Crazily named Royole Flexpai phone folds up for a glimpse of the future

Update: We’ve had a chance to try out the Flexpai in person. It’s awesome. But you wouldn’t want to buy it. Here’s why.

You’ve probably never heard of Royole before, but the Chinese smartphone maker is going to make headlines with the Flexpai, one of the very first folding smartphones we’ve seen. Whether we can legitimately call the Royole Flexpai a smartphone is up for debate, as is the question of whether we’d actually want to use the device on a daily basis, but there’s no denying it’s a fascinating glimpse of what a near-future design trend may bring us.

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With its 7.8-inch screen, the Royole Flexpai — a fantastic name that we will never get tired of repeating — sounds more like a tablet, but the flexible screen allows it to fold in half without breaking, making such a large device more pocketable. Royole doesn’t really talk about the device’s overall size when folded, but the screen becomes 4 inches. There’s still quite a lot of bezel at one end, so the device will be larger. It lists a 7.8mm thickness, which we take to be in its unfolded state. Expect at least twice this when folded. Or the equivalent of carrying two iPhone XS Max’s around, back-to-back, in your pocket. It also weighs a massive 320 grams, so it’ll feel about the same too.

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An unnamed Snapdragon 8-series processor with either 6GB or 8GB of RAM powers the Flexpai, and the 4:3 aspect ratio screen — just like some iPad tablets — has a 1,440 × 1,920-pixel resolution. There are two cameras, but unusually they’re mounted at the side of the screen and not on the back of the device. There are a 20-megapixel and a 16-megapixel lens, with an f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization too. With the screen folded up, photos can be taken with the camera facing in either direction, and the software adjusting what the screen shows accordingly. Calls can also be taken from either side of the phone. Providing the energy is a 3,800mAh battery, and the operating system is Royole’s own, which is based on Android 9.0 Pie.

There’s no doubt the Flexpai is a lot of fun. You probably won’t want to buy one unless you’re in China, however, as the carrier support is limited to Chinese networks at launch. It costs from around $1,300 for the basic 6GB/128GB model, or up to $1870 for the 8GB/512GB. A limited number will be released in December, and pre-orders can be placed now.

What’s interesting is this may give us an idea of how much a Samsung, Huawei, or LG foldable phone may end up costing. Expect it to be more too, due to Royole’s limited run of devices and lack of internationalization needs.

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