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China tech

'World's first' foldable smartphone unveiled by Chinese startup

Royole beats Huawei and Samsung in race to commercialize next-gen handset

Royole CEO Bill Liu unveils the foldable FlexPai smartphone Wednesday in Beijing.   © AP

GUANGZHOU -- Chinese startup Royole has put a foldable smartphone on the market, beating global heavyweights to a much-anticipated industry milestone.

The company started taking orders Thursday for the wallet-like FlexPai, which is priced starting at 8,999 yuan ($1,306) for the Chinese consumer market. The phone will be available only as a developer model outside China. Delivery is scheduled to begin in December.

Shenzhen-based Royole says the FlexPai is the world's first commercial foldable smartphone. Domestic rival Huawei Technologies and South Korea's Samsung Electronics plan to release their own flexible models next year.

When unfolded, the FlexPai's 7.8-inch organic light-emitting diode display is the size of a compact tablet, allowing for enhanced video watching and gaming. When the user wants to carry it around or make a call, it can fold in half to a normal smartphone size. Royole says the screen can be bent more than 200,000 times.

The phone can multitask when folded, performing different tasks on each screen, as well as display notifications on its edge. It also features cameras on each side of the handset to take advantage of its flexibility.

Unlike normal smartphones, which feature glass displays, foldable handsets must use plastic or other flexible materials. These are often supplied by Japanese manufacturers such as Sumitomo Chemical and Ube Industries.

Established in 2012, Royole, which also has operations in Silicon Valley and Hong Kong, previously made a name for itself with such products as shirts and hats with embedded OLED screens. It manufactures its flexible displays in Shenzhen.

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