The Stand-Out Laptops of CES 2021

Illustration for article titled The Stand-Out Laptops of CES 2021

Image: Joanna Neliu/Gizmodo, MSI, Acer, Asus, HP, Lenovo, Razer

It was definitely strange not being able to hold, type on, or touch the brand new laptop screens at CES as we would have in pre-covid times. There’s only so much you can tell about a product you only see or read about online, so that tangibility is an absolute necessity to figuring out what a laptop is all about. (Some benchmarking would be nice, too.) Yet as we saw, it’s entirely possible to stand out with just a hardware spec list, new features, or an interesting design.

All the below laptops did just that. While this is not an exhaustive list of every laptop announced at CES 2021, these are a few that piqued our interest. Plenty of other gadgets caught our eyes, too, from wearables to TVs, and everything cool and just plain weird in between.

Asus ROG Flow X13 Ultra Slim

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Asus hit us with a bit of a surprise this year: None of its new or refreshed gaming laptops will come with an Intel processor, save for one. Every other model will have one of the new processors in AMD’s 5000-series.

But in the spirit of last year’s CES, and its success with the Zephyrus G14 from its ROG lineup of gaming laptops (which also had an AMD processor), this year Asus merged two different laptop worlds together to create the unique 2-in-1 ROG Flow X13 Ultra Slim.

The 360-degree hinges let the touchscreen display fold completely backward to use the gaming laptop in tablet mode, yet you still get the combined power of AMD’s new Ryzen 9 5980HS CPU alongside Nvidia’s GTX 1650 GPU regardless of what mode you use it in. Currently, the laptop comes bundled with the impressive RTX 3080 inside Asus’ XG Mobile eGPU too.

It seems like Asus has designed this laptop for both the frequent and infrequent gamers who use their gaming laptops for other tasks, too. Gamers are artists, bookworms, students, teachers, etc., and a laptop that can literally morph itself to suit any working scenario is appealing.

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But while this laptop is definitely a stand-out that I would love to get my hands on, I hope Asus decides to at least sell it separately from the XG Mobile. The two together cost a whopping $3,000.

Acer Predator Triton 300 SE

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I can’t get enough of the Predator Triton 300 SE’s new design. It’s all grown up now, decked out in a gray-silver that is both subdued and professional while also being bright and inviting. But it’s packed with power underneath the hood. This is Acer’s flagship gaming laptop, and it did not go light on the specs.

Sporting a new 11th-gen Intel Core i7 H35-series Special Edition processor and an Nvidia RTX 3060, Acer did much more than stuff this laptop with new components. The all-metal chassis is thinner and lighter, just 0.7 inches thin and weighing 3.75 pounds. The battery life is substantially better, according to Acer, and there’s a 14-inch FHD IPS display with a 144Hz refresh rate, which is a solid choice for someone who’s looking for a laptop for work that can also handle a variety of games.

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It starts at $1,400, which makes me nod my head slowly and say, “Not bad, not bad.”

Dell Alienware m17 R4

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Power and a stupid-fast fresh rate are basically synonymous with Dell’s refreshed Alienware m17 R4. It’s the first Alienware gaming laptop with a 360 Hz, 17.3-inch, 1080p display, HDMI 2.1 support, and Nvidia’s new RTX 30-series cards.

To support the new GPUs, Dell has opted for Intel’s Core i7-10870H, and the Core i9-10980HK is also an option. They’ve got the core count and the performance that gamers would expect from a beastly laptop like this. (Although I would like to see one with a new AMD Ryzen 5000-series chip, too.)

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The m17 R4 is also getting slightly faster DRAM at 2933 MHz, and up to 4TB of storage so you can upload lots of games the size of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

HP Envy 14

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HP has given its popular Envy laptop series a welcome refresh, making it even more suitable for those looking for a machine for work or school—something reliable that will get the job done quickly. Not only is the Envy 14 getting Intel’s new 11th-gen Core i5 processor, but HP has also made other tweaks to the overall specs to make it better suited for some creative tasks as well.

The Envy 14 now has a 14-inch, 16:10 (1920 x 1290) display instead of a 13-inch, 16:9 (1920 x 1080) IPS touchscreen. There are dedicated keys to mute your mic or open/close the physical webcam shutter, and an AI Noise removal feature for those times you’re on a Zoom call and someone with a leaf blower walks up right next to your window. (This happens to me at least once a week.)

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The machine also claims to last an impressive 16.5 hours on a charge—if true, that means you can leave your laptop charger at home. There’s also an optional GTX 1650 Ti for those who need a little more GPU compute power than Intel’s integrated Iris Xe graphics.

The price isn’t too bad, either—$1,000 for the whole kit—if you’re looking for something with a more robust operating system and more oomph than a Chromebook.

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Lenovo Yoga AIO 7

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The Yoga AIO 7 is technically an all-in-one desktop PC, but I’m including it here because it has a mobile processor as its brains. And it looks really, really neat. (It’s so much more pleasing to look at than Lenovo’s Yoga A940 AIO.) It’s basically a mid-range gaming laptop disguised as an all-in-one desktop with a display that can rotate vertically, and it supports wireless casting from phones and tablets while the PC is off.

