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This is the craziest new smartphone design of 2021 – see how it works

Published Feb 10th, 2021 12:37PM EST
LG Rollable
Image: LG

LG showcased a spectacular smartphone at CES 2021 a few weeks ago, a phone unlike anything on the market right now. Then again, the LG Wing was a phone like no other — but it’s also a phone nobody should ever consider buying. The phone LG unveiled at CES, on the other hand, was something else. It was a rollable phone that can solve one of the most annoying things about foldable handsets, at least in theory.

Initially, we thought the “LG Rollable” was just a concept device, as CES is where many tech firms showcase technology that’s nowhere near ready to be mass-produced. But LG made it clear that the Rollable is a real product that will be launched at some point this year. The roller-coaster ride continued a few days later when a report claimed that LG was interested in selling off its smartphone division, which continues to lose money each quarter. This could jeopardize the launch of the Rollable, as we explained at the time, even though there’s no launch timeframe in place for the handset. It turns out that LG has put a lot of thought into the Rollable though, and we now have an idea of how the device might work.

A phone with a rollable display like the one LG is proposing would allow users to choose between smartphone and tablet mode with a simple roll. Unlike folding devices, the Rollable would not develop a crease, since there’s no folding involved. The phone would also not have a hinge that could allow dust and debris to get into the phone.

LG Rollable
Drawings from an LG patent show a phone with a rollable display on the front and a secondary screen on the back. Image source: LG via LetsGoDigital

The Rollable might have its own durability problems. First of all, that rollable display can’t be made of glass, or at least not the conventional type of glass that exists today. Not even Samsung’s Ultra Thin Glass would work. As a result, the Rollable would likely feature a screen made of plastic. Also, the Rollable would have moving parts, so it could collect debris of its own.

Dutch-language blog Lets Go Digital discovered an LG patent that shows us what LG has in mind for the Rollable, offering some clues as to how the device would work.

The phone in these images features displays on either side, something we’ve seen on some Android handsets in recent years, as a way to avoid having any cameras on the main screen. The rear-facing screen has a large vertical notch that houses a triple-lens camera. The purpose of the display on the back is to turn that camera into a selfie camera. As a result, the main rollable display has no notches or cutouts for the much-needed selfie cam. The screen would extend from 6.8-inch in smartphone mode to 7.4-inch in tablet mode, giving the user up to 40% more screen real estate.

The Rollable has no buttons on the sides, either. The only button that can be seen sits at the top, and its purpose isn’t clear. Maybe that’s how you extend the rollable screen?

LG Rollable
Images from an LG patent show what a phone with a rollable screen would look like. Image source: LG via LetsGoDigital

The images in this patent, which LG filed with the China National Intellectual Property Administration (CNIPA) in early 2020, show us what the phone’s rear side looks like when the screen is rolled out, and it’s not necessarily pretty. Aside from the camera cutout, we can see two rails that would guide the handset’s rear panel.

Also, from the look of these drawings, the portion of the display that furls and unfurls would have to be placed on the right side. The camera is located on the left, which would mean the hinge-like mechanism that rolls the screen needs to be placed on the opposite side.

There’s no guarantee that the device depicted in these patent illustrations will resemble the final design. LG might only be looking to protect its rollable display innovations. But LG has given this type of phone plenty of thought. We’ll have to wait and see whether the company really does make good on its promise to release the new LG Rollable this year.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.