Royole Beats Samsung to the Flexible Phablet Punch

On October 31, California-based Royole unveiled its FlexPai foldable phablet at a press conference in Beijing, and sold it to Chinese consumers in a flash sale the following day. Prices ranged from the yuan equivalent of $1295 to $1870. Royole CEO Bill Liu said his company would start delivering devices in December.

Last week, Lee Kyeong-Tae, Samsung mobile communications division VP, said the interface for Samsung’s foldable phablet was to be revealed at Samsung’s annual developers conference in San Francisco yesterday (November 7), prior to our deadline. A Samsung rep told Reuters earlier this week that detailed images of the phablet would be presented publicly for the first time at the developers conference. It is unlikely that the phone itself will be shown. Industry-watchers expect the phablet to be launched in H1’19. And Huawei has said it hopes to introduce a 5G folding phablet in the middle of 2019.

So Royole is first to market, but with what? Photos and videos indicate what appears to be a rather bulky device that folds such that the display is on the outside of the folded device instead of inside where it would be protected. Of course, this external fold means the display is subjected to a much larger radius of curvature. Is it possible that Royole found this was needed to maintain the physical integrity of the display? Initial concept drawings of the Samsung phablet showed a display that folded internally.

When open, the FlexPai presents a 7.8-inch display with 1920×1440 pixels and 308 pixels per inch. In this mode, the display appears to be truly flat with a firm surface for finger inputs and minimal geometrical distortion for watching videos. Royole says the display can tolerate 200,000 folding cycles Nick Statt of The Verge reported that at a San Francisco introduction this week that the proprietary Water OS (developed from Android) was “sluggish,” that apps opened by themselves, and that images changed orientation spontaneously. The device’s non-display specs are what you would expect from a high-end phone.

We’ll see if the units delivered in December feel like a polished and elegant product worth the vertiginous asking price.

It is worth observing that Samsung must deliver a polished and elegant product. With a significant decline in phone sales in 2018 and a dimming but still extant memory of combustible phones, Samsung simply has to get this right. Statements from Samsung executives indicate this is very much on the company’s collective mind. With prices likely to be in the same range as Royole’s, the new phablet (the Galaxy F?) is not going to generate much revenue in the near future. But to burnish the company’s reputation, Samsung’s phablet must dazzle. (KW)

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, manufacturing, technology, and applications, including mobile devices, automotive, and television. He consults for attorneys, investment analysts, and companies re-positioning themselves within the display industry or using displays in their products. He is the 2017 recipient of the Society for Information Display’s Lewis and Beatrice Winner Award. You can reach him at [email protected].