Technophile

Oppo’ s rollable phone: Stunningly crazy tech

Mala Bhargava | Updated on June 28, 2021

The display on this innovative smartphone rolls out as if from nowhere to give you a bigger screen

The smartphone scenario is crying out for innovation. This was very clear when the first foldable phone came along, and people couldn’t get enough of wanting to know what it was all about. Now, Oppo has turned the foldable idea on its head by showcasing a rollable. I was lucky enough to spend a few days with this fascinating new concept phone, and here’s what it’s like…

When you first look at the Oppo X 2021, to use its rather tame and temporary name, it seems like a regular smartphone, only thicker and heavier. The back appears to have a layer of what one might think is a design element in metal, and the camera housing is long and rectangular but has a stylish triangle-shaped metallic accent around it. Turn it on, and it still seems like a regular Android phone. But swipe your finger along with the power button — and magic happens.

A light swipe or double click on the power button prompts the display to expand, as if out of nowhere, and turn from a 6.7-inch to a 7.4 tablet-sized one. A soft whirring from hidden motors is the only indication that it’s happening. Incredibly, everything on screen expands as well and perfectly fits the new space it has. This is so seductive one could spend all day just watching the screen contract and expand, but of course, that isn’t a good idea. For now, Oppo says the phone’s screen is good to go for 100,000 arounds, and it does indeed feel very sturdy, but this is still a concept phone with many issues to be ironed out. However, it does point straight at what could be one type of device we will be happy to use in the future.

The few people around me who managed to see the Oppo rollable doing its magic were stunned and intrigued, but thought it a gimmick. It is anything but that. We concentrate so much of our work on smartphones that you need more screen real estate for every other task. Its expanded size is lovely for books, for example. And for watching movies, when turned landscape. When you want it back in its original size, swipe again on the power button, and back it goes. For now, there isn’t a volume rocker on the device, but this isn’t a finished ready-for-market device yet.

 

This phone uses a flexible OLED plastic panel that neatly rolls in and around and inside a cylindrical component. It’s made to move by two hidden motors. You can hear them as they work. The screen does have a slight crease or wave, but it certainly isn’t as bad as the foldable phone’s that I use every day and can only be seen at certain angles. The panel is a bit delicate. I see a slight indentation where someone tried to give it a little poke, rather unkindly. Unrolled, it’s a bit smaller than my Samsung Z FFold 2, but it’s still the size of a small tablet.

One would immediately imagine that the battery inside this interesting phone would take a hit because of the motors. I found its standby time seemed to drink the battery when I wasn’t looking. But Oppo sent along with many charging accessories, including a 125W fast charger, a 50W mini charger and a 65W fast wireless charger. The 125W is meant to charge the phone fully in a mere 20 minutes.

For now, the Oppo X 2021 doesn’t have a commercial launch date, and that’s as it should e. The phone’s interface is Oppo’s ColourOS, but one needs to have it work with Android proper and ensure that all sorts of apps work while expanding — that could take quite a lot of effort, as we’ve seen with Samsung. The Fold can take three apps side by side, and this phone may want to aspire to the hat as well. There’s no biometric security, front camera or volume rocker on this phone, and these too will be needed. It’s a work in progress, but a stunning one.

Published on June 28, 2021

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