The Huawei Mate X2 should make Huawei proud, even if it's probably going to be a sales flop.
Announced earlier this week, the Chinese company's latest foldable is an impressive technical achievement. Compared to current top foldable, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2, Huawei's new offering does almost everything better on paper. However those few areas where it's worse which are so bad it simply becomes unable to compete.
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Mate X2: What Huawei gets right
Let's go over the Mate X2's highlights. For me the most obvious improvement over other foldables are its cameras. Having a quartet of sensors, including two telephoto cameras, offers the same quality of camera hardware you'd find on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, a conventional smartphone praised as one of the best camera phones. Mounting all these cameras onto a foldable is not only an impressive feat of engineering but is arguably the kind of camera offering foldables should always have had, considering their price.
The Mate X2 also beats its rival on its displays too. The Huawei has larger screens both inside and out, with both refreshing at 90Hz. Although the interior display on the Z Fold 2 manages a higher 120Hz refresh rate, the external screen remains at 60Hz.
There's more to appreciate under the Mate X2's skin too. A powerful 5G-ready Kirin 9000 chipset powers the phone, and you also get rapid 55W wired charging. While the Mate X2 is running on Android 10 instead of Android 11, Huawei has added enhancements that benefit the folding form-factor like foldable-optimized apps and simultaneous active and floating windows.
Speaking of form-factor, Huawei hasn't been too proud to go back and change the Mate X2's folding style. Back when the original Huawei Mate X launched, the phone maker was adamant that the exterior folding display was the superior design since it only required a single display. But with folding screens being so fragile, the more ensconced book-style fold with a primary internal and secondary external display has won out, and Huawei adopted it for its second-generation Mate X. It feels like a smart decision for Huawei to quit while it was ahead.
One thing I'm undecided on, at least until I get some hands-on time with the Mate X2 myself is the device's asymmetrical body. Rather than make the phone a uniform thickness, Huawei's given the phone a tapered design, with the widest point on the side where the cameras are (in order to fit the periscope telephoto lenses in), and the thinnest at the opposite end. Huawei claims this makes the phone easier to use with one hand, but it also sounds like the Mate X2 could be horrendously unbalanced and tricky to handle when you've opened the phone.
Mate X2: Why Huawei's phone will falter
So as a whole, the Mate X2 has many pros. Now it's time to acknowledge the cons that are going to kill the phone's chances of success, at least outside of Huawei's home market.
The Mate X2 isn't even an option for our readers in the United States, since Huawei devices are not sold there. But if you're in the U.K. like me, you might actually be tempted to buy the new foldable.
Or you might be until you see the price. Remember that the Mate X2 costs just south of $3,000, based on the 17,999 yuan pricetag in China. This on its own is enough to kill the Mate X2.
You'd be right to argue that the $2,000 it costs to get a Galaxy Z Fold 2 is too expensive already, so what does another grand on top matter? Well, you have to remember the phone features no Google apps either, due to U.S. sanctions forbidding Google and other companies from working with Huawei. Maybe the upcoming HarmonyOS can fix that, but we know so little about Huawei's Android replacement that we can't predict how it will impact the Huawei experience until it launches in April.
In other words, buying a Mate X2 will leave you with a huge hole in your bank account and no guarantee you'll even like or be able to practically use the phone you've just bought.
Besides the cost and the software, there are some flaws in that otherwise stellar design. According to hands-on images from Twitter, Huawei somehow managed to make the crease in the display worse, despite claiming it eliminated the problem entirely with a specially designed hinge.
While it's minor compared to two big lines through the display, Huawei's also decided to not include an internal front camera. It means the big unfolded display doesn't have to lose any pixels to a camera sensor, but it also forces you to use the smaller outside screen if you're taking selfies.
Huawei Mate X2: Outlook
Smartphone design is iterative, and companies borrow ideas from each other to remain competitive and improve their products. That's why I hope the Mate X2 becomes a template for future foldable phones.
Samsung probably doesn't need any inspiration given how many foldable phones it has on offer. But the world's still eagerly awaiting Apple, Google and other manufacturers to dip a toe into the foldables world. The rumored Google Pixel Fold and iPhone Flip would be smart to take inspiration from the Mate X2, from its generous specs list and clever design. It's a pity Huawei won't really be able to see the benefit from its good work.