The past year or so has been one of the most interesting periods for smartphone design since the early days of iOS and Android. After the bezel wars of a few years ago, we’re now seeing companies explore wackier form factors that break the typical. We’ve seen phones that can fold and phones that can roll, so it was only a matter of time until somebody combined the two.
That’s precisely what TCL has done with its new “Fold ‘n Roll” concept. Behold (start around the 30-minute mark):
The device has a hinge that can both fold as well as unfurl the flexible screen tucked inside the body of the device, going from a 6.87-inch phone to a 10-inch tablet. It also appears to feature a stylus, at the bottom of the device, making it enticing for scribbling on the go.
Now, I should make it clear the Fold ‘n Roll is just a concept device. TCL didn’t give any specs or time frame for release. For all we know, this is little more than something marketing came up with to add a bit of pizzazz to TCL’s presentation; the company did not show off a working prototype, only renders.
The device also features an ‘outer’ screen, which means it’s more likely to get damaged with a pliable display like this.
Still, I absolutely love the idea. It gives you a bit more flexibility over your aspect ratio and form-factor than a folding or rollable phone on its own, but mostly, it just feels like the type of futuristic phones we might see in a sci-fi movie.
TCL does say it has a folding phone on the way this year, just not this one. One for 2022, perhaps?
TCL is working on a foldable, rollable phone hybrid, which combines two of the biggest trends in smartphone design at the moment. The company – which makes its own displays, and which began pushing its own brand for Android devices in early 2020 – has been working on foldable and flexible OLED panels for some time now, though this new concept device brings them together in as-yet unseen ways.
Roughly twelve months ago, TCL revealed some of the prototype designs it had been developing. That included a double-folding tablet – which had two hinges, and collapsed like a concertina to go from a chunky phone to a relatively large slate – as well as a sliding device with a rollable screen that unfurled from the side.
The concepts designs were, TCL said at the time, experiments in form factor and screen technology. They were also just a sample of the roughly three dozen being worked on, execs at the company confirmed. Come CES 2021, an even more polished version of the rollable design was revealed, along with a larger, tablet-scale version that pulled out into something more akin to a small TV.
Now, new sketches and renders of another iteration of what TCL has been working on have emerged. The device – set to be officially revealed in April, CNET says – combines both a foldable TCL DragonHinge and a rollable screen. As a result, it could potentially deliver a large tablet experience without the overly-thick form factor of the company’s previous double-folding prototype.
There’s no telling whether TCL actually intends to put this design into production any time soon, or if it’s being viewed as another opportunity to showcase the company’s screen manufacturing technology. So far, the TCL-branded Android phones that have actually reached the market have been far more mainstream than its concepts and renders. The TCL 20 Series announced at CES 2021, for example, is expected to go on sale from under $300.
Those phones – and details on their availability in particular – are also said to be sharing the spotlight at TCL’s rumored April 2021 event.
A foldable, rollable phone, in contrast, would undoubtedly be considerably more expensive. Although TCL hasn’t released such a device commercially, Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 2 – its second-generation phone/tablet device – still commands an $1,800 price tag, a small reduction compared to its $2k launch.
Samsung is also believed to be working on something more eye-catching in foldables for 2021. The South Korean behemoth is said to be developing a double-folding phone that could also be revealed later this year, with two hinges allowing for an even larger display when fully opened. At the same time, it’s believed to be working on more affordable versions, seeing foldable OLED as the key to accelerating a new round of upgrades in the smartphone space.
Apparently, it’s not enough for a phone to just fold once. According to a new report by Nikkei Asia, Samsung is planning to add a third folding phone to its lineup this year– one that has two folds in its screen.
The phone will apparently live alongside the existing Fold and Flip series, rather than replace one of them. According to the report, the purpose of the triptych design is to enable a more mainstream 16:9 or 2:1 (sometimes unnecessarily called 18:9) aspect ratio when the device is unfolded. The existing Galaxy Fold has a 4:3 aspect ratio when unfolded, while the Galaxy Flip comes in at 21:9.
