my daily driver, my Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano, the X1 Fold 16 is heavy and thicker but I’m completely okay with all of that. It looks and feels like a high-end journal that you might buy as a gift for somebody who is constantly writing notes in little books that go with them everywhere. The fabric-like textured surface that covers most of the X1 Fold 16 is excellent and wears nicely; no fingerprints to be seen. The rubberized Lenovo and ThinkPad X1 logos stick up and feel right at home. It doesn’t feel like any other device or even case for a device I’ve ever used and it gives a sense of quality and durability. The keyboard and stand are covered with an Alcantara-like soft touch fabric as well that you know will be kind to all surfaces it rests against.

While opening and closing the X1 Fold 16 takes a bit of getting used to, mainly due to the size and strength of the magnets, I wouldn’t want it any other way. It might have annoyed me at the start but I think that stemmed right from it looking so much like a notebook or journal I wanted it to open up just as easily. You quickly adapt and find different ways to open it when you do not have a surface to put it on first. All of your accessories: stand, keyboard, and pen all attach with magnets to the exterior of the device. The keyboard no longer lives inside so if you want to use it, it is an extra step to detach it and then place it on top of the bottom half of the screen. 

The main modes that the X1 Fold 16 is designed to be used are with the tablet on the stand; either portrait or landscape or folded with the keyboard resting on the bottom half. You of course can also use the main device as a book or traditional tablet and leave the accessories packed away. I’ve also learned to enjoy opening the X1 Fold 16 and just using the onscreen keyboard or touch display for quick or casual use, or sometimes I will leave the device folded and use the Bluetooth keyboard beside it while it is folded and leave the stand attached to the keyboard. My eyes don’t seem to mind the crease and in some instances using the stand isn’t ideal.

The User

All this being said, who is the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 for? Is it for tablet users? Early adopters of folding technology? Artists, architects and digital pen enthusiasts? Lovers of ultrabooks?

The answer is all of the above but on different days of the week. If some days you need a laptop but other days you want a tablet and others want something in between, the X1 Fold 16 does exactly what you need it to do when you need to. Earlier I called it a “system” because it didn’t work in those other categories and I stand by that. Other form factors have flirted with the concept and even the original X1 Fold tried to achieve that but to me, this is the first real successful attempt. For many this device will be strange and not fit into their workflow naturally, especially if a standard laptop does everything you need. For those that have a more dynamic work environment that has constantly changing demands on their devices and changes to their workflow might be attracted to what the X1 Fold 16 has to offer. The key is each of these form factors has to be useful to the user or the ability for it to transform into that shape and serve that function will not be seen as value-added and will deter you from the steep entry price of ownership of the device.

When I travelled to TechWorld 2023, one of my fellow INsiders had his own Yoga Book 9i there and while that device impressed me in person, it was clear that they were adding features post-launch to get it up to speed with expectations, which is not an uncommon occurrence. The hardware was ready, but the software is still being rolled out. I felt the experience with the X1 Fold 16 was considerably more complete in comparison even if some of the hardware was dated. In short, both products have their fans and their niches and I do not believe one is a clear winner over the other in terms of functionality and their intended audience.

The Future?

Everything it sets out to do, it does. Due to the high-end internals and cutting-edge technology, design and engineering of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 G1, it will command a premium price point and that will mean that it isn’t the device for everyone, yet. Once the technology gets more affordable, I wouldn’t be surprised if this form factor catches on. I would daily drive this form factor, but the version I tested ships currently for approximately $5,000 Canadian without a sale and that keeps it out of my hands for now.

I do hope for price drops in the future and a G2 version with a newer CPU that is perhaps equipped with some AI tools to make this device sing.

2023: A Year in Review

2023 has been an interesting year for the channel. Quite a few things got accomplished and nearly just as many have been left in a state of completion that I was hoping were further along than where they are now. It reminds me of the quote: “Life is what happens when you are busy making plans.” I want to start by thanking all viewers and supporters of the channel this year and in years past. The comments, likes, conversations, DMs, Discord messages and more mean so very much to me. Special thanks to those of you who keep me in supply of material through borrows, donations and more. Knowing that this information is valuable to people lights a fire like you cannot imagine and I want you to know that I appreciate each and every single one of you. The events of this year and previous years would not be possible without you.

Regardless, there are a few things I wanted to highlight that happened throughout the year.

Laptopretrospective.com visitor and viewer stats as of December 17, 2023.

The first is just the overall steady growth of this website which serves as a hub for all things channel-related. It also is a repository for the articles I write in place of videos. The other purpose is to report updates or addendums to existing videos where it makes more sense to write it all down versus producing another video that may or may not be adequately discovered. Thanks to everyone who found this site through various avenues and shared the content. I hope it was and continues to be helpful to those who discover it.

#MyYearOnYouTube2023 stats from January to November 30, 2023.

