As CES 2021 finishes up, there have been mixed opinions on having a tradeshow like this in an online environment.

Past attendees of the live event certainly had a lot to miss from the closed-door exclusive briefings but most importantly being able to collect their own media and get their hands on the devices being showcased. Quite honestly I don’t blame them for missing these things as at. It is the same reason why I was devastated when Microsoft closed its retail stores. Those were the only places in my immediate area to see high-end laptops. Most consumer stores only have mid-tier devices that just don’t do it for me. But that is a story for another article.

Vendors also didn’t get much of a break in terms of how much it cost according to this article published by WIRED. CTA, the organization behind CES of course needs to keep the lights on so a heavy discount for vendors to set up their virtual shops would have been ideal, but probably not practical. Several vendors chose to simply not exhibit at the show and instead opted for press releases on their corporate websites at the same time.

Then there are people like me. I am not allowed to take vacation time whenever I want and Laptop Retrospective is not my job. Put bluntly, a virtual CES is the only way I could and probably will ever able to participate without sacrifice like burning all of my available personal business leave days for the year. I have never been to the real show, so in many respects, I don’t know what I’m truly missing, although I can certainly guess. I’m just simply grateful and fully recognize that it is because it was online, I was able to participate and I think more voices at the table is nice, but more on that later.

I cannot say it was a flawless execution. Out of all the vendors I sent messages to via the CES chat system, only a handful actually responded (Razer, Energysquare and Maono were lovely to chat with, but sadly the only two I was able to reach). Being a small fry didn’t help I’m sure (although some seasoned professionals of CES also had their fair share of struggles on this front as well), but I think many companies were working on local time and that made it difficult to coordinate and I think because the whole thing was new to everyone, there were bound to be some issues. I also think many reps expected people to reach out to them directly, which for experienced veterans of CES would be a non-issue as they would know who to contact. However, as a newbie, it is really hard to know which team member is best to touch base with regarding your questions.

The real challenge running this kind of remote event is, once it starts, it can be very challenging to course-correct and keep everyone on the same page. I’d hope that if they continue to offer this service that they will improve it over time just like anything else. All of the above is quite understandable considering CES reports this being the “largest Digital Tech Industry Event” in history.

I suppose what it comes down to is inclusion. I doubt I’m the only person that truly appreciated CES being an inclusive event for those that could not travel, (in this case, everyone this year) despite the setbacks pointed out by myself others. I will be happy to see CES return to Vegas even though I won’t likely be able to ever go, but I hope that they keep a small door open for the possibility to continue to include virtual attendees that otherwise would not be able to make it due to a multitude of different reasons. Being a part of it, even a small part, was a really cool moment for me that I won’t soon forget. 

Thank you to all of the viewers and subscribers of Laptop Retrospective that gave me the statistics to be eligible to attend. I am very grateful for your support and viewership.

One announcement at CES 2021 that in my opinion, didn’t get the discussion it deserves, comes from Energysquare which is a small start-up that wants to make wireless charging in laptops mainstream.

Laptop with integrated wireless charging. Note silver-coloured electrodes that make contact with the mat.

Wireless charging is growing more and more common with smaller electronics but in terms of larger ones, the pros and cons are still being decided. This hasn’t stopped Lenovo from jumping on board their plan to offer it in their next generation of ThinkBooks. Both the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 i and ThinkBook 13X i will feature Energysquare’s wireless charging technology as an optional addon. But who will really benefit from wireless charging?

Wireless charging technology from Energysquare will be optional on the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 i and ThinkBook 13X i
  1. Businesses. Work areas and meeting rooms where plugs are at a premium and playing “kick the cable” is leaving wear marks on your shoes would greatly benefit from this setup. Businesses running older units that don’t have the technology built-in might really like the idea of their “stick-on” solution. It would also reduce cost over time invested in charging cables.
  2. Heavy Home Office. If you do not travel a lot with your laptop, or if it comes home each night to charge then this is a viable option. Having a larger mat like the ones featured in Energysquare’s promotional material would make sense to place your devices on to charge without a mess of cables.
  3. Early adopters. If you sit on the bleeding edge of technology, you probably have considered or have mangled a piece of furniture to hide a wireless charging pad. This would eliminate the need to do so and also as OEMs support the integration of the technology into more devices, provide a sleeker, minimalistic look.

