At trade shows I’ve been through post-pandemic, there’s a good chance Lenovo will show off another great laptop concept. The result is up to 100% in my case. At IFA 2022, the brand introduced the Thinkpad X1 Fold Gen 2, a laptop with a 16-inch foldable OLED display that spans both sides. The 2023 CES I visited then brought two proprietary dual-screen laptops. The Yoga Book 9i has two OLED screens connected by a hinge; Thinkbook Plus Twist lets you switch between OLED and E Ink with a touch of the screen.
So Lenovo’s design team is not averse to experimenting with new form factors, and at MWC in Barcelona, the brand created the next experience balloon: the Lenovo Rollable Concept. The laptop has a foldable OLED display that can unfold into an ultrawide display. With the Thinkpad X1 Fold, the manufacturer has so far seen a lot of people use it as a tall vertical screen, and the keyboard on the front of the desk. Lenovo sees two advantages of a foldable screen laptop compared to the X1 Fold: the lack of a visible fold, and the presence of a fixed keyboard.
As the “Rollable Concept” name suggests, it’s not yet a retail product, unlike the X1 Fold and Yoga Book 9i. The demo sample on the stand was carefully hidden under a glass case, but luckily the employee wandering around there turned out to have a second sample, which Lenovo allowed me to try out.
Ordinary appearance, special trick
Obviously, the Yoga Book 9i and Thinkpad X1 Fold are special devices. This is not the case with the Rollable concept. When closed or opened with the screen twisted, it looks just like a regular Thinkpad laptop, one of the thinnest in the 13-inch class, like the ThinkBook 13x G2. The case is designed in business gray aluminum, with the usual logos in the familiar places on the lid. There are only USB-C ports on the side, two on the left and two on the right. They’re in a rather odd location on the front of the laptop on closer inspection. The rather thick screen, the lid and the lack of a bezel are signs that there’s more to this system.
When you pick up the concept and start using it, you don’t immediately feel anything strange. The chassis fits neatly everywhere and the screen can, at least when rolled, lock naturally onto the chassis, then not protrude. The matte plastic bezels around the screen aren’t as narrow on the concept model as they are on other recent laptops, which makes the Rollable Concept look a little dated. Despite its small size, the laptop is not very light. The touchpad of our test model does not work, which is why there is always a separate mouse which can be seen in the pictures, but the keyboard works just fine. This, one employee explains, is just a standard Thinkpad keyboard taken from another laptop. Although the screen slides out from under the keyboard when folded, this does not significantly reduce travel; After all, the plate is only 1 mm thick.
The motors that fold and unfold the screen are located on either side of the chassis, below the keyboard. This is probably why the ports have progressed so far on this device. In the middle between the motors is the hardware, in the foreground, as usual, is the battery.
With a small slider on the right side that usually looks like a privacy switch that can turn off the power to the webcam, and you can slide the display up and down. This goes smoothly and in about ten seconds, with a mechanical sound that can only be heard from stock exchange noise if you put your ear next to the laptop. Slightly old-fashioned, the concept of Rollable suddenly morphs into a superhero future.
The OLED screen used is the same as the one on the Thinkpad X1 Fold. With the Rollable concept folded, you have a 12.7-inch OLED display with a resolution of 2024 x 1604 pixels, a pixel density of 200 pixels per inch and an aspect ratio of 4:3., with a square aspect ratio of 8:9 and a resolution of 2024 x 2368 pixels. We know from the Thinkpad X1 Fold that the OLED display, from Sharp, is actually quite a bit larger. It appears that the bottom few pixels of the screen are not being used effectively. If you look closely, it has a slight dent under the barrel which neatly juts out the screen and also prevents it from making a very sharp angle when closed. The motors have springs that keep the screen extended. This seems to work reasonably well, but looking at an angle you can see that the reflections appear skewed or uneven here and there, as with most folds.
At this point, Windows sees the Rollable Concept screen as one large panel, not two separate screens. The system does not take into account the area that comes out from under the keyboard. As mentioned earlier, the bottom few pixels also don’t show up when subtracted. If it comes to a retail model of the future, the development team behind the rollable device naturally wants to make sure that only the active screen portion remains, explains the employee from whom I borrowed the system. This should also extend the life of the board.
Lenovo wants to provide its foldable laptop with the same functionality as the Moto Rizr, a smartphone concept with a foldable screen that was shown by Lenovo at the same time as the Rollable Concept. Just as with a smartphone, the screen of the latest version of a laptop should be able to automatically ‘stretch’ when viewing a website, for example, and collapse again when the content is wider, for example a video.
Lenovo also wants to create a function where the screen automatically folds when the laptop is closed. At present, no provision has been included for this purpose, and the opening and ejection of the screen is entirely done manually. If you close it with the screen open, it protrudes a little to the front. The employee advises against attempting this, though he didn’t seem to mind when I accidentally wanted to fold the screen into a partially unfolded state. In the latest version, a sensor must also be placed in the part of the webcam that looks up, to prevent the laptop from opening itself into a space where the screen cannot be opened, for example your bag.
Before it comes to the retail model, the team behind the Rollable concept has more technical challenges to solve. The obvious challenge on a laptop with a high screen is to keep the screen from tipping over. The Thinkpad X1 Fold has to slide into a cover with a flap on the back to stand upright, but the Rollable Concept doesn’t. It looks like it has a standard hinge from a regular laptop. According to the employee, the screen can be opened up to 120 degrees before the laptop is dropped. With the test model, there’s nothing stopping you from opening the screen further. Even if you don’t open the laptop much, the hinge won’t feel completely stable when the screen is fully open.
Durability is also an area where Lenovo engineers still have some work to do. On the Thinkpad X1 Fold, the foldable display can be folded and unfolded at least 20,000 to 30,000 times before it breaks, and a retail foldable model should be able to roll it out at least the same number of times before Lenovo wants to put it down. Stores. Currently, the mechanism in the Rollable concept will last several thousand rolling motions.
The current test model uses an older Intel processor, but if it comes to a consumer product, Lenovo wants to equip it with a modern one with passive cooling. The Thinkpad X1 Fold has it, too. After all, the problem with fans is that they get dusty, explains the employee from whom I was allowed to borrow the Rollable concept. Preventing dust from breaking the connective is another challenge that developers have yet to solve, so making sure the inside of the system is sealed as much as possible is a good start.
The final retail version of the Rollable concept will likely be as portable as the Thinkpad X1 Fold, as the manufacturer says it’s still working to reduce bezels and system weight. Unfortunately, Lenovo can’t say if and when the foldable laptop will be released, but based on first impressions, it appears to be a concept with enough potential.
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