Specs-wise, the Yoga AIO 7 comes with either a Ryzen 7 4800H or Ryzen 5 4600H CPU and an RTX 2060 GPU—a step down from Asus’ Zephyrus G14, yet it should deliver similar performance. The display itself should catch the eye of some creators, too. If you opt for the higher-end version, it’s a 27-inch 4K IPS display with a DCI-P3 99% color gamut, but there is also a cheaper option with a 100% sRGB color gamut. Both are flicker-free and low blue light certified from TÜV Rheinland.

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The only downside is Lenovo has no plans at this time to release it to the North American market, which is a major bummer. I hope it reconsiders.

MSI Stealth 15M

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It’s no small thing to boast your company now makes the thinnest and lightest gaming laptop in the world, but it would seem that MSI has done it. At 0.62 inches thick and just 3.7 pounds, the Stealth 15M is lighter and thinner than both the Dell XPS 15 and Lenovo’s newest Legion Slim 7. (Both weigh more than 4 pounds and are thicker than 0.70 inches.)

MSI has found a way to fit some serious hardware into its newest Stealth 15M, too: an Intel Core i7-11375H CPU and an Nvidia RTX 3060 Max-Q GPU, along with Wi-Fi 6 support, two USB-C ports (one with Thunderbolt 3), and a full-size HDMI port.

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Compared to Razer’s newest Blade 15 (down below), the Stealth 15M is $300 cheaper and has a newer processor than the Blade’s 10th-gen chip, so it might be a more enticing option to some people. The rest of the specs are pretty much the same.

NEC LaVie Mini Concept

Illustration for article titled The Stand-Out Laptops of CES 2021

Image: Lenovo

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OK, so this isn’t a thing that you can go out and buy, nor is there even a promise of it ever launching, but my gosh is it cool! It’s way cooler than Dell’s Concept UFO from CES 2020. Lenovo teamed up with NEC to create this interesting, laptop-to-handheld gaming device concept, the LaVie Mini.

Depending on the price, I would buy this in a heartbeat. Laptop mode would be great for firing off a quick email or doomscrolling through Twitter, and when you’ve had enough bad news for one day, you can transform your mini laptop into a handheld console. It’s got the specs for it: an 11th-gen Intel Core i7 CPU with Iris Xe graphics, 16GB of RAM, 256GB of SSD storage, Wi-Fi 6, and a 26 WHr battery. At least, that’s how it’s designed to be configured at the moment.

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I’m assuming Windows 10 would run on it, too. So make it LTE (or even 5G) compatible along with Wi-Fi 6 and you could play games on it almost anywhere via the cloud on GeForce Now, Stadia, Luna, Xbox, Shadow—whatever!

It’s hard to tell if the controllers will fold in/out from the laptop itself, or if they will be separate. If the controllers fold in/out, that would make the LaVie Mini enticing. But for now it’s just a concept, so dreaming is going to be a lot easier than willing this sucker into reality.

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Razer Blade 15 (Base Model)

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Last but not least is Razer’s refreshed Blade 15. Keeping its signature look, the newest Blade 15 comes with a 10th-gen Intel Core i7, up to an RTX 3070, a 512GB PCIe SSD (plus one empty M.2 PCIe slot), 16GB of RAM, and a FHD 144 Hz or QHD 165 Hz display. The chassis is also about 4% smaller than the previous model, and there’s an Ethernet port.

Unlike many other gaming laptops, though, the new Blade 15 focuses on storage capacity. Razer has added a new storage module that stacks two M.2 PCIe SSDs together, which means if you wanted to put up to 4TB of storage in this laptop, you could. Both the Base and Advanced models have this feature, actually!

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If you have some more cash to burn, the Blade 15 Advanced model has a 10th-gen Intel Core i7, up to an RTX 3080, 1TB PCIe SSD with an extra M.2 PCIe slot, 16GB or 32GB of RAM, and a FHD 360 Hz, QHD 240 Hz or 4K OLED Touch display. It does swap the Ethernet port for an SD card reader, though.

Asus Revealed a New 2-in-1 Gaming Laptop, and I’m Like Whoa

Illustration for article titled Asus Revealed a New 2-in-1 Gaming Laptop, and Im Like Whoa

Image: Asus

Asus’ ROG line of gaming laptops have always stood out thanks to their flashy RGB lighting and aggressive aesthetic. Asus isn’t afraid to try something new, either. Last year, it released the well-received ROG Zephyrus G14, one of the first ROG gaming laptops powered by an AMD processor, as well all the Zephyrus Duo 15, a dual-screen gaming laptop. All of the usual suspects in the ROG gaming line-up are getting refreshed, but Asus has also thrown a new 2-in-1 convertible gaming laptop into the mix, the ROG Flow X13. Even wilder, all the gaming laptops only come with AMD as the option for a CPU. No sign of Intel anywhere.

