Even as TCL unveiled two new foldable concepts and a full range of smartphones and tablets at MWC Barcelona on Sunday, select media persons and analysts were able to preview these devices in New York the week before. Here are the highlights:
Foldable future after Chicago smartphone failure
This is not the first time TCL has released foldable concept devices. Back in 2019, when Samsung was releasing its first foldables, TCL also showcased a clamshell foldable using its “DragonHinge” technology, which allows for bending displays in multiple directions. Following up on this in 2020, TCL showcased a tri-fold prototype that allows a smartphone to become a 10-inch tablet. A rollable mock-up was also previewed, but it wasn’t until now that TCL was ready to show a working version of the device.
TCL is learning from its “Chicago” foldable, which is a canceled clamshell foldable that was supposed to come to the market for $600-$700, compared to the $999 or above price of Samsung and Huawei foldables. The phone project was suspended indefinitely as component prices made the targeted price point unattainable, combined with the still small demand for foldables around the world. TCL still hopes to enter the market with a foldable, but the timing remains unclear for the moment. Counterpoint estimates that the penetration rate of foldables was less than 1% in 2021, but the category is growing, albeit slowly due to the premium nature of the devices.
The latest prototypes from TCL are the Fold n Roll, a working prototype of the aforementioned rollable display, and the Ultra Flex, a 360-degree folding smartphone that can be used as an outward-facing smaller screen as well as an 8-inch tablet-like device. The limited specs given out by TCL are as follows:
- Fold n Roll: 2880×2160 resolution with 360ppi, 8.8 inches when rolled out; roughly 7 inches when rolled in; 8mm thick when unfolded; 18mm thick when folded.
- Ultra Flex: 01-inch PLP AMOLED screen; 2480×1860 resolution; supports active pen stylus.
TCL stressed that these devices were nowhere near production. What it wanted to do was demonstrate the sort of devices and concepts we could potentially be seeing two or three years from now. TCL’s R&D department is trying out different designs and form factors to see what is possible and what provides the best overall user experience. TCL is, of course, also showcasing these display and foldable technologies to potentially partner other OEMs looking to enter the foldable market. The foldable market remains heavily dominated by Samsung at this time. TCL is looking to position itself as a low-cost competitor in the future and these devices clearly demonstrate its continued commitment to the foldable segment. While these two devices do demonstrate TCL’s ambitions to cement itself as a foldable device and component maker, the two prototypes are still very much early-stage concepts with bugs and glitches. The Ultra Flex display stopped working on the day of the product demo and even had pieces come off the device when being tested for the flexibility of the display. The Fold n Roll also had some issues with getting the rolling mechanism to consistently roll in and roll out when pressing the roll button.
New 30 series comes out before one year of 20 series
TCL also introduced its all-new 30 series line-up — TCL 30 5G, TCL 30+, TCL 30, TCL 30 SE and TCL 30 E. Each of these devices is powered by a MediaTek processor and priced at €249 for the 30 5G. The remaining devices are priced between €139 and €200. US availability has yet to be announced. Recently, TCL launched the 30 XE 5G and Verizon-exclusive 30 V 5G, both positioned as affordable 5G devices for US prepaid markets primarily. TCL already has the 20 XE and 20 A 5G in the US market since October 2021, making some of the price SKUs a bit crowded for the OEM with multiple offerings available. The launch timing for these 20 series devices was a bit delayed due to production issues caused by shortages. However, according to Counterpoint’s US Channel Share Tracker, the 20 XE has had a strong start in Metro by T-Mobile and is also gaining momentum in Boost. The new 30 series devices will offer customers more choice for affordable 5G devices and is a welcome refresh ahead of the US tax season. TCL is looking to expand its market share in the sub $200 segment and is finding some early success at some carriers.
NXTPAPER tablets, affordable connected tablets showcased
Previously just a concept, TCL showcased the NXTPAPER MAX 10 tablet, which delivers a paper-like reading and writing experience on a 10.36-inch NXTVISION display. The device will first launch in Asia. TCL also showed off new connected 4G and 5G tablets — TAB 10 HD 4G and TAB 10s 5G. The former is available in both Europe (€179) and Asia (€199), while the latter will just be available in Europe (€349). These devices were somewhat overshadowed by the new foldable concepts and smartphones, but they demonstrated TCL’s ambitions to capture more of the tablet market, especially in the low-to-mid tier.