YouTube numbers remained steady this year. Subscriber rates have been consistent throughout the year as have other metrics. Generally speaking, the channel experienced a 10% lull in most statistics compared to previous years. I suspect that is primarily due to a few busy months where I was unable to produce the content I wanted to when I wanted to. There were also a few things that shoved around my release schedule. Another interesting point for my channel is videos on average do much better about 6+ months after they release. That is to say, the videos get more views as they age, except for Shorts of course. Whether that is due to the algorithm or other factors, I’m not sure. I’m not concerned about the current process or content having an impact on this statistic as I’ve historically seen the videos pick up as the topic trends after the creation of the video; sometimes months, even years.

YouTube Studio statistics show that the majority of views are coming from older content.

I’d love to expand a few things with the channel but I’m also aware there are barriers. Time is one of them. The channel is a wonderful hobby that I enjoy but it isn’t a source of income, nor do I seek it out to be one or I’d be doing things very differently. My film space needs work and I have a few ideas but I also know there is a great deal I don’t know so that slows down the process. Editing and thumbnails is also a time sink. All that being said, I have dreams and goals but right now, as a team of one, that is challenging to achieve. The other worth mentioning is the budget. YouTube ad revenue brings in a few hundred a month which goes right back into the channel, often to acquire machines to film and the occasional gear for filming but I’m conscious about how I spend that money. Sponsorships that involve money do not fit the current model or goals I have for the channel and that of course introduces challenges but I’m okay with that. All that being said, the channel marches forward and I hope that you enjoy the content I can produce given my current limitations.

Please enjoy some of the highlights from 2023 I’ve outlined below and here is to an amazing 2024.

 

 

January

IBM ThinkPad 350C. This video currently is the oldest ThinkPad that functions in my collection and that I’ve featured on the channel. It was fun to acquire and get it ready to film. It also came with a carrying case and an adapter to let you plug it into a 12V car port.

February

February was quieter as I was deep into testing the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16. Lots of testing and filming happened this month which meant that resources were focused there and not on other areas.

March

Interviewing Dr. Ted Selker. Being able to connect with this genius was a pleasure. Learning about the development of the TrackPoint and his other efforts was amazing and I’m grateful for the time he spent speaking with me.

April

This month I was working on something that is still under wraps for now along with a few other videos. We shall see what the future holds for that project.

May

The Lenovo ThinkPad T430 line is probably one of the most diverse product lines ever fielded under a single-name designation. The article below discusses all the different experiments that occurred. It wasn’t going to be a video as the likelihood of having all those machines under the safe roof again is not high.

May
11

The T430 Line-Up: Celebrating Experimentation

Few ThinkPads have such a strange line-up as what made up the T430 family. It contained several machines that prior to it and after that were unique. Out of all of the modern T400 series, there are more unique models in this era than any other. It seems like a lot of experimentation was happening […]

June

Keyboard Talk. I’ve written a lot of ThinkPad keyboards over the years and this article ended up being a summary of many thoughts I had on the subject. The bottom line is, there isn’t a bad ThinkPad keyboard. People will certainly have their preferences but I’ve learned to enjoy them all for different reasons.

Jun
17

ThinkPad Keyboards: Classic, Modern and why you can love them both

A quick way to start a debate One thing that will get long-term ThinkPad users talking is the differences between all of the ThinkPad keyboards and which version is best. This can be a hotly debated topic with a lot of feelings, nostalgia, personal preference and use cases but there are some things I’d like […]

July

Project Monarch. I’d been wanting to talk about the IBM ThinkPad 701c for years. The challenge was twofold: getting a unit operational that I could film and collecting the information on the device. Both were difficult. Finding a working machine within the budget for the channel was tricky and ultimately happened due to collaboration with a viewer like you. Collecting information was something I was finding significant success with and that became its own barrier in a way. I kept learning more and more which meant I knew the full story was not in my grasp so I wasn’t ready to produce the video I wanted to make. Eventually, after years, I got to the point where I could produce the first video and be happy with it.

The goal is to produce more videos in this series as time moves on.

August

There is not much going on in August due to travel and school work. How dull right?

September

Revisiting the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 was something I knew I needed to do. The original Project Kodachi series was a critical turning point for the channel and I cherish that series and what it started with Think Design Stories and interviews in general. Over the years since Project Kodachi, I learned ever more about the X300 and knew supplemental material would be needed. That led to the creation of this article.

Sep
09

The Importance of the ThinkPad X300

When IBM sold their PC division to Lenovo, not all was well with the iconic ThinkPad brand. IBM was losing money and wanted to get rid of the PC arm of the business for several years. ThinkPad was one of the many components that made the purchase of IBM’s PC Division desirable. Towards the end […]

October

Going to Lenovo Tech World was the highlight of October. This was my first in-person technology conference and a wonderful experience. I got to meet a lot of great people and see some awesome excellent technology. The article below contains all the details.

Nov
04

My Lenovo Tech World 2023 Experience

I was able to attend Lenovo Tech World 2023 thanks to my participation in the Lenovo INsiders program. My travel and accommodations were covered and there was no cost to me to go to Austin, Texas. As part of my efforts to ensure 100% transparency, I am disclosing this information at the top of this […]

 

November

The release of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 G1. I was testing this for several months and had the chance to test two physical devices. It certainly had a longer development cycle than some machines but it was necessary to make sure it was a successful product launch. It did mean I was “sitting” on these videos for quite some time after they were filmed but I was thrilled to be part of this process and I hope it will happen again in the future.

