Oppo was now organizing a take-over of its roll-up screen prototype. Soberly called Oppo X 2020, the mobile is functional and offers an interesting alternative to foldable screens. It also unveils Oppo’s technical choices in the emerging flexible display segment. But there’s still a lot of work, according to the brand, before it comes to a mainstream product.
This morning we had the opportunity to try out a new technology that will soon arrive in commercial smartphones: it is roll-up screens. No smartphone currently on sale supports a screen of this type. We therefore wanted to know if the technology is already ready to be put into the hands of the general public. From this experience, we have drawn the article you are reading, but also a small video that we have inserted below.
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The brand behind this quick start is Oppo. And the model that we were able to take in hand is the Oppo X 2021, the prototype that the brand presented in November 2020 on the occasion of the last edition of its annual Inno Day event. Oppo isn’t the only brand working on roll-up displays. We find in particular TCL, whose prototype was leaked in October 2020, as well as LG, which unveiled the Rollable at CES 20201, a month ago. On the other hand, Oppo is the first brand to put its precious prototype in the hands of journalists. This opportunity should not be missed.
Our handling in video
Before presenting the prototype and our impressions, let’s take the time to present the technology. Roll-up screens are not that different from foldable screens. The base is the same. But the application is different, quite simply. The Oppo prototype therefore works with a flexible screen that rolls up and unrolls to change the form factor of the device. It thus switches from smartphone mode to tablet mode as needed.
The panel here is OLED, of course. Oppo has not specified who the manufacturer of this panel is, but the Chinese brand confirms that it did not make it. There are two possible sources: LG Display and Samsung display. Both companies market flexible slabs. However, the mechanical system that deploys the screen is designed by Oppo. The firm has filed more thana hundred patents to create it.
The system is quite complex. First there are two motors that act on the chassis. They push and pull the part of the hull that slides. Then there is an axis around which the screen winds. This axis measures 6.8mm diameter, the ideal size to roll up the screen without risk of distortion. Then we find two crenellated (or toothed) metal plates placed behind the screen to support it. The teeth of one plaque are placed between the teeth of the other. When the screen unfolds, the plates move apart. But thanks to the teeth, the maintenance remains uniform.
Presentation of the prototype
Now we come to the Oppo X 2021. It’s a working prototype that runs on an unfinished version of ColorOS, which is based on Android 11. The screen measures 6.7 inches in smartphone position and 7.4 inches in tablet position. The difference is not obvious on paper (0.7 inch), but it is considerable when the phone is in hand. Imagine that the difference between the two screen sizes of the Oppo X 2021 is slightly greater than that between the Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S21 Ultra. You will notice that the screen is curved left, but not on the right, because it is on the left that it winds. Around the screen (top, bottom and right), the borders are relatively thick.
The smartphone is relatively thick and heavy, although it hasn’t yet reached the weight of our biggest baby in the news, the Asus ROG Phone 3. The prototype is equipped with a single mechanical button. No volume control. It has a USB Type-C port for charging, but no drawer for a SIM card (maybe it’s just e-SIM compatible?). There are two microphones. There are two speakers. There is no webcam.
On the chassis side, the smartphone is clad in metal and a material that resembles polycarbonate. A bevelled line separates the part of the frame that remains fixed and that which slides to the side. And fortunately, the smaller one is removable. Part of the right slice is tactile.
There are two ways to deploy the roll-up screen. Either you press the mechanical button twice. Either you slide on the tactile part of the edge, you can change the display mode. Up to enter tablet mode. Down to enter smartphone mode. It takes a few seconds to switch from one to the other.
We have very little technical information on the Oppo X 2021. We just know that it has a flexible display, Android 11 and a photo sensor. 48 megapixels accompanied by a time-of-flight camera. We don’t know the battery capacity, the nature of the SoC, the amount of RAM or storage.
Our impressions of the roll-up screen smartphone
In use, the Oppo X 2021 is amazing, because it allows, like the Galaxy Z Fold 2 or Mate X, to have a tablet and a smartphone in one device. And of course, this makes it possible to combine two very different uses.
Although it’s not as thick as the Galaxy Z Fold 2 when it’s closed, the Oppo X 2021 is still quite thick. And that’s normal. It not only integrates the 6.8mm diameter hinge, but also all the elements that support the deployment of the flexible screen: the metal plates, the motors, etc. Even when put away, he’s already a “beautiful baby”.
Unrolling and rewinding the screen is relatively simple, even if it requires a certain dexterity. First to activate the tactile or mechanical control. Both take a bit of practice. We hope that optimizations will be made in this direction. Then to hold the smartphone correctly, and not to inadvertently drop it during opening.
The interface responds perfectly to switching between the two modes. You can see in our different photos and in our video that the display stretches or retracts first, before adopting a new provision. The same is true for compatible applications: they stretch or contract to change position. The mechanical time required for the transition is therefore well exploited here. Below is Chrome.
The flexible screen remains pleasant to use. And since it doesn’t bend, it does not mark on the fold. This is certainly the most positive point of roll-up screens where the physical and mechanical effort is not applied in one place, but over a large enough area. On the other hand, we do not have the assurance that it will not mark over time where it is in contact with the hinge when the device is in smartphone mode (i.e. the position in which it will be most often).
In addition, we felt from (very weak) imperfections on the screen. And we felt less resistance under our fingers. This is a downside unique to all flexible displays: after years of using screens protected by very strong (and very hard) mineral glass, flexible screens appear fragile, even when a plate support system is offered.
Overall, this first encounter with a flexible screen smartphone was rewarding and appealing to others. We have been rather seduced by the idea, but also by the technical realization. This technology, not to mention the prototype, certainly has a commercial future.