The world’s first rollable screen phone makes the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip look boring

TCL rollable phone
(Image credit: TCL)

Foldable phones are off to a shaky start, but TCL’s new rollable phone concept delivers a lot of the same benefits as foldables with less trade-offs. In fact, it makes a flip phone like the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip look almost pedestrian.

Imagine a phone with a 6.75-inch display that extends to 7.8 inches (about iPad mini size) with the press of a button. That’s the idea behind TCL’s concept.

TCL rollable phone concept

Leveraging flexible AMOLED display technology, the world’s first rollable extendable smartphone concept is 9mm thick. Compare that to the Galaxy Z Flip, which is a slim 7mm when open but a thick 17.2mm when closed.

TClL rollable phone concept

(Image credit: Future)

TCL also says that this rollable phone doesn’t suffer from the wrinkles or creases that can compromise the aesthetic appeal of foldable phones. 

TCL rollable phone concept

(Image credit: Future)

How does it work? There’s a motor-driven sliding panel that conceals the flexible display, similar to how LG’s OLED TV R9 works. Unfortunately, TCL did not have a working sample for our demo, only a dummy unit. But at least I could get a feel for how the display would slide back and forth.

For this concept phone, the camera array is located on the back right side, which is basically the spine of the device. So the cameras would be ready to go in both phone and tablet mode.

TCL rollable phone

(Image credit: Future)

Because it’s so early on in the development process, you might wind up extending and retracting the display with a gesture as opposed to a button — if TCL decides to put this phone into production.

TCL Tri-Fold concept phone

TCL tri fold concept phone

(Image credit: Future)

I also got to play with TCL's tri-fold concept phone, which the company has shown off before. 

This was a working prototype that uses two different hinges — and DragonHinge and ButterflyHinge — to transform from a 6.7-inch phone to a 10-inch tablet with 3K display resolution.

It was pretty cool unfolding and folding this device, but it is very thick when the tri-fold design is closed up and quite heavy. Still, I could see the use case for those power users who are serious about multitasking and running multiple apps on the screen at once.

TCL Tri-Fold phone concept back

(Image credit: Future)

TCL had a demo video that played on the tri-fold concept to show off some of the possibilities, including video conferencing with multiple people at the same time and editing video in one window while you run another app in a separate window.

I’m not sold on the dual-hinge concept yet, as. I’d like to see something sleeker. But this is just a concept.

TCL concept phones: Bottom line

Of the two TCL concept phones, I’m a bigger fan of the rollable concept. It gives you a big screen when you want it without the foldable phone crease. However, I really have to wonder how long the motor would last, and TCL says it’s still figuring out the right speed for extending and retracting the display.

Overall, TCL is a company much better known for its TVs than its phones, especially since it has relied on other brand names it owns like Alcatel, Palm and BlackBerry (RIP). But concepts like this could put TCL on the map as it tries to gain a foothold with other phones that have the TCL name.

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.