December

This busy month of real life kept me well away from my film space. It wasn’t exactly how I wanted to end the year but that’s the reality sometime. At the very least I wanted to write this article before the year’s end. I was trying to track down a rare ThinkPad to feature on the channel, one that I have been looking for since the first part of this year, the 755CV or 755CDV. I thought I had one and when it arrived, it became clear the whole top case had been replaced with a stock 755 lid meaning the most unique part wasn’t even present. Back to the drawing board.

I was able to attend Lenovo Tech World 2023 thanks to my participation in the Lenovo INsiders program. My travel and accommodations were covered and there was no cost to me to go to Austin, Texas. As part of my efforts to ensure 100% transparency, I am disclosing this information at the top of this article. If you have any questions, please contact me.

An Opportunity

I have never had the opportunity to be invited or attend a technology conference before, so when Lenovo reached out to me through the Lenovo INsiders program to attend Lenovo Tech World 2023 in Austin, Texas on October 24, 2023 it wasn’t a chance that I was going to miss. With the emphasis being placed on Artificial Intelligence, I was intrigued as this is part my of area of interest for my graduate work that I mentioned when I announced that I was attending on my YouTube channel.

For those of you who are not aware, Laptop Retrospective is a hobby so I also had to ensure that I was able to secure time off and thankfully it worked out. With the last box checked, I packed light and headed to Austin, heading in the opposite direction of the Formula 1 traffic that was leaving Austin from the race that happened on the weekend. I passed one of the race teams in the airport when I landed in Austin; their bright yellow emblems caught my eye. It wasn’t just sporty jackets catching my eye as the roster of speakers covered multiple CEOs from the largest and most influential technology companies to key players in the security world, like the CIA’s former director on Cyber Intelligence

I also need to mention that I was not alone. Five of us INsiders were present and every one of them was a kind, welcoming and authentic individual. I was the newest member of the group present, being in the program just less than a year. Without Arthur, Jacqueline, Nikhil and Tom, I know for a fact the trip would not have been as enjoyable. For a very readable and in-depth account of his Lenovo Tech World experience, please consider checking out Arthur’s article . Please also consider checking out Tom’s article for a look at how AI will impact travel as well as his musings on some of the things we saw during our stay in Austin.

Special mention needs to be given to the team from Cycle Media (Thanks Andie, Kelley Anne and Kendra!) and those Lenovo staff (Thanks Hollyn and Taylor!) that took care of us, it was a critical part of enjoying the Tech World experience.

The Lenovo INsiders present at Lenovo Tech World 2023 with CEO Yang Yuanqing.
From Left to Right: Arthur Walker, Nikhil Chawla, Yang Yuanqing, Tom Payne, Thomas Rogers, Jacqueline Cromwell

Now, on to the show.

AI for All

For those of you who tuned in live or read any of the press releases, you will know that Lenovo is serious about AI. There was a great deal of discussion and showcase on how AI will impact and equip enterprise users and businesses from large banks to companies that need to crunch huge volumes of data and even your local pub and grocery store. This was all very interesting but the parts that stole the show for me were how AI would be accessible to the individual. For those wishing to see the keynotes and other sessions please click here to watch the recording.

Large Language Models (LLMs) require a great deal of computing power and are not accessible to everyone and certainly not offline. Lenovo aims to change all this by putting AI on your personal devices, allowing it to learn to support you, do it offline and at the same time, safeguard your personal information and data. That last part is mission critical as right now the options for using an AI are either to run a limited model using the computing power you can afford or have locally or take somewhat of a risk and use a model available online that will have varying levels of privacy of that data. While many might wonder about this, large companies value customer data and can utilize it, but there is a limit on what they want to be responsible for keeping on their servers. Any data breaches that place liability on the company are best avoided so in a strange twist, overly personal data is better kept off corporate or public servers for both parties. When it comes to AI, there is a great incentive for larger companies to safeguard your data by not collecting it in the first place.

The keynote opened with an excellent and very appropriate demonstration of Project Libras which showed Brazilian Sign Language being captured in real-time and with the assistance of an AI, spoken and transcribed only a few moments after it was signed. This was followed by several demonstrations and partner announcements.

The demonstrations that I saw via Moto AI and Windows Co-pilot clearly illustrated that Lenovo has the hardware partners to do this work and to do it now. AMD, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Intel and Microsoft made an appearance either virtually or in person. They are keen to take part in the AI-driven future and all of them are looking to Lenovo to deliver. Talk is often called cheap and many organizations have promised an AI-driven future since 2022 but this seemed like the first concrete and tangible step towards that reality and not just speculation.

Show Highlights

Tech World’s focus was on AI so the devices on display were focused on their connection to that central theme which means there weren’t rows and rows of devices to play with and photograph but that does not mean the products there weren’t very, very cool. Quite the opposite in fact as many of them felt like they had a practical and bright future.

