TCL was making a Samsung Galaxy Z Flip competitor, but now has to start over


In brief: TCL was hoping to bring a foldable phone to market that would go against the likes of the Motorola Razr and Samsung’s Galaxy Flip3. That would have meant a foldable flip phone with a starting price of $799, but apparently that won’t be possible for at least another year.

Foldable phones have been available for a few years at this point. However, people who actually wanted one have been discouraged by the relatively high price and questionable reliability. It was only when Samsung released the Galaxy Z Fold3 and Galaxy Z Flip3 that consumers finally felt the urge to upgrade to one.

There are, of course, alternatives like the Motorola Razr 5G, Royole’s FlexPai 2, and even Huawei’s Mate Xs. The problem is that the first two are decidedly underpowered while the latter option doesn’t have access to Google Play services. Samsung’s Galaxy Z lineup isn’t perfect either, but the $999 starting price of the Galaxy Z Flip3 and the refined recipe of the Galaxy Z Fold3 helped the two phones outsell the Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy Note 20.

For the past few years, TCL has also been working on foldable phones of its own. This includes a competitor for the Galaxy Z Flip3 dubbed Project Chicago — an ambitious effort that has unfortunately been put on hold for another 12 to 18 months. The decision was made right before Samsung revealed the Galaxy Z Flip3.

Stefan Streit, TCL’s chief marketing officer, explained the company will go back to the drawing board because of several reasons. One is that TCL had hoped to build a foldable device at a more affordable price point, something that’s not possible with the current shortage of chips and other essential components. Then there’s the lack of carrier support for the 5G modem that was inside the canceled phone.

Image: TCL is also exploring a “Fold ‘n Roll” concept for phones

Another reason has to do with the weakness of the TCL brand on the smartphone market. That’s because the company only began selling phones under its brand in 2020, after years of selling affordable phones under the Alcatel brand, and until recently under the BlackBerry and Palm brands. One of the current offerings is the TCL 20 Pro 5G — a capable phone that can hold its own against the Samsung Galaxy A52 and the Google Pixel 4a.

The good news is that TCL isn’t giving up on this and has promised to eventually bring its foldables to market. However, the market as it is today is still in its infancy. Samsung may be the first mover, but many speculate that foldables won’t take off in a big way until Apple joins the fray. The Cupertino giant reportedly plans to release one in 2023 at the earliest, but that could change if the device doesn’t meet the company’s high standards.

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