Foldable phones are coming, there’s no doubt about that. Samsung, LG, and Huawei are among those who’ve set out their intentions to launch bendable handsets within the next year, but they’ve all apparently been beaten to the line by the Royole FlexPai.

Whereas last year’s ZTE Axon M stuck two displays together with a hinge, the FlexPai screen really does fold over – it’s a tablet one moment and a phone the next. The Chinese manufacturer behind the device says it can be folded open and shut more than 200,000 times before breaking.

When folded, you actually get three screens on the FlexPai: one on the front, one on the back, and one down the side of the device (across the fold) to show notifications, messages and more.

So how has this little-known firm beaten the big names to market? Based on demo videos, this looks very much like a prototype device, and not something Samsung or LG would officially push out into the world. Indeed the FlexPai is being sold as a “Developer Model” for now, indicating it’s not yet fit for the public at large.

Royole is also charging a hefty sum for the technology – prices start at US$1,318 for the cheapest model – and delivery isn’t scheduled until “late December.” This is very much for early adopters only.

Nevertheless, it gives us a glimpse of what’s coming down the line in 2019. The FlexPai features a 7.8-inch, 1,920 x 1,440 resolution OLED screen (308 pixels-per-inch) when fully opened out, 6GB or 8 GB of RAM, and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8150 processor (likely to appear in next year’s Android flagships as the Snapdragon 855). It comes with 128 GB, 256 GB, or 512 GB of internal storage, and has dual 20 MP + 16 MP rear cameras.

The on-board software is Royole’s own Water OS, which is based on Android 9 Pie, so plenty of apps should be available. How they’ll react to the foldable screen isn’t clear, but presumably there’ll be a switch like there is for landscape to portrait modes.

“Say goodbye to rigid surfaces,” explains the device’s sales blurb. “FlexPai will completely change your perception of a traditional mobile phone and the need to own multiple mobile devices.”

It’s worth emphasizing that this is more of a prototype than a finished product, though it is an interesting early look at how smartphones might evolve over the coming years. Look out for some of the big Android manufacturers to follow Royole’s lead in 2019, though again the technology is likely to be a little rough around the edges, and expensive.

The Royole FlexPai is the first phone we’ve seen with a truly foldable screen [New Atlas]

Samsung may be just days away from taking the wraps off its very own foldable smartphone-tablet hybrid, but consumer electronics company Royole has stolen a bit of its thunder with its very own flexible display device. Called the FlexPai, the 7.8-inch hybrid device can fold 180 degrees and transform from a tablet into a phone, albeit a bulky one.

At an event in San Francisco this evening, Royole brought out a working version of the FlexPai that we actually got to hold, and the folding feature works as advertised. Granted, it feels miles away in quality from a high-end modern flagship, but it is still the first real foldable device I’ve seen in person, and not just in a concept video or prototype stage.

The FlexPai will be available as a consumer device in China with a base model price of 8,999 yuan, or around $1,300. You can also pay that amount of money in USD for a developer version if you live in North America. That gets you 128GB of storage, but you can double it for an additional $150 and add an additional 2GB of RAM for a total of 8GB.

 Image: Royole

As for the other specs, the device is going to come with a 2.8Ghz, eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, the display resolution is 1920 x 1440 when fully expanded, and it comes with a 3,800 mAh battery. Both the consumer model and the developer version are up for preorder on Royole’s website right now. Royole says the Chinese consumer model and the developer version are slated to ship in December.

 Image: Royole

It should be said that this device is very much a first-generation product. The software seemed extremely sluggish, apps continuously opened accidentally, and the orientation kept changing randomly when one of the Royole representatives was demonstrating the folding process. That, to me, indicates that the company’s custom Water OS (a fork of Android 9.0, Royole says) is probably not the most robust operating system just yet.

 Image: Royole

Still, this is much more about the hardware innovation of making a virtually unbreakable AMOLED display, with a reasonable enough battery that can sustain the folding process. Royole says the screen can withstand being folded 200,000 times. (What happens after that was not made immediately clear.) We don’t know how it will stack up against Samsung’s version, or whatever competing display makers like LG are working on. But it certainly bodes well for the imminent foldable / flexible display trend that we’re already seeing working devices like this hit the market.