TCL has unveiled two radical new takes on the foldable phone form factor. In October last year, TCL released a prototype for a crazy triple folding phone. Back then it was in the preliminary stages. The tri-folding phone boded a “Dragon Hinge“, allowing it to bend in multiple directions.
TCL actually showed off the trifold tablet / phone at CES, but it wasn’t functional then. Then, in March of the current year, many had a chance to get our hands on the wacky phone-tablet hybrid. While it remained very much a prototype, the company is making some progress and now has a functioning device.
What makes the new models so interesting?
One of them is a tri-fold phone-tablet hybrid that folds twice like the letter Z. The first fold bends inwards like the Galaxy Fold, while the remaining portion bends outwards along the crease akin to the Huawei Mate X.
— Mashable (@mashable) March 5, 2020
The second concept device showcased by TCL looks like a regular phone, but it conceals a rollable mechanism that hides the remaining portion of the display which can be pulled out via a motorised mechanism to turn it into a tablet. Notably, TCL says that the rollable display mechanism eliminates the crease altogether, something foldable phone users keep complaining about.
TCL’s tri-fold phone/tablet
Fully unfolded, TCL’s tri-fold has a 10-inch screen — bigger than a full-size 9.7-inch iPad. You can start watching a video on the smaller, regular screen, then pop it out to the more enjoyable tablet mode without carrying around a second device. Open the calendar app on “phone” mode and see your day’s schedule; expand it to tablet to see your whole month view.
Even the halfway “two-screen” mode is interesting: it feels perfect for reading an ebook on two pages and can be easily propped up using the “third” screen as a stand. Unlike the Galaxy Fold or the Huawei Mate X, the trifold is arguably the first model that highlights the initial promise of a foldable device: it turns a phone into a tablet, not just a wider phone.
— Harold Gardner (@haroldlgardner) October 29, 2019
Is this really a good idea?
As one can imagine, folding all three layers down makes it incredibly thick. Unsurprisingly, it feels as if you had three phones stacked on top of each other. Running on Android, TCL’s tri-fold adjusts to each screen opening and closing. However, it shows a lag when switching modes – although, concept devices often perform in this manner. It’s clearly not yet ready to compete with the Samsung Galaxy Fold or Huawei Mate XS.
Moreover, there’s still the major issues that have plagued every foldable device: durability and price. Even for a prototype unit, the tri-fold felt really fragile to use, and adding a second hinge means that there’s now twice as many points for potential failure. There’s also the question of price: if current foldable phones are already crossing the $1,500 mark, just imagine how much a trifold phone might cost.
TCL is testing a school of new concepts
The world best knows TCL for its affordable and excellent TVs. Stefan Streit, TCL’s general manager of global marketing, said in an interview that the still-unnamed device is one of three dozen prototypes that TCL is experimenting with as the company looks to enter the global phone market with its own brand.
Other concepts include a clamshell device that the company demoed at CES in January and a new slideable with a rollable AMOLED display that uses a motor to extend its 6.75-inch screen to one that is 7.8 inches. Streit says the company has been working with Google to optimize Android for its many foldables.
Neither of these devices are meant to be actual products at this point. TCL isn’t saying when — or even if — you’ll be able to buy either of these phones. Nor is it clear that even if TCL does make foldable products down the line, they’ll look anything like these prototypes.
It will, however, be interesting to see something other than a black box with a touchscreen for a phone in the future. Streit also said that a foldable device of some kind from the company will arrive in the first half of 2021. Enthusiasts await this release in anticipation of groundbreaking tech.