The more mainstream aspect ratio would far better fit the plethora of 16:9 movies and TV shows, while 2:1 has rapidly become more popular the last few years, often seen with Netflix original content. It would also be easier for apps and games to scale to the more traditional aspect ratio. It is worth noting though that Samsung isn’t the first to have thought up this three-part design; TCL gets to claim dibs on the concept, although that phone hasn’t gone on sale yet.
It’s hard to understand why exactly Samsung would need three separate folding phones, especially when many consumers have reservations over the poor scratch resistance and high price of entry — the Fold 2 already retails for $1,999. But according to Nikkei Asia, the move is part of Samsung’s plan to replace the Note line with folding devices; in recent years, it’s become increasingly difficult to tell apart the S line and Note line, especially now that the S20 Ultra supports the S-Pen.
Samsung hopes to increase folding phone sales to those similar to the Note line, which sold over 10 million units annually. Whether that’ll be possible given the current caveats of folding devices remains to be seen — hopefully the new design will mean a price reduction for the rest of Samsung’s folding lineup.
Following a false-start in April that derailed the Galaxy Fold’s launch just days before its launch, Samsung has announced that its next-generation handset will begin shipping in Korea on Friday, Sept. 6, and the U.S. on Sept. 26.
As previously detailed, Samsung has preformed a number of changes to the device following several issues with the initial design. Several early reviewers experienced issues ranging from flickering to debris getting stuck under the screen, and in response, Samsung has implemented improvements which it says will “ensure consumers have the best possible experience.” The fixes include:
The top protective layer of the display has been extended beyond the bezel, so people won’t accidentally try to remove it.
The top and bottom hinges have been strengthened with protection caps to keep out dust and debris.
Additional metal layers have been added under the display to make it sturdier and less prone to denting.
The space between the hinge and body has been reduced to guard against debris.
While those changes are significant, the one buyers will instantly notice is the lack of color choices. The Galaxy Fold is only available in black and silver this time around, ditching the blue and yellow-green hues that were originally offered. Otherwise, the phone is same, with a 4.6-inch outside screen and a 7.3-inch inside one. It’s just as thick as before as well (17mm) and has the same six cameras, two of which are included in a notch on the inside display. And it still doesn’t have a headphone jack.
But the design tweaks aren’t the only thing that’s new about the Galaxy Fold. Samsung is also launching the Galaxy Fold Premier Service, which will offer personalized support for buyers of the phone. Samsung says more details will be available “in the coming weeks,” but the program appears to be limited to the U.S.
Galaxy Fold Premium Service will give consumers “direct access to Samsung experts who can provide you tailored guidance and support over the phone any time, any day.” That includes “an optional one-on-one onboarding session” that will walk buyers through the phone and help them learn the ins and outs of the new device.
While details are light, it sounds similar to Google’s 24/7 support for Pixel owners. Since Samsung doesn’t have a fleet of retail stores like Apple or Microsoft, the support offered here will presumably be phone, text, and/or video based, letting users quickly get answers to questions 24 hours a day. It’s the kind of perk that should come with a $2,000 phone, but it might not be limited to Galaxy Fold. In its press release Samsung teases that it will be sharing more information about “this exciting new chapter for consumers—and the entire mobile industry.”
Granted, that could just be marketing fluff, but it sounds like the Premium Service won’t be limited to the Galaxy Fold. If Samsung plans on bundling 24/7 personalized support into future Galaxy phone, it could set a new standard for what customers expect from their phones, whether they fold or not. As more Galaxy phones top the $1,000 mark, a level of bundled service could bring more value than a larger screen or more storage.
We all expected the Galaxy Fold to usher in a new era of smartphone, but as it turns out, it might not be the folding display that does it—it might be the service that comes along with it.
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