Hands-on with TCL's foldables at MWC 2022
The annual Mobile World Congress trade show — MWC for short — is always full of fascinating devices and big announcements. While TCL just announced a slew of devices coming to market soon, including the TCL 30 series and TCL NXTPAPER tablets, the company also showed off some more foldable concept devices at a separate hands-on event.
Two years ago, we had the chance to go hands-on with a few TCL foldables that never made it to market but were interesting concepts, nonetheless. Since then, TCL had almost released its 'Chicago' foldable phone to compete with the Galaxy Z Flip line from Samsung but decided to shelve it until the price was low enough to compete.
This year, Michael Fisher (aka Mr. Mobile) was able to get some hands-on time with TCL's latest foldable concepts for Android Central and came back with a few thoughts on how the first consumer-ready TCL foldable could shape up.
TCL Ultra Flex
The first TCL device is the 360-degree Ultra Flex, which uses an accordion-like hinge that appears similar to the world's first folding phone, the Royole Flexpai. While it's not the most attractive hinge we've ever seen, its less-than-dashing looks give way to a unique functional trait: it can fold both ways.
Yes, instead of just folding inward like a Galaxy Z Fold phone, the TCL Ultra Flex can bend a full 180-degrees inward or outward. That makes the 8-inch PLP AMOLED screen perfect for reading like a book or folding back on itself like a magazine, as Fisher pointed out.
That's particularly cool because it means that, when folded inward, the device's large screen is completely protected by the outer shell. Conversely, when it's folded back onto itself, that display wraps around almost the entirety of the device.
You can see in the images below how that works in practice. The hinge is uniquely designed to support the display and glass structure without breaking it, which means this phone is a little more flexible than your average foldable.
Additionally, TCL built active stylus support into the Ultra Flex, which could make it a proper Galaxy Z Fold competitor if it ever actually comes to market.
TCL Fold n Roll
Like the Ultra Flex, the Fold n Roll is a little rough around the edges, but the concept is incredibly solid, nonetheless. This one looks like a hybrid of two foldable concept devices TCL showed off back in 2020, with a single hinge that makes the device fold into itself and initially feels similar to a Galaxy Z Fold.
But that similarity quickly disappears when you tap a button on the side, which then rolls out another display that was hidden inside the right-half of the phone. That is, of course, when the rolling portion works properly. At the hands-on, Fisher said this mechanism was a bit finicky and would only operate part of the time.
When it does work as expected, however, the Fold n Roll is a brilliant concept that shows just how useful a foldable can be. This one packs a literal tablet-sized 8.8-inch display into a 7-inch book-style clamshell that, again, is very reminiscent of a Galaxy Z Fold when closed.
This one doesn't have the same active stylus support as the Ultra Flex above but could prove to be a better phone/tablet hybrid for people who aren't as interested in stylus support. That extendable display also wraps around the outside edge of the phone, giving the term "edge display" a whole new meaning.
Now, this particular design exhibits more noticeable display creases than the Ultra Flex because of the way the hinge operates. It's also a lot less polished-looking around the back, especially when the extended section is rolled out.
Keep in mind, though, that this is a concept device that will not make it to market in its current form but could be used to build a proper consumer-ready device at some point in the future.
Will we ever get a foldable TCL phone?
While we've seen foldable phones from TCL before, this year's devices were both the most complex and the least reliable. At the very least, we know TCL continues to work on its foldable concepts and is dedicated to delivering a foldable device that not only looks good but is easy on your wallet.
After all, TCL makes some of the best budget Android phones, and its 'Chicago' foldable phone was never released because of difficulties in making it affordable enough, despite the fact that the phone looked quite beautiful.
For now, we'll just have to use TCL's latest devices and dream of a day when they can actually fold in on themselves.
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