Here’s the affordable TCL foldable phone that could’ve been

For more than two years TCL has been showing prototypes of phones that can be wrapped around journalists. One had a 10-inch screen that came in three. One had a screen wrapped around his wrist. And one has a large screen closed like a book, one shows a screen that you have taken out to extend the tablet and the future model includes folding and folding displays on that device.

And then there was the clamshell model that looked very similar to Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip and Motorola’s Razr. That device, called the Chicago Project, is the TCL scheduled to launch early in the fourth quarter. It was intended to sell the phone for Samsung under $ 1,000-and-higher foldable and for Motorola’s 1,400 Razr. The Chinese giant was almost done – and this week we even sent CNET one of the almost completed examples to prove it was real – but we finally decided to remove it and start over.

Now TCL will not present its first roll for at least 12 to 18 months, said Stefan Streit, TCL’s chief marketing officer in an interview prior to Friday’s announcement. And when it launched this device, it would not be Chicago but a renewed brand. In the meantime, the prospect of a cheaper device will have to wait.

“We can complete the product and bring it to market, but this sounds a bit… wrong,” Streit said. “For us, this category is really important. We will deliver products. We will deliver more products.” It is not just the first TCL device that I thought would be unlocked.

While TCL has been selling phones under a cheap Nokia product for many years – and for a short time under the BlackBerry brand – it has only been selling devices under its TCL brand since the beginning of 2020. It is among the leading players in television, but TCL does not have the necessary recognition on mobile to attract people who are willing to try a new product category as foldable. Even Samsung, the world’s largest phone maker, is in the early days of making consumers believe that folders are strong enough to withstand day-to-day use.

TCL has decided to cancel the launch of its first packaging assets due to certain “commercial” factors – weaknesses of its kind, costly items due to epidemics, and lack of funding, Streit said.

Perhaps most of all, the delivery of TCL is acknowledging that the wrapper may not be suitable for large users – at least not for large and low prices.

Folders remain a small part of the overall smartphone market. This year, retailers should sell about 7 million such devices, according to Strategy Analytics, while companies will sell 1.35 billion standard smartphones. That estimate from last month includes a possible sale of TCL.

Until Apple unveiled its first folders, probably in the second half of 2023, when devices began selling at higher numbers, Strategy Analytics analyst Ken Hyers said in August. His company expects about $ 15 million to be sold worldwide in 2023 and more than double that amount the following year. By 2026, the number of packaging products sold worldwide should reach about 170 million, according to Strategy Analytics.

TCL intended to launch a fully installed folder by the end of 2021 costing less than devices from Samsung, but the lowest price I could reach for its first device was $ 800, Streit said. Samsung’s new Z Flip 3 starts at $ 1,000, while its Z Fold 3 sells for $ 1,800.

“If a person can spend $ 800, they can also spend $ 1,000,” Streit said. “Perhaps, he will go for this product he has known for many years and is very confident.”

Competing with Z Flip 3

At the same time, some of Chicago’s definitions are not as advanced as those in the Z Flip 3. Both devices look similar, but the TCL folds are slightly thicker, slightly wider and slightly heavier. And the front screen is 1.1 inches diagonally versus 1.9 inches for the Z Flip 3. The interior screen is about the same size: 6.67 inches diagonally for TCL and 6.7 inches for Samsung.

Chicago is not as water-resistant as the Z Flip 3, and it may not be as strong, Street said. It uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G processor, which is not as fast or powerful as Z Flip 3’s Snapdragon 888. Chicago also has a slower version of 5G and could not be used on Verizon’s wideband network. Its fast download speed is 2.7 Gbps compared to the higher Snapdragon 888 and 7.5 Gbps.

Chicago would be available in a single color, “Pastel Gold,” which looks like a peach-colored plastic body with metallic metal details on the sides and edges of the ring. When displayed next to the cream color of the Samsung Z Flip 3, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the devices.

One area where Chicago could earn a profit over the Z Flip 3 is part of the internal display where it folds in half. The size of the model posted on CNET is less visible – in the visual and touch-screen – than in Z Flip 3.

TCL decided to cancel Chicago ahead of Samsung’s Unpacked Samsung event, Street said. But seeing the Z Flip 3 reaffirmed its decision, even though Chicago was complete without tweaks of features like software and hinge.

“I use it every day,” Streit said of Chicago. “Nothing has changed” about how much TCL believes in collapse, he said, but market conditions need to improve before it can launch a consumer device. In the meantime, TCL has already started rolling operations that it hopes to actually sell.

That device, while similar to Chicago, will be smaller and more powerful, says Streit, but it may still be a clamshell, high-tech flip design.

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

It is hoped that by the end of 2022 or early 2023, the market will be ready for a less expensive crash, Streit said. Product prices are likely to return to normal, the TCL brand will be stronger, 5G will be widely distributed so that carriers can support other phones, consumers will be looking for new types of devices and prices will eventually be low enough for widespread acceptance, he said.

“We feel this way … it’s a good time for TCL to introduce something that will be improved,” Strait said.

For all of you who want to know what it would be like, here are some important specs:

Dimensions and weight

  • Unfolded: 164.8 mm x 78.1 mm x 7.35 mm 
  • Folded: 86.5 mm x 78.1 mm x 17.9mm 
  • 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 colors 
  • Brightness: 700 nits (peak), 420 nits (normal) 

Front display

  • 1.1-inch AMOLED screen


  • 6 GB RAM and 128 GB 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 Connections: Type-C 
  • USB-C 3.1 

Rear camera

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

Front camera

  • 44-megapixel front camera
  •  Video capture: 4K at 60 frames per second, 720p and 1080p at 30/60 frames per second

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