A 2-in-1 gaming laptop isn’t something I would have ever guessed I wanted in my life, but here I am, completely intrigued. Like Lenovo’s Yoga laptops or Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1, the Flow X13 also has 360-degree hinges that allow the display to fold completely backward. The idea of gaming on my laptop at my desk, and then crawling into bed and using it as an e-reader or sketchbook is totally novel, and yet I can’t help but wonder why one of these things didn’t happen sooner. It’s a great idea!

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Ah wait—better performance means more heat, means a thicker laptop. Yeah, it’s obvious why they haven’t happened in the past. But hardware is powerful and thin enough now, so having a gaming laptop that doesn’t turn into an even bigger brick when the display is flipped back is possible; The Flow X13 weighs just 2.9lbs. and is 0.62 in. thick. Definitely the right weight and dimensions…hopefully.

The 16:10, 13-inch display comes with the option of either a 120 Hz refresh rate or Ultra HD 4K screen covered with Corning Gorilla Glass. Both choices of display also support Adaptive Sync and are Pantone Validated for color accuracy.

Inside, there’s up to an 8-core AMD Ryzen 9 5980HS CPU that’s covered with a liquid metal thermal compound, which should help keep the CPU cooler than thermal paste. The GTX 1650 GPU is powered by a battery that gets up to 10 hours of life. The GPU is underwhelming—would have preferred something closer to a 1660 Ti at the very least—but Asus’ XG Mobile, a compact eGPU, is compatible with the Flow X13.

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Asus says the XG Mobile is 6% of the size of typical eGPUs, but can feature up to an RTX 3080. It weighs about 2.2 lbs., measures just 6.1 x 8.2 x 1.1 inches, and is cooled by a vapor chamber. It also connects directly to the CPU via a custom PCIe 3.0 x8 interface, which Asus says is faster than Thunderbolt eGPUs. It also has an integrated 280W AC adapter that powers both the XG Mobile and Flow X13, so you won’t need to carry around a separate charging cable, unless you want it just in case.

The ROG Flow X13 and XG Mobile are currently available as a bundle in North America.

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Asus also has a new Zephyrus Duo 15 SE, a special edition of its dual-screen gaming laptop. There’s an upgraded 16.5-inch main display, with either 4K UHD with a 120 Hz refresh rate, or a FHD display with a 300 Hz refresh. The smaller, 14.1-inch touchscreen display comes with either a 4K option at 3840 x 1100 or a 1920 x 550 alternative. Both use IPS-level technology, which is in-between a true IPS panel and a TN panel, and refresh at 60 Hz.

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The Zephyrus Duo 15 SE is outfitted with up to a new AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU and an Nvidia RTX 3080 GPU, up to 2 TB of SSD storage, and up to 32 GB of DDR4-3200 memory.

Asus says it’s increased the cooling efficiency of its Active Aerodynamic System (AAS), which has been around since the original ROG Zephyrus. The most recent Zephyrus Duo 15 was the last to use it, which had an 28.5mm intake after tilting the touchscreen—but this upcoming SE version will allow for more airflow. Asus also said it changed the design of its fan blades (every fan now has 84 blades) and it’s also covered the CPU with liquid metal.

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This gaming laptop does not come cheap. At all. It’s currently available for pre-order in North America for an eye-popping $2,900.

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Other ROG laptops to get a refresh are the ROG Strix Scar 15 and 17, which now both feature the first optical-mechanical keyboard in a Strix laptop. The 15 is a 15.6-inch screen with a 300 Hz refresh rate, while the 17 is a 17.3-inch screen with a 360 Hz refresh rate and a IPS-level panel. Either are available with new WQHD panels that feature a 165 Hz refresh rate and a 1440p resolution.

Specs-wise, both are available with up to an AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU and Nvidia RTX 3080, up to 64 GB of DDR4-3200 RAM and dual 1 TB solid-state drives in RAID 0. The memory and storage are fully upgradeable, too, and easily accessible, according to Asus. Both also boast a smaller footprint, up to 7% smaller than last year’s models, and have a battery life of just over 12 hours, says Asus.

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The ROG Strix Scar 15 and ROG Strix Scar 17 will be available in North America starting Q1 2021.

There’s also the new ROG Strix G15 and ROG Strix G17, not to be confused with the Strix Scar 15 and 17, as the Strix G is similar to the Strix Scar. This Strix 15 and 17 will feature up to an AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX processor, up to a GeForce RTX 3070 GPU, up to a 1 TB SSD, and up to 32 GB memory. Display options are between an FHD 300 Hz screen, or a WQHD 165Hz screen. Aside from the GPU and display variants, there isn’t that much difference between the G and the Scar.

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The ROG Strix G15 will be available in North America starting Q1 2021, and the Strix G17 available for pre-order for a more palatable, but still pricey at $1,800.

We’re live from our couches covering CES 2021! Click here to read our complete coverage.

