TCL reveals insane new expandable smartphone form factor


Over the past 12 months, flexible displays have gotten a lot more interesting. We’ve gone from phones with curved edges to fully-foldable smartphones and now TCL wants us to dream of a future where our smartphones will simply extend from their regular slab form factor to a tablet-sized slate.

This phone is currently being referred to as TCL’s rollable extendable concept, matching the leaked images that were first spotted a few weeks back. The display technology is the same as what we’ve seen on other foldable display smartphones, but rather than using a hinge to fold it in half, TCL’s engineers have wrapped the display around the back on the inside of the phone and devised a motor system that allows the phone to expand on its own with an on-screen gesture or button, transforming it from a smartphone with a 6.75-inch screen into a 7.8-inch tablet.

Think of it as the Xiaomi Mi Mix alpha with its wrap-around display covered on the back that magically becomes a tablet.

Unfortunately, the prototype we were allowed to handle was only a dummy unit, but TCL did show a working unit and the internal motorized mechanism that allows for the device’s dramatic transformation. The company claims that this new design would eliminate the creases and wrinkles we typically see on more foldable display devices today and the motorized mechanism would reduce strain on the panel, allowing it to last a lot longer.

Now if you thought foldable smartphones were cool, this device is on a whole new level. The concept is truly innovative and I have to admit that I couldn’t stop playing with it. Now, since this is still just a concept device, TCL didn’t share the resolution of the AMOLED panel or what internals would be used to power the phone.

The second flexible display device TCL showed off was a trifold smartphone with a 6.65-inch display that unfolds into a massive 3K 10-inch tablet. Let’s be clear, this device is truly massive when folded up, but the expansive canvas makes it all worth it once it’s unfolded to its full-size.

To pull off this design, TCL is using both its patented dragon hinge and butterfly hinge since the flexible display folds both ways. There’s obviously a bit more work to be done before a device like this will be ready for consumers. In its current form, it’s obnoxiously thick and TCL needs to find a way to shore up the rigidity of the hinges when using it in tablet mode.

While at 10-inches, this device would work like any other Android tablet, TCL is also envisioning additional UI and multitasking tweaks to take advantage of the extra space.

Unfortunately, TCL doesn’t have full specs, price points or even tentative release dates for either the tri-fold smartphone or the extendable rollable concept. The company originally was hoping to bring its first foldable smartphone to market in 2020, but it now looks like that timeframe has been moved back until sometime next year.

That’s certainly disappointing if you’re been waiting for some alternatives to what Samsung, Motorola and Huawei have delivered, but the concepts TCL is working show that we still have a long way to go before we’ve exhausted the new design paradigms that flexible display panels will allow for.

Nick Gray
I'm a life-long tech enthusiast who has a soft spot for HTC. After writing about tech for more than a decade, I jumped at the opportunity to take on the role of Editor in Chief at Phandroid. Please contact me at [email protected].

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