Oppo’s mobile phone concept is pure unpolished potential

Oppo’s rollable concept phone is pure potential lacking polish

In durability terms, Oppo thinks it’s halfway toward turning its rollable phone from a concept into reality. But after having spent an afternoon using the company’s prototype device for myself, it’s clear that hitting this arbitrary number is far from the only challenge Oppo is facing in bringing this device to market. At first glance, the Oppo X 2021 looks like a regular 6.7-inch smartphone, designed to do everything you’d expect a regular smartphone to be able to do. But at the tap of a button, the phone starts to whir and unroll its display to 7.4 inches in size, bringing it closer to the form factor of a small tablet. Similar concepts have been announced by competitors ranging from LG (prior to its announcement that it’s quitting the smartphone industry) to TCL, but this is the first such functional device we’ve actually been able to try out for ourselves.

But as it stands, Oppo says the Oppo X 2021 is durable enough to manage just half that, at 100,000 cycles. In theory, that’s already enough for around five and a half years of use if you open and close it 50 times a day, but as we’ve seen with early foldable devices, these figures sometimes don’t translate into the real world. The number shows the scale of the work Oppo still has to do on its concept, which it unveiled last November during its second annual “Inno Day” celebration. Oppo wants it to be durable enough to survive 200,000 transformations From 6.7 to 7.4-inches in the tap of a button.

Photo by Jon Porter / The Verge and Photo by Jon Porter / The Verge It’s a cool magic trick, so naturally there’s a series of complicated mechanisms working behind the scenes to make it all possible. That whirring sound is coming from a pair of motors inside the X 2021, which are expanding the phone’s dynamic frame into its full size. Meanwhile, the screen itself is rolling around the left hand side of the phone, curving around a 6.8mm axis that Oppo says allows the screen to unroll with “virtually no trace.” Behind this screen are a series of metal slats, which slot together to support the screen regardless of whether it’s expanded or contracted.

There’s a lot going on inside the phone, which puts the overall device on the heavier, bulkier side. Held next to my own iPhone 12 Pro, the Oppo X 2021 is thicker at 10.7mm compared to 7.4mm, and heavier at 278g (compared to 189g). That’s a substantial difference, but it’s in a similar ballpark to existing plus-sized devices on the market. A bigger screen for gaming, reading, or watching a film A transformation from 6.7 inches to 7.4 inches might not sound like too big a change, but it’s much larger when you consider the phone’s aspect ratio is also changing. You start with a roughly 19.85:9 widescreen display (with a resolution of 1175 x 2592) and end with a screen that’s got an aspect ratio closer to 4:3 (or 4.36:3 to be exact, 1785 x 2592). Effectively, it turns into a device that’s just a tad smaller than a 7.9-inch iPad Mini. It might not be enough to turn it into a productivity powerhouse, but it’s enough to make watching films, gaming, reading, or looking up a map a less cramped experience.

On the face of it, it’s a similar promise to the one the likes of Samsung and Huawei have made with their foldable phones, wrapped up in an even more unproven form factor. But Oppo’s approach has a number of theoretical benefits. For starters, Oppo’s rollable design means the telltale crease that has sat along the middle of every foldable released so far is all but absent from the X 2021. Look closely and you’ll spot a slight rumple on the left hand side of the screen, but it’s barely visible, even when the phone is showing a mainly black image. We’ve long held that the creases found on foldable devices like the Galaxy Z Fold 2 aren’t nearly as much of a problem once you’re actually using the device, but that’s not much consolation when you’re spending over $1,000. A slight imperfection can be see on the screen while unrolled…

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