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The ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga Is Lenovo’s Thinnest 2-in-1 Ever

Illustration for article titled The ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga Is Lenovos Thinnest 2-in-1 Ever

Image: Lenovo

Lenovo’s ThinkPads are some of the few commercial laptops that have crossover appeal to the general consumer market, and for CES 2021, Lenovo claims its new Thinkpad X1 Titanium Yoga is not only the thinnest 2-in-1 it’s ever made, but also the thinnest ThinkPad ever.

Weighing just 2.54 pounds and measuring just 11mm thick (0.43-inches), the amount of tech Lenovo has crammed into such a sleek frame is quite impressive, while it’s silvery titanium body adds durability and a nice departure from the traditional matte ThinkPad black.

Despite its dimensions, with the ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga sporting up to an 11th-gen Intel Core i7 CPU (with optional vPro), integrated Iris XE graphics, 16 GB of RAM, 1 TB PCIe SSD, and a 44.5 Whr, Lenovo’s thinnest ThinkPad shouldn’t be hurting for performance. Meanwhile, X1 Titanium Yoga’s 360-design means it can still transform into multiple positions, while its integrated stylus support and optional Precision Pen (which can attach magnetically to the side of the system) offers full drawing and notetaking capabilities. And with its new 13.5-inch 3:2 2256 x 1504 touchscreen, the X1 Titanium Yoga will have more vertical screen real-estate than most home or enterprise laptops.

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Illustration for article titled The ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga Is Lenovos Thinnest 2-in-1 Ever

Image: Lenovo

Elsewhere, the X1 Titanium Yoga comes with a bunch of other handy features including a built-in fingerprint reader, a webcam and IR cam with a physical shutter, four far-field mics, and Dolby Atmos speakers. The ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga can even be configured with an optional 5G modem if you want it. And in case you don’t (I would probably pass on that option myself), you’ll still get fast Wi-Fi 6 networking.

However, the one place where the Titanium X1 Yoga comes up a little thin (pun intended) is on connectivity, because while the laptop does have support for Thunderbolt 4, you only get a total of two USB-C ports (and a headphone jack). That means because you’ll often want to keep one of those ports free for recharging, you really only have one free port to play with, so you’ll probably need to shell out extra for a dock.

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Now at this point, some of you out there might be saying that the ThinkPad Titanium Yoga is just a slightly sleeker version of previous 2-in-1 ThinkPads with a prettier body, and that’s not far off. But to me, by making this thing even more portable and deviating just enough from standard ThinkPad design, the X1 Titanium Yoga has managed to set itself apart from its siblings.

That said, with a starting of $1,900 (available later this month), the ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga ain’t cheap. Thankfully, alongside the X1 Titanium Yoga for CES 2021, Lenovo is also introducing updated versions of the standard X1 Carbon and X1 Yoga with many of the same features, refreshed components, and more affordable prices, with the new X1 Carbon (available in Feb.) starting at $1,430 and the X1 Yoga (also available in Feb.) starting at $1,560.

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New Leak Claims to Reveal Samsung’s Next Galaxy Chromebook

Illustration for article titled New Leak Claims to Reveal Samsungs Next Galaxy Chromebook

Photo: Samsung

While much of Samsung’s attention is probably focused on the upcoming arrival of the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy Buds Pro, a new leak suggests Samsung is also prepping for the release of its next Chromebook.

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After posting a rumor a couple of weeks ago about a new Samsung Chromebook, noted leaker Evan Blass has recently returned with a very official-looking product shot for the Galaxy Chromebook 2. Similar to the original Galaxy Chromebook Samsung released early this year at CES, the alleged Galaxy Chromebook 2 once again looks to sport a 2-in-1 design with very slim bezels and a couple of color options including a bright red or orange paint job.

When it was first announced at CES 2020, the original Galaxy Chromebook made a splash thanks to its $1,000 starting price, high-end aluminum design, and support for fancy features like a 4K OLED display and built-in stylus support, which are both things you rarely find on a typical budget-focused Chromebook.

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Unfortunately, there’s only one image to go by with this latest leak, so there’s not much else to glean from the pic beside the inclusion of at least one USB-C port, a headphone jack, what looks like a microSD card reader, and a side-mounted volume rocker.

I would also expect Samsung to retain the S Pen stylus support included on the first Galaxy Chromebook, as that would fall in line with a recent blog post made by Samsung’s mobile chief, TM Roh, which mentioned that Samsung has “been paying attention to people’s favorite aspects of the Galaxy Note experience and are excited to add some of its most well-loved features to other devices in our lineup.”

Sadly, any additional info about the Galaxy Chromebook 2’s components, price, or release date are still unknown, so we’ll have to wait for more leaks or an official announcement to find out more. That said, judging by the timing of this leak and the original Galaxy Chromebook’s debut at CES 2020, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Galaxy Chromebook get a proper announcement at CES 2021, which kicks off (virtually, of course) on Jan. 11.

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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold Review: Standing at a Crossroads

Right now the laptop industry is at a crossroads. Traditional clamshells aren’t going anywhere anytime soon (for good reason), and over the last decade convertible machines like Microsoft’s Surfaces, Apple’s iPad Pros, Lenovo’s Yogas, and others have helped address the needs of people who need flexible computers that are good on the road. But as we’ve seen with smartphones like the Galaxy Z Fold and Z Fold2, the arrival of flexible screen technology is paving the way for a new breed of devices, which brings us to this: the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold.

