The first foldable phone beats Samsung to the punch

Samsung, LG and Huawei are all predicted to launch foldable phones soon, but you can preorder the Royole FlexPai right now.

The phone features a bendable 7.8-inch AMOLED screen that's made out of flexible plastic and has a 1,440-pixel resolution.
The phone features a bendable 7.8-inch AMOLED screen that's made out of flexible plastic and has a 1,440-pixel resolution.

Cloaked in dark shadows, Samsung demoed its foldable phone prototype during its developer conference on Wednesday.

But a small startup headquartered in Fremont, California has already beat Samsung to the punch. The Royole FlexPai, which debuted in Beijing in October, is a phone-tablet hybrid that features a flexible screen. Already available for developers in China, the FlexPai will be consumer-ready by December through the Chinese carrier China Mobile.

In the US and UK, you can preorder a developer’s model, which ships out in December as well. The FlexPai costs $1,318 (£1,209) for the 6GB of RAM/128GB variant and $1,469 (£1,349) for the 8GB of RAM/256GB version. (Australian pricing wasn’t released, but that converts to about AU$2,180 and AU$2,440, respectively.)

The phone features a bendable 7.8-inch AMOLED screen that’s made out of flexible plastic and has a 1440p resolution. Running along the back of the FlexPai is a hinge, where you can bend the device in half as if you’re closing a book.

You can leave it bent and propped up, or close it altogether, wherein it’ll snap together with embedded magnets. When it’s closed, it functions as any standard phone would, and depending on what side of the screen you hold it by, you can navigate on a screen with either a 16:8 or 16:9 aspect ratio.

The FlexPai runs an OS called Water and it’s layered on top of Google Android 9.0. Whichever way you choose to hold or bend the device, the screen adjusts to the many different orientations and viewing options.

During my brief time with it, the FlexPai’s screen appeared vibrant and colorful, and the hinge and enclosing mechanism felt sturdy. But the device still needs work. Aesthetically, it still looks like a prototype rather than a refined and polished product. As a double-sided phone, the FlexPai is quite squarish and thick, making it hard to hold. (Although it’s slim when flattened out as a tablet.)

The screen was also buggy while switching orientations, and it was hard swiping and tapping through different home screens without the FlexPai registering all my unintentional touches from the different sides of the screen as I was holding it. More

Caption: Photo: Angela Lang/CNET