While Samsung has been teasing its foldable phone ambitions for years, it could be beaten to the bunch by a vastly smaller tech firm, Royole. The Royole Flexpai was unveiled in China on Halloween and is, according to the company, the world’s first commercial foldable smartphone. Its flexible 7.8-inch AMOLED display can be used as a single tablet-sized screen running at 1920 x 1440, or be folded (not quite flat) into three separate screens: a 16:9 primary display, a 21:6 edge display and an 18:9 secondary display. The idea here is that you can rapidly change from one mode to the other, giving you unparalleled flexibility - and the unique ability to fit a 7.8-inch tablet into your front pocket.
In terms of specifications, the Royole FlexPai is impressive - it is powered by a Snapdragon 8150 octa-core processor running at 2.8GHz, backed with 6 or 8GB of RAM and 128GB or 256GB of storage. There are also two cameras, USB-C charging, dual SIM support, a fingerprint reader and a 3800mAH battery. Unfortunately, there might not be many apps to use on the device, as it reportedly uses its own ‘Water OS’ which may not have access to the Google Play app store.
The camera setup is also unique, with dual cameras on the front of the device while unfolded and on the back when folded. There’s a 20-megapixel telephoto shooter and a 16-megapixel wide angle camera. Royole note that the bending display can allow you to take photos from some unique angles, with both sides of the screen able to serve as a viewfinder.
A developer model of the Royole FlexPai is currently available on pre-order for a princely sum: £1209 for a 128GB model or £1349 for a 256GB model. That makes it more expensive than even the high-end 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which starts at £969. However, for a bleeding-edge folding smartphone that could potentially take the place of two separate devices, it’s perhaps not an unreasonable price to pay.
It will be interesting to see if any of these developer units are reviewed by their owners once they start to arrive in late December this year. It seems likely that the novel form factor will result in some compromises, but we might get a better idea of whether foldable phones are an inevitable evolution of current-gen smartphones, or a passing fad like 4D holographic displays. With Samsung, Huawei and LG all reportedly working on foldable smartphones - and Samsung set to reveal its efforts on November 7th - I guess we’ll find out soon enough!
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