2020 isn’t certainly the ideal year for us but for the tech-loving fraternity, it has showcased the future of smartphones, at least for the next decade. Folding smartphones got a lot more common this year, with every company trying out a different form factor to see which one works the best for us. While Samsung and Motorola have experimented with hinge-based designs, Oppo took a different approach with its rollable folding display and showcased it in the Oppo X 2021.
The Oppo X 2021 concept was showcased last week and it carried a lot of promise. You may have already seen a lot of coverage of the technology that goes behind its unique implementation. After all, the rollable mechanism seems like a tech coming straight out of the Iron Man movie a decade ago. As much as it is cool, I think Oppo’s implementation of the folding display smartphone is the direction everyone should be heading towards.
Types of foldable phones we saw this year
This year, we have broadly seen three types of folding smartphones and all of them have come from different companies.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2: This is Samsung’s big idea of a smartphone that offers a tablet-like experience upon unfolding. When folded, the Fold 2 is supposed to act as a conventional smartphone with a conventional edge-to-edge display.
Motorola Razr 5G: The Razr 5G brings back the clamshell design from the last decade and uses the folding display to make the smartphone more compact when not using. Additionally, it gets around the permanent crease issue.
Oppo X 2021: This is the newest one that brings the concept of a rollable folding display that we earlier saw in LG’s rollable TVs.
Personally, I have used the first two options and, sure enough, I was excited too after seeing a smartphone fold into half. However, once I started living with these two, I unearthed an issue – practicality.
The hinges in both the Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Motorola Razr 5G make for a complex mechanism with several moving parts underneath. While using the phone, it takes efforts to unfold the display – you have to pull the phone apart and, at the same time, ensure that it stays in your hand. This sounds like a first-world-problem but I was scared to do the same every time I had to use the phone. On the Samsung phone, I found myself using the Cover Display more than the folding display inside.
Oppo X 2021 motorized rollable display solves the issue to an extent
With the Oppo X 2021, there’s no hinge mechanism involved. Hence, the thickness issue gets resolved here itself. In a popular video showcased on Weibo, the Oppo X 2021 is slimmer than the Galaxy Z Fold 2 (folded state).
The motorized opening mechanism on the Oppo X involves a lot of moving parts and that could invite a different kind of trouble someday. However, it eradicates any need for manual labor to access your larger display. You simply swipe down on the edge and the display automatically expands in your hands. No unfolding, no pulling, no kind of manual input required.
While I had my initial concerns about the motorized parts, it occurred to me that some of our smartphone already have a motorized part working well in the outdoors. Yes, I am pointing at the phones with a pop-up selfie camera. I used a Redmi K20 Pro for the majority of 2020 as my main phone and it keeps on popping up its camera without no issue, even after a year. Hence, the system on the Oppo X could work theoretically better.
The Crease issue
Another issue that the Oppo X’s rollable display solves is the permanent crease. I have used the Galaxy Z Fold 2 and it has a crease in the middle of its folding display. No wonder how much you try to hide it with bright wallpapers, you can still see and feel its presence. The Motorola Razr 5G minimizes the crease to an extent but you can still feel the points of fold.
Now I am yet to see the Oppo X in person but based on the documented facts, it seems the entire mechanism can eliminate the crease while avoiding gaps. There’s clever stuff such as roll-motor powertrain which ensures there’s equal stress applied on all parts of the display while it unfolds. There’s a 2-in-1 plate with a comb-like structure that supports the display with no segment gaps. There’s also a Warp Track high-strength screen laminate that increases the resilience of the display as it bends while providing sufficient support.
This is all textbook stuff and I would like to experience all of this in-person to determine whether it works as advertised. Additionally, I will need to spend some days in order to give my verdict. I still have concerns regarding the durability of the plastic display, something which Oppo needs to figure out in the commercial version.
Rollable display delivers the versatility that a folding display promises
The rollable display on the Oppo X 2021 is stated to work better with applications in so many ways. I was sold on the adjustable size of the display, the one where the phone automatically adjusts the size of the display based on the aspect ratio of video content. This is the versatility that I expected from folding smartphones.
The automatic adjustment via the motorized system also ensures that apps or games in the future could make use of the varying aspect ratio on their own. Hence, your Instagram sessions will pull back the display to fit in the conventional Instagram layout while Facebook could expand the display to offer the tablet-like layout. Launching games could automatically expand the display to a size it works best. See? There are a lot of possibilities possible with the rollable display that folding smartphones promised.
I believe the Oppo X 2021 shows us the direction towards which smartphone companies should head in developing folding smartphones. There’s a lot of potential in the implementation and as a consumer, I would like to see Samsung, Motorola, and others try out similar implementations unless someone else finds a better way to do folding phones.