This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl.
On September 22, China's Royole announced the FlexPai 2, a smartphone with a foldable display. The first FlexPai model, announced in fall 2018, was not satisfactory in terms of specifications, body finish, and display quality, but the new FlexPai 2 is a big enough evolution to rival the Galaxy Z Fold2.
The first FlexPai was announced on November 1, 2018. As the new year began, the actual device was spectacularly displayed at CES 2019 in Las Vegas in January 2019 and was highlighted as "the world's first folding phone". But when the Galaxy Fold from Samsung and the Mate X from Huawei were announced, the FlexPai quickly lost its market presence due to "the large curve of the hinge that prevents it from closing completely," "the cheap plastic back and rubber hinge cover," and "the UI doesn't take advantage of the folding display.
The new FlexPai 2 not only overcomes all of those shortcomings, but it also offers both high performance and high quality, with 5G support and a premium body finish. There are three major improvements over the original model.
1. Improvement in display
The FlexPai 2 has the same 7.8-inch display size and 1920x1440 pixel resolution as the FlexPai, but the hinge construction and design have evolved significantly.
The original FlexPai's display had a large curve radius at the hinge, which meant it couldn't be completely folded and was a few centimeters thick, making it difficult to fit in a pocket. Smaller hands would have found it a little difficult to hold on to the hinge side. The Huawei Mate X, which folds up the display in the same style, was able to close up the display snugly, making the FlexPai a poor substitute for the same folding smartphone.
The FlexPai 2, however, is able to completely close the display when it is closed, and its closed shape is flat except for the camera bulge, which is said to be 40% less thick than the FlexPai. This will be able to fit in a shirt's breast pocket.
The ability to fold so perfectly is due to the third-generation foldable display announced in March of this year, and Royole is not a dedicated smartphone manufacturer, but rather a developer of thin and flexible displays. This third generation of its own display has a minimum bend curve of 1 mm, which makes it possible to close the display of a folding smartphone with a snug fit.
The hinge is also made up of more than 200 metal parts that allow the display to open and close smoothly. The smallest part is quite small (0.01mm), and it is said to be able to follow small movements.
In addition, the FlexPai 2 has been tested to bend the display more than 1 million times and has passed the test of durability. The Galaxy Z Fold 2 has been tested over 200,000 times and Royole says it has passed 2 million tests (over 1.8 million times) by official testing organization in China.
2. Improving performance
The FlexPai 2 uses the Snapdragon 865 chipset and is configured with 8GB of RAM + 256GB of ROM or 12GB of RAM + 512GB of ROM. The FlexPai had a Snapdragon 855, with a maximum configuration of 8GB of RAM + 512GB of ROM. To use a large screen and multiple apps at the same time (see below), an increase in RAM is a must.
The camera is significantly more powerful and is consistent with the flagship models from other companies. With four cameras - 64 megapixels, 32 megapixels (portrait), 16 megapixels (ultra-wide angle), and 8 megapixels (telephoto) - you won't have anything to complain about with these specs. The cameras are aligned vertically on the left edge of the display like the Mate X. While the Mate X required you to press the lock button underneath the camera to open and close the display, The FlexPai 2 allows you to open and close the display with just the force of the hinge, with no need for a lock button.
The phone supports 5G connectivity and both SA and NSA are supported. It supports 5G NR n1, n3, n5, n28, n38, n41, n77, n78, n79. Millimeter-wave is not supported, but it may be available in Japan. The SIM slot is two nano-SIMs.
In addition, the battery has been increased from the FlexPai's 3800mAh to 4500mAh.
3. Improvement of the user interface (UI)
The FlexPai came with Water OS 1.X, which incorporated its own UI for the folding display into Android OS 9. In FlexPai 2, it has evolved to Water OS 2 with Android OS 10 as its base. Water OS 1.X had the function to be noted only to place the shortcut icon of the application in the hinge part when it was closed, but Water OS 2 corresponds to the multi-window and is able to make effective use of the large screen when it is opened.
When you open FlexPai 2, you'll see a touchpad lined with white dots under the camera on the left side. You can switch the display on and off by tapping this area.
Apps can also be launched by tapping on the icons, and to make it easier to launch multiple apps, you can swipe from the right edge of the display to bring up the app icons in a vertical line. The UI is similar to the Galaxy Fold and Mate X in this regard.
If you double-tap the bottom of the camera while launching an app, the running app will lean to the left. If you launch another app in this state, the two apps will line up on the left and right.
In addition, you can launch the third app by double-tapping the bottom of the camera. 7.8-inch display size allows you to launch three apps in a large enough size. This multi-app launch support is one of the best features of Water OS 2.
Reviewing the specs, the FlexPai 2 is quite attractive, with a Snapdragon 865, up to 12GB of RAM, a 64-megapixel camera, and a foldable display that closes with a snap.
The FlexPai 2 is priced at 9,988 yuan (about 154,000 yen) for the 8GB + 256GB model and 11,588 yuan (about 179,000 yen) for the 12GB + 512GB model. It's not a simple comparison, but considering that the Galaxy Z Fold2 starts at $1999 (about 209,000 yen), it's probably inexpensive for a smartphone with the same folding display. However, no global sales of the FlexPai 2 have been announced, and from the demo screen at the launch event, it doesn't appear to have GMS (Google Mobile Services) on board. We'll be interested to see what happens in the future, as GMS is a must-have feature if the company wants to expand overseas, including Japan.
I have not seen the actual device yet, so the texture of the FlexPai 2, how the display opens and closes, and overall performance is still unknown. However, the body of the device is made of aluminum alloys, and the back of the device is finished with a luxurious look that doesn't give it the cheap feel of the first-generation model. The main body color is also available in three colors. If it has a texture that's on par with the metal body of the Galaxy Z Fold 2, it could be a good enough competitor.
Moreover, with Huawei's development and launch of new models expected to be difficult due to the US sanctions, the successor to Huawei's folding smartphone, the Mate X2 (tentative name), may be difficult to come by. If that happens, the FlexPai 2 may be even more in the spotlight.
Samsung has also greatly improved its products with the second generation Galaxy Z Fold2. Royole's FlexPai 2 is also an improved version of the first-generation model, so we can expect to see good results from it. The FlexPai 2 is now available for pre-order on the Royole website right after the presentation. We'd love to see it in action.
This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl. The Japanese edition of Engadget does not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of this article.