Besides the enterprise-level hardware that was being showcased, which was very cool and I’m glad I met up with Rob Herman in person so he could point it out, there were several devices that Lenovo had on the showroom floor for those present to examine.

The Adaptable Motorola phone was probably what got the most attention on stage in terms of demonstrations at least from the INsiders. It utilizes the same flexible display technology present in the RAZR line of phones but allows the phone to bend back using something akin to an accordion hinge. This allowed it to be configured in a variety of modes and positions including that of a wearable wrist-mounted device.

The device was fully functional and not a prop. A few things were lacking that would need to be sorted such as a decent camera. The example we saw had a single selfie camera behind the display which would not be acceptable in the year 2023 so they will need to sort that out if the device is developed to the point of being released. There are also questions around the care of the device including the durability of the screen and how to keep the sustainably sourced fabric back in good condition. Ideally, it would be replaceable/swappable. This would also help the phone be repairable which Lenovo execs are pushing with their other PC-based solutions.

I got the chance to see the ThinkPhone and it looked sharp. They had the device configured with Microsoft 365 technology that allowed you to plug the phone directly into a monitor and continue working on your desktop PC remotely. Very slick. It also allowed you to continue to use your phone as you would normally at the same time. In larger enterprise scenarios, it is conceivable that all a workstation could need is a monitor, mouse and keyboard. Everything else would be handled remotely. While I do not know if I will get the chance to use a ThinkPhone, it is nice to see they continue to add features to the device to increase its functionality. That gives confidence that the platform will continue beyond a single generation.

ThinkBook had a concept they called Autobot which uses the older ThinkPad X41T styled hinge in conjunction with an AI-powered camera to track the user and turn and tilt the display to ensure it is always facing you. The Lenovo staff and I discussed the possible uses in a video conferencing scenario and how it may be useful. Like all concepts, we will see if it makes it to production. The durability and longevity of the mechanism will be key points. Regardless, the ThinkBook is becoming a platform for experimentation whether its displays in the palm rest, e-ink dual displays or this Autobot concept.

There was a ThinkVision display that through the use of eye tracking can recreate 3D/VR experiences in front of the monitor without the use of glasses or goggles. Sadly this is not something you can capture on film but it most certainly works. Outside of VR development or 3D rendering work, I am not sure if it has many practical applications, but it was certainly effective and worked as intended. Arthur in his article linked above describes its use case better than I do, give it a read if you haven’t already.

Another honourable mention was Project Chronos which was set up to showcase motion capture capabilities without a complex rigging system or body suit. They had it capturing movements and displaying them on a detailed digital avatar in near real-time complete with facial expressions. I imagine that smaller independent studios to others that want to use motion capture for digital avatars will be waiting eagerly for this device to be released.

Lastly, while it wasn’t a showcase of explicitly Lenovo gear, the racing simulator they had set up was fun. It was an awesome experience as the whole rig not only felt authentic everywhere you physically touched it, but the sensation of tilt and speed was noteworthy. I was discussing with the company that brought the gear that one of their goals is to make racing available to more people and while a rig like the one I tried carries a heavy price tag, the era of eRacing I believe will be on us shortly. After all, eSports is firmly established, so why not eRacing? I would certainly want to give it a go and next time, I might not push the car quite as hard as my German instructor suggested.

Me in the racing simulator getting instructions. Thanks to Arthur Walker for the photo.

Closing Thoughts

Truthfully, Tech World was my first experience of this kind and I hope it is not the last. The people I got to meet, the experiences we shared and the technology I saw, were exciting. I’m looking forward to how AI will integrate into the next generation of devices that we will all use for work and play. As a person who has enjoyed the benefits of Co-pilot for Windows 11 on a preview build, what I saw on October 24th is a clear and positive step forward.

I hope you enjoyed my coverage on X/Twitter and YouTube and I cannot wait until I get to share with you again another such experience.

When IBM sold their PC division to Lenovo, not all was well with the iconic ThinkPad brand. IBM was losing money and wanted to get rid of the PC arm of the business for several years. ThinkPad was one of the many components that made the purchase of IBM’s PC Division desirable. Towards the end of IBM’s ownership, corners and costs were being cut to try and save money where they could and that was starting to hurt what they could do with the newer generations of ThinkPad. It would seem if IBM kept ThinkPad, things were going to get worse, not better.

To learn more about this part of the history of these two companies and a great deal about the topic of this article, the ThinkPad X300, you need to learn more about Steve Hamm’s book, “The Race for Perfect.”

David Churbuk (VP of Global Digital Marketing at Lenovo from 2005 through 2010) recalls the atmosphere in a blog post he wrote for the 25th anniversary of ThinkPad. We are fortunate that David Churbuk wrote about these experiences so we can look back at them as part of a historical record:

Lenovo was a complete unknown when it was formed in 2005. Today it is number one in the market, ahead of Dell and HP. The name “Lenovo” was coined by an expensive brand consultant and always evoked an image of a French anti-cellulite lotion in my word-warped mind. The company was a partially state-owned enterprise that dominated the Chinese market for computers but was utterly unknown in the rest of the world. Lenovo launched in the hope of becoming one of China’s first true global brands and do for the country’s reputation what Sony and Toyota had done for Japan in the late 1960s, and Samsung, LG and Hyundai had done for South Korea in the 1980s — become a premier status brand associated with innovation and high-concept design and dispel the image of China being a low-cost, low-quality producer of dreck.

