TCL’s new concept foldables are crazy… and I want one

Posted: 28 February 2022 3:00 am
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TCL is showing off some wild and wonderful tech and MWC 2022, including a phone that folds and slides outward.

At MWC 2022, TCL's launching a wide array of regular smartphones and tablets with a strong value proposition, but who can really look past a foldable phone... that folds back on itself?

The ongoing pandemic issues have seen many phone makers reduce or outright withdraw their presence from 2022's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and as such, the expected volume of new phones being launched was expected to be small.

We've already seen the just-pre-MWC launch of the Oppo Find X5 family, but it seems like nobody told TCL to take it quiet this year in Barcelona.

That's because it's effectively launching five smartphones, four tablets and four different network connection devices for consumers. They're all, in the classic TCL style, designed to appeal to value-conscious consumers with a strong focus on affordability at a range of price points.

But that's not all TCL will have on show, because it's also taking the next important step on its journey into foldable phones. For some years now, TCL's shown off a range of flexible displays at MWC, with the promise that was pouring billions of dollars into research and development. Flexible displays are neat, but at some point you need to be able to show that you can do more than just make a few sealed-away bendy prototypes.

That's where the Fold N Roll, 360 Ultra Flex and especially the Surround Display concept phones. TCL says it'll have working prototypes of these as Android phones on the show floor in Barcelona. According to what TCL representatives told Finder, they're still "fragile" devices, so the road to being able to actually own one is some time away.

Still, I'm intrigued, because I love an interesting foldable design, and TCL's definitely stepping away from the norm with its new device concepts.

The Fold N Roll concept has been around since last year as a concept, with leaked video from late last year certainly suggesting that TCL had been able to produce at least one working model.

It's not clear if that's the precise model you might be able to fondle were you in Barcelona right now, but it's not the only foldable TCL's got to attract the crowds.

The 360 Ultra Flex very much does what it says on the tin, with an internal hinge that allows it to shift from a tablet-style device to an external display one in the style of devices like the Galaxy Z Fold 3. The difference here is that it can keep on going, forming a fully enclosed clamshell in a style more reminiscent of the Microsoft Surface Duo 2. That gives you the benefit position of a fully protected device if you are slinging it in a bag, but also a full display with simpler internal components, because it doesn't need two actual screens and the hardware to run them the way Samsung's Fold setup works.

That should equate to a device that's cheaper to build and cheaper to sell – which would be very TCL.

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Moving even further out into genuinely intriguing concepts is the TCL Surround Display. Take one Fold style device… and make it even more foldable, because one of its screens wraps all the way around the phone body. I'm still trying to work out not only the engineering, but also what benefit this brings… but I'll be honest, I also kind of want one just because it's such an out there concept. I'm not proud, but there it is.

Those concept devices have taken that extra step forward towards being real devices, but what we'll see here in more real terms a whole lot sooner are TCL's new range of more regular smartphones, tablets and maybe network communication devices.

TCL 30 series: Five phones… or maybe one

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TCL announced the TCL 30 series at CES 2021, with the US exclusive TCL 30V 5G (Verizon) and TCL 30XE 5G (T-Mobile). At the time, the promise was that TCL 30 series phones for the rest of the world would make their bow at MWC 2022.

This is substantially true, with five new TCL 30 series phones, although the overall differences between them are rather slight, and it's not clear at this time which models we'll actually see in Australia.

The entry point of the series is the TCL 30, a 6.7 inch FHD+ AMOLED screened phone with a 5,000mAh battery and what TCL's calling a "50MP AI Triple Cam" at the rear. This doesn't mean you get three 50MP sensors at the rear, but instead a primary 50MP f/1.85 sensor alongside a 2MP macro and 2MP depth camera. At the front, the TCL 30 has an 8MP 78' sensor for selfies. In processor terms, it's running on MediaTek's Helio G37 with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage

The TCL 30 will go on sale in Europe first for €179, roughly $280 or so at current exchange rates.

Then there's the TCL 30 5G, which is mostly the same phone, but with 5G via a Dimensity 700 SoC and a wide-angle 13MP selfie camera instead. It'll hit Europe in April for €249 (~$390).

The TCL 30+ is (more or less) the TCL 30 5G without the 5G bit, swapping out the Dimensity 700 for a MediaTek Helio G37 for €199 (~$310)

TCL's just getting warmed up, with the TCL 30 SE the next new phone. It's a little smaller with a 6.52 inch HD+ display, 5,000mAh battery, the same "triple" 50MP arrangement and 8MP front selfie camera as the TCL 30, but 128GB of storage as an option alongside a 64GB variant, both with 4GB of RAM. It's going on sale in Europe imminently at around €149 (~$230).

Still too pricey? Then you might be the target market for the TCL 30E, which hits Europe in April for €139 (~$216). For that price you get much the same phone as the TCL 30 SE, but with only the one 3GB RAM/64GB storage variant on sale, and a drop to just 5MP for the front-facing selfie camera and no macro camera.

TCL Australia representatives declined to say precisely which of the new TCL phones would officially launch in Australia, but they did tell Finder that they were trying to "get as many phones to market in Australia as possible".

Can TCL revive the Android tablet space?

Android tablets have had something of a rocky reputation over the years, with Google's operating system not always playing nice with tablet-sized apps. At MWC 2022, TCL's launching four different tablets under its TCL TAB and TCL NXTPAPER brands. Again, it's not clear when or if we'll see some, all or none of these in the local market.

The TCL NXTPAPER MAX 10 is a 10.36 inch Android 11 tablet using one of TCL's own NXTPAPER IPS LCD displays for a claimed massive reduction in overall glare and reflectivity. A brief demo online of this to us did somewhat show off the effect, but I'd want to really get hands-on with it to see what effect it had in real world app use. The NXTPAPER MAX 10 is slated to go on sale in Asia in the second quarter for €269, or around $420 at current exchange rates.

TCL's premium play in this space is the TCL TAB 10S 5G, a €349 (~$544) 10.1 Android 12 tablet with an 8,000mAh battery, MT8771 processor, 4GB of RAM and inbuilt 5G connectivity options. It'll launch in Europe in the 2nd quarter of 2022.

Those prices are at the upper tier of where TCL usually plays, but there's also a more affordable tablet in the form of the TCL TAB10HD. It's going on sale in Europe now for €179 ($280), with a 10.1 inch display, Android 11 GO, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage. A very basic tablet, in other words.

TCL also sort-of announced the more business focused TCL Tab Pro 12 5G, a tablet with detachable keyboard designed to take on the chromebooks and cheap Surfaces of the world. That one won't be fully unveiled for a few weeks after MWC, which will apparently also be closer to when it's available for retail sale.

TCL's MWC network ambitions

TCL's also using MWC 2022 to launch an array of consumer-grade home networking solutions, with Linkhub and Linkzone mobile broadband products for 5G and 4G LTE solutions. TCL noted that it often retails these more through carriers, so there's decent odds that if they do land in Australia, it'll be with a telco badge on it, rather than a direct TCL one.

Want more Mobile World Congress news? See all the latest products and announcements on our MWC 2022 news hub.

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