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TCL Nxtpaper Phone Concept hands-on: I'm in love

Imagine an Amazon Kindle mashed with a OnePlus One and a Pixel 5. Yeah, I'd buy that.

Published onJanuary 4, 2023

You probably hear it all the time: smartphones all look the same these days. We’ve gotten to the point where phones are almost interchangeable, with most sharing similar parts, designs, and features. Not all is lost, though, because an unlikely company could shake things up a bit.

At CES 2023, TCL showed off a concept device: the TCL Nxtpaper Phone. Since this is just a concept, TCL has no intentions of selling it. Instead, the company is showing it to the press at CES to gauge interest and see whether or not this is something consumers could get excited about.

Well, I’m pretty excited about it. In fact, if this phone were available to take home, I would have done so!

TCL Nxtpaper Phone Concept: What is it?

TCL Nxtpaper Phone Concept 1
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

The standout feature of the TCL Nxtpaper Phone Concept is its display. TCL brought the Nxtpaper display from its line of tablets to the Nxtpaper Phone.

For those unfamiliar with Nxtpaper tablets, they are tablets with matte displays which give them a paper-like feel, similar to an Amazon Kindle. TCL’s first Nxtpaper tablet had no backlight, making it only truly useful in well-lit scenarios. The second generation had a backlight, giving it more usability. At CES this year, the company launched two Nxtpaper tablets: an Android model and a Windows-on-Arm model. These new tablets have brighter, crisper displays than previous generations.

TCL essentially put the matte display of a Kindle into a smartphone.

Why would you want a matte display? For one, light glare and fingerprints are almost non-existent with this type of display. TCL also adds in various layers of filters over the display, reducing harmful blue light and making the screen easier on the eyes.

In addition to the innovative display, the TCL Nxtpaper Phone also has a matte back. Imagine the Sandstone back of the OnePlus One but soft to the touch, kind of like a piece of felt. I can’t overemphasize how nice it was to hold a phone that didn’t have a glass or plastic back!

A matte display? Why not?

TCL Nxtpaper Phone Concept 3
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

During my hands-on time with the TCL Nxtpaper Phone Concept, I immediately fell in love with the matte display. It was soft to the touch and looked great under all lighting conditions.

Most of all, though, it was simply different. Think about it: When was the last time you used a phone that didn’t have a thick piece of shiny glass over the display?

See also: It’s time for phones to embrace fun materials again

You can get a real feel for what the display is like in the picture above. On the left, you have the Nxtpaper Phone, and on the right, you have the Google Pixel 6. Both phones are of a similar size and shape, but the matte display of the Nxtpaper Phone gives it a distinct look and feel. You can also see that the TCL phone doesn’t reflect the ceiling lights and is devoid of fingerprint smudges. It’s almost as if it had a privacy screen protector applied on top, but that’s the default state of the screen.

The Nxtpaper display doesn't catch fingerprints or smudges and doesn't reflect ceiling lights.

The matte covering didn’t affect usage as far as I could tell. Tapping and swiping around the Android operating system was the same experience as with pretty much every other phone I’ve used in the past five years.

Unfortunately, using the phone wasn’t a flawless experience, so TCL would still need to iron out a few kinks.

There are a few hurdles TCL needs to overcome

TCL Nxtpaper Phone Concept 4
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

The biggest problem TCL faces with the Nxtpaper Phone is brightness. Above, you can see how much brighter the Pixel 6 gets when compared to the Nxtpaper Phone. And remember that the Pixel 6 has a very low maximum brightness — the Pixel 7 gets almost 25% as bright. During everyday usage, this wouldn’t be much of an issue, but if you brought the Nxtpaper Phone out on a very sunny day, you would miss the crisp and clear OLED of something like the Pixel 6, to say nothing about the Pixel 7.

Brightness and durability are the two big problems TCL would need to overcome if it wanted to really release this phone.

The other big problem TCL would need to address is durability. There would be no practical way to put a screen protector over the Nxtpaper Phone’s display, for example. Also, TCL can’t go to Corning and get a matte version of Gorilla Glass. Missing out on that would make the display weaker than most other phones on the market.

Outside of these two problems with the display, TCL would also need to make the phone better overall. TCL’s bread and butter is making phones that are cheaper than $300, so it should be unsurprising to hear that the Nxtpaper Phone is no powerhouse (the company did not share specs with us). This strategy wouldn’t work for a phone like this. After all, what would be the point in sacrificing high-end specs just to get one innovative feature?

But these problems don’t really matter — at least not yet. TCL isn’t mass-producing this phone and has no intention of ever doing so. I wish it would, though!

I would buy this, if…

TCL Nxtpaper Phone Concept 2
C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

The TCL Nxtpaper Phone Concept is like someone combined a Kindle with a OnePlus One and then gave it the color scheme of the Google Pixel 5. This is a mash-up I never knew I needed until I had it in my hand.

Holding this concept phone actually got me excited, which is something that doesn’t happen often. It felt great in my hand, it had an innovative feature that made it truly unique when compared to other phones, and that feature actually made the phone better overall, instead of just being different for the sake of being different.

Is the TCL Nxtpaper Phone concept hot or not?

262 votes

If TCL could improve the Nxtpaper Phone’s brightness, give it some beefier durability, and lift its specs sheet out from the budget sector, I would buy this in a heartbeat. I feel like a lot of Android fans would feel the same way if they tried it out.

If nothing else, I hope TCL releases this commercially just to inject some creativity into the market. With LG gone, someone needs to take the big risks that Samsung and Apple are averse to.

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