The negative sentiment expressed by the ThinkPad faithful towards Lenovo was intense, verging on racism. As I read the comments on the gadget blogs like Gizmodo and the independent ThinkPad forums, I discovered a cult of over-weening, obsessive, compulsive and paranoid cultists who knew down to the penny the precise bill of materials that comprised a ThinkPad almost as well as David [Hill]’s own staff. Each and every new ThinkPad released by Lenovo in 2006 was scrutinized by the horde for signs of cost-cutting or diminished quality. The rubber feet under the case. The feel of the rubberized paint on the lid. The fit and finish. The decals….The faithful were skeptical and on high alert.

In terms of timelines and based on the reading, research and interviews I’ve done over the years, the cost-cutting and outsourcing of manufacturing were happening often during the last of the IBM years. Examples of this can be seen through the changes in materials, designs and even the cost-saving decision for the ThinkLight to be amber since those LEDs were cheaper. Several models were being produced by Acer, LG and Lenovo rather than in-house by IBM. When the transition occurred, Lenovo understandably had a lot to learn about being a large designer and manufacturer of PCs in a global market. That is a significant jump for a company to make. It wasn’t perfect and neither was what they were handed.

So when it came time for Lenovo to build their own ThinkPad from the ground up without IBM, they needed to get it right. They had to prove to the world that they knew what they were doing and could do just as good or better than IBM. For this next part of the story, I recommend if you haven’t already viewed the Project Kodachi video series on my YouTube channel to get a better understanding of the context that brought about the ThinkPad X300. 

Laptop Mag in 2008 named David Hill, the chief designer of the ThinkPad X300, #19 on their 25 Most Influential People in Mobile Technology for his work on the ThinkPad X300 and compared it favourably against the rival of the time, the MacBook Air. Contrary to popular belief, the X300 was well into development by the time the Air was announced and was not created in response to the efforts of Apple. That myth came about as a result of the direct comparisons drawn at the time.

From David Hill’s archives, a photograph of the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 fitting inside of an inter-office envelope.

This comparison and rivalry would extend to the ThinkPad X301 and the sleek black box did well when compared to other machines of the day:

Apple came out with the MacBook Air — an incredibly thin, sexy and largely impractical notebook, while Lenovo brought out the ThinkPad X300, which shared the Air’s size but otherwise was almost the polar opposite. The X300 wasn’t anywhere near as attractive but was a product you could truly live on, being vastly more practical. The X301 improves on the X300, having more performance and the option of an amazingly fast 128-GB hard drive. I’m a huge fan of these solid state drives; they are dead quiet, use little power and have blindingly fast read rates. Unfortunately, they are also very expensive, but darned if they aren’t worth it.

The MacBook Air is arguably the most attractive notebook in the market, while the X301 is the closest to overall perfection. The market tends to favor appearance over practicality at the moment, but the true perfect laptop would be one that was as good looking as the Air and as practical as the X301. We’ll see if Apple or Lenovo gets there first.

Lenovo’s X301 is arguably the closest thing to notebook perfection, but if sales volumes are to reflect this, it will need to improve its appearance and find an economically more attractive entry price. In the end, however, this is all about choice — and Apple, Dell and Lenovo are providing ever-more-interesting ones. Being a fan of choice, that has to be a good thing.

Apple vs. Dell vs. Lenovo: Got to Love Choices by Rob Enderle December 8, 2008

A Lenovo ThinkPad T430s and X1 Carbon Gen 3. Both owe some of their design language to the X300.

The ThinkPad X300 launched a new era of ThinkPads. It would lead to the creation of the ThinkPad X1 and the first ThinkPad X1 Carbon which is the industry standard for a business laptop. The DNA and design of the ThinkPad X300 would be transformed in the X1 series but would continue with a few changes in the emergence of the ThinkPad T400s and subsequent T410s, T420s and T430s models. The location of the ports and features of the device would harken back to the layout first configured on the ThinkPad X300. David Churbuk seems to agree:

Ah ….. This thing took all the glory of our X300 — the notebook Businessweek called the Perfect PC — and puts it into a serious heatseeker of a laptop. You can, if you are inclined to spend the big dollars, make this thing behave like a serious workstation. Configure it with a big SSD drive, max the RAM and you’re talking one of the most powerful laptops ever conceived. Super thin, and loaded. I could see toting this around for the next two years with never a regret.

Without the creation of the ThinkPad X300, it is uncertain if Lenovo would have the success it has enjoyed with the ThinkPad brand. While the X1 Carbon and T series often steal the show in terms of most popular choices for a quality business laptop, neither would be where they are today without the ThinkPad X300.

