Foldable laptops matter more than foldable phones

Foldable laptops matter more than foldable phones

Chris Carlone / Android Authority

I’m at IFA 2022 this weekend, my first real-life event from earlier times. Looking out over the Maze Hall of the Messe Convention Center, it’s clear that everyone is still a little out of it. This includes smoky-eyed journalists, but the general lack of focus was more visible in the list of products debuting at the show. It was a snooze-fest of sorts, with one notable exception: foldable-screen laptops.

road openers

Lenovo X1 Fold Split Screen Book Mode

Chris Carlone / Android Authority

Lenovo X1 Fold

Laptop makers are known for their propensity to run experiments – surviving in a cutthroat, mature industry mandates this. Most experiments fail though, so when I saw the first foldable-screen laptop, the 2019 Lenovo X1 Fold, I wasn’t impressed. What seemed like a feeble attempt to capitalize on the hype of foldables, which is bound to be forgotten within a year.

Three years later, the X1 Fold is still around and better than ever. Lenovo made it bigger and gave it a less cramped physical keyboard. The bezels are tighter, the specs are bumped up, and the product feels a lot less prototype-y than before.

Read more: Lenovo X1 Fold (2022) Hands-on: Foldable Laptop with Flex

Lenovo was out of the gate with foldable laptops before, but Asus was far behind. The Taiwanese giant unveiled its own take on the concept at CES 2022 and revealed full details at IFA this week. The ZenBook 17 Foldable is very similar to the Lenovo, but it’s bigger at 17 inches. It feels a bit less sophisticated, but that’s to be expected from the first-gen entry in an all-new form factor.

Read more: Asus ZenBook 17 Fold OLED hands-on: Here’s the real potential

What’s special about a foldable laptop?

The ability to turn a 16-inch or 17-inch tablet into something that resembles a netbook of the pre-iPad era is the obvious selling point. Use the Lenovo X1 Fold and ZenBook 17 Fold as external monitors (or, more precisely, all-in-one PCs), large tablets, as dual-screen media consumption machines, or as compact 13-inch laptops can be done.

The most compelling way to use them is the first way I mentioned: portable all-in-ones that you prop on a flat surface and use in conjunction with the bundled wireless keyboard. In this mode, you get the productivity benefits of a 16/17-inch screen in 4:3 aspect ratio. The last bit is important. A 4:3 17-inch screen has a larger surface area than a 16:9 17-inch screen, so it gives you more room for your content. Given that most people who choose foldable-screen laptops will be productive users, that already puts them ahead of traditional laptops. You can’t get a traditional 17-inch laptop in 4:3, it’ll just be huge. Foldable screens solve this problem.

In a matter of seconds, you get a 12-inch or 13-inch screen coupled with a fully practical keyboard.

It’s super easy to turn your massive 4:3 screen into something portable when you need to move. In a matter of seconds, you get a 12-inch or 13-inch screen coupled with a fully practical keyboard. Sure, it’s a hefty package, but uncomfortably it isn’t. Windows detects the new format and disables the part of the screen you don’t see. You should be good to go.

foldable laptop vs foldable phone

Thanks to Samsung’s lead in foldable screen technology, the introduction of foldable phones more than laptops. But I’d argue that foldable phones have led us down the wrong path – or at least interesting.

Don’t get me wrong – foldables like the Galaxy Z Fold 4 or Z Flip 4 are great. In their current iteration, they are sophisticated, mature products that regular consumers can buy with complete confidence. But all foldable phones already make a small device, well, small.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 Standing Multitasking

Ryan Haines / Android Authority

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4

On the Galaxy Z Flip 4 or the Huawei P50 Pocket, the practical benefits of folding the device are minimal. Much of what you gain by reducing the length of the product is lost due to the increased thickness. The Z Fold or Mate X lines are better in this regard, as you can actually use them in their folded form. And when you reveal them, you can do Do more on them, thanks to the big screen. Laptops are similar, but you get more extra screen real estate, and by extension, more utility. And that is the gist of my argument.

By being large, laptops with foldable-screens offer more utility/productivity boost than a phone.

By being large, laptops with foldable-screens offer more utility/productivity boost than a phone. Of course, Google and phone makers have tried to make the most of the extra space with Android 12L and new software features. But there’s only so much you can do with a display of a few square inches. Microsoft, on the other hand, definitely needs to do a better job of supporting foldable laptops in Windows. Still, the increase in productivity is more meaningful on a 17-inch screen.

Foldable-screen laptops can still fail

ASUS ZenBook 17 Fold OLED 4 Tablet Mode Front View

Ryan McLeod / Android Authority

asus zenbook 17 fold

You can bring up a lot of arguments against foldable-screen laptops. In fact, we did. They are a step behind in terms of durability, repairability and upgradability, and at least for now, they are extremely expensive. The Lenovo X1 Fold is priced at $2,500, while the Asus Zenbook 17 Fold starts at $3,500. You could even argue that they solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Traditional laptops are already pretty compact, and you can be quite productive on them.

One of the biggest issues that can be holding a foldable laptop back is ergonomics. For example, the small kickstand on the ZenBook 17 Fold doesn’t inspire confidence. If you can only use the large screen on a flat, stable surface, it will greatly limit its capability. So I have to work there.

Do you see the potential of a laptop with a foldable screen?

258 votes

I’m optimistic

Foldable laptops are becoming just a thing, and plenty of sneakers at that. But I see their potential, and to me, they can be more impressive than (over-)foldable phones. A folding laptop is more useful than a folding phone, and that’s not going to change until Samsung somehow figures out a way to fit a laptop-class screen on a smartphone-sized device. It’s still a possibility, mind you. There are patents out there for all kinds of crazy folding designs, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Today’s foldable laptops are unsophisticated, focussed and expensive. I do not recommend that you buy them. But thanks to their built-in productivity-boosting advantage over phones, they could become a more successful form factor in the long run.


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