Just like several pieces of technology, however, I think there are some users who are still far away from benefitting from this technology.

  1. Travellers. If you are constantly on the move, taking a wireless charging mat over several chargers may or may not appeal to you. If the charging mat were flexible, lightweight and all of your devices were supported, then it might be a possible solution.
  2. Students. Whether in university or grade school, you are likely going to be surrounded by some dated tech and little personal space, so this might not be the best solution. However, perhaps in the future, there will be smart desks or collaboration tables that include wireless charging for student devices.
  3. The average user. I’m not sure the average person has fully embraced wireless charging yet and may not be until they are forced perhaps with the omission of a charging port from a popular phone brand. The benefits might not be known to the general public or the dwindling list of drawbacks as the technology gets better. Some of the accessories that Energysquare is developing though will make it more attractive and potentially change how we view the technology.
A simple desk lamp that can be placed anywhere on the mat and function could change how we think about wireless technology and our workspaces.

Needless to say, this is one part of laptop technology that I don’t believe is just going to be passing fancy.

Alan Kay, the brain behind Dynabook talked about laptop weight before the word laptop came into common usage. I remember reading in “The Race for Perfect” by Steve Hamm♦ when researching the ThinkPad X300 a story about him testing weight that people would be willing to carry:

“Using a book as a model, Kay taped together a cardboard mockup of what the Dynabook computer might look like, and filled it with lead shotgun pellets until he decided that he
had reached the limit of what people would be willing to carry around. The optimal weight he decided on: two pounds.”

Two pounds for reference is 907 grams or under one-kilogram. It wouldn’t be for decades after Kay’s measurements that computers would be that light.

At CES this year, there are several manufacturers chasing after the one-kilogram laptop. Both HP and Lenovo have put new entries into the ring to challenge the LG gram. Here is a short breakdown of these two challengers.

 

HP Elite Dragonfly Max

Reportedly coming in under one kilogram is the HP Elite Dragonfly Max. Little is currently known about the Dragonfly Max beyond what is in the table below. Out of all of the laptops, it is the only one that hasn’t been released and pricing isn’t currently available. I’ve included the fine print regarding its inclusion into this comparison in the chart below.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano

Not shying away from the lightweight competition is the long-rumoured and awaited X1 Nano. Unlike the HP Dragonfly Max, fully spec’d out only puts it 1g over the one-kilogram mark. While it might lack in ports, it has the nicest screen available between the three models and is also tied for the thinnest on the list. It is also the only one that features Thunderbolt 4 and a touch screen.

The first laptop that most people think of that made the weight part of the branding is of course the LG gram, which I talked about in an earlier article here. The only one that is fair to compare by weight is listed below:

  Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano HP Dragonfly Max LG gram 14
(14Z90P)
Display Size 13-inch 13.3-inch 14-inch
LCD

13.0″ 2K Touchscreen (2160 x 1350) IPS, glossy touchscreen with Dolby Vision™, 450 nits, 100% sRGB

