I first spent time with the Royole Flexpai at a TechCrunch event in China back in 2018. The device was exciting. It was the first commercially released foldable, after all, before Samsung and Huawei offered their respective takes on the form factor. But ultimately it felt like, at best, a proof of concept. It was a shot across the bow from a little-known Shenzhen-based hardware maker, and ultimately little else.
The last two years have been — let’s say “complicated” for the category. I don’t think anyone was anticipating that $2,000 foldable phones were going to disrupt the industry right out of the gate or anything — especially in a time when more people are spending less money on their mobile devices. But to say foldables got off to a rocky start is something of an understatement. Royole has announced a few more products here and there, but the Flexpai continues to be the company’s most engaging from a consumer perspective.
At an event in Beijing this morning, the company announced the Flexpai 2. The device is similar in design to the first model, which is to say it folds with the screen facing outward. The design makes sense from the standpoint of offering up notifications while closed (there’s a reason the Galaxy Fold 2 got a larger front-facing screen), but now you’ve got two screens to scuff up when the big old device is in your pocket.
The device itself got a bit of screen time during the press conference, though not a ton. For now we mostly have press shots to rely on, which is going to continue to be one of the pain points of covering hardware in the COVID-19 era. Fittingly, the company spent a lot of time talking hinges here — that, after all, was a high profile point of failure for Samsung’s first-gen device.
Here’s how Royole describes it in the press material:
The structure of the hinge is stable and shockproof, providing the great protection for the screen. It has more than 200 precision components with 0.01 mm processing accuracy. The hinge technology holds around 200 patents and solved many issues seen in other foldable smartphones.
Having had limited time with the Flexpai, I’ll say that robustness didn’t seem like one of the primary issues with a product that had some other first-gen bugs. The thing was pretty massively thick, though — which Royole has addressed with a design here that’s around 40% thinner than the first gen. The display is a generous 7.8 inches — though no mention of whether there’s glass reinforcement, which could be an issue.
There’s 5G support, a healthy 4450mAh battery and a Snapdragon 865 processor. The company updated its waterOS, which is built on top of Android 10 to offer a more seamless foldable experience. It arrives in China this week priced at around $1,427, which is wildly expensive for a standard smartphone, but actually pretty good for a foldable.
U.S. availability is, once again, a big question mark.