TCL unveils trifold and rollable phone concepts (but don’t expect them in stores anytime soon)

Even with the launch of Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip and the Motorola Razr, TCL is still taking its sweet time to launch its own foldable phone. 

With Mobile World Congress cancelled, TCL brought some new concept phones to show us during a private demo in New York City. And, they’re … interesting.

In addition to the clamshell prototype we saw at CES back in January, the company showed off a prototype with a rollable display and a trifold that expands into a tablet.

In case you don’t remember that clamshell phone, I’ll give you a little refresher. 

The outside of the phone has a super unique prism design that, as I mention in my hands-on, paired with its metallic green color reminds me of a mermaid. 

On the back, you’ll find four cameras and an LED flash. There’s no external display, which definitely feels a little strange. It also means that you have to constantly unfold the phone to see if you’ve received any notifications.

I am very obsessed with this green prism design.

I am very obsessed with this green prism design.

Image: zlata ivleva/mashable

There is, unfortunately, a visible crease.

There is, unfortunately, a visible crease.

Image: zlata ivleva/mashable

On the inside is a 7.2-inch flexible display that’s larger than the Z Flip’s 6.8-inch display and the Razr’s 6.2-inch display. Such a large panel certainly makes it nice to stream shows on or even multitask with different apps.

But there’s no selfie camera at the top, which also makes the design feel a bit off.

Given the fact that I’ve been looking at clamshell foldable phones for like, a month now, I was far more intrigued by the rollable design. 

While at first glance, it looks like a standard touchscreen smartphone, the display literally rolls underneath itself. Built into the device is a small pushrod motor that, when triggered by gesture controls like swiping up with your thumbs, pushes the display out.

I can get down with the rollable display.

I can get down with the rollable display.

Image: zlata ivleva/mashable

The 6.7-inch display then expands into a 7.8-inch panel that can be used as a tablet. At 9mm, it’s also really thin even with the 5,000mAh battery packed inside.

Unfortunately, the prototype wasn’t actually a working model. So, I had to manually fold and unfold it to get an idea of how it expands and collapses.

Regardless, the idea certainly solves a pain point I have with clamshell phones. Even with an external display, I constantly found myself leaving the Z Flip and the Razr open on my desk because I’m just used to having a display readily available to swipe through.

This concept adapts to how most of us have been conditioned to use smartphones over the last decade or so. 

But TCL says it still has some issues to figure out, like the durability of the motor and keeping dust and dirt out from constantly rolling and unrolling the display.

Meanwhile, the trifold concept was definitely by far the weirdest. But that’s probably because it still has a long way to go.

Not one, but two hinges on this bad boy.

Not one, but two hinges on this bad boy.

Image: zlata ivleva/mashable

This prototype has two hinges that sort of folds accordion style. When you unfold it completely, it turns into a 10-inch display that can be used as a tablet. If you want to make the display smaller, you can fold one of the hinges back over.

When you fold the entire thing back up, you’ll have a display on the front and rear cameras on the back. But it’s really, really thick. It basically looks like three phones stacked on top of one another.

The display on the trifold concept gives me Galaxy Fold vibes.

The display on the trifold concept gives me Galaxy Fold vibes.

Image: zlata ivleva/mashable

Literally looks like you stacked three phones.

Literally looks like you stacked three phones.

Image: zlata ivleva/mashable

It’s also really heavy, seeing as how the battery is distributed throughout all three parts of the phone. 

But in addition to a tablet and phone, TCL sees people possibly using it as a foldable laptop. Which reminded me of Lenovo’s ThinkBook X1-Fold— a laptop with a 13.3-inch foldable display. Even though I like Lenovo’s design way better, the concept model is a lot more compact.

Again though, these are all prototypes so it’s highly likely they’re all going change over time. TCL says it continues to test its concepts via focus groups, in an effort to gain insight on what it is people like and don’t like about certain designs.  You know, rather than using its consumers as beta testers. 

The company also made it clear that when it does release a foldable phone, it’s going to be part of a lineup rather than a singular device. 

Which probably explains why there are so many concept designs, too.

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