Programmatic Lunch

Royole unveils Flexpai foldable, three-screen smartphone

David Murphy

Royole, a little-known US handset maker, has unveiled the world’s “first commercial foldable smartphone” at an event in Beijing.

The FlexPai features a fully flexible 7.8-inch fully flexible display that can be arranged as two split screens, plus a third 'edge screen' or one larger one. It can be used folded or unfolded, which the company said delivers the portability of a smartphone combined with the screen size of a high-definition tablet. That said, when it is folded, it looks from the product video on Royale’s website as if you have two smartphones sitting on top of each other, so is likely to be pretty bulky.

When unfolded, the 7.8-inch screen has an aspect ratio of 4:3. When folded, there are three screens in play – the primary screen has an aspect ratio of 16:9; the secondary screen has an aspect ratio of 18:9; and the edge screen has an aspect ratio of 21:6. This edge screen is used to display alerts and notifications for calls, emails and messages, leaving the other two screesn free for other things.  The phone is powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8-Series chipset and boasts a 20 Megapixel telephoto and 16 Megapixel wide-angle camera. 

The company says the FlexPai's screen is virtually unbreakable and has passed intensive stress tests where the screen has been bent over 200,000 times. If a commonly-heard stat is true that says the average person checks their phone 180 times a day, this would equate to just over three years’ use, assuming the phone was unfolded each time it was used.

Other handset makers, including Samsung, LG and Huawei, are said to be working on foldable phones, with Samsung’s due to make its debut at its annual developer conference next week, and the idea behind the bendy phone has been around a long time. On a press trip to Japan in the mid-1990’s I was shown a working prototype of a phone from Sharp which looked like a ballpoint pen, but featured a retractable, semi-rigid screen which could be pulled out from the body of the pen to form a smartphone-sized screen.

Royole is taking pre-orders for the device now. The 128GB version costs $1,318 (£1,024), the 256GB version, $1,469.