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Rollables are the New Foldables at CES 2021

A scroll-like smart display.

Last year foldable phones were all the rage. Samsung kicked things off with the original Galaxy Fold, but let’s not forget the Royale FlexPai, the Motorola Razr, TCL’s concept phones, and the Surface Duo (almost). This year, though, foldable devices are out and Rollables are in. LG and TCL both showed off concept handheld rollable devices and made promises to bring them to market this year.

The difference between a foldable and a rollable should be evident in the name. The former is something you fold to make a big device smaller (or a small device bigger). That can be a tablet to phone for factor or a flip phone to a slab smartphone form factor. Rollables, however, unwind the screen in a “rolling” action. When you put it away, the screen rolls up into a hidden compartment.

Rolling from Phone to Tablet with LG

An LG phone rolled out to tablet size.

LG’s take came in two blink and miss moments during its CES press conference video. About two minutes in, the camera zoom in on a pair of hands holding what looked to be a generic smartphone in landscape position. But then the screen expanded upwards to take on a more tablet-like appearance. Later just as the press conference came to an end, the video returned to the rollable phone, and the screen rolled in to return to smartphone size.

Dubbed the LG Rollable, the device hails from LG’s Explorer Project. It’s the second device from the project, following up on LG’s Wing. While we don’t know much about the Rollable, such as specs, or pricing, the company did confirm it intends to bring the device to market sometime in 2021. We’ll want to go hands-on with the device before we recommend it, however.

A Rollable Scroll from TCL

A phone rolling out to a larger size.

TCL took the time to show off two rollable concepts. The first works somewhat like LG’s take in that a phone expands out to a larger size. But rather than hold it sideways and watch it grow to tablet proportions, TCL’s prototype grows up while in the portrait position. It looks like a short smartphone at first and expands to regular smartphone size. That might make it more pocketable.

A large rolled out scroll device.

The second isn’t a phone at all. If you can imagine the classic scroll, with a long piece of paper rolled up around two batons, you’re on the right track. TCL’s concept video shows a man hiking in the wood and pulling out a scroll-like device. He unrolls it to reveal navigational directions, information about the surrounding area, and for a brief moment an incoming call. That last part showed a phone-like screen in the middle of the display.

But both devices are merely concepts for now. TCL seems to have working prototypes of the latter “scroll” device, but it’s a long way off from what we saw in TCL’s demonstration video. For its part, TCL says it plans to bring rollable devices to market sometime in 2021, though it didn’t say when or if it’d be these examples.

When we’ll see these devices is up in the air. While LG and TCL both say 2021, that doesn’t mean you’ll want to buy one right away. All you do is look at the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 to know that sometimes waiting is better.

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson is the Editor in Chief of Review Geek and is responsible for the site's content direction. He has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smart home enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code. Read Full Bio »