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Xiaomi’s folding smartphone prototype is real, and it looks pretty good

Alan Martin
23 Jan 2019
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Two folds are better than one – aesthetically at least

As smartphone sales stagnate, manufacturers have coalesced around one new innovation: foldable phones. Of these, only one can actually be bought right now is the Royole FlexPai, and even that’s being described as a ‘developer’s edition, despite technically being ‘commercially available.’
 
Other examples, most notably Samsung’s upcoming foldy phone, have videos shot in such poor lighting that you can’t help feel they’ve got something to hide – most likely an ugly bulkiness that nobody would consider worth the convenience of having a phone and tablet in one.   
 
So it’s quite surprising that Xiaomi’s video showcasing its foldable prototype actually looks quite good, even in its unfinished state. True, it’s still a kind of lo-fi promo video, and the proof will be in the pudding, but at least it’s well lit and clearly shows how the phone looks both at full size and folded.

 
Rather than just bending once like the Royole FlexPai, Xiaomi’s phone folds in two places, leaving a vertical gap in the back of the handset when in phone mode. Although the camera flips away from the screen while the folding is actually happening, after returning Android does seem to do an impressively quick job of adapting to its new aspect ratio.
 
Better still, it actually looks quite good. I’m deeply sceptical that people really want a folding handset – especially when they find that the likely price of a sleek one would be more expensive than just buying a phone and a tablet. But this is the closest I’ve seen to something people could actually want in their pockets, even if it means breaking the bank.
 
However, this is still just a prototype, and there’s an inherent risk with a phone that folds in two places: there are twice the number of places where it could break. But that’s for Xiaomi to figure out, and there’s no indication this prototype is anywhere near mass production yet, leaving plenty of time to iron out issues. Or more likely to learn from others’ mistakes: Samsung is widely expected to reveal its first folding phone next month, after all...

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