The ThinkPad X1 Fold is the first laptop in the world featuring a flexible OLED display, and by putting that tech into something you can actually buy, Lenovo has presented us with a vision—but not necessarily the vision—of our future. Starting from here, with all of the X1 Fold’s flaws, advancements, and big ideas, what this system really represents is a point of divergence from the clamshells and convertibles that came before. The ThinkPad X1 is standing at a crossroads, and for both good and bad, it’s stepping off in a bold new direction.

But right off the bat, one funny thing about the X1 Fold is that unlike with most phones today, practically all modern laptops are foldables, even if they fold a bit differently than Lenovo’s latest innovation. That’s because, where most laptops feature a display up top balanced out by a physical keyboard and touchpad down below, and a hinge in between, the X1 Fold is all screen.

At 278 nits of peak brightness, the X1 Fold’s 13.3-inch flexible screen is a bit dim compared to most laptops, but what it lacks in luminance, it generally makes up for with the deep blacks and rich colors people have come to expect from an OLED panel, flexible or otherwise. However, where the X1 Fold really separates itself is the way Lenovo has designed the laptop around the screen to support a wide variety of functions.

From big flexy screen machine to traditional laptop in just a second. Very slick.
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Around the outside of the display there are some seriously big and thick bezels to help give the X1 Fold rigidity, with a small cutout for a 5-MP webcam (plus a bonus IR camera) and two ribbed plastic sections covering its hinges. While it looks more than a little clunky, there’s actually some sneaky engineering going on, as the X1 was designed so that the flexible screen can shift slightly when opened and closed, allowing the screen to bend without excess pressure or developing a crease like you get on Samsung’s foldable phones.

Meanwhile, around back, Lenovo added a leather folio that wraps around the system and keeps things protected without straining flexibility. There’s even a built-in kickstand that lets you prop up the X1 Fold like it’s a portable all-in-one PC. And if that wasn’t enough, Lenovo even includes a rather small but serviceable magnetic Bluetooth keyboard that fits between the two halves of the screen when closed and wirelessly charges itself. (Note: The BT keyboard also has a micro-USB port for charging, which seems kind of silly when the X1 Fold sports USB-C ports on its body. But since I never ran into a situation where the keyboard ran out of battery before the X1 itself did, I’m largely OK with what would otherwise be an annoying mismatch.)

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With its kickstand popped out and its magnetic keyboard detach, the X1 Fold can turn into a mini AIO, which is probably the most powerful of its many configurations.
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Lenovo even considered the multiple ways you can use the X1 Fold and put its two USB 3.2 Type-C ports on perpendicular edges of the system, so no matter which way you’re holding the X1 Fold—or if it’s sitting on a table—you’ll always have at least one, and probably both ports easily accessible. But perhaps one of the most impressive things about the X1 Fold is that unlike the Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold and Z Fold2, which are delicate flowers, Lenovo claims the X1 Fold has passed the same battery of mil-spec inspired tests other ThinkPads go through. The X1 Fold even supports handwriting input via its included stylus, with Lenovo also managing to cram in Wi-Fi 6, surprisingly decent Dolby Atmos audio, and optional 5G connectivity if you want it.

All told, the X1 Fold is a real triple-decker turkey club of a laptop. When it’s folded up, it’s more than an inch thick, and because all of its weight is concentrated in a much more compact design than a typical 13-inch laptop, it feels denser and heavier than it actually is. With its leather back, the X1 Fold feels more like one of those zippable day planners that lawyers use, except this one is filled with computer components instead of paper.

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You can also use the X1 Fold as a traditional laptop, either with its magnetic BT covering the bottom half of its flexible display or as one big folding screen.
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Another note about the X1 Fold’s design is that while I can understand its somewhat thick and clunky-feeling layout, there are a couple hardware choices I can’t really get down with. The first is a lack of a headphone jack. Yes, at this point a lot of smartphones have axed their 3.5mm ports completely, but when it comes to laptops, it’s quite sad that even on a compact system like this there’s nowhere to plug in wired audio.

My other gripe is with the X1 Fold’s built-in fans, which seem borne more out of necessity than desire on Lenovo’s part. For a system like this, it really seems like the X1 Fold would have really benefited from a fanless design, allowing Lenovo to streamline its body even more and cut down on the hassle of potential durability concern of having extra moving parts. Every time I hear the X1 Fold’s fans spin up, I just have to chuckle. Unfortunately, at least on the Windows side of things, I don’t think there’s a CPU cool enough to not need a fan and still deliver the kind of performance you’d expect from a $2,500 laptop.

While the design of the X1 Fold is one thing, actually using it is something else altogether. At times, the ThinkPad X1 Fold feels like one of the most futuristic computers I’ve ever used. But oftentimes its software feels anything but futuristic.

