- Electronics maker TCL just unveiled a new concept smartphone with a rollable display that extends the device from being a 6.75-inch phone to a 7.8-inch tablet.
- The concept comes as foldable phones are on the rise, with companies like Samsung, Motorola, and Huawei launching devices with flexible screens.
- TCL’s take is slightly different in that the display doesn’t fold in half, but instead slides out from the phone’s body.
- It’s yet another sign that phone makers are experimenting with new form factors to move beyond the traditional smartphone.
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While gadget makers like Samsung, Motorola, and Huawei are launching the first smartphones with foldable screens, electronics giant TCL is experimenting with something a bit different. The company unveiled a hardware reference design for a new mobile device with a rollable screen that protrudes outward from the device’s body, essentially turning it into a tablet.
TCL hasn’t announced a release date or price, nor has it publicly shown a working model (although the company does say that a functional prototype exists). But the concept is yet another indication that smartphone makers are thinking about ways to advance the modern smartphone design beyond the metal-and-glass slab form factor that’s dominated the industry for the last decade.
TCL’s slider concept phone has a 6.75-inch AMOLED screen when in smartphone form that can grow to 7.8 inches when the display is extended. The company says the working model will have a motor for rolling and unrolling the screen. TCL has been working on the concept for more than a year, and its one of three dozen flexible screen concept phones the company says its working on.
Part of the reason it doesn’t have a launch date to announce is because it’s still figuring out durability-related challenges, such as ensuring that dust and debris don’t make their way into the phone, says TCL. That’s particularly important after Samsung came under fire in 2019 just before its first foldable device, the Galaxy Fold, was supposed to launch last April. Samsung delayed the phone’s release until September after a small number reviewers reported that their device had broken after just two days of use.
Here’s a closer look at the concept and how it works.
TCL’s slider concept phone has a curved screen that curls underneath the device
The hardware reference I saw was just a model meant to illustrate what the device would look and feel like, so it didn’t have a working screen. But its screen would be roughly the same size as Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Plus, which has a 6.7-inch display.
With the screen extended, the phone would be about the same size as an iPad mini, which has a 7.9-inch display.
The software would be able to automatically adjust content on screen as the device switches between phone and tablet mode.
And apps would work in split screen mode, as shown in the demo video below.
But the phone is still a concept at this point, so it’s unclear what the final product will look like — should there ever be one. Still, it’s a sign that companies may be thinking about what’s next beyond the traditional smartphone.
The proliferation of foldable gadgets over the past year is evidence that flexible display technology is mature enough to appear in real products, not just concepts. That has resulted in a wave of new devices from the Galaxy Fold to Samsung’s newer Z Flip and Huawei’s Mate X.
No one knows whether the smartphones of tomorrow will have a screen that slides out or one that folds in half. But new concepts like TCL’s provide some evidence that we may be heading toward a world in which all of our phones no longer look the same.
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