Forward-looking: I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't that impressed when Royole first debuted its foldable smartphone the FlexPai. However, the device was still a few months from launch. The version they showed at CES looked much more polished albeit still a bit rough. I'm interested to see where this new type of phone takes us.

Last October China-based smartphone startup Royole debuted the FlexPai — the first smartphone with a folding screen. At the time, the phone was a bit rough, but Royole was taking pre-orders anyway if only to be able to say it was first with a foldable.

This year the phone maker made an appearance at CES and appeared to have made some improvements since October, but it is still far from perfect.

The FlexPai runs on a Snapdragon 855 making it one of the first (if not the first) smartphones to run on the 855 chipset. There is a 128GB version with 6GB of RAM and a 256GB model with 8GB RAM.

The dual 16MP+20MP camera is not that impressive, and the 7.8-inch (unfolded) AMOLED screen had a distinct rise in the middle that created a glare I found distracting when I first saw it last year. KLGadgetTV got a closeup look (below) at CES and it appears this annoying aspect of the screen has been improved.

While the operating system at its core is Android 9.0 Pie, Royole had to modify it to accommodate the folding screen. This aspect seems to work in the phone’s favor.

"All of their [Royole’s] specific software customizations are just built on top of Android 9.0 Pie,” noted Engadget. “This is very much their own thing, and to their credit, it actually runs really well.”

Not known for its software expertise, Royole seems to have done an excellent job converting the Pie OS to work smoothly on an entirely new form factor.

According to the company’s website, the response to initial sales has been overwhelming. It advises those ordering to be prepared to wait anywhere from 60 to 90 days for their order to ship. The 128GB developer version goes for $1,318, and the 256GB is just a bit more at $1,469. In China, they run about 9,000 and 10,000 yuan respectively.

Is it for everyone? Probably not, especially if you live outside of China since that is the only market it is currently available (unless you buy a developer model).

Sure the FlexPai has its shortcomings, but that’s just part of being first. The first cellphones were clunky bricks, but they were nonetheless cool. The first smartphones weren’t that impressive either, but everyone wanted one. Foldable smartphones will go through a similar phase as manufacturers learn from each other’s mistakes and perfect the form factor.