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And of course, you can use the X1 Fold as a tablet, both with or without its keyboard and included stylus.
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

When I first opened it up into “laptop mode” but still had a continuous screen running from top to bottom, I was kind of stunned. By using Lenovo’s Mode Switcher, you can easily tell the X1 Fold how you want to divvy up that flexible display, letting you choose between full and split screen with just a couple taps. You can have video playing up top while scrolling social media down below, where a boring keyboard would normally be. And if you need to type something, you can either use one of several on-screen touch-based keyboards, or you can plop down that magnetic keyboard and let the X1 Fold automatically detect its presence and transform itself into a mini traditional laptop.

It’s kind of cramped, and with the BT keyboard covering up the lower half of the display, you’re using what is effectively a very expensive 10-inch clamshell. Still, it’s great for tight spaces.

And then, on a whim, you can pick the thing up, unfold that screen, and instantly have a tablet in your hands—or, even more importantly, you can pop out that kickstand, toss the BT keyboard in front, and now you have a portable all-in-one-style workstation at your command. If the ThinkPad X1 Fold were to be compared to any animal…it’d be a Transformer like Blitzwing or Astrotrain. The X1 Fold isn’t just a 2-in-1, it’s a 3-in-1 because it’s a laptop, a tablet, a mini AIO, and more, all smashed together.

Unfortunately, as much as I like transforming the X1 Fold into different modes, the other reality of Lenovo’s bold take on the future of computing is that the software supporting the experience is often awkward and buggy (and sometimes both at once), which results in a less-than-stellar overall experience.

Illustration for article titled Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold Review: Standing at a Crossroads

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

For example, numerous times when I rotated the display, the X1 Fold’s screen would get stuck in portrait orientation, even when the display was actually in landscape mode (or vice-versa), resulting in hilariously huge black bars around the edge of the content. And in some situations, like when I was playing a game of Teamfight Tactics in League of Legends, rotating the X1 Fold caused the game to completely crash, which feels really bad for a game that’s very much meant to be played while mobile.

Other times, Lenovo’s Mode Switcher just didn’t work, or got stuck in the current setting and would adjust when I tried to go back to full-screen mode. And initially, I had to pair the X1 Fold’s BT keyboard with the system multiple times before it eventually stuck. But the biggest issue is that even with four different keyboards to choose from, none of them truly felt right. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t actually hate typing on a touchscreen.

Take the condensed keyboard, which sacrifices important keys like Esc, Shift, and Tab in exchange for larger overall keys and a smartphone-like uppercase toggle. While those bigger keys do make it slightly easier to type on a virtual touch-based keyboard, because you’re forced to hit the &123 menu anytime you want to hit a common symbol like @ or $, you lose a lot of the typing speed you would get from a regular laptop.

Meanwhile, the full uncondensed virtual keyboard doesn’t span the full width of the display when in laptop mode. The keys are too small to accurately touchtype on. The X1 Fold really needs to utilize all of its display to be truly effective. And speaking of things that need more room, because Lenovo has to include a shortcut to the virtual keyboard and another for the Mode Switcher button, when combined with the regular assortment of icons in the Windows 10 system tray, the Task Bar has almost no room to display apps. It’s super frustrating. In an ideal world, there wouldn’t even be a Mode Switcher app; it would be built into the OS itself and controlled via gestures.

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Because of the extra system tray icons and the X1 Fold’s limited width in laptop mode, there’s almost no space to see app icons.
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

In a lot of ways, I feel like the inclusion of a physical keyboard really prevented Lenovo from fully committing to the touchscreen keyboard experience, which is the only way I can really see a device like this working to its fullest. People who won’t compromise on the physical keyboard will never enjoy something like the X1 Fold, and that’s OK, because this thing wasn’t made with them in mind. But even more than that, Windows 10 just isn’t meant to support hardware like this.

Windows 10X, which is designed for devices with dual screens and flexible displays, was supposed to be out by now. But due to covid-19 and some other issues, it’s been delayed until next year. So the OS Lenovo almost certainly intended for the X1 Fold simply wasn’t available. But instead of canceling the whole product, it seems like Lenovo scrambled, came up with hasty patches, and forged on anyway. It shows. The X1 Fold is a futuristic mobile device without the OS it needs to fully support and take advantage of its design and innovation.

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I’m not sure I would ever get tired of being able to surf the web and watch videos like this at the same time.
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

The other hard realization regarding the X1 Fold is one of value. While its Intel Core i5-L16G7 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and 1 TB PCIe SSD are reasonably speedy, compared to a standard laptop with similar specs (including Lenovo’s other ThinkPads), the X1 Fold costs $1,000 to $1,500 more. That’s a huge premium to fork over for a forward-thinking device with awkward software.

And what’s more, unlike the original Galaxy Z Fold, which offered more RAM, more storage, and way longer battery life than regular phones, the X1 Fold’s longevity is very average, lasting only seven hours and 28 minutes on our video rundown test. But perhaps the most damning part about the X1 Fold is that compared to the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold and Z Fold 2, the X1 Fold simply isn’t as good of a multitasker.

