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TCL Plex and folding screens show company ready to flex display prowess

tcl logo ifa 2019

TCL is the number one selling TV brand in North America, according to research firm IHS Markit, and the company plans to bank on its success in new ways.

Last week at the IFA trade show in Berlin, the company announced the TCL Plex, the first smartphone to bear the company’s own brand. This represents a significant shift for the company, as it looks to expand its other business units. TCL also happens to own the Alcatel, BlackBerry Mobile, and Palm brands.

Can “TCL” outshine those other names that have lost their luster?

What’s in a name

Recognition is key. If your brand doesn’t register with consumers, chances are it won’t sell. Avi Greengart, lead analyst at Techsponential, believes TCL is on solid ground.

“Of all the brands in its stable, TCL itself is the strongest, especially in North America where the company has invested in marketing efforts for its TVs,” said Greengart to Android Authority via email. In televisions, TCL isn’t really a cheap brand — it’s high value.”

Consumers already have at least some idea that TCL exists.

The company has surpassed long-time TV superpowers Samsung and Sony, at least in North America. Interestingly, both the Korean and Japanese firms are large conglomerates that house multiple businesses — television and mobile among them.

In other words, consumers already have at least some idea that TCL exists and that it makes reasonably good gear.

Why should TCL flex the Plex now?

TCL Plex hands on blue in hand rear cameras 4

“The time was right for us,” said Jason Gerdon, head of global communication and strategy at TCL. “TCL Plex is the first device in what will be an entirely new portfolio of TCL mobile devices. While our Alcatel devices are focused on the entry-tier of the market and our BlackBerry and Palm devices are providing niche options, our TCL portfolio devices are meant to address the more mainstream smartphone market. More importantly, they also serve as the hub for our larger TCL ecosystem of consumer electronic products, including our branded TVs, audio devices, home appliances and more.”

The Plex, which Android Authority named one of IFA’s best smartphones, features a 6.53-inch Full HD+ LCD display made by TCL Display. The glass sandwich is powered by a Snapdragon 675 with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of internal storage, and a 3,820mAh battery. Other features include a triple-camera array on the back USB-C with rapid charging, a headphone jack, and a fingerprint sensor. It’ll sell for 329 euros when it goes on sale later this year. You can read our hands-on impressions here. 

“The Plex is a strong debut for the TCL brand in phones,” said Greengart. “It is not alone: Xiaomi offers similar specs in some markets and TCL will need to market it effectively. But the TCL Plex certainly looks competitive, providing a lot of value at a relatively low price.”

TCL Plex hands on white glass back 2

TCL insists Alcatel and BlackBerry are not dead.

However, in the U.S. mid-range phones occupy something of a no-man’s land. Consumers who can’t afford iPhones and Galaxies tend to purchase cheap phones with cash. Meanwhile, those who can afford flagships often obtain them on payment plans with carriers.

This doesn’t mean that Alcatel and BlackBerry are dead. “Alcatel and BlackBerry remain part of the larger TCL Communication product portfolio,” said Gerdon. “The addition of the TCL brand is in complement to those devices we already have in our portfolio, not a replacement of them.”

Bending to the display bandwagon

TCL Folding Display Concept 1

TCL had more than the Plex on display at IFA in Berlin. The company had a number of folding display concepts to show off. These interesting takes on the tablet-phone combo may some day compete with the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X.

The company would not say if or when its foldable displays will reach the market, but the TCL Plex is setting the stage.

TCL Display is behind the concepts. Once the company has a chance to establish its brand as a player in the mobile space, it stands a better chance to bring the folding phones, er, into the fold. As a result, such devices will fare better under the TCL brand than they might under Alcatel or BlackBerry.

TCL Folding Display Concept 2

TCL’s Gerdon says the Plex is “the first of an entire new line of TCL mobility devices which will be announced over the next year. While this is just our first announcement here at IFA, we will be sharing additional device news for expanded markets — including the U.S. and U.K. — at CES and MWC in 2020.”

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