TCL rollable and tri-fold concept phones hands-on: Exciting and worrying

It all started with foldables, but now TCL’s bending, or rather, rolling up our expectations of flexible displays into a new concept device referred to only as the “rollable.”

While still an early concept, the idea is to take a 6.75-inch screen and unfurl it to 7.5 inches with only an on-screen swipe, via a motorized mechanism. I was only able to see a very early version of this in person without the actual display or motorized functionality installed, and I have to say, I’m worried.

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In hand, it feels like a great size for a phone when shut, and when expanded, it makes a good deal more space for multitasking, watching videos, gaming, or otherwise. But if there’s one thing on all our minds regarding phones with flexible displays, it’s durability.

TCL showed us a video of the working prototype via a Tik Tok video one of the engineers filmed, and the swipe to open gesture seems to work there, but you can imagine there’s a lot still being worked out to ensure it doesn’t break or malfunction and can withstand actual, day-to-day use.

Since it’s just a concept for now, we may not see something like this on the market for years, but you do have to appreciate TCL for proving that innovative phones like this aren’t far off.

In fact, it was only five short months ago that TCL showed off a similar, non-working prototype of a tri-fold tablet, which now has a working model, albeit a rather buggy one. The zig-zag structure of this device allows it to display a regular-sized, 6.65-inch screen for your quick day-to-day tasks, an 8-inch screen when one flap is unfolded, and a full-sized, 10-inch display when fully unfolded for a proper tablet experience.

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It’s a thick and heavy device when folded up — about as tall as three phones stacked on top of one another, and it feels like it too — so the first word that comes to mind when holding it isn’t exactly “pocketable.” Still, it takes up much less space in a bag, or even a pocket, than a 10-inch tablet would, affording users a device with a screen as flexible as its use cases.

The software on the unit is nowhere near finished, nor is the hardware, but this is certainly most apparent in the former. Opening and closing the device shows a bit of screen flashing and non-responsiveness as it stands right now, but a finished version would have this quirky phone’s kinks ironed out, as well as a few specific experiences thrown in.

Corey Gaskin / Digital Trends

I was encouraged to use the phone fully unfolded, halfway unfolded, and unfolded with one half of the phone tented to see the many ways TCL is planning for people to use its device. Much like we saw on Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip, the software is meant to adapt to the various angles and shapes in which you’re using the device.

For instance, in the half-tent mode, you can use it as sort of mini laptop with the keyboard flat, and your content propped up for you to see. It’s a pretty cramped keyboard to type on with two hands as you would with a laptop, though, so I’d see myself using a mode like this to view content more than anything.

Corey Gaskin / Digital Trends

There’s a ton of possibilities for both of these concepts, but also a lot to be worried about. It’ll be a while until we see these devices come to market, as they’re not officially planned for release, but if/when you do see them, be sure to thank Motorola and Samsung for underlining how important durability is before a release. You may also want to pray for TCL’s device durability, but even these prototypes are another clear step towards the next evolution of mainstream mobile devices, and we’re rolling ahead faster than ever.

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