Phones Like These Are Why I'm Still Excited for a Foldable Future

Illustration for article titled Phones Like These Are Why I'm Still Excited for a Foldable Future

We’re still very much in the early days of foldable phones. And while some gadgets like Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip have hinted at their potential, TCL has a handful of new concept devices that makes upcoming foldables even more exciting.

There are three concepts total, each taking a different approach to the folding phone challenge. We saw TCL’s book-like foldable before back at CES, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on that besides saying it functions a lot like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, but without the small gap the Galaxy Fold exhibits when its screen is closed.

Next, we have a real monstrosity in TCL’s tri-fold concept. It’s awkward and incredibly cumbersome, but the simple ability to transform a 6.65-inch phone-shaped thing into a 10-inch tablet is still pretty impressive. On top of that, the tri-fold concept features two different kinds of hinges, what TCL calls its Dragon Hinge and Butterfly Hinge. They fold in opposite directions.


This allows the phone to transform into a huge variety of positions. If you don’t need all that room, you can fold one-third of the screen into a kickstand. Or if space is limited like on a crowded subway train, you can use one side as a grip and still have plenty of screen real-estate left over.

Granted, there are a lot of downsides to the tri-fold’s current design. It’s heavy, its hinge is quite stiff while still managing to feel somewhat unstable. When it’s collapsed down to its smallest phone-shaped size, it’s super thick too. But these are concepts devices, so there should be at least a bit of awkwardness to them, right?

If TCL can iterate on form factors and hinge tech, then by the time the flexible displays get better, TCL should be in a much better place to create affordable, consumer-ready foldable gadgets.


And then there’s TCL rollable concept (or should I say slider concept), which was actually mentioned in a previous leak. While its screen was just a printed out mock-up instead of a working display, this thing might be even more ambitious than the TCL tri-fold device.

Instead of bending, it features a sliding screen that TCL says will use mechanical pushrods to expand the display from 6.75 inches to 7.8 inches whenever you want using a simple gesture. And unlike the tri-fold device, this thing measures 9mm thick, so it’s barely thicker than a Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. And when its screen isn’t fully deployed, the screen rolls back up inside part of the phone’s body, which makes the whole thing way less bulky than a lot of other foldables.


That said, even as just a mock-up, the rollable concept has its own set of issues. The first is simply getting a screen that can handle such a tight bending radius without destroying itself in the process. Also, even on this mockup, you can see scrapes where the concept’s slider mechanism has damaged its fake screen. With a design like this, it’s extra important to make sure there’s no dust or particles that could scratch the screen as it slides in and out.


But what might be the most exciting part about all of this is that TCL’s concept phones are just three of more than 30 or so foldable concepts the company claims it has in development. Furthermore, TCL has a much different philosophy when it comes to foldables than a company like Samsung. TCL doesn’t make super-premium TVs or $1,000 phones, its focus is on making solid mid-range products that emphasize value instead of trying to go overboard on bleeding edge specs.

So while that means we may not see any foldable phones or tablets from TCL on shelves anytime soon--even this year, these concepts are good sign for anyone intrigued by what devices like the Galaxy Fold or Galaxy Z Flip can do, but don’t want to shell out $1,400 or more for what is still very much emerging tech. Flexible display tech is already changing how people approach smartphone design, and it’s fun to get a small taste of where things might go.


Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

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The only people not excited are those who have absolutely zero vision.