TCL knows displays, so it's no surprise that its newest foldable phone concept is solid. In fact, the device was so solid that it looked like it could hit stores in the coming weeks (minus a software glitch that triggers the phone's flashlight at inopportune times — I'm still slightly blind in my left eye).
The teal holographic finish and 7.2-inch AMOLED (2048 x 1536) panel were beautiful, and felt almost completely finished.
But the company says its latest prototype is one of 30 to 40 different designs it has developed, and might not be the form factor it settles on when its foldable debuts sometime this year. In fact, TCL's foldable might not looking anything like this. If Motorola's Razr reboot sells well, the company could ditch the wallet-sized prototype I saw at CES and take the flip phone approach.
This isn't the first foldable concept we've seen from TCL. At last year's Mobile World Congress, the company showed off a Galaxy Fold-like phablet and a Razr-style clamshell behind glass. In October, TCL previewed a truly wild tri-folding phone. But none of those prototypes were at the stage of completion that its latest one is, which is why I was surprised when TCL Chief Marketing Officer Stefan Streit said this phone might not be the one we see in stores this year.
The response to the Razr, the launch of which was recently delayed to due to overwhelming demand, could spur smartphone markers like TCL to change gears.
“Razr has helped to bring the conversation in a different direction," Streit said. "Before, we felt consumers weren’t sure if they needed a regular smartphone that expanded into a bigger screen.”
Now it seems like people desire a smaller, more pocketable device that opens into a regular-sized smartphone.
The prototype TCL showcased at CES is larger than the Razr, and lacks an external notification screen. Streit said the particular device I got to use had been opened and closed more than 200,000 times. The foldable creaked when opened, but otherwise still felt solid, with no visible creases. It opens completely flat and closes without any gaps. Streit also said the display shifts at both ends when closed, but that was imperceptible to my eye.
The company notably used a butterfly hinge in the prototype I saw, instead of the scaled DragonHinge technology we saw in earlier concepts.
Before TCL commits to a foldable design, the company plans to release a trio of regular smartphones in the U.S. If all goes well, and other foldables find an audience, we'll see a foldable TCL phone sometime this year. We just have no idea which one it will be.
Be sure to check out our CES 2020 hub for the latest announcements and hands-on impressions from Las Vegas.