Out of the top smartphone manufacturers, Samsung has clearly beat its competitors to the punch with its foldable smartphone, but it certainly will not be the only company to offer such a product. TCL, the company behind such brands as Alcatel and BlackBerry, is working on its own foldable display designed for more mainstream-priced handsets. Along with the display, it has patented its 'DragonHinge' design to deal with the fold in a device. The company states that these foldable handsets promise to be considerably more affordable than the first ones to market.

DragonHinge: Display, Hinge, Software

In fact, TCL’s DragonHinge is an umbrella name for the project that includes three crucial parts: a 0 – 180º fully inward foldable AMOLED display built by TCL, a metallic hinge that enable to build foldable smartphones for various purposes, and software that allows owners to use foldable smartphones efficiently (e.g., switch from cover displays to main ones, tailor Android apps for larger screens, etc.). Building a foldable AMOLED display with supporting electronics and firmware/software requires a lot of experience with display technology, and being one of a few makers of AMOLED panels in the world certainly helps TCL.

An example use case

Flexible, lightweight, and durable hinges for smartphones are not very easy to design as well. Also, the software part of the equation is something that requires a lot of work and testing. TCL’s marketing envisions a number of interesting use cases for foldable smartphones, but the actual practical realization of these features is up to the software team.

To a large degree, these technologies are strategically important for TCL as they are going to enable it to enter the market of more premium consumer-oriented smartphones, a place where it is relatively absent today.

TCL showcased several prototypes of its DragonHinge foldable smartphones at MWC 2019 emphasizing that it can leverage its tech to various types of products: from bulky handsets that can unfold into tablets to smartphones for those who are not too impressed with dimensions of modern flagships.

DragonHinge 7.2-Inch: An Eye-Catcher

The thing that catches most of the attention is TCL’s prototype of a smartphone that unfolds into a 7.2-inch tablet. The foldable AMOLED display features a 2048x1536 resolution and relatively thin bezels that enable the company to offer a 90.73% screen-to-body ratio. The panel itself can reproduce wide color gamuts, but the only thing that TCL says at the moment is that it can display color ranges that are wider than the NTSC. Obviously, the smartphone has the cover screen on the outside along with a four-sensor camera, just to point out that the prototype is all about the latest technologies.

TCL plans to make its 7.2-inch DragonHinge smartphone in one of its own brands available sometime in 2020, which is why it doesn't talk about SoC, memory, storage, and modem that are set to be used. What the company does stress is that it wants its foldable 7.2-inch smartphone to be ‘considerably’ more affordable when compared to Samsung’s Galaxy Fold.

One thing to note about the 7.2-inch DragonHinge prototype shown at MWC is that it is at such an early stage of development that TCL has to demonstrate two devices: one is to show that it has a foldable AMOLED screen, and another to show that it has a proper hinge. The way TCL shows off the prototypes reveals that it has at least three teams working on foldable smartphones in parallel and the teams working on the panel and software used non-DragonHinge chassis for their design purposes.

Make Your Phone Smaller

Another concept of a foldable smartphone that TCL finds interesting is just a regular handset that can be folded in a bid to reduce its size when in the bag or in a pocket. The company does not disclose resolution of the screen for such a phone or when the device is expected to become available. Therefore, it looks like the concept is very far away from its practical realization.

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Source: TCL

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  • Calin - Tuesday, February 26, 2019 - link

    Well, the difference in weight from a 7" to a 10" tablet is pretty important - while you could easily carry the weight of a 7" tablet in a breast pocket, the weight of a 10" tablet (even without its bulk) would be a bit too much. Also, due to the increased width, it would need to have a smaller footprint than a 7" tablet to fit the same pocket
  • sheh - Sunday, February 24, 2019 - link

    Clamshell phones were a thing, and they were easy to use.
    A bit more thickness is unlikely to be an issue. What, 10-15mm instead of 7-8mm inside a protective case?

    If it leads to smaller phones, and the screens are reliable and look good, I'm all for it.
    Other advantages are that plastic screens are more shock-resistant than glass, and the screen is protected while closed, at least in the case of inside-folding.
  • sonny73n - Sunday, February 24, 2019 - link

    You fell for it.

    For decades they’ve been making phones with displays that if you drop - they crack - you buy new ones. And all of the sudden - foldable display. WTF!!! Sure, it won’t be good old scratch resistance glass. It’ll be plastic but can plastic crease like paper?
  • GreenReaper - Monday, February 25, 2019 - link

    Well, look at modern banknotes. I imagine they will use a plastic which is flexible but crease-resistant.
  • name99 - Monday, February 25, 2019 - link

    You’re EXTREMELY optimistic if you think plastic bank notes don’t crease...
  • Quantumz0d - Sunday, February 24, 2019 - link

    It's fascinating how the industry is moving ahead, from Samsung Galaxy Fold to Huawei's Mate X, especially the latter. I hope others also join this and evolve this by not compromising like MicroSD slot and 3.5mm jack, LG is the hope.

    All of this 2019 advancements while Apple is still going to release another iPhone with same stuff at max, a new AR camera at back, reduced notch, shows how stagnated they have become.

    Even Sony is making a new aspect ratio without letterboxing and no notch.
  • uhuznaa - Sunday, February 24, 2019 - link

    I guess Apple won't bother until they can do this in a way to sell at least 100 million of them or so.
  • name99 - Monday, February 25, 2019 - link

    Really? You know what the 2019 iPhone looks like?
    How did you come by this information?
  • mkozakewich - Sunday, February 24, 2019 - link

    Ugh, that last shot. "The phone is a little too long, so let's make it an inch thick instead!"
  • PEJUman - Sunday, February 24, 2019 - link

    I am curious how much cheaper they can make the folding phone if we don't need the active display at the hinge, say dual touch screen with 3 mm divider line in the middle?

    The folding form factor with flexible screen as shown does not seem to offer much productivity benefit beyond dual side by side screen.

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