OPPO X 2021 Preview – First smartphone with a rollable screen

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The best way to incorporate a flexible display into a device is not as clear-cut as the best form factor for a normal smartphone. Manufacturers continue to experiment with foldables. Think of the book-shaped models from Samsung, Royole and Huawei, smartphone-sized devices that you fold inwards or outwards to form a small tablet, or the Galaxy Z Flip and Moto Razr, which are ‘normal’ phones when unfolded, but thanks to the foldable screen can be stored very compactly.

If we are to believe the rumors, 2021 will be the year of the smartphone with a rollable screen; after foldables we now get rollables . LG and TCL previously showed prototypes and market leader Samsung is reportedly also working on this concept. OPPO has also developed a device with a roll-up screen. At the end of last year, the Chinese manufacturer already showed its first prototype, the OPPO X 2021, in a video.

Surprisingly ‘finished’

OPPO emphatically presents its new device as a prototype, a bit like the manufacturer also gave a preview of a device with a periscope camera at the Mobile World Congress of 2019. That eventually became the Reno 10x Zoom, which would be released later that year. The manufacturer is not currently announcing whether and when OPPO will actually release a roll-up device in the Netherlands. For a trial model, the OPPO X 2021 nevertheless feels surprisingly ‘finished’. Perhaps that first impression is also inspired by the fact that the concept appears less experimental than with a number of striking folding, rotating and flipping devices of the past two years. If you hold the OPPO X 2021 rolled up, it can pass quite well for an ordinary smartphone.

When folded, the screen of the OPPO X 2021 has a diagonal of 6.7 “and an aspect ratio of 20:9; fully rolled out you have a 7.4” panel in front of you with an almost 4:3 ratio. That provides forty percent more screen area with only a small difference in diagonal. The flexible OLED panel was developed by the Chinese screen manufacturer BOE and has a resolution of 2592×1785 pixels for a pixel density of approximately 425ppi, plus a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz. At first glance, the image quality is completely acceptable. Moreover, because OPPO has omitted a front camera, the panel is not interrupted by notches or holes.

The screen of the OPPO X 2021 rolls out from the left side of the device and is curved on that side. The other edges are flat and around the screen are the slightly raised plastic bezels that you also find on other folding devices. That swipes not so nice if you have to swipe from the edges, for example when opening Android’s multitasking menu. However, it seems to be a ‘must’ with roll-up devices, to protect the flexible panel.

In the hand, the OPPO X 2021 feels more like a normal smartphone than, for example, the Galaxy Fold, which appears very unwieldy when folded, although the OPPO model is also a fairly hefty unit. For example, the smartphone is relatively heavy and also somewhat thicker than an average device, roughly comparable to a normal smartphone with a cover around it. The housing is finished as you would expect from a modern smartphone, with a neatly rounded metal frame on the sides and what feels like a glass back. With the OPPO X 2021, the back consists of two parts in a contrasting color. When rolling open, the two parts slide apart along a diagonal line, behind which you see a third panel in the middle.

The left section contains the cameras, but the setup of this prototype is not very interesting: a 48-megapixel main camera with a double cool camera for 3D applications. At the bottom of this section is also the green-framed USB-C port. Not present is the special wireless charging technology that OPPO recently demonstrated at MWC Shanghai with another prototype of the OPPO X 2021. With Wireless Air Charging, that model could be charged with 7.5W without having to lie exactly on the charger.

Complicated mechanics

A complicated mechanism is hidden under the screen of the OPPO X 2021. That starts with the two motors, or actually linear actuators. One is above, the other below, and together they ensure that the panel can roll out automatically. Earlier foldables you had to open yourself. Whether motors will really be necessary for this kind of foldables remains to be seen. In any case, the motorized system ensures that the screen is always tensioned and remains flat against the housing. Folding and unfolding takes about a second and is therefore somewhat slower than manual folding can be. The linear actuators are strong enough to prevent you from accidentally sliding them back together or pulling them apart by hand.

