Phonemakers show off rollable phones at CES 2021

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The LG Rollable is expected to launch later this year.
The LG Rollable is expected to launch later this year.

While foldable phones dominated in 2020, rollable phones are set to be the biggest smartphone trend of 2021, with phone makers introducing their next evolution of the sleek devices at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2021 this week.

LG, TCL and Oppo were among the smartphone manufactures that released tease videos of the new generation of smartphones,  which is expected to replace the foldable phone concept, which evolved from the flip phone trend.

According to analysts, the rollable phone trend will gain momentum this year as vendors race to release phones, tablets and TVs in the new form factor. 

LG Rollable has what the company calls a “unique resizable display” that extends upward to create a larger, more tablet-like screen. Introduced as part of the South Korean firm’s Explorer Project, the device is expected to be the first such phone to hit the market this year.

The user is able to pull on each side of the phone manually to extend the display without a crease in the middle of the sliding-OLED screen, as we have seen with the foldable phones.

LG Rollable will have a 7.4-inch screen when fully extended, and a 6.8-inch when not. It is rumoured to have a top-end Snapdragon 888 chipset, 16GB of RAM, and a 4 200mAh battery.

While details are still sketchy, the phone is expected to run on Android 11, Google’s latest mobile operating system, which provides powerful device controls and easier ways to manage conversations and privacy settings.

Out of reach for the majority

Arnold Ponela, IDC's research analyst for mobile devices, told ITWeb that 2021 is the year of rollable phones, with many vendors, including Samsung and Yep, also believed to be working on a similar concept.

“Rollable phones could provide a solution to the problems people have faced with foldable phones. They can shrink and expand automatically at the click of a button. However, such devices are only targeted at a niche market that can afford expensive devices,” he explains.

With a hefty price tag that starts from an estimated $2 300 (R35 100), these handsets are out of reach for most South Africans, he points out.

“Rollable phones will compete against foldable phones which are among the expensive smartphones on the market. While people love these flagship devices, unfortunately, the price of these products and the worsened economic conditions in SA will make it difficult for most people to afford them.”

The TCL rollable phone.
The TCL rollable phone.

At CES 2021, China's TCL also showed off two concepts of its rollable phones: a larger 17-inch OLED scrolling display tablet that is able to unfurl from both ends, and a smaller 6.7-inch device.

While the Chinese state-owned electronics company did not reveal much detail about the phone, the video shows a chunky square-shaped device that expands into a rectangular phone shape. The device has a reflective back, which can be used as a mirror.

The Oppo X rollable device is able to transform between a regular 6.7-inch size and a tablet-like 7.4-inch size device. Its software interface adapts accordingly for optimal experience – and it can be used for single-hand usage or for multi-tasking.

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