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TCL Fold and Roll phone hands-on — yes, that's what they're calling it

TCL Fold and Roll smartphone concept unrolled
(Image credit: Future)

The Fold and Roll might sound like a bread kneading technique or 1980s breakdancing move, but it’s actually the playful nickname of a new prototype phone from TCL. Unlike the best foldable phones currently on the market, TCL’s latest concept is outfitted with a mechanism that extends the folded-out display into an even larger phablet.

I had a chance to witness all the smartphone’s rolling and folding in action ahead of MWC 2022. I’d be remiss if I didn’t disclose that the Fold and Roll was rough around the edges, with part of the rolled out display going dark from time-to-time and the phone presenting virtually no functional software features.

Instead, the Fold and Roll I toyed with required a little imagination. But as long as the display was fully lit up with a basic home screen, triggering the roll-out mechanism offered more excitement than I expected. Presenting a form factor other than the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 or clamshell Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3, TCL has devised a way to maximize a smartphone’s screen space while keeping it pocketable. 

Holding TCL Fold and Roll concept smartphone

(Image credit: Future)

Though the phone right now doesn’t have an exterior display like Samsung’s foldables, the un-sandwiched interior display measures roughly 7 inches before the roll show. Then, with the press of a button, the screen unfurls to 8.8 inches from behind the left half of the device. Rolled or unrolled, the 2880 x 2160-pixel display curves entirely over the left-hand edge.

While the Galaxy Z Fold 3 feels more like a very large smartphone in its 7.6-inch unfolded state — the quintessential phablet, if you will — the Fold and Roll treads into true tablet territory with over an inch more screen space unrolled. Again, if the goal is to shove as large a display as possible in your pants pockets, TCL’s new concept is making a break toward the net.

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TCL Fold and Roll smartphone display off

(Image credit: Future)
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Side view of TCL Fold and Roll concept smartphone

(Image credit: Future)
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Rear view of TCL Fold and Roll concept smartphone

(Image credit: Future)
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TCL front folded view fold and roll concept smartphone

(Image credit: Future)

I have a lot of questions about usability, like how I would comfortably hold the phone during a call or introduce a stylus into the experience. I’d also like to know how the company plans to smooth out that crease at the point of unrolling. But since TCL isn’t showing off the Fold and Roll as anything close to a finished product, it has the time to hash out those concerns.

The Fold and Roll is actually one of two TCL concept foldables I checked out. The other is going by the name “360-Degee Ultra Flex,” which is far less catchy than Fold and Roll but an accurate description of the phone’s intended movement. Though the display didn’t work at the time of the demonstration, the phone unfolded 360-degrees, placing displays on both sides of the phone with the help of a rubbery hinge. 

TCL provided an image of what it would like when functional:

TCL 360-degree ultra flex smartphone concept

(Image credit: TCL)

Foldable phones are still in their infancy, so there is bound to be a lot more experimentation by phone companies of all stripes before this segment matures. Want to learn more about what’s happening in the foldable smartphone space? Check out our guide to the best foldable phones, as well as everything we know so far about the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 and the rumored iPhone Flip.

Kate Kozuch is a senior writer at Tom’s Guide covering wearables, TVs and everything smart-home related. When she’s not in cyborg mode, you can find her on an exercise bike or channeling her inner celebrity chef. She and her robot army will rule the world one day, but until then, reach her at kate.kozuch@futurenet.com.