TCL smartphone-tablet concept both folds and rolls

TCL is working on a foldable, rollable phone hybrid, which combines two of the biggest trends in smartphone design at the moment. The company – which makes its own displays, and which began pushing its own brand for Android devices in early 2020 – has been working on foldable and flexible OLED panels for some time now, though this new concept device brings them together in as-yet unseen ways.

Roughly twelve months ago, TCL revealed some of the prototype designs it had been developing. That included a double-folding tablet – which had two hinges, and collapsed like a concertina to go from a chunky phone to a relatively large slate – as well as a sliding device with a rollable screen that unfurled from the side.

The concepts designs were, TCL said at the time, experiments in form factor and screen technology. They were also just a sample of the roughly three dozen being worked on, execs at the company confirmed. Come CES 2021, an even more polished version of the rollable design was revealed, along with a larger, tablet-scale version that pulled out into something more akin to a small TV.

Now, new sketches and renders of another iteration of what TCL has been working on have emerged. The device – set to be officially revealed in April, CNET says – combines both a foldable TCL DragonHinge and a rollable screen. As a result, it could potentially deliver a large tablet experience without the overly-thick form factor of the company's previous double-folding prototype.

There's no telling whether TCL actually intends to put this design into production any time soon, or if it's being viewed as another opportunity to showcase the company's screen manufacturing technology. So far, the TCL-branded Android phones that have actually reached the market have been far more mainstream than its concepts and renders. The TCL 20 Series announced at CES 2021, for example, is expected to go on sale from under $300.

Those phones – and details on their availability in particular – are also said to be sharing the spotlight at TCL's rumored April 2021 event.

A foldable, rollable phone, in contrast, would undoubtedly be considerably more expensive. Although TCL hasn't released such a device commercially, Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 2 – its second-generation phone/tablet device – still commands an $1,800 price tag, a small reduction compared to its $2k launch.

Samsung is also believed to be working on something more eye-catching in foldables for 2021. The South Korean behemoth is said to be developing a double-folding phone that could also be revealed later this year, with two hinges allowing for an even larger display when fully opened. At the same time, it's believed to be working on more affordable versions, seeing foldable OLED as the key to accelerating a new round of upgrades in the smartphone space.