Lenovo’s concept laptop at Mobile World Congress has an extending, rollable display that grows in size with a button tap. We checked it out, along with a smartphone that stretches, too.
Lenovo had two surprise products on hand at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona: a laptop and a smartphone each with a rollable display. The basic idea behind them is to create highly portable products that don’t skimp on the most important part: the screen real estate. We checked them out on the ground in Spain, and here are our thoughts.
Lenovo stressed that the rollable-display products it showcased are prototypes. Neither of these is a final product or even a product-in-development, and Lenovo did not share any specs or other capabilities of the hardware. The devices on hand were purely to showcase the rolling-screen tech. We were allowed to spend less than 10 minutes with them.
Roll ‘Em If You Got ‘Em: The Screen-Stretching Laptop
The laptop is a basic 13-inch chassis made from aluminum with a thickness of 17.9mm. When the display is in its normal position, the 2K screen (2,024 by 1,604) measures 12.7 inches across the diagonal with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Lenovo said it’s the same display (a flexible OLED) that it used for its folding, all-screen ThinkBook X1 Fold. It looked bright and sharp.
At the press of a physical button on the right side of the deck, two motors drive the display panel upward. The hidden part of the screen unrolls from underneath the keyboard, so the panel’s degree of bend is as gentle a curve as possible. It takes close to 10 seconds to extend to maximum height, and you can hear the motors working. When done, the screen stands 15.3 inches high with what Lenovo says is a 8:9 aspect ratio (2,024 by 2,368 pixels), or the same shape as two 16:9 screens standing atop one another.
The added vertical screen space is a natural fit for some creative and productive tasks, such as browsing the web, hammering out a Word document, or filling in lines of code. Pressing the button a second time retracts the display, which again takes about 10 seconds to reel back in. The bottom, rolled portion of the display looks just as bright and sharp as the rest of the screen, and no creasing or warping is evident.
We were not allowed to touch the concept to try it for ourselves. It’s a neat idea and one we’d like to see come to market eventually. Of course, given the $2,500 launch price of the ThinkBook X1 Fold, you can bet any laptop with this display will be a costly one.
Another Stretch Goal: Lenovo’s Rollable Phone Concept
Lenovo had a similar concept device in the form of a smartphone. For the phone, the screen measures 5 inches when stowed in the normal position and 6.5 inches when extended to its full size. Again, the idea is to produce a smaller device that’s easier to carry around without giving up on the most possible screen space. In this case, however, I’m not sure the trade-off is worth it.
To accommodate the rolling screen, Lenovo had to go pretty thick with the chassis. The screen actually rolls around the bottom edge of the phone and stows visibly on the rear, with the retracted portion of the panel acting as a secondary screen for notifications when in this position. As you can see, it’s pretty chunky—easily twice the thickness of today’s regular phones.
Like on the laptop, you press a physical button on the right side of the phone to extend or retract the display. Since this is a smaller, less-complex application, the motors are a little faster, and it only takes about two seconds for the screen to switch from one form to the other.
At just 5 inches, the shrunken screen definitely appears small when retracted. Lenovo notes that the screen-positioning function acts context-aware, so it will automatically enlarge or shrink onscreen apps or content when the phone extends or retracts. In the demo we saw, YouTube automatically switched orientations when the screen extended. As with the laptop, the curved portion of the screen is every bit as bright and colorful as the rest.
I like the thinking here, but this one needs more refining than the laptop version to bring a realistic device to market. LG and TCL have also showed off phones with rollable displays, but neither has been produced to date.
Lenovo did not commit to bringing either of these concepts to market, but they were fun to look at.
Written by Eric Zeman
Featured Image Credit: Eric Zeman