Unlike smartphones with a motorized slide-out camera, the test model does not yet have the facility to quickly retract the screen if the device detects a fall. In normal use, the system should be able to roll in or out a hundred thousand times, comparable to the first camera smartphones with a retractable front camera. That should be enough for several years of use. We also wonder what this system means for the battery life of the device. During the preview session we had about an hour and a half of hands-on time, during which we of course rolled the smartphone in and out many times. Whether it is the motors, we do not know, but the initially half-full battery was almost completely empty at the end of the session.

Many folding smartphones have a visible and tactile crease where the screen bends, because there’s nothing directly underneath to support the screen. Thanks to the roll-up and motorized construction, the screen of the OPPO X 2021 should be virtually crease-free, and you will not feel any imperfections when swiping at points where the panel is less well supported. The manufacturer has devised a system of comb-shaped ‘support plates’ for this purpose. They interlock when closing, so that there is support in every position. The screen rolls out over those crests on what OPPO calls the Warp Track Laminate. That is a kind of caterpillar-like construction of super-thin steel plates directly under the screen, which should further strengthen the panel.

In practice, the panel of the OPPO X 2021 is not completely fold-free, although in our opinion the device comes closer to this than previous foldables. The part of the screen that doesn’t fold seems to be completely stuck in the case. The roll-up part, the beginning of which can be recognized when rolled out because a fine line of dust collects there, feels more flexible. When pressed at that point, we notice a little bit of play between screen and body. Wavy reflections also reveal that the screen is not quite taut at that point.

In addition, as with previous folding devices, the screen of the OPPO X 2021 is made of plastic. That feels different from the smooth, tempered glass of other smartphones. It is also less resistant to scratches. With a device like the Galaxy Z Fold2, the screen is protected by the housing when you close it, but with the OPPO X 2021 this only applies to about half of the panel. That is a disadvantage of this form factor.

Not completely on a roll

There is only one button on the side of the OPPO X 2021. This Magic Side Button serves as a power button and has a built-in fingerprint scanner with gesture recognition, so you can use it to roll the screen in or out. With a swipe up on the button, the panel unfolds; a swipe down or pressing the button twice in succession causes the screen to roll back up. In our test model, this did not go entirely smoothly. In our experience, you have to swipe at exactly the right speed (read: quite slow), because otherwise nothing will happen. OPPO wants to prevent the thing from accidentally rolling out in your bag or pocket. Yet it happened to us during the hands-on that the device suddenly started to slide in or out when accidentally touching the button.

Also in terms of software, the OPPO X 2021 is not quite finished yet, although the manufacturer has already added a few nice adjustments to its ColorOS skin that are aimed at this type of device. Beautiful, for example, is the way in which icons on the home screen spread smoothly across the screen when the panel rolls out. Apps also generally adapt nicely to the larger screen, for example the camera app or video app.

OPPO previously showed that the screen could also take on sizes in between the two extremes. For example, it could automatically adapt to the aspect ratio of a video file, so that you can display it without black bars. However, this was not yet the case with the model we were working on. Only full roll-in or roll-out was possible.

Here and there in the interface are still some strange visual glitches to see. For example, apps sometimes fill up the space on the screen with a strange delay, especially when using the split screen mode, in which you can put two apps side by side. That mode is not yet as user-friendly or extensive as that of Samsung, in which you can open more windows more easily and adjust the layout of the screen better to your liking. Ultimately, the added value of the larger screen will also depend on this device whether developers of Android apps will take these types of concepts into account. Videos and games are fairly easy to scale up, but in apps that focus on productivity, you’d prefer to see more information and extra menu bars appear on screen when the screen is unfolded.


With the Find X 2021, OPPO takes a first step towards the new product category of smartphones with screens that do not fold, but roll. Although it looks quite complete at first glance, this early model still has plenty of imperfections that fail to address some fundamental drawbacks of all foldables today, including the fragile display and limited software support. Nor would we be looking forward to the best hardware or a price break in this very expensive category, should it come to an actual release.

The interesting thing about the new form factor, in our opinion, is that in both modes the device looks more like and also feels more like a ‘normal’ smartphone or tablet. Where with a previous foldable, such as the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2, you cannot fool anyone that you have bought a normal smartphone, the Find X 2021 can pass for that with a little good will. Perhaps that is exactly what this product category needs.

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