The Royole FlexPai.
Royole
  • Little-known Chinese tech firm Royale has beaten Samsung in launching a foldable phone.
  • Royale let journalists get hands-on with the FlexPai on Monday, and reviewers confirmed that the tech works.
  • The 7.8-inch plastic screen halves in size in a single 180-degree twist.
  • But there are problems: The phone is bulky and makes a crunching sound when folded. The operating system is also said to be sluggish.

A little-known Chinese tech firm has beaten South Korean giant Samsung to launching the world's first foldable phone - and the early reviews suggest that it actually works.

Samsung may just be hours away from showing the world its foldable Galaxy X, but it has been pipped to the post by the Royale Corporation, which launched its FlexPai phone to US journalists on Monday.

The Verge and Mashable were among those to get hands-on with the device at an event in San Francisco. Both confirmed that the folding technology works, halving the size of the 7.8-inch plastic screen in a single 180-degree twist.

See also: Samsung might upstage Apple's new iPhone by unveiling its foldable phone in 2018

As a feat of engineering, the reviewers were impressed. "Yes, it feels a bit gimmicky, but the FlexPai does actually deliver on its promise of being the 'first foldable smartphone,'" said Mashable's Karissa Bell. 

But, the FlexPai is far from perfect.

The device does not fold flat and is quite difficult to hold, according to Bell. She added that the plastic display was beginning to lift a little over the hinges, and made an "audible crunching sound" while being folded. Royale told her that these are known issues due to "adhesive used in the engineering samples."

The Verge's Nick Statt said that when folded, it is "bulky" and it "feels miles away in quality" from a high-end smartphone. The software, a bespoke version of Android 9.0, is "extremely sluggish" and buggy, he added. "This device is very much a first-generation product," The Verge concluded.

You can watch Royale's demo video for the FlexPai here:

The foldable phone will go on sale as a consumer device in China. A developer model is due in the US in December, at a price starting at $1,318, or around R19,000, according to Mashable.Royale showcased the FlexPai in the same week that Samsung is set to unveil the long-awaited Galaxy X. The company all-but confirmed the launch, or at least a tease, for the product at its annual developer conference, which begins on Wednesday in San Francisco.

A modified Samsung logo was posted on the company's Facebook page. It is folded back in on itself, potentially foreshadowing a Galaxy X announcement this week.

The folded Samsung logo.

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