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Lenovo's rollable laptop and smartphone are a compelling, unfinished pitch for the future

Lenovo's rollable laptop and smartphone are a compelling, unfinished pitch for the future

The last time I was at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in 2019, foldables were the new hotness in town. Samsung had announced - but not released - its first Galaxy Fold, and Huawei showed off its own foldable at the show - the Mate X. Four years and a pandemic later, and Lenovo is back to make a pitch at the same show. A subtly different kind of future, one where laptop and smartphone screens alike can gradually expand to offer more screen real-estate, rather than needing to be fully unfolded like books.

I got a first look at both the devices, which were first teased by the company last October. There's a rollable laptop and a rollable smartphone that Lenovo is currently branding as Motorola devices (Lenovo acquired the phone brand nearly a decade ago in 2014). But Lenovo is stressing that both are early proof-of-concept devices, and representatives wouldn't answer any of my questions about when they might be released to the public, or their cost when they do. How much can it be? Didn't even get a chance to keep the equipment for myself.

But they both offer an interesting glimpse into how transformative screens could impact the future of phones and laptops alike, and leave behind the idea of a screen as an immovable flat object to unleash the kind of functionality it once had. can be done. are possible.

Before we get into the concept laptop's signature feature, it's worth noting how spotless the device looks when the screen is exposed. Lenovo had the device sitting alongside its other laptops in the conference suite, and not one of the dozen journalists present noticed that it was anything other than a standard ThinkPad. In its unstretched form, it sports a regular-looking 12.7-inch display with 4:3 aspect ratio.

That all changes with the flip of a tiny switch on the right side of the chassis, at which point you can hear some motors whistling and the screen pops up. This switch fires some motors in the laptop, pulling the screen from under the laptop's keyboard to make it more or less vertical in front of you. It's an admittedly slow process on this concept device (from our footage it takes a little over ten seconds to fully extend) but ultimately leaves you with a roughly 15.3-inch display with an 8:9 aspect ratio. gives. Has been given.

The device brings to mind LG's fancy (and eye-wateringly expensive) rollable TVs that are designed to roll up when you're not using it. Only in Lenovo's case does the screen roll into the laptop's keyboard instead of a small box, and it can't even roll down completely. Once fully extended, Lenovo's laptop screen has a small crease where its screen basically folds under the keyboard. But then again - this is a prototype.

In terms of resolution the display is 2024 x 1604 when it is in minimized mode, and 2024 x 2368 when fully extended. So, at least in theory, very useful without expanding performance too much. The screen has been supplied by Sharp, the company working on Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 foldable laptop. Display competitor Samsung Display has also announced work with Intel on a rollable laptop display, but its prototype doesn't have a keyboard.

When fully unfolded, Lenovo's rollable laptop sports a strangely tall display with an 8:9 aspect ratio, which the company says is like having two 16:9 displays on top of each other. It's not that different from the dual-screen Yoga Book 9i we tried at CES, which is due for release in June. It's a form-factor that could be useful for those struggling to work on smaller laptop displays and buying an external display (or really, an iPad) to serve as a portable second monitor. accepts.

Lenovo thinks such a tall display could be helpful for both office workers and creative professionals alike, from more lines of code to more cells in a spreadsheet, or - for me personally - the lower half of the display Provides everything to be able to write on. , Keeping notes and source visible in the upper half. Many people like to use vertical monitors with their desktop PCs, and Windows has no problem stacking windows on top of and below each other.

Despite how polished the device looks in our demo, Lenovo clearly isn't ready to release its rollable concept as a consumer-ready device. I asked about durability, and Lenovo would only say that it aims to get 20,000 to 30,000 rolls, the same ballpark as its foldable ThinkPad X1 (I admit that compares hundreds of thousands of folds for a foldable smartphone ). It doesn't seem like much. But I'm assuming that you open and fold less laptops regularly throughout the work day). The company wasn't saying how many rolls the prototype might currently have.

I also had questions about weight and battery life. Lenovo wouldn't tell me how much the laptop weighs, and I wasn't allowed to pick it up myself (trust me, I asked). Ideally you'd want this thing to be more compact than most laptops and portable monitors as well, but we'll have to wait and see on the former point. And apparently the rollable laptop's unrollable mechanism draws a few watts of power during motion, which doesn't seem ideal at a time when many laptops' batteries can still struggle to make it through a day's use.

That said, Lenovo is one of the few laptop makers that has actually released a foldable laptop, which gives me some confidence that its rollable concept could one day become a reality. Its original ThinkPad X1 Fold was revealed in 2020, and the second-generation model was announced last year – though it's yet to make it to market after missing its November ship date.

The other rollable device from Lenovo that is on display at MWC is the Motorola smartphone. We've seen companies including Samsung Display, Oppo, TCL and even LG (RIP) show off rollable concept devices in various stages of development over the years, but we've yet to see the technology take off Is. could not see a consumer device

Like a foldable, the idea is that a rollable smartphone can be smaller when you need to be portable, and bigger when you need more screen to get the job done. Lenovo's phone — which it's calling the Motorola Rollable Smartphone Concept — is all about taking a small square of display and making it taller. It is almost like a foldable flip phone but without the secondary cover display as it stays on the same screen the whole time.

Lenovo's Motorola Rollable features a 5-inch display with 15:9 aspect ratio. Then, with a short double tap of the side button, the screen opens to give you a remarkably tall 6.5-inch display with a 22:9 aspect ratio.

With this simple looking design, Lenovo packs a lot of mileage. There are obvious use cases, like being able to watch a video in its original aspect ratio without any black bars, or getting a bigger screen when you want to compose an email. Lenovo's idea is that the phone will automatically adjust its screen to better suit different apps, and it hopes the final version will let users customize how big they want the screen to be for each use case. Want to want

There are also some less obvious elements of the device. Because the rollable screen is rotating at the bottom of the phone instead of disappearing inside its chassis, when it's rolled up you're left with a smaller secondary display behind it. Software features include using it as a viewfinder when you take selfies with the camera on the back of the phone. Lenovo has also included a feature where the rear display plays cute animations for the baby to look at the phone when you want to take a picture of them. That said, if the cover shows up on a foldable flip phone from the likes of Samsung and Oppo, finding truly useful accessories for such a small screen could be a challenge.

Another nice touch is that the display can hide the selfie camera and earpiece, and fold down to reveal them when you're on a phone call or going to take a selfie.

Like the laptop, the Motorola rollable smartphone concept is a proof of concept, and there were many questions Lenovo didn't have answers for, such as how many rolls the screen could survive. There's no word on pricing, and there's also no indication of when the device might release. I was not given the opportunity to have or use the equipment for myself.

But then again, given Lenovo's track record with foldable phones (remember the Razr?), I think the chances of this tech showing up on a Motorola-branded phone someday are non-zero.

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