When Oppo unveiled its first smartphone with a drop-down screen in November 2020, we were not confident that we would ever try this device. Between concept and prototype, the Oppo X 2021 was indeed not intended to be marketed one day and, in our opinion, had very little chance of leaving China.
For once, we’re glad we got it wrong. Oppo offered us on Tuesday February 9 an express grip of its first smartphone with a scrolling screen (about 30 minutes) and, as you will see, we are completely amazed. Of course, we still have a lot of questions about the real potential of this technology.
Folding against drop down, the war of the future
For many, the folding screen is supposed to be the future of the smartphone. For Oppo, this technology has too many limits. The Chinese manufacturer criticizes it in particular for leaving a visible mark in the middle of the screen (even if it is not noticed in use) and for being too bulky. It is for this reason that Oppo has for the moment decided to go in a different direction, even if it means arriving a little later.
In fact, the drop-down smartphone tries to answer the same problem as the folding smartphone. In an era like ours, where digital is king, how can we offer users an ever larger screen while making it easier to transport? Where Samsung has decided to fold a screen in half like a book, Oppo imagines a screen capable of rolling up on the back of the phone, in a cache invisible to the user. The Oppo X 2021, which offers a 6.7-inch smartphone-sized surface when unstretched, can unroll to give you a 7.4-inch tablet-sized surface when you want it.
A button for the magic to work
Technically, Oppo is not the first to have had this idea. TCL also imagined a screen that could be enlarged by pulling on it. The Oppo concept nevertheless goes further by automating the enlargement of the screen. Indeed, to our surprise, it is impossible to shoot the smartphone screen yourself. He doesn’t move a millimeter. Same thing in tablet format, the screen stabilizes perfectly to retain its extended shape. To make sure not to create a bastard product that would appear to be too fragile, Oppo decided to go for a fairly sophisticated mechanical system.
To switch from smartphone format to tablet format (or vice versa), you must use the button on the right edge of the device (which also serves as a fingerprint sensor). You have two options: double tap or flick up or down. In both cases, it activates a motor. The screen is automatically pulled to the right, allowing the hidden part on the left to come into view. Thanks to this mechanical system, Oppo makes sure that the screen always stays straight and stable. The only downside: we hear a noise that is not necessarily pleasant. Difficult to be discreet in a waiting room for example.
A magical feeling … with flaws of youth
It’s hard not to be impressed by the Oppo X 2021. In your hand, when you trigger its stretch, the device achieves the feat of enlarging, however you hold it. It looks like a real witchcraft! Another particularly pleasant point, a nice visual animation appears each time the smartphone changes format. Again, this reinforces the magical side of the concept. The screen does not only grow physically, the content displayed on the screen also expands. Too bad there are a lot of apps that don’t yet exploit the Oppo X 2021’s large format but, let’s be fair, it’s hard to fault this type of thing on a prototype. Oppo will surely take better advantage of this form factor before its commercialization.
On the other hand, even if it is undoubtedly a detail, we noticed that a line of dust appeared on the screen each time we stretched it (the latter appeared at the level where the screen is the most bent). Each time, to enjoy a maximum experience, you have to give a little handle on the screen. A pretty fun youthful glitch that will hopefully be fixed by the time the final version is released.
Finally, the design of the smartphone is also a bit unsightly. While the back of the device is really successful (Oppo has found a clever way not to create an unpleasant accordion effect on the eye), the fact that only the left edge of the screen is curved creates an unfortunate asymmetry. Its thickness, although rather reasonable compared to that of a Galaxy Z Fold 2, is also thicker than that of most other smartphones. Everything can undoubtedly be further refined.
The future, really?
Is the drop-down smartphone really the future of the smartphone? In our opinion, this format should not really take hold for several years. If its concept is more than convincing, can Oppo manage to produce it in large quantities and market it at a reasonable price in the coming months? The answer seems obvious to us: no.
In addition, many questions arise about the robustness of this product. The stretchable OLED panel is covered with plastic, which makes it vulnerable to scratches. Unlike the Galaxy Fold, the latter is always exposed to the open air which may damage it over time (folded, Samsung’s smartphone does not expose its screen). Another problem, the place where the screen enters is technically exposed to the open air (hence the dust). What would happen in the event of heavy rain? Finally, if the mechanical aspect of the device impresses, will it really be resistant over time? Oppo is announcing 100,000 openings today and hopes to reach 200,000 openings in the near future. We are rather reassured by our first grip but 30 minutes is not enough.
For now, the folding format seems to us to be the one that most closely matches the future. Able to be manufactured in large quantities, more robust, available in several formats and, hopefully soon more affordable, the folding should gradually meet its audience. On the other hand, in the long term, the drop-down screen has all the ideal compromise. We are convinced that the concept of Oppo is much more promising.
Today, Oppo cannot tell us yet what will be its first device with this technology. The X 2021, as advanced as it is (Snapdragon 865, ultra-fast charging, 48 Mpix camera, ToF sensor) should remain a conceptual smartphone. To stand out, Oppo could be tempted to quickly release a device probably reserved for a public who can afford it.