Folding Laptop Screens, for When 13 Inches Won’t Cut It

Forget folding phones. Now, folding laptops are a thing

  • Asus’ Zenbook 17 Fold is a modular laptop/tablet with a folding OLED screen. 
  • Folding screens are still unproven, longevity-wise.
  • Apple’s hardware and software ecosystem is perfect for something like this.
The Asus Zenbook 17 Fold.


The clamshell laptop format hasn't changed in three decades. Maybe it's time for a shakeup with folding laptops.

But don't laptops always fold, you're probably asking? And the answer is, of course, "Yes." Ever since Apple's Powerbook 100 series in 1991, portable computers have used a folding clamshell design. Asus' new Zenbook Fold adds a bendy, folding screen to the mix. But is it just a bigger, more annoying version of a folding phone or an amazing way to add a huge screen to a laptop?

"Personally, I can't see myself getting a folding laptop any time soon. If I want to use an iPad or a laptop, those devices do the job just fine," Daivat Dholakia, portable tech enthusiast and VP of medical technology company Essenvia, told Lifewire via email. "I don't often find myself wishing for more screen space while still being able to fold it. Similarly, if I want to watch television, I'm just going to do that. I don't need a laptop with a bigger screen."


The Asus Zenbook 17 Fold wants to be everything. It is a laptop. It is a desktop with a separate Bluetooth keyboard. It’s a touch-screen tablet, and it comes in at 1.8 kilos or just under four pounds. 

The design is kind of genius. You get two parts: the folding screen and the keyboard. You can unfold the screen to its full 17 inches and use it separately from the keyboard, like a kind of small iMac without a stand. You can also use the touch screen (which contains the computer part) as a huge tablet. 

And then, if you fold the screen a little and snap the keyboard into place over the top of one half, covering it up, the other half becomes the laptop screen. 

It does seem like Asus really has come up with a good use for folding screens. A folding phone is a pain no matter how you look at it—too thick when folded, too heavy, too hard to just glance at, and annoying to open when most other phones don’t need to be opened. But this really does add to the laptop paradigm, with no downsides. Well, one downside, and it’s a big one. 

Screen Trouble

That problem is the screen. For a start, it has a plastic surface, which is less resilient to scratches than glass. Then, there’s the folding action itself. No matter how well designed the mechanism, you can’t get past the fact that you are folding and unfolding a sheet of plastic and an OLED membrane. Eventually, this is going to wear out. Asus rates it for 30,000 cycles, which sounds like a lot, but who knows whether the wear and tear will begin to show before then?

Asus isn’t the only company doing this. Lenovo just launched its second-generation X1 Fold, which works in just the same way, only it has a 16-inch screen and comes in at a relatively cheap $2,500. 

There’s also the fact that it uses Intel chips, which are nowhere near Apple’s M1 chips when it comes to performance, battery life, and lack of heat. 

The Asus Zenbook 17 Fold.


And Apple?

Speaking of Apple, imagine if it made something like this. Its Apple Silicon chips are designed from scratch for mobile use. The M1 is already used in the iPad Pro, so the tablet part is already taken care of. 

And then we get to the kicker. The Mac can already run iPad and iPhone apps. If it had exactly the same design concept as the Zenbook 17 Fold, you could use it as a MacBook, an iMac, and—when in tablet mode—run iPad apps on the big screen.

"Apple has proven themselves in the touchscreen arena with tons of interesting apps, and some have cross-platform compatibility," iPad-first musician Kirby Mumbo said on the Audiobus forums. "I don't feel there's a reason to touch anything Windows/Linux right now as I haven't heard of any killer touchscreen apps for Windows. Not that they're not there, just the implementation always seems an afterthought."

The laptop format is our current paradigm, but it doesn't have to be the only way to make a portable computer. And those early laptops were also as thick as a San Francisco burrito. If the folding-screen problems can be solved, these things could eventually be a compelling alternative. But right now? Perhaps not.

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