Lenovo’s Folding Screen Laptop Fails Philosophically

Lenovo recently unveiled a laptop with a folding screen. This comes as a follow up to this year’s earlier outings from Huawei and Samsung debuting the first folding phones. Both of these concepts have a very similar goal. They aim to unify our devices, combining work and play into one central unit.

While we may inevitably see a day where our phone, laptop, and tablet are combined into one super system that meets the needs and requirements of all three distinct devices, that day is not today. The folding screen laptop fails from a philosophical standpoint where other hybrid machines have succeeded.

To understand why it is a failure from the get-go, you need only look inside the box. Lenovo’s folding screen laptop comes with (of course) the folding screen computer. This houses everything you need. Except that it does not. Also in the box is a wireless keyboard, and the biggest weakness of the folding laptop. With a traditional laptop or Surface Pro or even iPad Pro, you only need to carry one object; all the parts are either integrated into the body, or attached magnetically vis-a-vis Surface’s and iPad’s type covers.

But Lenovo wants you to carry around a loose keyboard in the event you need to do any typing on your laptop. For a mobile device, the loose keyboard can only be a draw back. It requires you find a table, or else come up with some bizarre way of sitting in order to make this thing work on your lap. For all those out there who say a laptop is not supposed to actually go on your lap: Yes. Of course. We all know that. We still do it anyway.

The workaround built into the folding screen is a digital keyboard that pops up when you quarter fold the screen, forming it into what would traditionally look like a laptop. But we have seen full size digital keyboards before. Lenovo tried two iterations in their commercially unsuccessful Yoga Book C line, which sported a Halo keyboard initially, and later an E-Ink screen. They were dead on arrival back in 2017. It seems no one has learn the lessons taught to us by those early hybrid devices.

At their core, tablets and computers are philosophically different. Laptops — be they for hardcore gaming, writing, or illustration — are work spaces. They CAN be used for fun, but their primary function is to get stuff done as efficiently as possible. Tablets are for play. They come with app stores full of games, and easy to use email apps. Productivity tools — word processors and design suites — are an after thought, and serve as a last resort, when you cannot get to your work machine. They are never meant to pull you away from that main machine.

This is why a foldable phone works as a concept, if not mechanically. Phones and tablets are aligned in their purpose. They are highly addictive, fun toys. They are there to watch videos, delete emails, and play games. If you HAVE to get work done on them, you can. It doesn’t mean that you should. Fusing the two makes sense based on their nature as toys for the masses. One does not contradict the other.

There are some machines that have bridged that gap. There is a robust 2-in-1 market with 360 rotating laptop screens, the Surface Pro/Go, as well as the iPad Pro attempting to make inroads on the PC market. While some of these devices were slow to catch on (looking at you Surface), they have been successful because, at their cores, they are still laptops. Their hardware is all attached, whether by magnets (Surface and iPad) or integrated. Minus the iPad, these devices come with full OSes and productivity suites. It’s the iPad’s lack of a true robust OS with all its features that has held the iPad back from fully joining this field — that and the small fortune it costs. When you read reviews of these machines, often their biggest drawback is their divergence from the laptop form factor. Hybrid designs are just not as comfortable as laptops.

Form factor aside, when you look really close that these machines, they are laptops first and tablets second. You can get work done on them. If you WANT to play, that option is available. But, first and foremost, they are here to get things done. The folding laptop is the opposite. If you HAVE to get things done, you probably can. It doesn’t mean you’ll like it.

Which, then, begs the question: What and who is this device for? Lenovo, and all those looking to get into the folding screen game, would say, “It’s for everybody!” But that isn’t quite right. What this device is for is vanity. It’s to show Lenovo is on the cutting edge of design and technology; they beat everyone else to the punch. Regardless of this computer’s purpose or appeal, they made the first folding screen laptop. You can only have one first. It doesn’t have to be good. It just has to Be.

In the end, the folding laptop is hamstrung by its own ambition. On its mission to showcase a new technology, it has created a productivity device that is too much like a toy. Much like Samsung’s maligned folding smartphone, Lenovo’s folding laptop will serve as a cautionary tale: Just because you can, does not mean that you should.

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Raymond Trabulsy

Raymond Trabulsy

Writer, Photographer, #hashtag, Father.