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LG’s rollable smartphone teased, for just a moment, at CES 2021

LG’s CES 2021 presence is largely centered around its TVs, appliances, and smart home devices — but at the very start of today’s press conference, we got a most interesting tease. The virtual show opened up with an unexpected sight: A rollable LG smartphone.

LG rollable smartphone

Yup, what started out as a typical tall-and-skinny smartphone shape smoothly expanded into a tablet-like shape, with the display rolling out from the opposite edge. The press conference then came to a close with another glimpse at the rollable in action, this time slowly closing automatically. (Now, the screen image is obviously simulated, but hey, it’s a concept device.) We sure didn’t see that coming, even though rumors have been around for years that LG was working on such a device.

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Engadget has confirmed the company intends to call the device the LG Rollable when it’s released, which would be fitting. It would come following generally tepid responses to all of LG’s prior industry-pushing form factors. LG has said in the past that despite competitors doing fully foldable phones, the technology isn’t ready for the mainstream yet — and so we’ve seen other innovations. like the detachable Dual Screen for its latest G- and V-series phones, as well as the swiveling dual-screen LG Wing. (Rumor has it this rollable concept was originally slated to be called the “Wing.”)

LG keeps pushing the limits of what we consider a smartphone.

LG is hardly the first company to show off a rollable smartphone concept. Oppo and TCL have had their own takes, and I’ve personally held prototypes of TCL’s version. The idea is sound — because OLED panels are thin and flexible, they can be rolled tightly around one edge of the phone, and if they’re placed on some sort of a sliding track, it can allow the phone to expand and slowly extrude the display across the expanded frame. This addresses many issues we see today with foldables, skipping over problems with creases and hinges.

There are still considerable technical hurdles facing rollables of all kinds, though. Display coverings have started to get tough enough to be glasslike on standard one-bend foldables, but that goes right back out the window with something like a rollable. The rollable form factor also introduces even more complexity to the frame of the phone — particularly if the expansion is motorized. But if any company can execute on it, I’d expect LG to be one of the front-runners.

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