Flexible and dual-screen laptops take over CES 2020

New products from Lenovo, Dell, Intel and others offer a radical reimagining of the classic clamshell.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
3 min read
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold
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Despite huge leaps in processing power, display tech and portability, laptops have had a hard time moving past the traditional clamshell design that has defined several decades of PC design. Even though we see dozens of new models every year at CES , almost every laptop still has a screen half bolted to a keyboard half and a hinge joining them together. 

But now, with the Lenovo X1 Fold, Dell Concept Ori and Intel Horseshoe Bend prototype, we're seeing PCs that can transition between different sizes and shapes, offer multiple typing experiences and fit more screen into less space. 

Watch this: The best laptops from CES 2020

Both the X1 Fold and Ori are 13-inch screens that can fold in half, offering both an on-screen keyboard or a slim magnetic physical keyboard. Intel's latest prototype, the awkwardly named Horseshoe Bend is the same idea, just with a 17-inch screen. The most interesting part to me in each case is that you can unfold the laptop's screen, prop it up on a kickstand and use it with a keyboard and mouse as a kind of super-compact all-in-one desktop. 

All the cool new gadgets at CES 2020

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Flexible screens got off to a rocky start in the phone world, but the idea may have surprising luck in the tradition-bound world of Windows laptops. With more real estate to work with and the ability to add clip-on accessories, PC makers have more leeway to make sure laptops have hefty hinges and easy-to-use interfaces.   

Are you a folder or a dual-screener? 

But that's not the only way laptops are reinventing themselves. Last year saw a surprising number of laptops with dual, or secondary screens, such as the Asus Zenbook Pro Duo and the HP Omen X 2S . At CES 2020, the idea is moving in even bolder directions. With both these trends showing such promise, you may have to decide if you're a folder or a dual-screener. 

It may not be the most practical product in the world, but I have a soft spot for E Ink technology. So I loved the Lenovo ThinkBook Plus, which adds an E Ink display to the back of its lid. It's potentially a great way to lightly interact with your machine while hardly touching the battery at all, and it has Kindle support built in, which most other non-Amazon E Ink products have been missing to date. 

Dell also has the Concept Duet prototype, which uses two full-size displays instead of either a folding screen or a screen with a keyboard. Yes, it's been tried before and with little success -- I always point back to the 2011 Acer Iconia, which did something similar -- but with thinner, lighter designs, and a magnetic super-slim physical keyboard, I'm willing to give the idea another shot. 

The best laptops from CES 2020

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5G laptops aren't hitting critical mass just yet

For all the 5G hype, you'd think we were living in some broadband wonderland, with high-speed data anywhere and everywhere. 

Well, we're not there yet, and only a handful of PC makers are putting 5G front-and-center. For example, Lenovo has a 5G version of the Yoga, and Dell is offering 5G in its upscale Latitude 9510. HP's Dragonfly will add 5G at some point in 2020. But with so many questions about where service will be available and how much it'll cost, there's still a long way to go before 5G is considered a must-have laptop feature. 

PC gaming in a 'new console' year

It's been a great couple of years for PC gaming, especially on the laptop side, with new RTX GPUs from Nvidia , great designs from Alienware, Razer and others, and the growth of cloud-based streaming game services that can blur the line between gaming and non-gaming PCs. 

But in 2020, there's no big new graphics hardware or other groundbreaking tech for PC gaming. Instead, we're seeing iterative improvements, including 300Hz laptop screens and new eGPU boxes. The boldest new gaming development at the show was Alienware's Concept UFO, a handheld gaming PC that looks like a Windows-based Nintendo Switch

There's a lot more about gaming news from CES here, but it's worth noting that with new Xbox and Playstation consoles hitting in late 2020, this may not be a year when PCs dominate the video game conversation.