CES 2019 shows the foldable phone revolution will be awkward, but essential

CNET | 1/11/2019 | Roger Cheng
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The Royole Flexpai is the first foldable phone in the market. But it's still a little rough.

When I finally got my hands on the Royole Flexpai, the world's first flexible smartphone, I couldn't stop obsessing about the rubber spine as I opened and closed it. I worried that I was going to break it, but the two halves snapped into place via magnets just fine. Watching the Android operating system flex and bend on the display kept me riveted.


But then I tried using the phone.

I tapped the screen, and nothing happened. When it finally did, another widget popped over the main menu. I folded out the display, and waited for the screen to reorient itself. And waited. Tap, tap, tap. Nothing, nothing, nothing. It was definitely not ready for prime time.

Phone - Unit - Royole - Engineer - Phone

To be fair, the phone I tried out wasn't a commercial-ready unit yet, and the Royole engineer who showed me the phone said updates were coming daily.

But that first awkward experience underscores some of the growing pains that flexible smartphones are likely to endure as they make their debut this year. The idea of a device that you unfold to enlarge, or roll up to put in your pocket, is the stuff of sci-fi movies, the kind of thing I grew up fantasizing about. Only, it's real now, and it opens the door to new types of designs beyond the boring slab of plastic or metal.

Keyboard - Screen - Verizon - CEO - Hans

"Remember when we went from the keyboard to the screen," Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg said in an interview on Monday at CES 2019. "It was so huge. Innovation came with it."

Vestberg declined to comment on whether Verizon would sell a foldable phone.

Flexpai - Bends - Way

The Flexpai bends, but it isn't doesn't close all the way.

I first saw Royole's Flexpai this week at CES, where LG also showed off...
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