Don’t get me wrong; the X1 Fold is way more interesting than a typical 2-in-1, and more compact too. But when it comes to productivity, what it trades in speed due to its cramped keyboard and the tiny touchpad on its Bluetooth keyboard, the X1 Fold doesn’t really make up for in flexibility. I have to admit that during my week with this thing, I often found myself staring at the X1 Fold and thinking of all the possibilities rather than actually wanting to pick it up and use it.

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Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

So what we really have here with the ThinkPad X1 Fold is a laptop with an innovative (though somewhat unpolished) design, with mediocre battery life, buggy software, and a price tag that’s nearly two times more than it should be. That sounds like a bad deal, and it is. And yet, I’m not mad. That’s because we need to remember that the X1 Fold is the definition of first-gen tech.

Lenovo is trying something wild and adventurous, and it’s hard to be really ambitious if you’re not allowed to make mistakes. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re on a budget or need a primary work machine, the X1 Fold isn’t for you. This thing is for hardcore enthusiasts who want to check out bleeding-edge tech. The X1 Fold’s real value is giving us a glimpse at where the laptop market might be heading tomorrow as it embarks from the crossroads it’s standing at today.

README

  • In a lot of ways, the ThinkPad X1 Fold and flexible OLED display is even more experimental than the first Galaxy Fold, so unless you’re a die-hard cutting-edge gadget enthusiast, it’s probably a pass for now.
  • Reports suggest the ThinkPad X1 Fold was originally supposed to run Windows 10X, and it really shows.
  • Unlike other flexible screen devices, the X1 Fold should be somewhat durable, passing the same set of mil-spec testing other ThinkPads go through. It even has stylus support too.
  • For those not ready to make the jump to typing on a touchscreen, the X1 Fold comes with a nifty little Bluetooth keyboard with magnetic charging that fits inside the X1 Fold when closed.
  • Compared to a traditional laptop with similar specs, the X1 Fold costs $1,000 to $1,500 more, which is a big ask.

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S7+ Is Simply the Best Android Tablet Around, Warts and All

Illustration for article titled Samsungs Galaxy Tab S7+ Is Simply the Best Android Tablet Around, Warts and All

Photo: Sam Rutherford

Compared to the iPad Pro, sometimes trying to pick the best Android tablet feels like a consolation prize. That’s because while Apple has made major strides in turning the iPad into a proper laptop replacement with iPadOS 13 and 14, it feels like Android tablets have been treading water.

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But that hasn’t stopped Samsung from trying to make a first-rate tablet for both entertainment and productivity with some of the best hardware available on either side of the OS divide. For anyone who can’t or simply doesn’t want to make the switch to iPad, the Galaxy Tab S7+ is the best Android tablet around.

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Like current iPad Pros, the Tab S7+ sports an aluminum body with rounded corners and straight, boxy sides. However, unlike the big iPad Pro, which sports a 12.9-inch display with a 3:2 aspect ratio that’s equally adept at handling both work and play, Samsung’s flagship slate leans more toward entertainment first with its slightly smaller, 12.4-inch 16:10 OLED screen.

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The upside to this approach is that it makes the Tab S7+ just a tiny bit more portable than a competing iPad Pro. With a display that uses an aspect ratio closer to what you get on most streaming services, there’s less room wasted around the edges for letterboxing. But the real highlight feature is the Tab S7+’s screen, which offers support for a variable 120Hz refresh rate that. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Tab S7+’s brilliant OLED panel is the most jaw-droppingly beautiful tablet screen on sale today. It just makes everything look better. With a tested peaked brightness of over 550 nits, the Tab S7+’s display is great outdoors too.

However, the downside to Samsung’s game plan is that when it comes to getting work done, the Tab S7+’s 16:10 display doesn’t offer quite as much vertical real estate. That means DeX mode’s task bar eats into your working space, resulting in a screen that can feel a bit cramped at times. While skewing the Tab S7+ more toward fun than work isn’t a dealbreaker by any means, considering its price, sometimes you kind of wish an $850 tablet (or almost $1,100 after you shell out for Samsung’s Bookcover keyboard) was just a tiny bit more balanced.

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When you’re not using the stylus, the Tab S7+ has a magnetic strip in back for storage and recharging.

When you’re not using the stylus, the Tab S7+ has a magnetic strip in back for storage and recharging.
Photo: Sam Rutherford

The Tab S7+’s excellent hardware doesn’t stop there, because Samsung also includes powerful quad speakers that ensure you get an immersive audio experience no matter what position the tablet is in. Furthermore, the Tab S7+’s ability to use both face and ultrasonic fingerprint recognition is proving to be even more valuable in a time when wearing a mask is often a necessity. I wish Samsung had included a headphone jack, though, because while not having enough space to put one on a phone might be a reasonable excuse, I have a hard time believing there’s not enough room for a 3.5mm port on a device this big. And when you’re trying to use this thing to get work done, the freedom to not hog the Tab S7+’s lone USB-C port with a wired audio dongle would be quite valuable. (Yes, I know a lot of people are using Bluetooth headphones, but still.)

