This story is part of , where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.
It may have been just a fleeting glimpse from LG at its press conference, but that tease of a smartphone with a screen that rolls out hints at a comeback for mobile devices looking to shake up the conventional metal and glass slate. Despite the introduction of a few new foldable phones in 2020 — notably the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip and Z Fold 2, plus the wider release of the Motorola Razr, few people were in the mood to spend as much as $2,000 in the midst of a global pandemic.
It’s 2021 and, well, little has changed. The hope, however, is that a rapid dissemination of the COVID-19 vaccine — still a big if at this point — may bring some normalcy to our lives, as well as a renewed appetite and appreciation for more creative and dynamic phones.
Because let’s face it, we could all use something to excite us again.
LG did its best with its tease during the first day of CES. It was the second brief look, this time offering up the name of the device, the on-the-nose LG Rollable. Curiously, LG executives didn’t even mention it during the press conference — glimpses of the phones were seen in quick promo reels that began and ended the event — but .
TCL, which has shown off multiple foldable prototypes over the last two years and which teased more rollable concepts on Monday, will finally release a foldable phone to consumers this year, according to Stefan Strait, general manager of marketing for the company. The most notable aspect is his target of a $1,000 price tag. That’s in line with commentary from Samsung last month about more affordable foldables.
These foldable and rollable phones aren’t just gimmicks meant to generate some buzz. These new, experimental designs help move the industry forward when it comes to how mobile devices look and work in the years to come. Just like the iPhone caused handsets to evolve from flip and candy bar designs to sleek metal-and-glass slates, foldables may spark a change in how we interact with our phones down the line. Lower prices mean that these phones are somewhat more accessible for people.
“Form factor innovation is definitely a feature,” Ronan Dunne, CEO of Verizon’s consumer business, said in an interview Tuesday. He didn’t comment on the LG Rollable but noted he was “very impressed” with some of the innovations coming down the line.
But can that excitement match that initial burst of energy? Turn the clock back two years to 2019 and the foldable hype was at a fever pitch. Samsung kicked things off with an early look at its Galaxy Fold, followed a few days later by Huawei’s Mate X. Motorola capped off the year with the Razr. Things were supposed to ramp up in 2020, with more foldables coming.
We all know what happened next.
But the early activity at CES suggests we may be in store for more breakthroughs this year.
An evolution from foldable
The LG Rollable phone’s display harkens back to the, the rollable TV that’s been a highlight of the past few CES LG conferences. Employing flexible displays in a large 65-inch television is impressive, but squeezing that technology into a handheld phone is another challenge.
“I can’t help but marvel at the technological innovation that goes into these,” said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC. “It says a lot about display technology and their resolution that can be tucked into such a flexible form factor.”
CES 2021’s coolest new gadgets: Rollable phones, giant TVs, coronavirus killers
While LG offered little information about the phone, revealing the name of the device suggests it’s ready to move forward with the product. The Rollable would mark another radical change in design over even the foldable phone and show the industry still has some new tricks up its sleeve.
LG isn’t the only one thinking about rollables. TCL’s display business also showed off two rollable concepts, one a smaller phone with a screen that extends upward to 6.7 inches while in portrait mode and the other a 17-inch display that unfurls from both ends like a treasure map.
TCL isn’t close to launching a rollable phone. Strait said in an interview ahead of the show that the company was still working on refining the mechanics of its prototype.
Despite the pandemic, LG didn’t stop experimenting last year, when it released in the fall the, an odd phone with one screen stacked on top of another, able to swivel to a horizontal position, essentially creating a T-shaped display. As unusual as it sounds, CNET editor Lynn La said it actually helped with multitasking and video recording.
Even if it wasn’t a huge hit, it nudges the industry in a different direction.
Making foldables more accessible
After years of teasing wild prototypes, TCL is finally ready to get in the foldables game. While the company was mum about foldables during its CES presentation, Strait said the company plans to release one this year at the $1,000 price point.
“We’re 100% convinced that this allows us to be very disruptive,” Strait said in an interview ahead of CES.
As a result, Strait said that first foldable would use more of a conventional design than the wilder concepts that we’ve seen already. That suggests a design like a flip phone, which we’ve seen from Samsung and Motorola. Those kinds of devices come in at lower price points than larger phones with fold-out screens like the Galaxy Z Fold 2 or Huawei Mate X.
Likewise, Samsung was hinting at even more foldables in 2021.
“The Z Fold2 was praised as a smartphone that reimagines what’s possible with mobile technology and I’m excited to say, it’s just a hint of what’s to come as we continue to explore, evolve and expand this category-changing space,” said TM Roh, president of mobile communications for Samsung, in a blog post.
That falls in line with an ET News report that Samsung has four foldables coming this year, including two variants each of its Flip and Fold lineups.
The breadth of foldable phones coming suggests this won’t just be a showpiece or plaything for one-percenters and we may all be able to get a taste of where phones are heading over the next few years.