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.

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.

With the Commodore 64 turning 40 years old this year, this company couldn’t have announced their product at a more appropriate time or venue as the C64 was also announced at CES.

I’m talking about the Pentaform Abacus Basic, which is their answer to the question of how to give even more people access to a functional computer. This to me is a slick piece of kit because it has some excellent I/O, can run whatever OS you want (Pre-installed with Ubuntu Linux 18.04) and more impressively, use all sorts of hardware for your display. It can use a CRT TV, with adaptors, for example. That to me is really forward-thinking as many places that don’t have access to computers won’t have access to the latest display technology either.

The Abacus Basic, like the C64 and ZX Spectrum before it, takes the form of a keyboard and now, a touchpad. The specs of this machine are also respectable:

  • 64bits Quad Core X86 Processor

    • Intel Atom x5-Z8350 Cherry Trail

  • Quad-core processor @ 1.44 GHz / 1.84 GHz (Turbo)

    • Intel Gen8 HD graphics @ 500 MHz

  • LPDDR3 64bit dual channel LPDDR3@1866Mb/s, 2GB/4GB/8GB options
  • eMMC module (Optional industrial compatible high performance eMMC module, 16GB-128GB available)

  • μSD card (μSD slot supports up to 512 GB μSD card)
  • HDMI 2.0 up to 4k@30

    3.5mm jack with mic – HD codec that supports up to 24-bit/96KHz audio.

    USB 3.0 OTG X1, hardware switch for host/device switch, lower one

    USB 2.0 HOST X2

    GbE LAN with Power over Ethernet (PoE) support additional HAT is required for powering from PoE

    USB-C, support USB Type C PD 2.0, 9V/2A, 12V/2A, 15V/2A, 20V/2A.

    Qualcomm® Quick ChargeTM: Supports QC 3.0/2.0 adapter, 9V/2A, 12V/1.5A

  • 802.11 ac wifi with a powerful off-board antenna

    Bluetooth 4.2

    InfiniteConnect – Dedicated 2.4Ghz wireless keyboard connection.

  • More GPIO than you can shake a stick at…

It’s energy-efficient, made from recycled plastics and ticks several more sustainability boxes. I also like the idea of the housing for the single-board computer can be removed from the keyboard and touchpad to be used wirelessly which further broadens the applications of this device. Pre-Orders are starting soon at £99.

While I’ve never personally experienced a folding screen device yet, the behemoth 17″ ASUS Zenbook 17 Fold gives me pause. When it is folded up, it is essentially the size of a 12″ laptop and that to me is very close to the perfect size for me. But a device that folds out entirely to something 17″ in size seems a bit unwieldy. I remember avoiding the Surface Book 2 15″ for that very reason.

While it might be huge, it does allow for a respectable amount of room for some good specifications. A few to note are:

  • Intel® Core™ i7-1250U Processor 1.1 GHz (12M Cache, up to 4.7 GHz, 2P+8E cores)
  • 17.3-inch, 2560 x 1920 FOLED 4:3 aspect ratio
  • 16GB LPDDR5 onboard
  • 1TB M.2 NVMe™ PCIe® 4.0 Performance SSD
  • 2x Thunderbolt™ 4 supports display/power delivery
  • 1x 3.5mm Combo Audio Jack
  • 5.0M camera with IR function to support Windows Hello
  • Wi-Fi 6E(802.11ax)+Bluetooth 5.2 (Dual band) 2*2
  • 75Whr Battery
The Zenbook 17 Fold in its various configurations.

Now looking at this device and its US MIL-STD 810H military-grade standard testing being passed, the comparisons against the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold that was announced last year are immediately drawn. In fact, seeing photos of the Zenbook 17 Fold closed makes it look like the X1 Fold’s big brother.

While I had mixed feelings about the launch of the first-generation device, I think the size and form factor of the X1 Fold makes a bit more sense. In short, I can imagine far more easily the person that would use an X1 Fold than I can imagine the person that would use the Zenbook 17 Fold. The X1 Fold has a 50Whr battery to drive its modest screen whereas the Zenbook 17 Fold has a lot more computer to drive with only a slightly larger 75Whr battery. The X1 Fold has a keyboard as well but also has the option for a pen. We don’t yet know if the keyboard on the Zenbook 17 Fold will be included.

The other matter of interest is the hinge mechanism which is rated for 30,000 folds according to ASUS and looking at the design of the hinge, it even looks somewhat similar when compared to the competition. It almost makes you wonder if ASUS has some kind of deal with Lenovo to share some design secrets. If nothing else, it would be hard to deny that somebody at ASUS was inspired by what Lenovo was doing last year.

A close-up of the hinge mechanism in the Zenbook 17 Fold is found on the product website.

Pricing and availability of the new foldable have yet to be released but ASUS is saying later this year.

In a not at all surprising twist, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is getting another round of updates that should keep it the king of the pack in terms of ultraportable. Some  notable updates to this generation of X1 Carbon include:

  • Up to 12th generation Intel® Core™ i7 vPro® U and P Series processors, up to 14-core
  • Up to Windows 11 Pro, Linux Ubuntu, or Fedora
  • FHD Webcamera now standard in a new Communications Bar
  • Up to 32GB LPDDR5
  • Up to 2TB Gen 4 performance PCIe NVMe SSD
  • 57 Whr battery
  • Intel® Wi-Fi 6E (requires Windows 11)
  • Bluetooth® 5.2
  • NFC
  • New screen options, see below for details
A breakdown showing the new FHD webcamera setup. A much needed upgrade.

Ports include:

  • 2x Thunderbolt™ 4
  • 2x USB 3.2 Type-A Gen 1
  • 1x HDMI 2.0b
  • 1x Audio (Headphone and Microphone Combo Jack)
  • 1x Nano SIM