Display Maker Debuts World’s First Folding Tablet-Phone

A little-known company may have beaten out the likes of Samsung and Huawei to introduce the world’s first foldable-screen smartphone-tablet.

But one industry analyst called the new device a “publicity stunt”.

Royole Corp., which has offices in Fremont, California, as well as in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China’s hardware hub, introduced the FlexPai device at an event in Beijing this week.

The company, a specialist in manufacturing flexible displays, made the devices available to Chinese consumers in three “flash sales” on Thursday, with developer versions available for pre-order worldwide.

Image credit: Royole Corp.

Flexible screen

The company said it plans to begin shipping the devices in late December.

When laid out flat, the FlexPai functions as a tablet with a 7.8-inch screen.

When folded, the AMOLED panel is divided into two screens that can work together or separately, as well as a section along the edge that displays notifications and messages.

The folded device is intended to work as a dual-screen phone, with two cameras adjoining the back-facing screen, one 20 megapixels and the other 16 megapixels.

As a phone, it is relatively large and heavy, weighing 320g.

That’s considerably heavier than the iPhone XS Max’s 208g  X, and is more comparable to the 304g iPad Mini, which has a 7.9-inch screen.

Royole is making a 6GB version with 128GB of storage available in China for 8,999 yuan (£998) and an 8GB model with 256GB of storage for 9,998 yuan.

The devices have been put through tests that show they can be folded more than 200,000 times, teh firm said.

They run a Snapdragon 8-series chip and feature fast-charging, a microSD slot, fingerprint reader and USB-C port, with WaterOS, based on Android 9.0.

Image credit: Royole Corp.

Publicity coup

A video of the device in use indicates the device is still somewhat rough around the edges, with the screen flicking back and forth a few times when folded before it adjusts to the change.

Other firms are said to be working on flexible devices, with Samsung expected to preview its plans at an event in San Francisco on 7 November.

LG is rumoured to be planning to show a foldable phone at the CES conference in January.

Industry observers said Royole deserves credit for debuting a working foldable device before better known companies, but one analyst said the FlexPai was mainly intended to create publicity for Royole’s displays.

“Royole has carried out several publicity stunts over the years to showcase its flexible OLED displays. The FlexPai is probably another stunt,” said Dr Guillaume Chansin of Irimitech Consulting, the BBC reported.

He said Royole is currently building its first OLED factory in order to compete directly with the likes of Samsung and LG, which also manufacture displays.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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