Wrap it or bend it. TCL’s foldable concept phones can put a screen in any format

TCL has taken to MWC 2019 to show off concepts of its latest technological advances, including the “DragonHinge” hardware that will form the physical backbone of its  upcoming foldable phones. While none of these devices are anything close to final products, it offers examples of what we could expect from a TCL-branded phone, but also how TCL could use the technology in its other products and appliances.

Accompanying the news about DragonHinge are also a handful of new budget-priced Alcatel phones, as well as a bold red BlackBerry Key2.

DragonHinge for folding smartphones

TCL knows it won’t be a part of the first wave of foldable smartphones. Samsung and Huawei have both announced their devices — the Galaxy Fold and Mate X, respectively — but both these phones are around the $2,000 price range. TCL wants to take its time to introduce foldable hardware that’s far more accessible to the average person.

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The DragonHinge is the name of the hinge that helps bridge the two screens together to create a foldable phone, and it’s paired with flexible AMOLED displays from TCL’s sister company, CSOT.

“Through TCL’s vertical integration with CSOT, we have conquered many of the challenges that come with flexible displays, and now with the announcement of DragonHinge, we’re able to show the world how we’ll overcome the mechanical housing challenges that must be solved in order to support these new foldable form factors,” said Shane Lee, general manager of the Global Product Center at TCL Communication. “We now have a hardware solution to build from, freeing us up to tackle the unique software experiences this new technology enables.”

We held various prototype foldable phones, from one that looks like a small wallet and opened up to show off a large display, to another that could be snapped onto a wrist as a bracelet when you don’t want to use it as a phone. There was even a super tiny phone that folded out to look like a normal smartphone — handy if your jeans pocket can’t fit modern large-screen phones. They all felt well built, with the hinge working perfectly as intended. These were all prototype hardware with dummy screens, so we can’t speak much about overall reliability, but we’re incredibly excited by the different form factors. Foldable smartphones are ushering in a new wave designs and innovations, allowing manufacturers to think outside the box, and that’s precisely what TCL’s doing here.

We know for sure TCL’s foldable phone will arrive some time in the middle of 2020, and it’s highly unlikely the company will use its Alcatel or BlackBerry brands for the phone. It will likely be TCL’s first smartphone, showing that it too can innovate and create a high-end device (Alcatel makes budget phones, and BlackBerry has a niche audience due to its physical keyboard). TCL said while it is confident with the DragonHinge and its capability to build the hardware, it still needs to work on software, and the company is currently working with Google to help create a user interface that fits well with these foldable phones.

Brand new budget Alcatel devices

TCL’s MWC presence wasn’t just about futuristic folding phones — it also showed off some brand new budget devices under the Alcatel brand.

The first and cheapest is the Alcatel 1S. This budget device packs an octa-core processor, 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage (with MicroSD expansion) behind a 5.5-inch 18:9 HD+ IPS LCD display. It runs Android 9.0 Pie, and is powered by a Spreadtrum processor along with a 3,060mAh battery. You’ll find a 13-megapixel lens and a 2-megapixel lens around the back, and the option to unlock your phone with the fingerprint sensor and facial recognition. It’ll be coming to Europe in the second quarter of the year (between April and June), and will cost 109 euros.

Next are the Alacatel 3 and 3L. These two budget phones share a similar design, and sport a 5.9-inch IPS LCD with a mini notch and HD+ resolutions. The Alcatel 3 is the more powerful of the two, thanks to an octa-core processor — but the Alcatel 3L comes with a Snapdragon processor as well. You’ll find a 3,500mAh battery on both. You’ll also find the same dual-lens setup on both phones — a 13-megapixel and 5-pixel lens that will allow for portrait mode shots. Both will be arriving in the second quarter of 2019, where they will also get an update to Android 9 Pie. The Alcatel 3 starts at 159 euros for 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, or 189 euros for 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The Alcatel 3L will start at 139 euros.

Last but not least is the Alcatel 3T 10. This affordable tablet offers a 10-inch screen with dual front-facing speakers, and is powered by Android 9.0 Oreo and a hefty 4,080mAh battery. But the real draw here is the optional Audio Station. This accessory claims to offer up to 7 hours of playback, and comes with support for other external music players — making it the perfect speaker when you’re out and about. The Alcatel 3T 10 will be available later in the year, with prices starting from 179 euros, or 229 euros with the Audio Station.

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Finally, TCL also released information about a brand-new red version of the BlackBerry Key2. You can find more about the red model in our BlackBerry Key2 news post.


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