After folding phone screens, get ready for unrolling displays

March 5, 2020, 2:00 PM UTC
unrolling phone screen from TCL
Courtesy of TCL Communication

After seeing rivals introduce mobile phones that fold top-to-bottom and side-to-side, Chinese manufacturer TCL Communication offered a new twist on the foldable on Thursday: a phone with a roll up display.

The concept device, which TCL had originally planned to unveil at the canceled Mobile World Congress last month, at first looks like an ordinary smartphone with a 6.75-inch display. But the concept is that pressing a button on the side activates a tiny motor that extends the phone’s body on one side and unrolls more screen, almost doubling the total display area. When not in use, the extra screen area is hidden in the body of the phone, where it can’t be damaged.

TCL didn’t say when the phone would go on sale or how much it would cost.

Phone makers have been scrambling over the past year to come up with new designs that pack more display area into the same-size device as a typical phone or create smaller devices that unfold into full-size devices. For example, Samsung debuted its $1,400 Galaxy Z Flip last month with a 6.7-inch screen that folds in half to fit more easily in a purse or pocket. But many of the new devices have suffered from flaws and quality issues, while costing a premium over even most high-end smartphones.

In January, TCL showed off a folding phone prototype that folds in half like the Flip or Motorola’s revived Razr phone.

But the company’s newest model offers a wholly original design not seen on rival devices.  “There is still plenty of room for new ideas when it comes to flexible and foldable display technologies, and it’s critical for us to think outside the box and lead with innovation,” Shane Lee, general manager at TCL, said in a statement.

The prototype is only 0.35 inches, or 9 millimeters thick, just barely thicker than an iPhone 11 Pro or Galaxy S20 phone, TCL says. The screen has no visible creases or wrinkles, unlike many foldable models, TCL said. 

The company also showed off a folding tablet design with three screens. Completely unfolded, the device looks like a tablet with a 10-inch screen. With two of the screens folded, it appears more like a rather thick phone with a 6.7-inch display. Again, TCL didn’t say when the folding tablet would be available or how much it would cost.

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