A relatively small Chinese OEM releasing a smartphone is hardly news in 2019, but Royole’s FlexPai is the exception, because it is the world’s first commercially available true foldable phone, beating the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X to the market.
The FlexPai had actually garnered an early round of media coverage seven months ago, when the Shenzhen-headquartered company showed off a prototype model at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. But the coverage was almost universally negative, citing unreliable software and clunky hardware.
Well, I’ve tested a final retail unit for the past week, and I can say that the software has been drastically improved. The hardware’s still a bit unwieldy, but the FlexPai is better than I would have expected considering all the negative press.
Hardware: one super impressive part, the rest average
The Royole FlexPai is, at its core, a small tablet with a 7.8-inch screen that can fold in half—the latter feature makes it a unique and arguably the only reason for existence. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Fold, whose screen folds towards the user and closes like a book, the FlexPai’s screen folds backwards away from the user, so the screen effectively wraps around both the front and back of the device when it’s in folded “sandwich” mode.
The reason the screen is able to bend without damage is because it’s crafted out of plastic instead of glass. This plastic OLED display panel with extra flexibility is a recent development and as is the case with all gen one versions of cutting-edge tech, there are compromises.
The first is that the texture of the screen feels blotchy and slightly rough compared to the smooth, clean feeling of glass. Another hardware limitation that will probably be solved in future generations is that the screens can’t quite truly fold entirely flat onto one another. At the folding point-hinge, there is a sizable gap on the Royole FlexPai. Samsung and Huawei managed to make their gaps smaller, but the gap is still there.
Still, even with the shortcomings and the fact that I’ve seen the FlexPai in action on screen for months, I still felt a genuine sense of marvel the first time I folded the display myself. This is tech that gadget geeks such as myself have been dreaming of for years.
The FlexPai’s 7.8-inch screen in unfolded tablet form. BEN SIN
The hinge area is covered by this Kevlar-like fabric. BEN SIN
The folding action requires a bit of force, as the hinge-folding point is quite sturdy and firm—this is a good thing, by the way. And after over 100 folds over the past few days, the hinge on my unit is still sturdy.
The main casing of the phone is plastic, which feels cheap, and the hinge area behind the screen is covered by this tacky kevlar-like fabric. Still, I’d rather a weird-looking hinge than one that breaks after a couple of days of use.
There’s a dual-camera array that serves as both main and selfie camera, but they produce mediocre photos (more on this later). More