13.0″ 2K (2160 x 1350) IPS, anti-glare with Dolby Vision™, 450 nits, 100% sRGB

13.3-inch HD (1920 x 1080) display WUXGA (1920 x 1200) IPS, DCI-P3 99 percent (Typical)
Aspect
Ratio
16:10 16:9 16:10
Weight
  • Non-touch: 1.99 lb / 907 g
  • Touch models: 2.14 lb / 969 g
  • WWAN non-touch: 2.07 lb / 939 g
  • WWAN touch: 2.21 lb / 1001 g
Under 1kg. Weight will vary by configuration. UHD panel or HP Sure View Reflect, 32GB memory base units, WWAN, 4-cell battery, and 512GB SSD or higher not available on configurations starting at less than 1kg. 999g (2.2lbs)
Size
  • Non-touch: 12.72″ x 8.54″ x 0.55-0.66″ / 292.8mm x 207.7mm x 13.87-16.7mm
  • Touch: 12.72″ x 8.54″ x 0.56-0.68″ / 292.9mm x 207.8mm x 14.27-17.2mm
 Not currently known. 313.4 x 215.2 x16.8mm
(12.34 x 8.47 x 0.66 inches)
Battery 65Wh 4 cell. Not currently known. 72Wh
CPU 11th Gen Intel®
Core™ Processor
11th Gen Intel®
Core™ Processor
11th Gen Intel®
Core™ Processor
GPU Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics
Intel® UHD
Graphics
Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics
Intel® UHD
Graphics
Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics
Intel® UHD
Graphics
Memory 8/16GB
Up to 32GB 8/16GB
(LPDDR4x)
Storage M.2  SSD slot (NVMeTM) 1TB Max M.2 SSD slot (NVMeTM) 2TB Max M.2 Dual SSD slots
(NVMeTM)
Colour Black, Black with Carbon-Fiber Weave on top cover (available on Touch models only) Dragonfly Blue, Black White, Silver, Black
Keyboard Backlit Backlit Backlit
I/O Port

2 x USB4 Thunderbolt™ 4, Headphone / mic combo

USB 3.1 charging port, 2 x USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports,  HDMI 1.4b USB 4 Gen3x2(x2,
USB PD, ThunderboltTM 4), USB
3.2 Gen2x1(x2), HDMI, microSD/UFS, HP-Out
USP Fingerprint Reader, Optional: WWAN LTE 5G / LTE 4G CAT9, WLAN: WiFi 6 AX201 802.11AX (2 x 2), Bluetooth® 5.1, Hybrid infrared (IR) / 720p HD with webcam privacy cover

Optional 5G, 5MP webcamera

Fingerprint Reader, DTS X
Ultra, Wi-Fi 6

Please note I have attempted to leave the text untouched in terms of how it was formatted in the original press releases.

♦Items purchased through this link earn the channel a small commission through the Amazon Affiliate Program.

ThinkPad Announcements at CES 2021

Below find the new ThinkPads joining the lineup in 2021. I might add additional thoughts in future articles.

ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga (13.5″)

360-degree hinge with Titanium construction. Intel Evo CPUs. 3:2 aspect ratio with 2K display.

ThinkPad X12 Detachable (12″)

The long-awaited return of the X1 Tablet. Intel 11th generation CPUs. 1920×1280 (3:2) 440 nit screen with Gorilla Glass. Optional folio keyboard with TrackPoint of course.

ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6 (14″)

Intel Evo with 16:10 and a wider touchpad to match. A larger battery still makes room for internal pen storage.

ThinkPad X1 Nano (13″)

Starting at $1900 CAD, the lightest ThinkPad yet at 1kg. Intel 11th Gen CPU, TB4, 16:10 screen and IR camera with a 2K screen as standard.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 (14″)

16:10 display. Intel Evo vPro and everything you’ve come to like about the X1 Carbon. A wider touchpad and a larger battery are now included.

 

2021 is off and running with CES and one thing is quite clear and that is people are talking about 5G. Specifically, companies are showcasing it as an included feature in their laptops.

Out of curiosity, I started a simple poll on the YouTube Community page for the channel and asked people to vote on how they felt about cellular connectivity in laptops. After a day, the following results were tallied:

Poll results from the YouTube Community page on cellular connectivity in laptops. Image captured January 9, 2021.

