Bendable screens are big news. Whenever I passed the Royole stand at CES, there was a queue of people waiting to get their hands on the Royole FlexPai – the first commercially available bendable phone. In many ways, it’s not a great product. The software is buggy, the screen quality middling. But it’s also truly brilliant. That’s why we’ve chosen the Royole bendable screen as one of our picks of CES.
Royole FlexPai: first look
Note that our award isn’t going to the FlexPai. If you buy this phone, and it costs over £1,000 if you head over to the Royole website, you’ll be amazed by the technology but – I suspect – disappointed by the experience.
In reality, it’s a proof of concept. Something to give developers to play with so they can work out what the heck to do with this brand-new form factor. Notifications on the side? Some new way to triage messages? Who knows.
It’s durable, with Royole saying it will survive 200,000 bends and when I got my hands on a unit it felt suitably strong. It’s a bit odd that it bends outwards, so that when you put it in your pocket the screen will be exposed, but clearly Royole is confident it will survive knocks and abrasions.
Royole bendable screen: screen quality
Royole’s screen is basically a thin film, which is why it can bend so easily. But this feels like a first stab. Colours are vivid and the image bright, but I suspect that if I checked its accuracy with a colorimeter then it would be off the charts – and not in a good way.
I looked at three different units during the course of the show, and one was suffering from burn-in. I suspect this won’t be a long-term problem of the technology, but if you do decide to buy an early unit then make sure you don’t keep it left on with the same image on-screen for any length of time.
The final thing to emphasise is that Android isn’t cut out for this kind of device, so Royole has created its own software to help the transition from phone to tablet and back. It kind of works, but it’s clunky and the phone lags, despite the Snapdragon 845 chip inside.
Royole: reasons to get excited
So with all those negatives out of the way, why get excited about something that’s clearly an immature technology? Simple: because this is the future for mobile devices.
Perhaps that’s over-egging it, but look at it this way: device designers have been constrained by flat screens for years. Sure, we’ve had curved edges before, but nothing that can bend one way and the other on demand.
We’ve already seen an Echo-style speaker that has the Royole screen wrapped all the way around it, but you can easily imagine how not only phones but watches, tablets and laptops can all be transformed.
Royole says that it’s talking to a plane manufacturer about replacing conventional screens with its technology, bringing with it massive weight savings and – hopefully – larger screens.
Royole: reasons to be cynical
Of course, this technology may not take at all. Perhaps the image quality will never match our high expectations, perhaps a rival technology will usurp it. Perhaps Apple or Samsung will buy Royole and we’ll never hear the company’s name again.
But at this point I’m happy to be optimistic. Royole’s bendable screen is the only breakthrough technology I saw at CES that I can see improving our lives – or at least our devices – in the next 12 to 18 months. Let’s see what happens next.
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