Hands-On, MWC 2019, Smartphone

Royole FlexPai Hands-On: A Foldable Phone You Can Actually Buy Now

Foldable smartphones were the craze over the course of MWC 2019, and two of the most prominent ones are the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X. These two devices captured a lot of attention at the show floor, and this is despite the fact that the general public wasn’t even allowed to touch them.

But there is another foldable smartphone that didn’t garner quite as much interest, even though it was shown off in all its glory at the trade show. Of course, I’m talking about the Royole FlexPai, which was officially unveiled back in CES 2019 earlier this year.

There’s no denying that the FlexPai doesn’t look or feel quite as polished as the Mate X or Galaxy Fold, but you know what? You can actually purchase it right now, giving it…well, somewhat of an edge. Nonetheless, here are my thoughts on the first foldable smartphone to hit the market.

Naturally, the first thing I did when I got my hands on the FlexPai was to – you guessed it – start folding it. Surprisingly enough, the whole “phone” feels quite robust, and I don’t feel like I will break it whenever I fold the display. It’s really quite interesting, and magnets will snap the device into place when you fold it enough.

Now, I’m not inclined to call the FlexPai a phone for one simple reason: it doesn’t feel anything like a phone when it is folded. There’s this huge gap when you close it, and it feels way too chunky for a smartphone. In fact, it feels a lot like the equally chunky Energizer Power Max with its huge 18,000mAh battery. Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit.

Anyway, in tablet mode, the FlexPai feels a lot more usable. The 8-inch 1920 x 1440 AMOLED display with a 4:3 aspect ratio looks relatively good, and it has vibrant, punchy colours like a conventional AMOLED panel. Interestingly, even though this is a plastic display – for obvious reasons – my fingers can still glide effortlessly on the surface of the screen.

Is it as smooth as glass? Of course not. On top of that, I don’t quite like how the FlexPai doesn’t have any locking mechanism when I open the display fully. Not only will this make it easier to fold the screen by accident, I imagine there will be users who don’t know exactly how much the display can unfold without running into a problem. Just imagine if you break the display by simply folding it too much.

Beyond the foldable display, the FlexPai isn’t all that fantastic. According to Royole, this device has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chipset paired with up to 8GB of RAM, 128GB or 256GB of expandable storage, a 3,970mAh battery, and a side-mounted fingerprint sensor.

It’s a relatively good list of hardware, and since it’s powered by a Snapdragon 855 SoC, the FlexPai should have excellent performance, right? Not exactly, and I suspect the fault lies within the software.

Running on Royole’s Water OS software based on Android 9 Pie, the phone doesn’t feel super fluid (I apologise for the pun). Despite running on one of the fastest chipsets in the market now, it certainly doesn’t show when I was testing the phone.

Chances are, software tweaks may be able to make the FlexPai run a lot faster, but it’s not something I can attest too. After all, Royole isn’t exactly a large corporation like Samsung or Huawei.

I also managed to try out the FlexPai’s camera for a bit, and…it’s not great. Featuring a 16MP + 20MP dual camera system, the image output could use a lot more work, especially with detail preservation. The camera doesn’t feel all that responsive either, negatively impacting the shooting experience. Basically, don’t expect fantastic camera performance here.

On the bright side, the foldable nature of the FlexPai means you can take selfie images with the primary camera, which should return better results than conventional selfie shooters.

The Royole FlexPai is, in my opinion, more of a proof of concept than anything else. It doesn’t have the polished nature of the Galaxy Fold or Mate X (or even a standard smartphone), and the only feature that makes it stand out is its foldable nature. Beyond that, it’s a decidedly average device running on Android.

If you really want to get your hands on the FlexPai anyway, it’s currently sold in China for 8,999 Chinese yuan, which comes up to about RM5,475. Even though this makes it the most affordable smartphone with a foldable design – the Mate X and Galaxy Fold costs much more than this – it’s still a lot of money for a smartphone.

But if you really want a foldable smartphone right now, the FlexPai is your only option. It’s not a great one, but it’s available nonetheless.