We've seen folding phones come to the fore in recent times, with their fair share of pain points. From the non-launch of the Huawei Mate X (the Mate Xs is still coming, though), to the rusty launch of the Samsung Galaxy Fold (which, we thought, turned out to be a great phone when it arrived in its revamped form), to the nostalgic excitement of the Moto Razr (although, as initial reviews have pointed out, this device has its share of problems).
TCL has also been in on the action, too, showing off its foldable concepts. But those aren't actually not the most interesting idea that the company is exploring. That falls to its 'rollable phone', which we got to see behind closed doors in London, following the cancellation of Mobile World Congress 2020. So what's this device all about?
First thing's first: at this stage this is a mock-up device only, it's not operational, its mechanisms aren't in place, so you're looking at a rough physical visualisation of what may be possible.
TCL's idea with the rollable is to eliminate the issue with folding screens and their inherent creases. By wrapping the full extent of the OLED screen around and within the body, the press of a button can trigger a mechanism to robotically extend the phone and reveal the full screen beneath. It's an idea that would be much easier to use than the hassle of unfolding a device.
That said, as you can see from our pictures, having a screen slide across an opening can't negate the presence of grit and grime, which when caught in the sideways sliding motion could cause horizontal scratches. How will TCL overcome that issue? Perhaps a lint-grabbing soft edge to help mitigate unwanted nasties from getting in the way, although the practicalities of this might be questionable.
In principle we think the idea of a rollable is more elegant than a foldable, as the rollable phone can be used as a 'normal'-sized device at all times. Then, at the press of a button, it could expand into a tablet-like experience, without the need for added bulk or a hinge in the design.
Perhaps we're looking at the future progression of phones, a step beyond the foldable. Or, perhaps, we're looking at an idea that might not make it beyond the ideas stage. Time will tell...