First look: TCL's 'affordable' foldable phone concept launching in 2020

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Electronics manufacturer TCL, the brand behind Alcatel and BlackBerry smartphones, has confirmed at MWC 2019 that it will launch a foldable phone in 2020 which won't cost anywhere near as much as the Samsung Galaxy Fold.

It also had a concept foldable smartphone on show in Barcelona, Spain, although it was behind glass so we couldn't physically touch it or try it out.

The key takeaway here though is the fact TCL says its foldable device will have an "affordable price point". 

It wouldn't be drawn on just how much it's planning to charge, but it did tell us that it won't be producing a device which costs anywhere near $2,000 (the price of the Galaxy Fold).

A TCL spokesperson told us "it's not important to be first. We don't want to rush or be the first [to launch a foldable phone]. We want to bring something to the market that's really accessible and useful for the user."

That's why we won't see TCL, or its Alcatel or BlackBerry sub-brands, launch a foldable phone in 2019. It's happy to play the waiting game, see what rivals launch and then offer something more cost-effective next year.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

The foldable phone challenge

TCL explained that it had to overcome three core challenges when designing its foldable phone concept. 

First up is the flexible display, which it has produced itself (with the help of sister company CSOT), so it won't need to rely on the likes of LG or Samsung to supply the panel - this could help to keep the cost down, but will likely mean a reduction in quality in comparison to those South Korean giants.

Next up was the challenge of the mechanics of the folding hinge, and TCL has developed a few different options for different form factors, allowing a display to be safely folded by 180 degrees.

Finally, it has had to develop a software solution to allow for larger applications, multi-tasking, gaming and more across a display which bends in half and potentially moves from one size and aspect ratio to another almost instantly.

While we were able to see the foldable display and hinge in the flesh, it's not clear how far TCL has got with developing the software. We hope it does a lot better than the Royole FlexPai, which suffered from major software issues when we got hands on with it at the start of the year.

Image Credit: TechRadar

Image Credit: TechRadar

Meet DragonHinge

The concept we got to see was snazzily named the TCL DragonHinge, which is a pretty awesome name for a phone if you ask us, but that's highly unlikely to be a name used for the final device.

It's technically the name for the patented casing and hinge TCL has created for its flexible displays, rather than the device has a whole.

We'd be surprised if the foldable concept phone we saw is the final device which launches next year, as it appeared to have a high-end spec line-up, including a 7.2-inch QHD+ (2048 x 1536) AMOLED display and four rear cameras - which doesn't sound very affordable to us.

This DragonHinge device also features a 90.73% screen-to-body ratio, ensuring bezels around the large display which folds in on itself - like a book - are kept to a minimum.

While the folding form factor is similar to the Samsung Galaxy Fold, there's no additional screen on the front (when folded), which means you'd have to open it up whenever you wanted to use it - potentially another cost-saving measuring.

As this is just a concept device, the design, specs and form factor could change entirely before TCL launches its first foldable device in 2020, and it had some other example designs of what we may be able to expect in the future.

These included a form factor more akin to the flip-phones of old, and a similar DragonHinge device which folded the opposite direction, keeping the screen on the outside of the device instead.

View our TCL DragonHinge foldable phone concept gallery below

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MWC (Mobile World Congress) is the world's largest showcase for the mobile industry, stuffed full of the newest phones, tablets, wearables and more. TechRadar is reporting live from Barcelona all week to bring you the very latest from the show floor. Head to our dedicated MWC 2019 hub to see all the new releases, along with TechRadar's world-class analysis and buying advice about your next phone.