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Lenovo ThinkBook Plus hands-on review: E-ink note-taking right on the lid

Step into a meeting. What do you see? Laptops. Lots of laptops.

In theory, those laptops should be closed so everyone can focus on the meeting. In practice, those laptops are always open. Co-workers type away, sometimes all meeting long, furiously replying to emails and constantly distracted by notifications.

Lenovo’s solution? The ThinkBook Plus, a laptop with an e-ink display on its lid. Fully usable while the screen is closed, the display provides quick access notes and can show you the topics of incoming emails. Most programs, however, can’t be accessed.

This isn’t Lenovo’s first time using e-ink in an innovative design. The company’s dual-screen Lenovo Yoga Book C930 was even more aggressive, using an e-ink screen as a keyboard replacement.

The ThinkBook Plus is less ambitious. The 10.8-inch e-ink touchscreen is only meant to be used when the laptop is closed You can use it to take notes with a stylus, read Kindle ebooks, activate Alexa, or view PDFs. Like all e-ink screens, it’s monochromatic. You can’t use it in dark rooms, either, because the screen isn’t backlit.

My biggest complaint, though, is its lack of responsiveness. The screen was slow to react to my touch (or the stylus) and sometimes failed to register at all. Lenovo says the device is still in development. That’s fair enough. Still, I find it puzzling. The Lenovo Yoga Book C930 arrived over a year ago with an e-ink display that felt far quicker.

Sleek, but not thin

The e-ink display is eye-catching, but you’ll forget it about it once you open the laptop. The Lenovo Thinkbook Plus is something of a hybrid between a ThinkPad and an IdeaBook. It feels as solid as the former but ditches some work-focused features for a more traditional design.

In short, it’s a premium laptop. It has 10th-gen Intel Core processors, up to 16GB of RAM, up to 512GB of solid-state storage (with optional Intel Optane memory), and a 1080p display. The 45 watt-hour battery is rated for up to 10 hours of endurance. These specifications ensure breezy, hassle-free performance.

The only downside is a consequence of the e-ink display. It bulks up the profile to .68 inches thick. This isn’t a heavily tapered design, either — it’s that thick for most its length. The Lenovo Thinkbook Plus looks chunky next to a Dell XPS 13. It doesn’t feel chunky, though; it’s light enough at 3.08 pounds.

Connectivity is diverse. There’s one USB-C, two USB-A, HDMI 1.4b, and a combo audio jack. Wireless connectivity spans Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.

A shot in the dark

Lenovo’s ThinkBook Plus, like the company’s ThinkPad X1 Fold, is a risky experiment. This one doesn’t hit the mark. Though I can see where the e-ink display might be handy, it doesn’t seem worth the extra girth it adds.

There is light at the end of this tunnel, however. The Lenovo ThinkBook Plus starts $1,199 when it arrives in March 2020. That’s hardly more expensive than similarly equipped competitors, so you’re not paying much for the e-ink screen.

Lenovo already has excellent premium laptops, however, like the X1 Carbon and Lenovo Yoga C940. Those seem a better choice than the ThinkBook Plus — even for people addicted to opening their laptops in a meeting.

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