TCL’s Foldable Phone, Coming in 2020, Looks Pretty Damn Cool

BARCELONA — Samsung ushered in the year of foldable smartphones with its 7.3-inch Galaxy Fold followed by Huawei's Mate X, and we expect to see plenty of copycats as the year unfolds (...get it?). TCL gave us a sneak peek of its foldable display tech at Mobile World Congress, and while the company says you won’t see a foldable phone with the TCL brand (or Alcatel, or BlackBerry label) this year, 2020 has endless possibilities in store.

TCL's foldable protoype uses a multi-hinge design for more flexibility.

TCL's foldable protoype uses a multi-hinge design for more flexibility.

Foldable phones around the bend

TCL isn’t making a foldable phone — yet. Instead, the company is hanging back to see what happens with products from rival companies, including Samsung’s $1,980 Fold. If people embrace the cutting-edge (and extremely expensive) phones, TCL is ready to hit the ground running.

MORE: Why the Galaxy Fold Will Be a Huge Success Even at $2,000

I saw TCL’s foldable technology in a variety of prototypes, including a clamshell flip phone — think Motorola Razr, but all screen when you open it — and a Galaxy Fold-esque phablet. The reference designs, which were pretty impressive, are made possible by TCL’s DragonHinge technology, so named because the multi-hinge looks like a dragon’s scales. TCL says the design makes its flexible display more, well, flexible.

One prototype envisioned a flip phone style with a massive display.

One prototype envisioned a flip phone style with a massive display.

For instance, a clamshell phone could fold inward, but it could also fold outward. The hinge design could make its way to all of TCL’s future foldables, even wearables. A concept design sketch I saw from TCL envisioned a smartwatch that snapped around the wrist, but then straightened to a flat smartphone shape for a multi-functional device.

None of these products are even close to coming to market, which means we also don’t know how much they’ll cost. TCL doesn’t play in the $2,000 range when it comes to smartphone pricing, so we highly doubt any foldable TCL device will cost as much as Samsung’s Fold. TCL is waiting for prices to drop and become more reasonable for regular folks, which is why the company is waiting for 2020 to announce an actual foldable product.

Will TCL win by sitting this round out and fine-tuning its technology for next year? Based on the prototypes we saw at MWC, it’s clear that the company isn’t messing around. Refining this technology will be the key to bringing it to the masses.

Budget lineup grows

As it prepares for a foldable future, TCL’s present is budget phones: specifically, a new lineup of Alcatel devices that offer big displays at small prices.

From left to right: The Alcatel 3, 3L and 1S.

From left to right: The Alcatel 3, 3L and 1S.

The 5.5-inch Alcatel 1S is the only device that ships with Android 9 Pie out of the box, which makes it feel fresher, but it sports thicker bezels than its larger siblings, the 3 and 3L. The 5.9-inch 3 and 3L offer dual-lens cameras, fingerprint sensors, facial recognition and 19:5:9 HD+ displays. The two devices look similar, with teardrop notches and a thicker chin, but the 3 offers more storage (up to 64GB), more RAM (4GB) and has a more noticeable gradient design (blue to purple and black to blue).

It’s unclear if the Alcatel 1S, 3 or 3L will make it to the States, but European buyers will be able to snatch them up in the second quarter of this year. The 1S will start at 109 euros, the 3L at 139 euros and the 3 at 159 euros.

Credits: Tom's Guide

Caitlin is a Senior editor for Gizmodo. She has also worked on Tom's Guide, Macworld, PCWorld and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. When she's not testing out the latest devices, you can find her running around the streets of Los Angeles, putting in morning miles or searching for the best tacos.