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TCL's Newest Concept Phone has a Matte Screen

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Jan 4, 2023, 4:01 PM   by Rich Brome   @rbrome
updated Jan 5, 2023, 12:59 PM

TCL is showing off a concept phone at CES that it calls the NXTPAPER Phone, a phone that implements the paper-like display technology the company has put in some of its recents tablets. Unlike almost all other phones on the market today, the display surface has a matte finish, somewhat like paper, instead of the usual glossy glass. So how does it feel, how does it work, and how does it look in person? We break it down for you in this hands-on. Read on for our impressions.

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TCL's NXTPAPER brand has a bit of an odd history. TCL would like you to believe that they've invented some ground-breaking new display technology that blends the best of e-ink with the best of modern LCD or OLED displays. But that's not quite where they are. Yet.

Instead, NXTPAPER seems to be an initiative with that as a goal. But in order to bring something to market today, they're exploring creative ways to leverage existing technologies and materials to get as close as they can to "paper-like" for now.

For example, the first NXTPAPER tablet used a transflexive LCD panel, which is a type that can operate in bright light without any backlight at all. This saves a ton of battery life while reducing eye-strain (provided the ambient lighting is bright enough.) There was a time when some phones used these types of displays, but they had serious trade-offs and fell out of favor.

So for the same reason phones stopped using transflexive LCD displays, TCL pivoted to more traditional tablet/phone displays, and instead focused on filter and coating layers to make displays look more paper-like. Some of these are focused on reducing disruptive blue light (while carefully keeping color balanced), while other layers reduce glare and create the matte finish on top. TCL says it has added ten extra layers to create it latest paper-like effect.

NXTPAPER Phone (concept)  

The NXTPAPER Phone concept does, in fact, look pretty great. It's not some magical e-ink thing that can show bright video. But it is a phone with a decent display that happens to have good anti-glare and a silky matte finish, without sacrificing sharpness. It feels great to touch. That's great, and it looks good enough to make me wonder why no one has tried this before. I mean, computer displays have had anti-glare options for long time. Why not phones?!

I really enjoyed my time with the concept phone and could see myself buying a phone with a display like this.

I also have to say that TCL gave this particular concept phone an unusually rough matte finish on the back and sides, that I absolutely loved. It felt light, solid, and grippy. I wasn't the only journalist to gush over this detail: I hope TCL listens and brings this finish to one or more of its US phones soon.

So... will this concept become reality? I'm... not sure. TCL seems to be focused on sub-$300 phones right now, at least in the US. And I'm not sure where this technology fits into that kind of lineup. But overall and in the longer term, I do think TCL is on to something here.

About the author, Rich Brome:

Editor in Chief Rich became fascinated with cell phones in 1999, creating mobile web sites for phones with tiny black-and-white displays and obsessing over new phone models. Realizing a need for better info about phones, he started Phone Scoop in 2001, and has been helming the site ever since. Rich has spent two decades researching and covering every detail of the phone industry, traveling the world to tour factories, interview CEOs, and get every last spec and photo Phone Scoop readers have come to expect. As an industry veteran, Rich is a respected voice on phone technology of the past, present, and future.

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