• The LG Rollable can assume …

    LG

  • … to! Allegedly.

    LG

  • This graphic from TCL, not LG, shows how the rollable concept works. The blue line here is the display and pulls out of the phone case when you open it.

    Ron Amadeo / TCL

  • The phone in tablet mode.

  • Everything closed.

    LG

CES is very often home to vaporware product demos, and it certainly seemed to be the case when LG briefly teased a prototype of a rollable smartphone called "LG Rollable" during its press conference. After all, flexible prototypes of pie-in-the-sky displays have been an integral part of the CES since 2008. After the main press conference, LG Electronics President and CTO I.P. Park said of the device, "We hope to see it on the market earlier this year." Not just this year, but early this year? OK LG, we're listening!

Like concepts previously shown by Oppo and TCL, a rollable phone works like a roll of paper, pulling two halves apart to reveal more of the flexible screen that can be hidden inside the phone's body. LG only showed 10 seconds of the LG Rollable to start and end its press conference. However, the footage shows a phone with two sliding halves and a "growing" display. It looks just like the designs from Oppo and TCL, only that it is supposedly a real product.

From what we understand about rollable phone design, the display plugs into the bottom of the phone and then rolls around the top half and into the back of the phone. When the motorized top part rises from the phone, the display is pulled out more from behind. Most people are used to perfectly flat tempered glass displays, but the flexible plastic displays we saw in early flexible smartphones had almost no rigidity on their own. In a rollable phone, most of the stiffness appears to be due to the tension that the rolling mechanism puts into the display. The Moto Razr flip phone works on the same principle: When the phone is opened, a sliding, floating display is pulled firmly over the back, similar to a drumhead.

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The LG Rollable in action.

Ron Amadeo / LG

For a product slated to hit the market soon, we're disappointed that LG's footage uses a simulated display rather than showing the actual screen. The picture is crystal clear, with perfect contrast and no glare, and the presenter tries to keep the phone as still as possible, which would help with tracking movement in the post. There also doesn't seem to be a front camera on the device, neither in the display nor on the front panel. Inserting a fake ad image is standard for an advertisement, but we would have liked a working prototype. Many plastic flexible display phones had all sorts of weird bumps and creases in the display area, but we cannot assess the flatness of the screen here because we cannot see the actual display surface.

Here are some other things that we have worked on with these flexible phones: the two aspect ratios and whether they are suitable and useful for an Android phone. When closed, the LG Rollable looks like a normal smartphone with a pretty normal aspect ratio of 19: 9. We measured a 3: 2 tablet screen when opened. 3: 2 doesn't normally display on Android tablets, but it was chosen on the original Chromebook Pixel and brought in fans for better viewing of the site. Android tablet apps really aren't around anymore, so any flexible phone should probably opt for something that is useful for split screen. With 3: 2, you get two Android windows that are thicker than normal but might work.

Four seconds?!? I want it now!

In the video, the motorized closing process in the video is terribly slow. LG could have slowed this process down for the benefit of the video, but the company also has to worry about pinching its fingers on the sides of the phone. If motorized closing really takes four seconds, that's a big change from the flip hinges on a folding Samsung device or instantly turning off a plate phone. Imagine you just want to put a phone in your pocket but have to wait four seconds for the whirring motors to gently close it.

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Part of the justification for slow opening and closing might be to minimize the load on the display. Flexible display smartphones were a nightmare for longevity. First generation devices from Samsung and Motorola suffered from numerous public flaws such as dead touchscreens, broken hinges, and dead panels. A rollable phone wouldn't have a single stress point like one of Samsung's folded leaflets. Instead, the device massages the bending stress as it rolls over the entire top of the display. It's not clear whether that's better or worse.

Rollable phones and concepts from Oppo (top left), TCL (bottom left) and LG (right). Is it just me, or are they all the same phone? Nobody has applied for a patent?Enlarge /. Rollable phones and concepts from Oppo (top left), TCL (bottom left) and LG (right). Is it just me, or are they all the same phone? Nobody has applied for a patent?

Oppo / TCL / LG

When it hits the market, the LG Rollable will be LG's first phone with a moving, flexible display (we're trying not to count the ridiculous, banana-shaped LG G Flex from 2013, which has a curved, immobile, " flexible "display is rigid glass). LG often views Samsung as its main competitor as both companies are Korean, both have significant display manufacturing skills, and both make smartphones. However, the Samsung divisions for displays and smartphones prevailed over LG in the race for flexible displays for smartphones. Samsung reached the third generation of the Galaxy Z Fold this year while LG has no entry.

Today, LG produces a rollable OLED TV, but a report from Nikkei Asia says that LG doesn't use its own display technology in the LG Rollable. Instead, according to the report, LG is entering into a partnership with Huawei's frequent display provider, the Chinese display maker BOE. Samsung has spent years and over a hundred million dollars developing its flexible display technology. According to South Korean prosecutors, the technology was stolen from a Chinese supplier in 2018 and sold to other undisclosed Chinese companies. In a report by Nikkei Asia from that time, BOE is classified as the recipient of this stolen Samsung technology. Today BOE and Samsung are the two main suppliers of flexible displays for smartphones.

You must also be wondering why LG, Oppo, and TCL are all demonstrating what appears to be essentially the same concept for rollable phones. If either of these companies had developed the design, it would likely have patented the design and acquired the exclusive rights. Several companies doing the same thing suggest that a supplier got the idea and is trying to sell it to several companies. Maybe this supplier is BOE, and maybe LG is just the first to decide to commercialize it.

Listing picture from LG

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