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Motorola rizr rollable phone concept hands-on: They see me rollin'
While foldable screens are slowly becoming more mainstream, rollable flexible displays are still in their emerging phase. The idea is simple: You take a flexible display panel and instead of just folding it on itself, you use its flexibility to roll it — often hiding it away from view. That’s the idea behind Motorola’s rizr rollable phone concept, which was briefly teased back in October.
At MWC 2023, we were able to get our hands on a working prototype of the Motorola rizr rollable phone and let’s just say that it’s too cool. Rollables are more practical than foldable phones in most situations. The phone keeps its original size and form factor, and is usable as is. But when you need more screen estate, you can get an on-demand larger display that momentarily rolls out, then neatly tucks away when you’re done.
Motorola rizr rollable phone concept: Growing taller
Motorola opted for a smaller form factor for its rizr rollable. In its compact state, the phone sports a 5-inch 15:9 POLED display supplied by BOE Display. It’s tiny compared to the modern 6-inch-and-above flagships we’re used to, but as the razr series and Samsung Flip series showed us, there’s a lot of demand for smaller and more pocketable phones.
The display wraps all the way around the bottom of the rizr and comes up from the back, covering about a third of the rear side. Just double-tap the power button on the side and the motorized system snaps into action, rolling the display up and up, until most of the rear panel part has made its way to the front of the phone. This takes around three seconds and extends the display to a 22:9 6.5-inch size. The Android interface adjusts: Apps stretch vertically, while icons are re-aligned on the home screen for faster access. Motorola is also making special wallpapers that automatically adapt to this metamorphosis.
Apps stretch and adjust as the phone unrolls from it's 5-inch compact state.
In the taller configuration, the Motorola rizr rollable phone looks and feels much more like the flagships we’ve become accustomed to. And that’s where the similarities — and differences — with the razr and other clamshell foldables become apparent. The tall, user-friendly display is there, but it’s not hidden inside a largely unusable shell most of the time. Instead, you still have access to two-thirds of that same display in the default, compact configuration. In fact, the design is more akin to the original Motorola rizr series of sliding phones, hence the name.
Double-tap again and the display rolls back down, hiding away from view. It can also drop down a little further to reveal the front-facing camera and speaker grille. Like any other Motorola phone, this one supports Moto actions, so a double flick of the wrist switches to the selfie lens in the camera app.
The main downside of the rizr is its thickness and weight. Despite the smaller height and width, it’s still pretty thick and weighs in at 210g — more than many larger flagships like the Pixel 7 Pro and Galaxy S23 Ultra. But that seems essential to accommodate the display and its mechanism.
Motorola rollable phone: Hot or not?
A secondary display and a bigger primary display in one
The Motorola rizr rollable phone manages to check several important use cases in one form factor. For one, the display can be set to automatically expand (no double-tap needed) in certain circumstances. Say you’re watching a YouTube video and you turn the phone into landscape mode, then the display starts rolling automatically to give you more screen estate and immerse you in the content. Or if you’re about to type an email, it’ll roll up to let you use Gboard more comfortably, without cramping up the rest of the content on the tiny display.
With the phone facing down and the display unrolled, the wrap-around part starts acting like a secondary back display. It can show notifications and dim down to an all-black always-on display with the date, time, and weather.
The coolest use case is within the camera, though. Any time you take a photo, you can tap a button to activate the back display, which then either shows your subject a preview of their photo or a cute smiley animation. Making babies or kids smile with that should be easy.
The rizr can automatically expand when you need it, and tuck itself away when you don't.
We were curious if Motorola would allow you to take “selfie” photos in this mode — i.e., just launch the camera, flip the phone around, and use the main sensor with the rear display to frame your shot. For now, that doesn’t seem to be feasible (though we figure you could do it by setting a timer or using volume buttons as a shutter), but Motorola said it’s considering adding support for hand gestures to snap a shot.
Motorola rizr rollable phone: A cool concept, a lot of questions
Motorola has a very cool and interesting idea with the rizr rollable phone; unlike other whacky concepts, this one looks cool and seems genuinely useful. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say.
Rollable displays have yet to make it to the mainstream. Besides all the complexities of how a folding screen works, you have to get a tiny, power-efficient, and reliable motorized system to roll them around. For now, the concept Motorola rizr has a 3,000mAh battery, which may be enough for a smaller 5-inch display but would be insufficient in the extended 6.5-inch mode. Not to mention how much the rolling and unrolling mechanism would consume if you extended and shrunk the display multiple times a day.
Ruggedness and durability are other big concerns. Motorola kept its prototype unit encased in a clear plastic case the whole time and this may as well be a necessity with the phone. Without it, the display would be entirely bare on the bottom and back, meaning you couldn’t put it down on a surface without worrying about how many dust particles were on there. Someone as clumsy as me would worry sick about dropping the phone; the mechanism may not be too resilient to floor drops, especially if it falls on the bottom side or corners.
Even with the case on, the top part of the display is relatively exposed when it rolls up. The hard shell protecting the display is only a couple of millimeters thick and I wouldn’t want to know what happens if you dropped the phone with it expanded.
Rollable phones are a great evolution of foldable displays that feels very futuristic.
And if all of that is solved, the biggest question remains: When? Motorola says this rollable concept phone is part of its 312 Labs division, which is looking a couple of years ahead, but we know the technology is nearly there. LG teased a rollable phone in late 2020 and Oppo had the Oppo X concept in mid-2021. Foldable display technology has evolved a lot since then: hinges are sturdier and displays are less prone to breaking. Despite all the complexities of the rolling mechanism, we should surely be getting closer to commercialization now, and not two or three years away?
Just color us impatient. Rollable phones are just a great evolution of foldable displays and they make the best use of space, keeping the main phone compact and user-friendly, without any real compromise on usability, while still offering the option to switch to a larger display when you need it. And that just feels a bit futuristic to us.