Royole FlexPai Preview – The first bendable smartpYGT5R212345T6Y7U89761

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A frequently heard criticism of modern smartphones is that the innovation is a bit out. Devices become slightly faster every year, slightly thinner and more extensive, but compared to a few years ago, the steps between successive models have become smaller. That seems to change in 2019, because a large number of telephone manufacturers are working on a bendable smartphone. Although it is not yet clear to what extent they will become successful, it is undeniably one of the greatest smartphone innovations of recent years.

While manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, Oppo and Xiaomi are still working hard, the relatively unknown manufacturer Royole already managed to release its first bendable phone at the end of last year: the FlexPai. A consumer version is sold in China and from Europe you can order the developer version online. While CES had not officially started yet and many manufacturer stands were still under construction, we visited Royole to get a first impression of the FlexPai. Between half-full paint pots, loose wires and rolls of painter’s tape, we were able to get started for the first time with this leader of a new smartphone generation.

Smartphone and tablet

Depending on how you look at it, the FlexPai is a tablet that you can fold in half or a smartphone that you unfold. However you look at it, when it is unfolded you are dealing with a flexible 7.8″ OLED screen with a resolution of 1920×1440 pixels, about the same size as an iPad mini. The only thing that betrays that you are dealing with a special device here. The bendable hinge, which sits on the back of the screen, is the most obvious thing to worry about, and while the model we had in our hands had probably been demoed many times before, we couldn’t detect any wear, crease or anything like that.

However, the hinge did not seem to be tip-top anymore, because the FlexPai did not remain completely straight, but there was a minimal curve in the middle. That was also good to feel when using the touchscreen. Whether this issue was limited to this instance we don’t know, but it detracts from the experience so we hope so. It was also noticeable that the plastic layer over the screen feels less smooth than glass and also seems to attract more finger smears.

The first time you bend the FlexPai, it feels strange. After all, we are used to being careful with phones and bending an OLED screen goes against that. However, you got used to that quickly. The hinge is quite stiff and it should be; Of course you don’t want the screen to just bend when you use the FlexPai as a tablet. If you fold the screen completely in half, the ends find each other with a clear click and it then takes some force to get the folded phone back into its tablet shape, just a bit too much force if you ask us. According to Royole CEO Bill Liu, who we spoke to on the stand, the screen is made to be bent 200,000 times without any problems. So if you bend it a hundred times a day, the screen should still last more than five years.

While the FlexPai can pass for an ordinary model in tablet mode, it is different when you use it as a telephone. The thick hinge makes it asymmetrical, it’s a lot wider than the phones we’re used to and because the two halves don’t fit together flat, it’s also very thick. Combine that with the high weight of 320 grams and you have a phone that is not very inviting to be used or taken with you. Apart from that, it is just a full-fledged phone, which even has two SIM slots. In addition, you get a Snapdragon 855, 6 or 8GB of ram, 128 or 256GB of storage and a 3800mAh battery. That hardware is split between the two halves of the phone, with flexible connectors along the hinge to connect everything.

Software adapts

Perhaps what surprised us the most during use was how smoothly Android handled the folding. Google has announced that it will add support for foldables to the next version of Android, but it also went very well on the Android version that ran on the FlexPai. When folded, the icons on the home screen move to one of the halves and the half that you are not viewing then turns black. Less nice is that the virtual smartphone screen does not cover the entire width and therefore you get a small border next to it, but that should be possible to solve with software.

Apps also seem to handle this special construction quite well. We thought you might need to restart apps when bending, but the apps we tried just automatically adjusted. It is perhaps not very surprising that apps from Google itself, such as YouTube and Chrome, do this. However, the fact that an endless runner game we played ran through without a hitch when we went from smartphone to tablet and back, certainly was. It’s not all perfect. Occasionally we saw another glitch and one time we even had to restart the phone because it was frozen.

In the coming years, phone manufacturers and app developers will make plenty of improvements in this area and we’ve only been able to test the operation of a handful of apps, but it’s not a bad basis to build on.


The FlexPai is clearly a first-generation product, and with a suggested retail price of $1300, it’s only of interest to the biggest gadget fanatics or to developers who already want to test how their app handles this new form factor. However, he clearly shows how far we have come with hardware and what is still possible within the concept of a smartphone. The future image that a phone is compact when it’s in your pocket, or when you call, but can be unfolded into a tablet on the train or on the couch, is very attractive.

There’s still plenty of improvement and refinement to be done in the coming years before we get there, and we wouldn’t be surprised if Royole is already overtaken by better-known smartphone manufacturers later this year. However, it will always be the party that first gave us a glimpse into a possible future of the smartphone, and that first impression leaves us wanting more.

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