Motorola Rizr hands-on rollable phone concept: You see me roll

While foldable screens are slowly becoming more mainstream, rollable flexible displays are still in their infancy. The idea is simple: you take a flexible display panel and instead of simply folding it on itself, you use its flexibility to roll it – often hiding it from view. That’s the idea behind Motorola’s rizr rollable phone concept, which was briefly teased back in October.

At MWC 2023 we were able to get our hands on a working prototype of the Motorola rizr rollable phone and let’s just say it’s too cool. Rollables are more convenient than foldable phones in most situations. The phone maintains its original size and form factor and can be used as is. If you need more screen real estate, however, you can get a larger display if you need it, which can be unrolled briefly and then neatly stowed away when you’re done.

Motorola rizr rollable phone concept: Go bigger

Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

Motorola has opted for a smaller form factor for the rizr rollable. In its compact state, the phone sports a 5-inch 15:9 POLED display by BOE Display. It’s tiny compared to the modern 6-inch and up flagships we’re used to, but as the Razr series and Samsung Flip series have shown us, there’s a lot of demand for smaller and more portable phones.

The display wraps completely around the bottom of the Rizr, coming up from the back and covering about a third of the back. Just double-tap the power button on the side and the motorized system jumps into action, scrolling the display up and down until most of the rear has found its way to the front of the phone. This takes about three seconds and expands the display to a 22:9 size of 6.5 inches. The Android interface adapts: apps are stretched vertically, while icons on the home screen are realigned for quicker access. Motorola also makes special wallpapers that automatically adapt to this metamorphosis.

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Apps stretch and adjust as the phone unrolls from its compact 5-inch state.

In the larger configuration, the Motorola rizr rollable phone looks and feels a lot more like the flagships we’ve grown accustomed to. And this is where the similarities – and differences – with the Razr and other clamshell foldables become apparent. The large, user-friendly display is there, but it’s not tucked away in a largely unusable shell most of the time. Instead, you still have access to two-thirds of the same display in the compact standard configuration. In fact, the design looks more like the original Motorola Rizr series of slide phones, hence the name.

Double-tap again and the display will scroll back down and disappear from view. It can also be lowered a little further to reveal the front camera and speaker grille. Like every other Motorola phone, this one supports Moto Actions, so a double flick of the wrist switches to the selfie lens in the camera app.

The main disadvantage of the Rizr is its thickness and weight. Despite the reduced height and width, it’s still fairly thick, weighing 210g – more than many larger flagships like the Pixel 7 Pro and Galaxy S23 Ultra. But that seems important to accommodate the display and its mechanism.

Motorola Roll Up Cell Phone: Hot or Not?

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A secondary display and a larger primary display in one

Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

The Motorola rizr Rollable Phone manages to validate several key use cases in one form factor. For one, the display can be set to auto-expand under certain circumstances (no need to double-tap). Say you’re watching a YouTube video and switch the phone to landscape mode, the display will start to scroll automatically to give you more screen real estate and immerse you in the content. Or if you’re typing an email, it will roll up so you can use Gboard more comfortably without cluttering up the rest of the content on the tiny display.

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Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

When the phone is facing down and the display is unrolled, the wraparound portion behaves like a secondary display on the back. It can show notifications and dim to an all-black, always-on display with the date, time, and weather.

The coolest use case, however, is the camera. Every time you take a photo, you can tap a button to activate the rear display, which will then show your subject either a preview of their photo or a cute smiley face animation. Making babies or children smile should be easy.

The rizr can automatically expand when you need it and pack itself away when you don’t.

We were curious if Motorola would allow you to take “selfie” photos in this mode – meaning just fire up the camera, flip the phone over and use the main sensor with the rear display to frame your shot. At the moment that doesn’t seem feasible (although we assume you could do it by setting a timer or using volume buttons as a trigger), but Motorola said it’s considering adding support for hand gestures to snap a shot.

Motorola rizr rollable phone: A cool concept, many questions

Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

Motorola has a very cool and interesting idea with the rizr rollable phone; Unlike other crazy concepts, this one looks cool and appears to be really useful. But the proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes.

Rollable displays haven’t made it into the mainstream yet. Along with all the complexity of how a folding screen works, you need a tiny, energy efficient and reliable motorized system to roll them around. For now, the Concept Motorola rizr has a 3,000mAh battery, which might be enough for a smaller 5-inch display, but wouldn’t be enough in the extended 6.5-inch mode. Not to mention how much the roll-up and roll-down mechanism would consume if you were expanding and contracting the display multiple times a day.

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Robustness and longevity are other major concerns. Motorola kept its prototype in a clear plastic case all along, and this may also be a necessity for the phone. Without them, the display would be completely blank on the bottom and back, meaning you couldn’t place it on a surface without worrying about how many dust particles are on it. Someone as clumsy as me would worry if they dropped the phone; The mechanism might not be too resilient to drops to the floor, especially if it falls on the underside or corners.

Rita El Khoury / Android Authority

Even when the case is on, the upper part of the display is relatively exposed when you roll it up. The hard shell protecting the display is only a few millimeters thick and I don’t want to know what happens if you drop the phone with the phone expanded.

Rollable phones are a great evolution of foldable displays that feel very futuristic.

And once all of that is resolved, the biggest question remains: when? Motorola says this rolling concept phone is part of its 312 Labs division, which is a few years ahead, but we know the technology is almost there. LG teased a rollable phone in late 2020 and Oppo had the Oppo X concept in mid-2021. The technology of foldable displays has evolved a lot since then: hinges are stronger and displays are less prone to breakage. Despite all the complexity of the rolling mechanism, should we be getting closer to commercialization now and not in two or three years?

Just color us impatient. Rollable phones are just a great evolution from foldable displays and they make the most of space by keeping the main phone compact and easy to use without really compromising usability, while still offering the ability to swap out to a larger display if you need it . And that just feels a bit futuristic to us.