A quick way to start a debate

One thing that will get long-term ThinkPad users talking is the differences between all of the ThinkPad keyboards and which version is best. This can be a hotly debated topic with a lot of feelings, nostalgia, personal preference and use cases but there are some things I’d like to start with and that is, you are allowed to like them both for different reasons and both have their strengths. When I say “both” what I mean is what most people will talk about and that is the difference between the six-row and seven-row keyboards. There are many that will state that the “classic” or seven-row keyboard remains superior to the six-row or “island” style modernized version. Specific groups will target different models of the seven-row keyboard all the way back to the buckling sleeve M6 and M6-1 variants and if you are getting lost already, you may want to visit Sharktastica’s excellent website on keyboards. This article isn’t designed to make you change your opinion one way or the other, but to provide some information that I have found is often left out of the conversation. Hopefully, you will learn at least one new thing reading this information to either bolster or steel your existing argument or perhaps make you ask some questions.

The “classic” seven-row keyboard is a much-loved keyboard for several reasons, some of which are:

  • The number of rows of keys,
  • The dedicated keys that are removed or repurposed,
  • The switch type,
  • The key shape,
  • The key travel.
The “classic” seven-row ThinkPad keyboard as seen on the ThinkPad T420s. Note the square-shaped keys, additional row and blue-coloured enter button.

Some of the above are objective preferences and others will be more subjective in nature but before we dive far into the weeds, I’ll mention this isn’t even the first time I’ve written about ThinkPad keyboards. I strongly suggest you read my first article which looks at a scientific study on key travel that is related to this conversation as it helps shed some light on why we favour certain keyboards over others using ThinkPad keyboards as a test case.

Jul
13

It isn’t all about Key Travel

This article was made possible by the excellent and very interesting study linked below. Coppola, Sarah M., Philippe C. Dixon, Boyi Hu, Michael Y.C. Lin, and Jack T. Dennerlein. 2019. “Going Short: The Effects of Short-Travel Key Switches on Typing Performance, Typing Force, Forearm Muscle Activity, and User Experience.” Journal of Applied Biomechanics 35 (2): 149–56. https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/jab/35/2/article-p149.xml […]

IBM did it before Lenovo

While working on this article, Admiral Shark of Sharkastica, the excellent keyboard website I mentioned at the start of the article, pointed out that IBM was releasing several ThinkPads with six-row keyboard designs before the modern version was even released on the X1. ThinkPads like the IBM ThinkPad 500 and 300C keyboards for example featured six rows. In that regard, the six-row configuration has been around since the beginning. It was certainly not as common as the seven-row design that was found on the flagship models, but there is an undeniable history of six rows present essentially from the beginning.

Christopher Ross Hind, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The Reception and Development of the Modern Six-Row

The more modern six-row ThinkPad keyboard as shipped on the T430s. Note the removal of the ‘IBM’ blue and ThinkVantage text. The island-style keys have spaces between them, but the key shape on the top remains largely unchanged. More modern versions see the removal of the physical buttons above the keyboard with the exception of the power button.

When the new island-style keyboard launched on the ThinkPad X1 in May 2011, it caused quite a stir, so much so that it was addressed in a blog post in July of 2012 trying to explain all of the hard work that went into the design and function of the keyboard. One particular Question and Answer stands out for the level of testing that went into developing the new keyboard:

“We often conduct different evaluations and user tests to maintain or improve the ThinkPad keyboard. However, to determine if and how we would make the changes to our keyboard in 2012, we embarked on one of the most in-depth keyboard studies ever conducted for ThinkPad. We did 350 hours of user testing with people in four countries. With each participant, we conducted 90- to 120-minute one-on-one interviews with hands-on use of different keyboard conditions to understand the latest about keyboard use and design preferences.”

Change Is Hard: Why You Should Give In to the New ThinkPad Keyboard by Gavin O’Hara

As an aside, the X1 is the spiritual successor to the X301/X300 line of ultrabooks and would evolve into the extremely popular X1 Carbon lineup. In 2019, I got to take a look at an X1 in the video below.

Thanks to Marasu Kamikura, we have some insights as to why the change was made to the six-row keyboard. It turns out that the dedicated keys were being used less and less so they wanted to consolidate the spaces to reduce the overall footprint of the keyboard to make room for other components. Other details about how the laptop closed, TrackPoint height, screen bezels and other design decisions are detailed in the images below. You can click on each image to see a Google Translate version of the text from this briefing on the X1 and the new keyboard. If any readers can provide a better translation, please reach out. I’ve also included a quote from the article above that mentioned the movement of these keys to their new home and how long it takes on average to adjust. All this to say; as users evolved and software changed, so too must the devices we use.

“We have seen end-users comfortably adjust to these changes in less than an hour. Depending on personal use of these functions, other users may require a bit more time for the change to feel natural. However, this reset has occurred for every end-user in our extensive testing, typically with an ultimate preference for the new layout over the old. Legacy functions like Pause, Break and Scroll Lock are no longer overtly labelled on key tops, but remain accessible via key combinations using the Fn key (e.g., Fn+P = Pause).”

Change Is Hard: Why You Should Give In to the New ThinkPad Keyboard by Gavin O’Hara

A further connection to ThinkPad heritage

A promotional photo of the Lenovo Skylight showing off the keyboard.

