The Royole FlexPai could chart a course forward for the future of smartphones now that the age of the iPhone inspired design may finally be waning.
Not unlike the prototypes that have long been teased by Samsung, the FlexPai’s 7.8-inch screen bends backward via a hinge to fold into a more comfortable design. But the first impressions suggest FlexPai isn’t ready for prime time just yet.
“The FlexPai is real,” Brian Heater said in his hands-on for TechCrunch on Monday. “I can’t speak to the scalability of the product until it actually starts shipping next month, but I can attest to the fact that at least one of the things exists in the world. I held it in my hands. I folded it. It worked.”
The phone, expected to launch in China only for now, comes with the specs you’d expect from a mid-range smartphone. It has an eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 series processor, dual 16-megapixel and 20-megapixel cameras, a 3,800mAh battery and USB-C charging.
A tiered-launch makes sense, as it appears there are still kinks to be worked out. Heater noted that the flexible display looks “almost like cellophane” with “crinkles that catch the light.” He also said the clarity itself also “leaves something to be desired.” This was echoed by other impressions, which described it as a first-generation attempt.
“It should be said that this device is very much a first-generation product,” Nick Statt said in his hands-on for The Verge. “The software seemed extremely sluggish, apps continuously opened accidentally, and the orientation kept changing randomly when one of the Royole representatives was demonstrating the folding process. That, to me, indicates that the company’s custom Water OS (a fork of Android 9.0, Royole says) is probably not the most robust operating system just yet.”
The screen is supposed to have good endurance. Royole claims it can fold and unfold 200,000 times, which means you could perform the move 50 times every day for nearly 55 years. The screen itself is a 1,920 by 1,080 AMOLED screen with 308 pixels per inch. Critics haven’t had time to subject the FlexPai to those kinds of stress tests just yet, though that may prove to be another problem with the phone.
“I couldn’t help but feel nervous when folding and unfolding the FlexPai during my time with it,” Bailey Stein said in his hands-on for Android Authority. “Even when I placed my hands at the center of each side, the amount of force required to get the device to fold all the way down made me worry I might break it. This could be addressed with an improved hinge design in the future.”
Even if they may prove to be something of a fad, expect more foldable smartphone launches in the future. Samsung announced its foldable phone design at a November conference, with Google working on support for foldable screens in a future Android update:
Samsung showed the phone shrouded in darkness, saying that it’s not ready for primetime just yet — and based on hands-on impressions, neither is the FlexPai.
“Is this foldable smartphone ready for consumers?” Christian de Looper said in his hands-on for Digital Trends. “And can a small, unknown company like Royole really take on the likes of Samsung? We had an opportunity to spend some time with the FlexPai, and the answer is a resounding ‘no,’ and ‘no.’ But that doesn’t mean Royole hasn’t delivered something interesting.”
The FlexPai is on pre-order with prices ranging from 8,999 yuan ($1,300) for a phone with 128GB storage and 6GB RAM, up to a 12,999 yuan ($1,870) model with 512GB storage and 8GB RAM. More