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TCL is working on more than 30 different folding phone concepts

Folding phones seem poised to take off in a big way. Most phone manufacturers see the emerging folding screen category as the future and you can count TCL among them. In addition to a trio of TCL-branded 10 Series phones, the Chinese manufacturer also showed us another new folding screen device at CES 2020.

For all the excitement about this new design direction, the ideal form factor is far from certain. Do we want a folding phone with an external display that opens to reveal a tablet-size screen, like the Samsung Galaxy Fold? Do we want a clamshell design that makes phones more portable again, like the new Motorola Razr? Or will the first must-have folding mobile device be something altogether different?

TCL is trying to work that out, which is why the company has developed a slew of concepts.

“There’s a road map we’re building out with the 10 Series and foldables. We’re still working on the foldables. In some stages of development we have about three dozen foldable devices, from concept to prototype,” Jason Gerdon, Head of Global Communications at TCL, told Digital Trends. “We’re really moving forward with that quite heavily. That’s certainly the future.”

Last summer TCL told us that folding screen devices were on the horizon and we saw a zigzag, concertina-style concept in October with two hinges that unfurled to reveal a whopping 10-inch screen.

The device we saw and got our hands on at CES sported a 7.2-inch folding screen, but there was no external display on the outside, just an eye-catching flash of geometric shards and a quad-lens camera module. The device was fully working, running Android, and the screen folded in the middle with both sides closing completely flat with a satisfying clunk.

While the software was flaky, it’s far from final. TCL is trying to perfect the screen and folding mechanism first and we were told the prototype had already been subjected to thousands of folds.

This willingness to explore different designs and directions is part of TCL’s mission to get its first foray into the category right. But it also signals intent to potentially release various different devices with folding screens.

“We certainly expect to have a full foldable portfolio,” explained Gerdon.

That may mean several different phones at various price points. TCL is committed to affordability and it is aiming squarely at the midrange with its 10 Series, so we don’t expect to see it release a $2,000 folding phone. As for when we can expect to see something, 2020 is likely.

“Our intention is to certainly have a foldable this year,” says Gerdon. “But if we get to that stage and we don’t feel that that experience is meaningful enough and the price point is appropriate and the software is ready, we’re more than happy to wait.”

Folding phones are very expensive right now, so there’s room for TCL to make a serious splash by undercutting the competition, just as it’s doing with the 10 Series 5G phone which will be released later this year for around $500.

While the final form and spec sheets are still in flux, TCL’s folding phone future is certain.

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