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A triple folding phone? Hands-on with TCL's working DragonHinge prototype

TCL's crazy folding phone now works.

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TCL's triple folding prototype device can become a 10-inch tablet. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

When we last saw TCL's prototype for a crazy triple folding phone last October, it was in the preliminary stages. The concept was there, with the "DragonHinge" allowing it to bend in multiple directions, but a working screen was not. This week, however, we had a chance to get our hands on the wacky phone-tablet hybrid, and while it is still very much a prototype, the company is making some progress and now has a functioning device. 

When fully opened you have a 10-inch tablet with a large plastic display. You can also fold it so that only two screens are open, with the unused portion either tucked away or used to prop up the rest of the device. 

Now playing: Watch this: Playing with TCL's triple-screen foldable
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You also can take it down to just one screen in a more traditional phone-like device. It's divided into three segments, each containing a 6.65-inch display and its own battery. As you can imagine, when you fold all three layers down, it's incredibly thick. Unsurprisingly, it feels as if you had three phones stacked on top of each other.

Running Android, the device adjusted to each screen opening and closing, but a lag was noticeable when switching modes, although that's to be expected of a concept device like this. It's clearly not yet ready to compete with the Samsung Galaxy Fold or Huawei Mate XS

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When fully folded, the prototype is incredibly thick. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Stefan Streit, TCL's general manager of global marketing, said in an interview that the still-unnamed device is one of three dozen prototypes that TCL is experimenting with as the company looks to enter the global phone market with its own brand. TCL is best known in the US for its excellent TVs.

Other concepts include a clamshell device that the company demoed at CES in January and a new slideable with a rollable AMOLED display that uses a motor to extend its 6.75-inch screen to one that is 7.8 inches. Streit says the company has been working with Google to optimize Android for its many foldables.

Read more: Instead of folding, TCL concept phone has a slide-out screen

There's no timeline for when, or even if, you'll actually be able to buy any of these devices, through Streit says a foldable device of some kind from the company will arrive in the first half of 2021.  

TCL announced at CES that it plans to launch a more traditional phone called the 10 Pro in the US this year.