Motorola’s rollable phone concept is amazing – but it’s not ready for prime-time yet

OPINION: Motorola revealed a new rollable concept phone a few months back – and I finally got the opportunity to play with it at MWC 2023. While it’s not ready for prime time just yet, it’s an exciting look at what could be the next big thing in smartphone technology.

There are plenty of companies that are experimenting with foldable smartphones including the likes of Samsung, Oppo, Honor, Xiaomi and even Motorola itself, but the company doesn’t want to put all its eggs in one basket.

Rather than sitting comfortably with the high-end Motorola Razr, the company is gazing into the future to see what other forms a smartphone could take, and the company seems to think that rollable tech could be the next big thing.

A big screen on demand

In a similar concept to foldables that go from a small pocket-sized phone to a large, almost tablet-sized device, the Motorola rollable concept is a small-screen smartphone that can expand in size on command.

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In its compact form, the phone sports a 5-inch display with a rather square aspect ratio. That size fits really nicely in the palm of the hand, with not-too-dissimilar dimensions to clamshell foldables in their folded form, but with the added benefit of being able to fully use the phone in that form factor, unlike the likes of Samsung and co. 

I found the display to be a little too boxy in its shrunken state, but it does still have its uses, be it quickly replying to an email or checking your directions in Google Maps. It isn’t, however, designed for video playback or gaming.

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That’s where the rollable concept comes into its own. With a double-click of the power button, the phone transforms as the curved display extends beyond the top side of the phone, resembling something akin to a standard smartphone display. 

The part where the display protrudes beyond the chassis of the phone is impressively thin, but with a stainless steel backplate, it’s still fairly rigid – though Motorola admits it still has work to do with the overall durability of the concept. I imagine it wouldn’t fare too well if pressure was applied. 

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Still, it’s visually stunning, and you don’t always have to activate it yourself either. 

Motorola has built smarts into its Android OS skin that allow the phone to automatically expand and retract depending on what you’re doing. Watching a YouTube video full screen or gaming? The display will automatically expand, and it’ll only retract back to its more portable form once you leave the app.

The rollable display curves around the bottom of the phone, onto the back panel, when not in use. But rather than just being a black slab, the mini rear display can be used as an always-on display for incoming notifications, and much like other foldables, you can also use it as a fairly large viewfinder when taking photos. 

Where’s the selfie camera?

While on the subject of cameras, you might notice that there isn’t a front-facing camera embedded within that ultra-thin rollable display. It’s not much of a surprise given how thin the extended display is, as the camera would’ve added a notable bump to the rear of the display, but that’s not to say there isn’t a selfie camera.

When flipping the camera to the front view in the camera app or any other camera-enabled app, the display will shift downwards ever so slightly to reveal a small selfie camera in the top-left corner. Being a concept device, the overall image quality of the rather small selfie sensor isn’t amazing, but it’s certainly an interesting idea that keeps the display clean and hole-punch-free. 

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The bad news

Of course, as an in-development concept product, the rollable concept isn’t quite perfect just yet. There are still kinks that need to be worked out, including (but not limited to) the whirring noise the phone makes when extending and retracting that rollable display. But, for the most part, the OS and hardware seem to work well. 

But, before you go getting your hopes up that the phone will make an appearance sometime this year, Motorola has explicitly said that it’s not something that’ll be going into production anytime soon – partly the reason why it doesn’t have an official smartphone name, and why Motorola isn’t sharing details about the tech within the smartphone. 

It is, however, an area that Motorola is investing heavily in, and it’s not hard to see why. The rollable concept looks and feels like something from the future, and I’m excited to see this tech integrated into a real product a little further down the line. 

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