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This phone has a screen that feels just like paper – and I love it

TCL came to CES 2023 with a whole load of new tech, from budget Android phones to high-end television sets. But what really caught my eye was the expanded range of Nxtpaper devices the company was showing off.

Nxtpaper is TCL’s clever screen tech that covers the usual LCD with an extra layer that mimics the textured feel of paper. It’s a bit like the feel of an Amazon Kindle – just with a colour display underneath.

Not only does this make using a stylus on the display more akin to writing on paper, with more resistance than you’d get with a glossy screen, but it reduces glare and the amount of blue light given off too.

TCL released its first version of Nxtpaper a few years ago in tablet form, although it lacked any sort of backlighting meaning it was only usable in bright situations. The second version rectified this and the latest addition upped the brightness levels.

I’ve already written about the Nxtpaper 12 Pro, an Android tablet that uses the screen tech, but TCL also showed me a concept Nxtpaper phone that put the feature on a smaller canvas for the first time.

Being a concept device, the Nxtpaper phone isn’t consumer-ready and isn’t even a finalised product. TCL reps told me that at this stage it was purely an idea, but one that might become a real product if there was enough positive feedback.

I spent around an hour with this concept device and it’s immediately obvious that there would be some excellent benefits to this kind of device becoming a reality. The matte display is a lot better in sunnier conditions; where more traditional phones would struggle with glare, the Nxtpaper diffuses the light making it easier to read.

TCL also claims the display is better for your eyes, as it emits far less blue light. Considering you might look at your phone for 5-6 hours per day, more than you would do with a tablet, using this tech on a phone makes a lot of sense.

There are obvious issues though, and it’s likely these that have stopped this phone from becoming a reality quite yet. Brightness is my biggest qualm so far, and the Nxtpaper phone had a noticeably dimmer display than the iPhone 14 Pro Max I was using as a comparison.

There’s a softness here too, with the screen lacking the same levels of sharpness as even budget Android phones. Finally, durability is likely a problem too. Using a screen protector here would render the unique display useless.

If these issues get solved then I could definitely see the benefits outweighing the negatives of the tech and I’d love to see it arrive on a proper product.

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