But there exists a connection to the origins of the ThinkPad brand and this newer design that most fans are not aware of and for that, we need to talk about Skylight. Skylight deserves its own deeper dive so I won’t summarize it all here but for the purposes of this article, one should know that device was where this new keyboard was first tested and it makes perfect sense. Both the original ThinkPad and Skylight were designed by Richard Sapper.

Skylight at CES 2010 Photo by Masaru Kamikura. Note the “D” shaped keys on the keyboard.

The keyboard present on the Skylight prototypes and demo models was close to the original wooden prototype ThinkPad that was constructed by Richard Sapper in the early 90s. He referred to these as “D” shaped keys. David Hill discussed this in his blog back in October 2013 which can be found on the Wayback Machine, pictures included.

What I would like to call attention to in this blog is something embodied in Sapper’s work that never quite made it to market on the original ThinkPad 700c. Richard imagined a new key shape that would have a unique contour and profile. He described it as a “D” shape. The intent was to cradle the finger and create a human-oriented soft form that would contrast the strict rectilinear geometry of ThinkPad.

The latest ThinkPad keyboard we introduced on products such as the X1 Carbon actually has a key shape reminiscent of this 20+-year-old concept. I made a push to simplify and purify the visual expression of ThinkPad, and I thought the time was right to finally dust off the “D”-shaped key. It took months of hard work, experimentation and analysis to develop and tune the final key shape and relevant force curves. I feel confident that we finally harnessed Sapper’s original intent for our latest ThinkPad designs.

While Skylight would not make it to market, being cancelled six months later its announcement at CES, the keyboard lives on and was introduced on the ThinkPad X1. Taken all together, the six-row modern keyboard has just as much right to be called a ThinkPad keyboard as the seven-row, possibly even more given the connections to its past.

Playing favourites and Retro resurrection

So getting back to the heart of our discussion around ThinkPad keyboards, there is history in every keyboard that has graced the ThinkPad design and they all have good pedigree and merit to their design. As for which is ultimately superior will always be a  question riddled with subjectivity right down to the manufacturer of each iteration. Yes, one model or version of a keyboard is often made by several different companies and sometimes small variances end up existing enough though they are supposed to be all built to the same specifications. Some users will even report a different feeling of key presses between backlit and non-backlit variants. 

The classic seven-row keyboard did have one last triumph that should be mentioned and that of course is the ThinkPad T25.

The retro-style keyboard that was included on the ThinkPad T25 anniversary model. This keyboard can also be retrofitted to a T480 with modifications.

When David Hill was working on designing the T25, the 25th anniversary ThinkPad, a poll was conducted on the type of keyboard that people wanted to see in that model and unsurprisingly, a retro keyboard was preferred for a retro-styled machine. Considering this machine was being built to harken back to the past, it was appropriate that this specialized keyboard was commissioned for the T25. One should be careful though not to read the data below as an overall preference between the two designs as this device was targeted at a specific group of people and not a wide-scale product. That data would look very different. Needless to say, it is well-loved by many people. As time moves on, fewer and fewer will make this comparison as the older keyboard becomes rarer.

“Preference for a 7 row keyboard was a strong winner. This is clear in both the survey responses and the comments. I’ve included a bar chart on this topic for everyone’s reference.”
https://web.archive.org/web/20151112171550/http://blog.lenovo.com/en/blog/retro-thinkpad-survey-2-displays-keyboard

ThinkPad knows everything about making a keyboard

One thing is certain in my mind and that is ThinkPads have the best keyboards when compared to any other laptop brand on the market and that is not a surprise to me. When you have spent over 30 years making laptop keyboards, you are going to know a lot about how to do it correctly. That isn’t even counting the years of research IBM did on typewriters and how that research would have bled over to the typing experience in the early days of notebooks. So whether you prefer six or seven rows, backlight or not, picking a ThinkPad keyboard is always a winning move. As for me, I enjoy both keyboards and use them frequently. While this article will likely not change anyone’s mind on such a longstanding and polarizing issue, I hope that it might help inform the conversation better and potentially change some of the language used in those conversations.

Few ThinkPads have such a strange line-up as what made up the T430 family. It contained several machines that prior to it and after that were unique. Out of all of the modern T400 series, there are more unique models in this era than any other. It seems like a lot of experimentation was happening during this time and that seems to line up with all of the different features, and chassis variants that we see in the T430 lineup.

Let’s unpack what is on the table. The following models make up the line:

  • T430
  • T430s
  • T431s
  • T430u
  • T530 (Honourable mention as it is the same generation)

As you can see, some normal contenders like the T430 and T530 make up the 14″ and 15″ models respectively. The T430s was also a common sight since the T400 introduced the “s” suffix to the T series. However, the T431s and T430u are exceptionally unique, both in how common they are and what they brought in terms of design to ThinkPad.

