Foldable phones are coming, there's no doubt about that. Samsung, LG, and Huawei are among those who've set out their intentions to launch bendable handsets within the next year, but they've all apparently been beaten to the line by the Royole FlexPai.

Whereas last year's ZTE Axon M stuck two displays together with a hinge, the FlexPai screen really does fold over – it's a tablet one moment and a phone the next. The Chinese manufacturer behind the device says it can be folded open and shut more than 200,000 times before breaking.

When folded, you actually get three screens on the FlexPai: one on the front, one on the back, and one down the side of the device (across the fold) to show notifications, messages and more.

So how has this little-known firm beaten the big names to market? Based on demo videos, this looks very much like a prototype device, and not something Samsung or LG would officially push out into the world. Indeed the FlexPai is being sold as a "Developer Model" for now, indicating it's not yet fit for the public at large.

Royole is also charging a hefty sum for the technology – prices start at US$1,318 for the cheapest model – and delivery isn't scheduled until "late December." This is very much for early adopters only.

Nevertheless, it gives us a glimpse of what's coming down the line in 2019. The FlexPai features a 7.8-inch, 1,920 x 1,440 resolution OLED screen (308 pixels-per-inch) when fully opened out, 6GB or 8 GB of RAM, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8150 processor (likely to appear in next year's Android flagships as the Snapdragon 855). It comes with 128 GB, 256 GB, or 512 GB of internal storage, and has dual 20 MP + 16 MP rear cameras.

The on-board software is Royole's own Water OS, which is based on Android 9 Pie, so plenty of apps should be available. How they'll react to the foldable screen isn't clear, but presumably there'll be a switch like there is for landscape to portrait modes.

"Say goodbye to rigid surfaces," explains the device's sales blurb. "FlexPai will completely change your perception of a traditional mobile phone and the need to own multiple mobile devices."

It's worth emphasizing that this is more of a prototype than a finished product, though it is an interesting early look at how smartphones might evolve over the coming years. Look out for some of the big Android manufacturers to follow Royole's lead in 2019, though again the technology is likely to be a little rough around the edges, and expensive.

Product page: Royole

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