LAS VEGAS: YOU’VE PROBABLY never heard of Royole before, but the little-known display maker has beaten the likes of Huawei, LG and Samsung to launch the world’s first flexible smartphone.

As a tech journalist who has been fondling lookalike black rectangles for the past few years, it’s exciting to see something new, particularly at a CES lacking in innovative hardware announcements. However, it soon becomes clear that in its quest to earn the title of “first”, Royole has cut more than a handful of corners.

At the company’s CES booth, crowds were clambering to get their mitts on the FlexPai, desperate to fondle what could be our first glimpse of the future of smartphones.

However, here’s hoping it’s not an indication of what’s to come. Sure, its AMOLED screen that transforms from a 7.8in tablet into two Android smartphones is a novelty at first, but it’s clear that this product was hastily rushed to market to beat Samsung’s incoming Galaxy Flex.

While it feels plenty durable (Royole claims the screen can withstand – for 200,000 folds) the handset’s hinge mechanism is somewhat clunky and forms an unsightly wedge that’s not only offensive to look at, but also means the FlexPai is awkward to use and near-impossible to shove into a skinny jeans pocket.

Things get even worse when it comes to gadget’s software. While the FlexPai is one of the first devices to ship with Android 9 Pie, the device’s interface – which comes topped with Royole’s own, admittedly inoffensive Water OS – gets confused whenever the FlexPai transforms between tablet and smartphone-modes; apps became unresponsive and failed to display correctly, often overlapping with the onscreen widgets. 

Perhaps even more confusingly, if you have an app open on one of the 4in screens and switch to look at the other display, you’ll see, er, nothing but a blank homescreen. While Royole tells us that the handset can operate as two phone thanks to its dual-SIM report, the secondary screen is largely redundant, displaying only incoming calls and notifications. 

And to round things off, the FlexPai’s dual cameras, comprising 16MP and 20MP sensors, are absolutely awful. Not only do they come housed in a hefty bezel, adding what seems like unnecessary bulk to the already oversized handset. They were also painfully slow to launch and struggled to focus; Royole tells us that the software wasn’t final, despite, er, having already started flogging the flexible device.

At present, the Royole FlexPai seems some sort of futuristic concept device, far from a piece of hardware that’s ready for prime time; it’s broken, clunky and – if, for some reason, you’re in the market for a bork-prone flexible smartphone – wildly expensive. It’s currently on sale in China for 8,999 yuan (around £1,050). µ

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