Small tech firm beats Samsung to release world's first folding smartphone

The Royole Corporation beat Samsung to the punch when it recently released the world's first commercially available folding smartphone.

  • The phone, called FlexPai, features three screens when folded and it costs $1,318.
  • FlexPai runs Royole's custom Water OS, which will likely be a downside for consumers.
  • Samsung, which has reportedly spent years developing a flexible smartphone, is expected to release a new device this week.

A Chinese tech company unveiled the world's first foldable phone to journalists on Monday, a move that comes days before Samsung is expected to introduce its long-awaited flexible display phone.

The California-based Royole Corporation says its new product, dubbed the FlexPai, is a combination of a mobile phone and tablet. FlexPai is still in early stages of development, but Royole is currently offering a developer model for $1,318. Its features include:

  • 7.8-inch screen, full-color flexible display with 4:3 aspect ratio and 1920 x 1440 resolution
  • 128GB storage
  • Capable of folding up to 180 degrees
  • Three screens (primary, secondary and edge) are available when folded
  • Two cameras with 20 and 16 megapixels that can be bent to capture objects at unique angles
  • Can be folded 200,000 times

Although early tests of the FlexPai indicate that it works well enough, one potential downside for consumers is that the device runs Royole's custom Water operating system, about which Nick Statt wrote in an article for The Verge:

"The software seemed extremely sluggish, apps continuously opened accidentally, and the orientation kept changing randomly when one of the Royole representatives was demonstrating the folding process. That, to me, indicates that the company's custom Water OS (a fork of Android 9.0, Royole says) is probably not the most robust operating system just yet."

Photo: Royole

​Beating Samsung to the punch

Samsung has been hinting at plans to unveil a foldable phone, rumored to be called 'Galaxy F', at its developer conference on Wednesday. It'd be a release that's been years in the making.

Since Samsung first unveiled prototypes of its flexible OLED displays in 2013, rumors have surfaced nearly every year that the South Korean tech giant was on the cusp of releasing the world's first foldable smartphone, though no device ever materialized.

In July, sources close to Samsung revealed that the company had developed a prototype of a flexible smartphone, called 'Winner', that has a 7-inch screen and can be folded in half. The price tag was rumored to be around $1,500, which some noted might be too steep to pique consumer interest.

But the bigger problem for Samsung, arguably, is that the foldable phone could turn out to be little more than a gimmick, a tiny branch on the evolutionary tree of smartphone technology. The good news for Samsung is that its Android mobile OS is almost certainly more reliable and familiar than the FlexPai's Water OS.

However, Samsung could face more serious competition soon—rumor has it Apple is developing a folding phone that could be released in 2020.

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