TCL is the company behind Blackberry and Alcatel smartphones, but TCL itself is most closely associated with TVs right now. It has only just started making phones under the TCL brand, and it’s doing some interesting things with foldable phones. After announcing its “DragonHinge” mechanism earlier this year (pictured above), TCL has shown off a prototype phone that uses the hinges to fold in thirds. It’s pretty weird.
There are two hinges, breaking the device up into thirds. They fold in opposite directions, giving the device a “Z” shape when partially folded. That allows the prototype to collapse into a roughly phone-shaped form factor, provided you don’t mind it being incredibly thick. When it’s completely unfolded, the TCL prototype has a 10-inch widescreen tablet display.
TCL believes innovative hinge designs will make or break foldable phones. As we’ve seen in the past, “break” might be the operative word. Samsung had issues with its first foldable phone, the recently launched Galaxy Fold. The phone has a complicated hinge that allowed dust and particulates to infiltrate the screen when Samsung almost launched the phone earlier his year. The company had to redesign the device over the summer to make it more reliable. However, there’s some early evidence it might still be too fragile.
It’s too early to know if TCL’s DragonHinge will work better, but it does look sleek. It looks similar to the flexible hinge Microsoft uses on its Surface Laptop. With two hinges, this phone could one day allow for more usage configurations and use cases than the folding phones we’ve seen so far. For example, you could have a large viewable space for apps and display a keyboard on one-third of the device like a tiny laptop.
The device shown to Cnet doesn’t work, so we can’t say anything about the functionality of a tri-fold phone. Even calling this a prototype is maybe a bit of a stretch. This demo might be suggestive of a final product, but it could look and work much differently than we currently envision. OLEDs might not take kindly to zigzag bending until we get some sort of flexible glass — the plastic nature of current foldable phones has been the weak point. TCL’s sister company China Star Optoelectronics Technology is one of the largest OLED makers in the world, so it might have a shot at figuring this out.
Top image credit: PCMag
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