The T430

Possibly one of the most loved ThinkPads of the 2010s, this ThinkPad was one of the last ones that allowed you to upgrade the CPU and other key components. It would inherit most of its design elements from the T420 with the exception of the newer style keyboard replacing the classic seven-row. The x30 series also came equipped with both the ThinkLight and the new backlit keyboard option, being the only generation to feature both on one machine. The T430 was the only of the family with the exception of the T530 to be socketed for the CPU allowing for easier upgrades. This caused quite a ruckus among some fans of the 7-row, but ultimately it prevailed. To learn more, check out this article and the video below:

Jul
13

It isn’t all about Key Travel

This article was made possible by the excellent and very interesting study linked below. Coppola, Sarah M., Philippe C. Dixon, Boyi Hu, Michael Y.C. Lin, and Jack T. Dennerlein. 2019. “Going Short: The Effects of Short-Travel Key Switches on Typing Performance, Typing Force, Forearm Muscle Activity, and User Experience.” Journal of Applied Biomechanics 35 (2): 149–56. https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/jab/35/2/article-p149.xml […]

 

The T430s

The T430s is a lighter and slimmer version of the standard T430. It had less in common with its bigger, more modular brother. Battery life was a bit of a challenge since it maxed out at 44Wh. The machine thankfully can take an UltraBay Slim battery to help with the battery life. It also featured a carbon-fibre-hybrid lid with a magnesium base and roll cage to help with durability. As I mentioned above, the  “s” suffix all started with the T400s which has a lot in common visually with the X300 and X301 right down to the battery construction and placement and port selection. While I have featured the X300 and X301 in Project Kodachi, I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing a T400s.

The T431s

Probably the most controversial model in the T430 family, this machine introduced several changes that would be loved by some and vilified by others. The complete redesign reportedly took about nine months to complete. It was released after the T430u and was the thinnest in the T series lineup to that point. It removed the ThinkLight, introduced a new keyboard layout, introduced the ClickPad with the integrated TrackPoint buttons, only one RAM slot and overall had the beginnings of the design that the T440 and onward would take. With one RAM slot, 12GB is the maximum RAM possible on these machines. Web cameras, fingerprint readers and backlit keyboards were also optional. It is worth noting that the T431s and T430u listed below are the only two machines that do not have support for the 1vyrain BIOS mod. Like the T430u, it also sports an internal battery pack and no Optical Drive Bay.

The T430u

If the T431s was a leap into the unknown the T430u was the frontier before it. While it had many new features, it maintained just as many but with slight tweaks and variations. For example, it still has a ThinkLight, but one, unlike any other ThinkPad. It has no backlit keyboard option at all. Like the T431s it had no display hooks. It also had no docking port, optical drive or traditional roll cage found on the T430. One of my favourite features has to be the removable base plate. It is also the first T series that featured an aluminum display lid. It had a larger ClickPad than the other T series devices of the era.

The T530

Of course, the T530 is the 15-inch version of the same era, but it has more in common with the W530 than the T430 series. It even shares the same Hardware Maintenance Manual with the W530 and T530i.

Which is your favourite?

There are lots of different and interesting models in this line-up, which is your favourite and why? Feel free to reach out and chat about this article on Twitter or Mastodon if you prefer.

EAZEYE is a small company that is looking to give the world a brand-new monitor to choose from especially if you are prone to eye strain or enjoy working with lots of natural light.

Louis Huang is the 17-year-old brain behind the EAZEYE Monitor which harkens back to the days of yore when backlit displays were a challenge and there were several ways of solving it before the technology advanced far enough for us to be where we are today with exceptionally bright screens. So when he reached out to me to let me know what he and his company were up to, I decided to take a closer look and ask a few questions.

If you aren’t familiar with how a monitor works, take a look at this diagram that compares how a conventional monitor works compared to what EAZEYE is proposing.

A diagram showing the configuration of a standard modern display versus the EAZEYE.

When I first saw the EAZEYE my mind immediately went back to 1995 when IBM with the help of Dr. Ted Selker released the ThinkPad 755CV and CDV which allowed the user to not only use natural light to power the display but to lay it over an overhead projector so the screen can be displayed to a larger audience.

A pair of IBM ThinkPad 755CDVs showing the back panel removed. Photo by Ken Varga

According to Louis, the EAZEYE will sport a suite of features. While the monitor has a traditional backlight, the rear of the monitor can be opened which turns off the backlight and allows the ambient light to illuminate the display. This reduces power consumption, reduces potential eye strain from a bright display, and makes the display easier to use outdoors.

The EAZEYE Monitor opened to allow ambient light to illuminate the display.

Another benefit of the natural illumination of the screen is the potential for it to be used in areas that have a lot of ambient light such as the outdoors. Computers, specifically laptops have struggled greatly with use outside and have had many methods over the years to combat this issue. From e-ink displays to sunshades to displays with insane brightness, many have attempted to battle the sunlight that can make our screens unreadable. EAZEYE attempts to work with the sun as opposed to against it. The one caveat is that currently there has been no testing for IP rating which means if you were literally to use it outside, it is not rated against dust or moisture.

The big question that remains is are we looking for such a monitor? We will likely soon fight out as EAZEYE plans to start crowdfunding for the monitor on IndieGoGo in one to two months’ time for approximately $439 USD. Further technical details are being finalized. For more information, you can visit their website at https://eazeye.com/

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.