The results were interesting. Approximately two-thirds of respondents didn’t see the need or felt the cost was a barrier. Several people commented that if they needed the internet they either tethered from their phone or used their phone to create a mobile hotspot. One commenter even suggested the benefits of doing this as it allows you to position the “antenna” (the phone) in a better position for a signal without the need to move the entire laptop. I found this thought very sound having done so myself on several occasions.

The question then is of course, who are these laptop manufacturers targeting with 5G? The answer I suspect is the same people that have always been targeted with cellular connectivity in laptops. Businesses. If they have employees that need to have internet access to do their job then it makes sense for the business to purchase a machine and a data plan to ensure they get it. I note a change already at CES this year, with 5G seemingly being used to target consumers as well. But for the average user, I suspect the data plans that are already being paid for as a part of a phone plan are enough. With people still mainly stuck and home or under travel restrictions, being in a location without WiFi is not currently a common experience for many users.

Lenovo’s landing page for the IdeaPad 5G at CES 2021

The big question is, will cellular modems break into the mainstream anytime soon? With cellular bands like 5G almost becoming a branding item like multi-lens cameras on smartphones, I could see it happening. There is also the potential for something like this to be great in areas where traditional infrastructure is not as reliable as cellular service. Time will tell if the consumer values this added feature that I suspect will be coming to more laptops this year than ever before. I suspect many customers however will see this and start to count on their fingers how many times and how much they are paying for internet access.

NEC announced this week that it is releasing its LAVIE Pro to the world.

NEC while based in Japan, when it comes to laptop development is partnered with Lenovo, which makes sense if you want access to large-scale manufacturing capacity.

The specifications of the device appear to support a very mobile yet powerful laptop. Equipped with an i7-1165G7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, 1920×1080 IPS display, 512GB SSD and even an IR camera for Windows Hello as standard there is a lot to like. Although the design is made out of a boasted new carbon material wrapped in a soft-touch coating, the price tag is certainly premium at $1,699 USD.

Packing all of this into a package as thin and light won’t be cheap and it has to make room for a 49Wh battery, but at that price point, can it move beyond just being a “good” laptop? As with many premium devices, they invite comparison and I will be curious to see how the NEC LAVIE Pro stacks up once in the wild.

For full specifications, see their datasheet.

Many announcements are coming out of CES this year before the main week and one that caught my eye was from Lenovo and its Yoga AIO 7. While an All-In-One with a rotating display is already impressive enough, what truly caught my eye was the design of the internal rotation mechanism shown off in this video:

If you pause the video and examine the tracks that handle what is likely a very smooth action, they don’t too much unlike those that are found in the classic IBM ThinkPad 701C TrackWrite or more famously known as “Butterfly” keyboard.

If the above images are compared to the TrackWrite mechanism, the systems look like they share a similar design philosophy in terms of how they function. Both used pins set into tracks cut into the surfaces to guide where they ride.

While I doubt the similarities are anything beyond coincidence, it is fun to imagine how designs from the past could be repurposed in modern hardware.

LG has announced a new revised LG Gram Lineup sporting 16:10 displays. The main claim to fame of these devices is their lightweight, nice screens and solid build quality. They have been favoured by many reviewers for a nice moderate lifting device in terms of computer workload.

Pricing and availability should be coming out shortly. In the meantime, please see the specs below to see if any of the new models catch your eye.

LG Electronics is bringing to the first all virtual CES 2021 its eagerly awaited lineup of new gram laptops.

I did note that some models (with the exception of the LG gram 14) are pushing their namesake a bit in the weight category.

