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TCL gives new look at its rollable and foldable hybrid phone concept

It's still not ready for production, but the idea is evolving.

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TCL's Fold 'n Roll concept. 
TCL

TCL is continuing to explore rollable and foldable devices. After detailing some new 20 Series phones, on Wednesday the Chinese company, best known for its TVs, provided a new look for how it sees the future of phones. The new concept device is a hybrid between a foldable phone and a rollable one, though the renders portray a device that is much sleeker than the Frankenstein idea may appear. 

Previously revealed by CNET in March, the new company dubs the new device as the "Fold 'n Roll." It starts as a 6.87-inch phone when completely folded up, expands to an 8.85-inch phablet when unfolded and then can become a 10-inch tablet by unrolling. Stefan Streit, general manager of global marketing for TCL's phone business, showed off a non-working plastic vision of the concept to CNET in a video call prior to Wednesday's announcement. 

Unlike the company's bulky triple-folding (or "trifold") concept it displayed last year, Streit says this new device would be "the same size as a regular smartphone" albeit a "little bit thicker." 

"I can carry this easily in my pocket and if I need to have more screen space, I simply you know, open it and it becomes like a tablet," Streit says while adding that if he needs more screen he can "also roll it out to have a full-size tablet."

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The TCL concept can expand from phone to phablet to tablet. 

TCL

There is no timeline for when the device might materialize into a product people can actually buy, but TCL does have working prototypes of the concept in its labs. Streit says the company is focusing on protecting the screen in its tests, acknowledging that "there's quite a lot of screen on the outside."

Although this device is still in the labs, TCL is still planning to release its first foldable device in 2021. Streit wouldn't disclose the exact form factor or pricing, but teased that the product will be more affordable than other foldable devices released over the past year -- such as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2, which launched at $2,000. 

"For us, it doesn't make sense to put the product at $2,500 or even $1,500," Streit says. As a newer player in the phone space, he acknowledges that the company lacks "the brand strength." 

With foldables, Streit sees the new technology as an "opportunity" for his company, noting that it provides a way for TCL to "really try and grab some space in this new category."

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