Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Convenient Oppo X 2021 roll-up prototype

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Although TCL, Oppo and LG has been teasing roll up phone form factor for a while now, none of them have launched one yet. The second best thing at the moment is the working prototype of Oppo, three of which arrived in Hong Kong recently, so naturally we went to take a closer look at this rare device.

The idea of Oppo X 2021 is to allow you to switch between a conventional 6.7 inch screen and a 7.4 inch mini-tablet type display, the former offering better portability and the latter a better experience for videos, reading, gaming. and multitasking. This is achieved by rolling part of the flexible OLED panel on the back of the phone, which supposedly avoids the wrinkling issue we saw on foldable.

Gallery: Oppo X 2021 hands-on | 22 photos

Screen scrolling is toggled via the power button: a double click or swipe up expands the screen, and another double click or swipe down retracts it. This sliding movement is powered by two motors, which push and pull the two halves of the body. The flexible panel is attached on the right side, before entering a space on the left and wrapped around a 6.8mm diameter roll.

Richard Lai / Engadget

As I literally rummaged around the flexible screen, I was impressed by its resistance. This was in part thanks to the comb-shaped “2-in-1 plate” sliding structure underneath, which offered a rigid structure in both phone and tablet mode. Additionally, the OLED panel itself is reinforced with a thin chenille laminate made up of steel parts, which apparently improved overall strength while keeping it flexible.

As a concept device, the Oppo X 2021 was surprisingly usable – at least the weight and thickness were in my acceptable range, as both were similar to my LG Wing. In the limited time I had, I was able to try out Chrome, YouTube, and Instagram on the device (had to load Google Play aside), all of which were able to dynamically resize in response to screen movement.

That said, this phone was missing a few essential features: the volume keys and the selfie camera. Chances are, Oppo left them out to help speed up development, and he would likely add them back before launching the device, if at all.

Oppo X 2021

Richard Lai / Engadget

I also noticed two small issues on the screen. First, when enlarged, I could see a slight crease along where the panel was usually wrapped around the roll, and that happened to all three prototypes in Hong Kong. Still, these were much more subtle than the creases I’ve seen on foldable phones.

Another problem was related to dust. Since there was a space on the left to hide the rest of the flex panel, it was inevitable that I would occasionally see a line of dust every time I lay the phone out (and I should resist the temptation of the wipe with my finger). Hopefully Oppo and other manufacturers find a way to alleviate this problem, although it seems dust-proof and waterproofing is impossible on roll-up phones.

An LG Wing next to a 2021 Oppo X.

Richard Lai / Engadget

Despite the Oppo X 2021’s second public appearance last month, the company still does not plan to mass-produce it. But when it comes to proof of concept, the future of the rollable phone looks bright, save for the little glitches here and there.

Unless TCL can finally show us a working demo, that leaves us with the LG Rollable being the only smartphone in that form factor (for now) to look forward to – sometime in 2021, according to the CES announcement from the society. That said, it is not certain whether LG’s mobile business will actually succeed in launching this phone, given the many challenges he is facing. Hopefully we’ll hear an update in the next few months.


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