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On the inside, thanks to a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of base storage (with options up to 512GB), and a microSD card slot, the Tab S7+ has the best performance you can get in a tablet short of jamming in one of Apple’s A-series chip, which is never going to happen for obvious reasons. The Tab S7+ even offers dual rear cameras with a lot of the same features you get on Samsung’s Galaxy phones, including Night Mode and Live Focus Video. And in case you really need 5G connectivity, there will even be a Galaxy Tab S7+ 5G available sometime later this year.

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For 2020, Samsung has also reduced input latency to just 9ms (same as the iPad Pro) while also increasing the Tab S7+'s touch sampling rate to 240Hz.

For 2020, Samsung has also reduced input latency to just 9ms (same as the iPad Pro) while also increasing the Tab S7+’s touch sampling rate to 240Hz.
Photo: Sam Rutherford

The one tiny wrinkle in the Tab S7+’s hardware is its battery life, which varies quite a bit depending on what you’re doing. On our traditional video rundown test, the Tab S7+ lasted 8 hours and 2 minutes, which is fine, but a bit shorter than I expected. I suspect Samsung’s variable 120Hz refresh rate is dragging down its battery life in YouTube a bit, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly.

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In normal use, the Tab S7+’s battery was much more impressive, easily lasting through a whole day of work with the Tab S7+ serving as my primary machine while writing large parts of this review. I also want to call out the tablet’s superb standby time, which generally sucked up less than 5% battery overnight.

Finally, we come to the only place where the Tab S7+ falters: productivity, though much of the blame may lie more with Google than Samsung. Over the past couple years, while iPadOS has gotten comprehensive mouse support, built-in handwriting conversion, redesigned sidebars, and a generally revamped UI, it feels like Android on tablets has been stuck in the mud. So even though Samsung has consistently worked to improve its DeX mode over the past few year—which offers a more traditional desktop interface for getting work done—the end result still feels sort of like a Band-Aid (an admittedly impressive one) on an OS that’s not designed for full-on productivity.

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Don’t get me wrong, trying to work on the Tab S7+ isn’t a total disaster. Simply tapping the DeX icon allows you to boot into a very familiar UI with app icons on the desktop, a handy taskbar down below, and what amounts to a system tray in the bottom right corner. You can also easily multitask by opening two apps side-by-side, and if you’re checking emails, writing a story, or making a PowerPoint presentation, it’s not hard to forget you’re working on a tablet instead of a laptop. Samsung’s Bookcover keyboard also feels quite nice, with a pleasantly stiff but still bouncy keystroke with lots of travel, and a decent-sized touchpad. I also appreciate the dedicated buttons Samsung included to boot into DeX and summon the Google Assistant/open the app drawer, on top of support for a lot of standard shortcuts like CTRL + C and CTRL+ V for copy and paste. The problem with using the Tab S7+ for work are all the little things that make using Android on a tablet feel clunky or awkward.

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For example, even when you have its keyboard attached, you can’t use right-click on the touchpad unless you boot into DeX mode. It’s a similar situation when you’re typing in Google Docs, where the mouse doesn’t automatically change into an I-cursor, which makes it just a bit more annoying to highlight text or fix a typo. And then there are the handful of apps that just default to a mobile UI instead of utilizing a true tablet layout and taking advantage of the Tab S7+’s larger display. So even though Samsung gave DeX a new feature that makes it easier to connect the Tab S7+ to another display to get a true dual-screen experience, sometimes you’re left with a system that just doesn’t measure up to what you get from an iPad Pro.

Illustration for article titled Samsungs Galaxy Tab S7+ Is Simply the Best Android Tablet Around, Warts and All

Photo: Sam Rutherford

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The Galaxy Tab S7+ almost feels like a tale of two tablets. On one hand, it’s the most engaging and gorgeous entertainment tablet on the market, hands down. I can’t get enough of that screen, and its speakers, stylus support, and design deliver an extremely premium experience, even if that means the Tab S7+ is a bit overpriced when used strictly as a mobile video and gaming device. As for productivity, the Tab S7+ can handle that too, and depending on what your workload is, it can even be a respectable replacement for a larger laptop. But if you’re looking for a true hybrid device, despite Samsung’s best efforts, Android just isn’t as good as what you get with iPadOS.

The Tab S7+’s hardware deserves recognition, though, and it’d be nice if Google helped out more by making its OS more supportive for productivity, but the Tab S7+ is still the best Android tablet around, warts and all.

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README

  • The Galaxy Tab S7+’s stylus comes included, but you’ll have to fork over an extra $230 for its Bookcover Keyboard.
  • The hardware on the Tab S7+ is superb, especially its OLED display, which is one of the best-looking screens on the market.
  • Improvements to Samsung’s DeX mode make the Tab S7+ an even better hybrid device, but Android’s relative lack of tablet support still results in some clunkiness.
  • Battery life can go from OK (around 8 hours) to pretty good (upwards of 11 hours) depending on what you’re doing and if you have 120Hz mode enabled.
  • Like it or not, the Tab S7+ is the best Android tablet on the market.

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