Roy­ole Flex­iPai beats big play­ers to mar­ket

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flex­i­ble phones since 2011, and have seen im­pres­sive work­ing pro­to­types from Len­ovo and Sam­sung, but ev­ery­one has been beaten to mar­ket by Roy­ole, with the world’s first com­mer­cial fold­able phone. The com­pany was started in 2012 by en­gi­neer­ing grad­u­ates from Stan­ford, and has be­come a leader in thin and flex­i­ble dis­plays.

The Flex­iPai is a fairly heavy (0.7lb) and chunky de­vice, with one fold in the mid­dle. It trans­forms from a 7.8-inch tablet with a res­o­lu­tion of 1920x1440 into a du­alscreen phone, with a third screen along the spine. Oth­er­wise, it’s a full-fea­tured smart­phone, com­plete with dual high-res cam­eras. Power comes from a Qual­comm Snap­dragon 8150 pro­ces­sor, and it runs Roy­ole’s own Wa­ter OS, a fork of An­droid 9.0. Roy­ole says the screen is “vir­tu­ally” un­break­able, and has been tested to over 200,000 flexes. It’s not cheap, though—a Chi­nese ver­sion costs about $1,300, with 128GB of stor­age, and 6GB of RAM. De­vel­oper ver­sions are avail­able glob­ally, but it’s un­clear which mar­kets will get an of­fi­cial launch. Us­ing a cus­tom OS is not ideal, al­though Al­pha­bet is work­ing on a ver­sion of An­droid for flex­i­ble phones.

Roy­ole may be first, but the big play­ers aren’t far be­hind. Sam­sung’s fold­ing phone was first shown in con­cept in 2013; it’s due to be un­veiled any mo­ment now, al­though it’s un­likely to be on sale un­til next year. Len­ovo has been show­ing work­ing pro­to­types since 2016, and can’t be far be­hind. LG has in­vested $1.7 bil­lion in new flex­i­ble screen pro­duc­tion lines, and is ru­mored to be un­veil­ing its phone in Jan­uary. Huawei is ex­pected to launch its of­fer­ing within a year, too.

Cell phone for­mats have been through a few changes, from bricks down to tiny flip phones, then back up in size to large slabs, and now, it seems, into fold­ing tablets. The Flex­iPai is an in­ter­est­ing start, with more pol­ished ex­am­ples to fol­low soon.

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