Yes, I’ve spent two weeks with the foldable HUAWEI Mate Xs and I never want to go back… I’ll admit it, I was a little bit skeptical about the whole concept of foldable smartphones when it first started popping up a couple of years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited about the advancements in technology. I couldn’t label it anything else than a gimmick though, especially considering the first prototypes and implementations.
Then Samsung announced its Galaxy Fold, which did nothing else but cement my earlier beliefs (and fears). I thought this was a niche product at an insane price point. For me, personally, having to open up (unfold) a device in order to properly interact with it was against the purpose. Using the phone folded just by interacting with the small outer display wasn’t something appealing to me.
Then HUAWEI launched the Mate X, shifting the paradigm, having a completely different approach to that of Samsung’s, for which it was heavily criticized. This was the tipping point for me. This particular approach was much more appealing, and usable, in theory, than the in-folding design.
The first wave of reviews came out and I sadly didn’t get the chance to play with the Mate X. However, HUAWEI announced an upgraded version of the device (both in terms of specs as well as build), called Mate Xs. I’ve spent a whole week with it, and I never want to go back!
For the first time in a really long time I felt excited again when opening up the box in which it came. Sure, I’m moderately excited for every new smartphone I get the chance to play with, and, while they all look and feel more or less the same, this one’s different. Completely different!
I’ll admit I wasn’t afraid to fold it (it comes unfolded in the box), but I was really anxious about unfolding it for the first couple of times. I could describe the tactile feeling you get by comparing it to what you feel when you snap a chocolate bar in two. …only that you’re afraid of literally breaking an almost $3,000 device.
Adding to that particular feeling generated by the redesigned hinge is the incredibly thin form factor of the phone. When folded, it’s just about as thick (or thin) as a regular non-foldable smartphone at 11mm, only to get half as thick (or thin) when unfolded, at 5.5mm. It feels very fragile, but luckily, it’s not as fragile as you’d think.
I went ahead and moved into the phone, setting it up as my daily driver, determined to work and play on it exclusively. The setup process is similar to that of any other HUAWEI smartphone, and, doing that recently with the P40 Pro, I was on autopilot.
The entire process took place in folded mode, as I was determined to focus on that initially, before getting distracted by the possibility of doubling the screen size. It was hard to refrain from unfolding at first, but I told myself it’s just a matter of a couple of hours until I can do it. I also had it connected to a charger so I start the journey with the phone set up and completely charged.
HUAWEI Mate Xs Pros
“Wow” and “f… me!” were the most common reactions from the people I showed this phone off to, which was pretty much in line with what I felt initially when I finally got my hands on it. Obviously, the main advantage is the wow-factor of the approach, something so futuristic and sci-fi in today’s day and age, that it often times generates a mental block for those not that much into tech like us, the tech media, and our tech-aficionado readers.
But beyond that, and getting to the practical advantages, this form factor has the potential to kill both the smartphone and the tablet form factors. You’re basically expanding a full sized phone to an iPad mini-sized device, and that right there is what the Mate Xs has over its competitors.
The advantage is that you can fully utilize the phone in its folded state, as it gives you the real estate of a full 6.6-inch display, compared to the 4.6-inch cover display of its main competitor, the Galaxy Fold. That’s enough to consume content without the need to unfold the device, which, when you do, expands the canvas to 8 inches, versus the 7.3 inches on its competitor.
Another advantage of this approach is that it eliminates bezels, notches, and punch holes, so your content is completely uninterrupted. HUAWEI crammed all the hardware including the battery and cameras, in the thick part to the side – which holds the buttons and fingerprint scanner – and, without the need for a selfie camera (your main cameras are acting as a selfie shooter) there’s no hardware interfering with the screen.
Speaking of cameras, the Mate Xs uses a Leica branded system consisting of a 40 MP, f/1.8, 27mm (wide), an 8 MP, f/2.4, 81mm (telephoto) with 3x optical zoom and 5x hybrid zoom, a 16 MP, f/2.2, 17mm (ultrawide) shooter, and a TOF 3D depth sensor.
The software allows you to enable the back display (when folded) so that your subject sees your framing of the picture in real life. The back display is also activated automatically when taking selfies with the main shooters, as you flip the phone to achieve it.
In fully unfolded mode you can take advantage of the large display in several ways. You can use the entire canvas to browse websites and, in general, consume content, or you can conveniently multitask by having up to three apps open at the same time. Two of them are side by side on the large display, split, giving you almost two full size experiences at four inches, with the option of adding a third app that floats on top of everything. That, right there, is multitasking taken to the next level.
There are, of course, other pros, like the quality of the display, the battery life, extreme performance of the Kirin 990 chip, 5G capabilities, camera quality, but we’ll cover those in our upcoming full review. This editorial talks about my experience with the Mate Xs, and how it completely changed the way I look at and feel about foldable smartphones.
HUAWEI Mate Xs Cons
The main advantage of the Mate Xs I talked about in the segment above is also the main disadvantage of the phone, in a weird way. Having an out-folding design means that regardless of how you place your phone down, it will always be sitting on the exposed display. Needless to say, that makes it prone to scratches and, since glass can’t be bent, the display is very fragile being only protected by a thin layer of plastic and a screen protector (you should not remove!).
The hinge has been redesigned from the original Mate X in order to become more sturdy and to do its best and keep dust/dirt from getting underneath the protective film, ultimately killing the display. That, however, and the entire concept of a foldable smartphone completely kills all IP ratings for dust and water. Keep it as far away from moisture (even droplets) as possible, and hope your pockets not only have no sharp objects inside, but contain hopefully no lint.
What’s not certain is what’s happening with the pre-installed screen protector once it starts peeling off by itself, or gets scratched. Our guess is that it may require HUAWEI’s intervention to remove and replace.
Then there’s the topic of the price: it costs a whopping £2,299, or around $2,800 / €2,575. Surely, this phone isn’t for everyone, but there are now two filters in place for the potential customer: 1. you have the price to start off with and 2. you have the folding form factor. There will be some who would love it but won’t afford it, and there will be some who could afford it but don’t believe in the approach, limiting the audience to fans of this design who have deep pockets.
As skeptical as I was about foldables (and I still am, when it comes to other approaches), I quickly fell in love with the HUAWEI Mate Xs. Reviewing phones for more than a decade I found it refreshing to be as excited about a device as I was when we switched from resistive touch screens to capacitive.
This being my personal story, it might not resonate with everyone, as you might be a fan of the in-folding design, and that’s great! If your workflow requires no more than a small display to get things done before you unfold your phone, then you should definitely pursue that. It will also give you peace of mind from a durability standpoint.
For me, however, being able to multitask folded, and take that multitasking to a different level once unfolded is key. Yes, I’ve gotten into the habit on constantly placing it on a shammy at the office, and on soft surfaces when visiting friends (as much as you can visit people during current restrictions), and, while it was a real nuisance in the beginning, it quickly became a habit.