Specifications:

 

LG gram 17
(17Z90P)

LG gram 16
(16Z90P)

LG gram 14
(14Z90P)

LG gram 16 2-in-1
(16T90P)

LG gram 14 2-in-1
(14T90P)

Display Size

17-inch

16-inch

14-inch

16-inch

14-inch

LCD

WQXGA (2560 x
1600) IPS, DCI-P3 99
percent (Typical)

WQXGA (2560 x
1600) IPS, DCI-P3 99
percent (Typical)

WUXGA (1920 x
1200) IPS, DCI-P3 99
percent (Typical)

WQXGA (2560 x
1600), Touch IPS
Display, Corning®
Gorilla® Glass 6

WUXGA (1920 x
1200), Touch IPS
Display, Corning®
Gorilla® Glass 6

Aspect
Ratio

16:10

16:10

16:10

16:10

16:10

Weight

1350g (2.98lbs)

1190g (2.62lbs)

999g (2.2lbs)

1480g (3.26lbs)

1250g (2.76lbs)

Size

380.2 x 260.1 x
17.8mm
(14.97 x 10.24 x 0.70
inches)

355.9 x 243.4 x
16.8mm
(14.01 x 9.58 x 0.66
inches)

313.4 x 215.2 x
16.8mm
(12.34 x 8.47 x 0.66
inches)

356.6 x 248.3 x
16.95mm
(14.04 x 9.78 x 0.67
inches) 

314 x 219.5 x
16.75mm
(12.36 x 8.64 x 0.66
inches)

Battery

80Wh

80Wh

72Wh

80Wh

72Wh

CPU

11th Gen Intel®
Core™ Processor

11th Gen Intel®
Core™ Processor

11th Gen Intel®
Core™ Processor

11th Gen Intel®
Core™ Processor

11th Gen Intel®
Core™ Processor

GPU

Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics
Intel® UHD
Graphics

Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics
Intel® UHD
Graphics

Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics
Intel® UHD
Graphics

Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics
Intel® UHD
Graphics

Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics
Intel® UHD
Graphics

Memory

8/16GB
(LPDDR4x)

8/16GB
(LPDDR4x)

8/16GB
(LPDDR4x)

8/16GB
(LPDDR4x)

8/16GB
(LPDDR4x)

Storage

M.2 Dual SSD slots
(NVMeTM)

M.2 Dual SSD slots
(NVMeTM)

M.2 Dual SSD slots
(NVMeTM)

M.2 Dual SSD slots
(NVMeTM)

M.2 Dual SSD slots
(NVMeTM)

Color

White, Silver, Black

White, Silver, Black

White, Silver, Black

Silver, Black, Green

Silver, Black, Green

Keyboard

Backlit

Backlit

Backlit

Backlit

Backlit

I/O Port

USB 4 Gen3x2(x2,
USB PD,
ThunderboltTM 4),
USB 3.2 Gen2x1(x2),
HDMI, microSD/UFS,
HP-Out

USB 4 Gen3x2(x2,
USB PD,
ThunderboltTM 4),
USB 3.2 Gen2x1(x2),
HDMI, microSD/UFS,
HP-Out

USB 4 Gen3x2(x2,
USB PD,
ThunderboltTM 4), USB
3.2 Gen2x1(x2),
HDMI, microSD/UFS,
HP-Out

USB 4 Gen3x2(x2,
USB PD,
ThunderboltTM 4), USB
3.2 Gen2x1,
microSD/UFS,

HP-Out

USB 4 Gen3x2(x2,
USB PD,
ThunderboltTM 4), USB
3.2 Gen2x1,
microSD/UFS,

HP-Out

USP

Fingerprint Reader,
Compliant with 7 US
Military Standard
810G tests***, DTS X
Ultra, Wi-Fi 6

Fingerprint Reader,
Compliant with 7 US
Military Standard
810G tests***, DTS X
Ultra, Wi-Fi 6

Fingerprint Reader,

Compliant with 7 US
Military Standard
810G tests***, DTS X
Ultra, Wi-Fi 6

Fingerprint Reader,
Stylus Pen (Wacom
AES 2.0), Compliant
with 7 US Military
Standard 810G
tests***, DTS X Ultra,
Wi-Fi 6

Fingerprint Reader,
Stylus Pen (Wacom
AES 2.0), Compliant
with 7 US Military
Standard 810G
tests***, DTS X Ultra,
Wi-Fi 6