Chinese startup to debut bendable smartphones this year

The world's first bendable smartphone made using graphene, which was first developed in the UK, is to hit the market.

A company in China, Moxi, claims to have developed the device, which has a graphene-based screen which is so flexible that it can be worn as a chunky bracelet.

The revolutionary material is not only extremely thin – one atom -  it is also 200 times stronger than steel.

Graphene, the carbon-based material won scientists from The University of Manchester the Nobel Prize in 2004.

Professor Andre Geim and professor Kostya Novoselov, who had also been awarded knighthoods, had been collaborating with academics and businesses around the world to identify commercial uses.

Apart from the creation of flexible screens, the material would find applications in many areas from aircraft to super-efficient solar panels to medical devices.

Moxi Group, based in Chongqing, said it would ship 100,000 of the devices in 2016. The phones, which would sell for around 5,000 yuan ($1062) apiece, were designed to be rolled into a bracelet and worn on the wrist. The touchscreens work when curled up, or could be unfurled into rectangles for use just like any other smartphone.

The devices would currently only feature black and white displays, with a colour version to follow later.

"Black and white phones are much easier to make," Bloomberg quoted Chongsheng Yu, Moxi's executive vice president, as saying. "The colour model power usage is also much higher than that of the black and white unit. We'll sell in China and if there's demand overseas, we'll look into it."

Instead of putting all the smartphone's parts behind the flexible screen, Moxi had crammed the battery, processor and the other components into one end of the gadget. That would allow the display to almost bend in a full circle. A key question was how good the screen would be.

"If they're using flexible e-ink then it's a real loser," said Roel Vertegaal, director of the Human Media Lab at Queen's University in Canada, which showed off its own prototype of a bendable phone using the technology five years ago. "It was the only flexible technology we could get, but the colours are poor, the contrasts are poor and you can't play videos on it."

"If you make a working, bendable phone then it's a massive market," said Aravind Vijayaraghavan, a graphene researcher at Manchester University. "If they're going to release it commercially this year I'd be thoroughly impressed. If you have a low-resolution black and white screen that is not terribly reliable, then that's not a commercial prospect."