Whether you think it's just a fad or truly represents the next evolution of smartphones, the arrival of flexible-screen folding handsets has given the industry a much-needed shot in the arm, getting manufacturers thinking about design in some (occasionally exciting) new terms. And while big names like Samsung have led the charge, the novelty of folders presents an opportunity for other players to step up and try to make a name for themselves in this emerging corner of the market. TCL is among the brands anxious to seize that opportunity, and at CES 2020 gave us a chance to check out its still-in-development folder plans.

TCL is clear that this is very much a concept-class design, and is just one of many it's been developing — over two dozen other looks have also been under consideration. And while the company is still finalizing what it intends to do with its first foldable phone, there are some aspects of the hardware here that already stand out.

Compared to the Galaxy Fold or Huawei Mate X and those upright, portrait-orientation designs, TCL's concept feels more like a landscape tablet — one that folds shut to an impressively compact package. The handset manages to avoid the Fold's visible gap between its halves when folded shut, much as the Moto Razr does. The back panels feature an interesting angled design that evokes a look similar to TCL's latest non-folding handsets, but here subtly hides changes in phone thickness.

Unsurprisingly for a concept phone, there are a fair number of operational quirks, both in terms of the hardware itself and the software's response to the handset's shifting form factor. But to get hung up on any of those at this point wouldn't be quite fair. That said, TCL doesn't have a ton of time to finish ironing things out, with expectations that however its foldable plans come together, the company will have something ready to share in Barcelona for MWC next month.

Of course, there are still a million questions up in the air, even putting the overall design of the phone aside, from the hardware that will power it to how it will end up in stores. For TCL to really make a mark here, it's going to have to give shoppers something compelling — and while the allure of foldable devices in general is strong right now, that also means trying to stand out from the rest of the bending-screen pack.

Personally, I really think there's something to the screen shape TCL is experimenting with here that balances overall device size and unfolded display real estate arguably better than either the Galaxy Fold or Razr. And right now in the folding-phone market space, simply having something even just a little bit different than everybody else might be all you need to get a foothold.