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This is an affordable TCL foldable phone.

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The foldable type of TCL is genuine. But you will never be able to buy it.

Richard Peterson / CNET

TCL has been showing reporters a prototype of a foldable cell phone for over two years. One had a 10-inch screen that was bent one-third. Another distinctive screen that wraps around your wrist. Yet another had a large screen that closed like a book. One had a screen that could be pulled out and extended to a tablet. More futuristic models included foldable and rotating displays on the same device.

And then there was a clamshell model that looked a lot like Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip and Motorola’s Razr. This device, codenamed Chicago Project, will be launched by TCL in early quarter. It was intended to sell handsets on Samsung’s $ 1,000 or more foldable handsets and Motorola’s less than $ 1,400 Razr. The Chinese giant has almost completed the foldable-and this week shipped one of the nearly completed prototypes to CNET to prove it was genuine-but eventually scrapped it. I decided to start over.

Currently playing: Watch this: TCL’s first foldable phone kills Samsung

4:14

TCL Chief Marketing Officer Stefan Sterit said in an interview prior to Friday’s announcement that TCL will not launch its first foldable for at least 12-18 months. And when it introduces the device, it will be an improved product, not Chicago. For now, expectations for low-cost foldable devices will have to wait.

“I was able to complete the product and put it on the market, but for some reason I felt it wasn’t right,” Strite said. “For us, this category is really, really important. We bring products. We bring many products.” It’s not the first device that TCL thought it would launch.

TCL has been selling phones under the low-priced Alcatel brand for years under the BlackBerry name, but since early 2020 it has only sold devices under its own TCL brand. However, TCL doesn’t have the awareness mobile needs to attract people who want to try out new product categories like foldable. Even Samsung, the world’s largest phone maker, has just begun to convince consumers that the foldable type is durable enough to withstand normal daily use.

TCL has decided to cancel the first foldable introduction due to several “commercial” factors, such as brand weakness, expensive components due to pandemics and lack of career support, Strite said. Told.

Perhaps best of all, the move with TCL is to admit that folds may not be ready for mainstream users-at least not in bulk and at low prices.

Folding remains a small part of the entire smartphone market. According to Strategy Analytics, vendors should sell about 7 million such devices this year, while companies plan to sell 1.35 billion regular smartphones. That quote from last month included potential TCL sales.

Strategy Analytics analyst Ken Highers said in August that device sales would only increase, perhaps in late 2023, before Apple unveiled its first foldable product. His company expects to sell about 15 million folds worldwide in 2023 and more than double that number the following year. By 2026, the number of foldables sold worldwide should reach nearly 170 million, according to Strategy Analytics.

By the end of 2021, TCL was aiming to launch a full-featured foldable product that was cheaper than Samsung’s device, but the lowest price that could be reached with the first device was $ 800. Samsung’s new Z Flip 3 starts at $ 1,000 and the Z Fold 3 retails for $ 1,800.

“If someone can spend $ 800, he can spend $ 1,000,” Strite said. “Maybe he will choose a brand he has known for many years and trusts more.”

Conflict with Z Flip 3

At the same time, some of Chicago’s specs aren’t as high-end as the Z Flip 3’s specs. The two devices are similar, but the TCL foldable is a bit thicker, a little wider, and a little heavier. Also, the front screen is 1.1 inches diagonal, which is smaller than the 1.9 inches of the Z Flip 3. The internal screen is about the same size. The TCL is 6.67 inches diagonal and Samsung is 6.7 inches.

The first foldable TCL (left) was canceled in part due to Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 3.

Richard Peterson / CNET

Chicago isn’t as water resistant as the Z Flip 3 and is likely not very sturdy, Streit said. I’m using Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G processor, which isn’t as fast or powerful as the Z Flip 3’s Snapdragon 888. Chicago also had a slower version of 5G, which wasn’t available on Verizon’s ultra-wideband network. Its fastest download speed is 2.7 Gbps, compared to the peak of 7.5 Gbps for Snapdragon 888.

Chicago would have been offered in one color, “Pastel Gold,” which looks like a pink matte plastic body with gold metal details on the sides and edges of the hinges. Displaying next to Samsung’s cream-colored Z Flip 3 can make it difficult to distinguish between devices.

One of the areas where Chicago could have had an advantage over the Z Flip 3 is the part of the interior display that folds in half. The prototype creases sent to CNET are less noticeable than the Z Flip 3 both visually and when touching the display. CNET’s Patrick Holland, who reviewed Samsung’s folds, said he didn’t care about the creases in the Z Flip 3. It stands out when you operate the center of the screen.

When opened, TCL’s Chicago foldable (left) and Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip are very similar.

Richard Peterson / CNET

TCL has decided to cancel Chicago before Samsung’s August unpacking event, Strite said. However, despite the end of Chicago, with the exception of adjusting features such as software and hinges, the Z Flip 3 made that decision.

“I use it every day,” Strite said of Chicago. “Nothing has changed” about how much TCL believes in foldable, but the market needs to improve before launching consumer devices. For now, TCL has already begun work on the foldable work that it really wants to sell.

According to Streit, the device is similar to Chicago, but thinner and more robust, but still has the potential for a clamshell high-tech flipphone design.

“It’s the most natural step from where we came from,” he said.

He hopes the market will be ready for low-cost foldables in late 2022 or early 2023, according to Strite. Component prices have returned to normal, the TCL brand has become stronger, 5G has been widely deployed to allow carriers to support other phones, consumers are looking for new types of devices, and eventually prices are widely adopted. He said it would be low enough to be done.

“We feel it’s a good time for TCL to launch something that will bring it to more mass market segments,” Streit said.

When TCL finally sells the foldable, it’s not Chicago, but it could be very similar.

Richard Peterson / CNET

For those who want to know what happened, the main specifications are listed below.

Dimensions and weight

Unfolded: 164.8 mm x 78.1 mm x 7.35 mm Folded: 86.5 mm x 78.1 mm x 17.9 mm Weight: 204.5 grams

Interior display

6.67 inch AMOLED, DOTCH display Resolution: FHD + (1080 x 2400) Screen to body ratio: 84.6% Aspect ratio: 20: 9 Pixel density: 395 PPI, 16.7M Color Brightness: 700 knit (peak), 420 knit (peak) generally)

Front display

memory

6GB RAM and 128GB flash memory

Battery and charging

Battery capacity: 3,545mAh Wired charging speed: Up to 18W Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 Wireless charging speed: Up to 10W Wireless charging Connection: Type-C USB-C 3.1

Rear camera

48-megapixel primary camera with optical image stabilization, Sony IMX582 sensor, 0.8m pixel size 16MP ultra-wide-angle camera Video capture: 4K at 30 frames / second, 720p and 1080p video playback at 30/60 frames / second : 4K seconds at 30 frames / sec, 720p and 1080p at 30/60 frames per second

Front camera

44 megapixel front camera video capture: 4K at 60 frames / sec, 720p and 1080p at 30/60 frames / sec

Check out the latest news and best reviews of smartphones and carriers from CNET mobile experts.

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