We had the chance to discover the Royole FlexPai. As a reminder, this is one of the first smartphones with foldable screen marketed.
The FlexPai is not a smartphone like any other, and we realize it right away. Once unfolded, the device offers a 7.8-inch x1740-pixel, 7.8-inch diagonal AMOLED screen, a small tablet of sorts. When you fold it, the FlexPai suddenly offers two screens – one with a 16: 9 aspect ratio, and the other with an 18: 9 aspect ratio.
At CES 2019, Royole demonstrated a few cases of using a dual-screen device. For example, when taking a picture of a person, you can view the viewfinder at the front and back, allowing the subject to see each other while shooting. Moreover, it is not necessary to use the second screen when folded. The FlexPai can automatically detect the screen you are using, it will automatically turn off the other one.
You can also tuck the FlexPai into your close jeans, which is rather surprising when you remember it's a tablet.
From a software point of view, it works relatively well. The icons move from one screen to another when you bend the device, with a very natural movement. Royole was forced to design a fork of Android named Water OS, because Android applications were never designed to work on this type of screen. But, it is temporary: Android will natively support folding screens, Google has already announced.
Solidity seems to be at the rendezvous, ergonomics not really
The AMOLED screen is made of plastic, not glass. It can, according to Royole, be folded 200 000 times before being damaged. So you can fold it 100 times a day for five years before you start to notice significant wear.
I still noticed air bubbles under the articulated part of the screen, and the sensitivity to touch was not as good as a traditional screen. A priori, it is still a prototype and these problems should not be present on the final version according to the Chinese manufacturer.
I also found that the screen was relatively hot, while one of the features of the AMOLED is precisely to heat quite little compared to an LCD. Finally, the angle of inclination at the hinge was more open than I thought, so the screen can not be fully folded like a sheet of paper. It is this famous hinge that creates an empty space between the two sides of the phone, which not only makes the device thicker, but it also complicates its handling.
Preview of what you will see on FrAndroid: Royole's smartphone tablet. FlexPai integrated a flexible screen and we confirm you: it works! # CES2019 pic.twitter.com/PAS97plMVa
– FrAndroid ?⌚️??? (@twandroid) January 8, 2019
The thickness and overall feel of the smartphone will need to be corrected in the future, and I hope that Samsung has solutions for that on its next foldable smartphone. As a reminder, Samsung unveiled its first viable prototype foldable smartphone last December.
In any case, taking charge of the FlexPai was an interesting experience, but I am not interested in this device.
Sold at 8,999 Yuan (1,250 euros) for the model with 6 GB of RAM + 128 GB up to 12,999 Yuan (1,820 euros) for the model of 8 GB of RAM + 512 GB … even in the era of smartphones over 1000 euros, it is much too expensive for a smartphone that has not yet proven that it worked properly or that we have not found a real usefulness.