Smartphone fans have been waiting for years for a phone with a real foldable display. Their prayers were answered las December, when the Royole FlexPai, the first foldable smartphone, was released. They beat Samsung, LG and Huawei (all of which have been working on their own foldable handsets).
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You can buy this phone right now (although you might want to hold off — more on that later). This may just be the first glimpse of what could become the next biggest trend in smartphone and tablet design and technology.
What is Royole, anyway?
The Royole Corporation (also known as Rouyu) is based in China and has been in development of flexible and foldable displays for years. Indeed, we chatted with Royole CEO Dr. Bill Liu over two years ago on this subject. At that time, we asked him why we haven’t seen phones with foldable displays. Liu said a lot of different materials go into making these products, such as “semiconductors, conductors, insulators, barriers, substrates” and others, and they have to be integrated into a thin display film. Liu added that changing just one of the needed materials might mean others might also have to change to work well together.
Even back in 2016, Liu hinted to us at the form factor for Royoles product.
“What people really want is a way to combine portability and a large-screen video experience into one device. Even if the device itself is rigid, at least it’s portable,” he said.
Let’s take a look at what has been shown and announced about this pretty unique device.
Royole FlexPai – Folded and unfolded
In its flat, unfolded mode, the Royole FlexPai is a 7.8-inch tablet, with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,440. Using Royole’s flexible film technology, the sides of the FlexPai can fold 180 degrees, with each display facing outward. One of them becomes the “primary” display in this mode, with a 16:9 screen ratio, and an 810 x 1,440 resolution. The other display is designated as “secondary” with an 18:9 ratio and a resolution of 720 x 1440. Each side apparently has a display of about 4 inches.
While in its folded mode, the Royole FlexPai actually supports a third display, on the spine of the flexible hinge itself. It has a ratio of 21:6 and a resolution of 390 x 1,440. As indicated in the official renders below, the third display is used for notifications like incoming calls, emails, and texts.
Royole says the FlexPai has been designed so the display can be folded over 200,000 times before it stops working, so it should last several years before it shuts down or needs replacement. Inside, the company says it has the “Qualcomm next-gen Snapdragon 8 series SoC,” rumored to be the Snapdragon 855/8150. This means the FlexPai could be the first commercially available device with that chip inside.
Royole has created a fork of Android 9 Pie, which it calls Water OS, for the FlexPai. In our own hands-on impressions and video for the FlexPai, the experience seemed pretty buggy. Indeed, some apps crashed when we used it, and even the entire device crashed on us as well. Royole claims that the version we got to use was a prototype, and the issues will be fixed before it starts shipping.
This device is also apparently on the heavy side, reportedly weighing 320g — 50 percent more than the weight of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. Even when folded, it’s going to be hard to carry it in your pants pocket. The FlexPai can take incoming calls from each folded side, which indicates it may be a dual SIM device. It also has 20MP and 16MP cameras on each side, and because the sides of the tablet can be folded, the sensors can take pictures from angles not available from normal flat phones.
Royole may have been the first to release a foldable smartphone, but they definitely won’t be the last. MWC shone the spotlight on multiple manufacturers ready to show off what they will have to offer. Among these are Samsung, Oppo, and Huawei. These are large companies that will surely bring heavy competition to the smaller Chinese phone maker.
We have recently learnt Royole is looking for $1bn in funding. If accomplished, this could give Yoyole the boost it needs to go against the big guys.
Where can I buy the Royole FlexPai, and how much does it cost?
Officially, the company will sell the phone via flash sales in China. Pricing starts at 8,999 yuan (~$1291) for the 6GB/128GB model, 9,998 yuan (~$1434) for the 8GB/256GB version, and 12,999 yuan (~$1864) for the 8GB/512GB variant.
In addition, as we mentioned earlier, the company is selling a version of the FlexPai worldwide on its main site as a “developer edition.” It’s priced at $1,318 for the 6GB/128GB version, and at $1,460 for the 8GB/256GB edition.
Is it a real device, or just a stunt?
Believe it or not, this seems like both a real device and a stunt to us. There’s little doubt Royole will release the FlexPai. Based on our hands-on demo, this foldable phone is very much a first-generation product. In fact, it sounds like more like a prototype the company decided to sell, just to get a jump on Samsung, LG, and Huawei — and lay claim to launching the world’s first foldable smartphone.
It will be interesting to see if Royale can keep its late December launch date, especially since it claims that FlexPai will have Qualcomm’s next-gen flagship processor. Usually, Qualcomm gives that honor to Samsung for its newest Galaxy smartphone, which isn’t expected until early 2019.
That’s all we know about the Royole FlexPai at the moment. What do you think? Is this the future of smartphones, or just a stunt to get ahead of the big boys? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!