Updated Oct. 23: We finally have a ship date for the Mate X, which goes on sale Nov. 15, but only in China.
Huawei is looking to enter the foldable fold fray, with the Huawei Mate X — a foldable phone that’s packed with innovation including 5G connectivity and a fast-charging dual battery.
Announced at Mobile World Congress 2019, the Mate X is an entirely new form factor for Huawei that uses two screens that then flip together, becoming an 8-inch tablet. Huawei is using something called a Falcon Wing design for its folding process that allows the screen to fold from underneath to create the bigger screen.
It’s an impressive design, but it won’t come cheap: the Mate X will cost 16,999 in China, which translates to around $2,400. That gets you an 8GB RAM/512GB storage variant. To put that price in context, Samsung sells its flexible Galaxy Fold phone for $1,980.
Huawei unveiled the Mate X at a Feb. 24 event to kick off this year’s Mobile World Congress, and we had the chance to test the Mate X for ourselves. We were blown away. This might be the coolest piece of tech we’ve seen in years — though nine months after our demo, it seems like we won't be able to get our hands on the device any time soon.
Mate X availability
A lot has happened since we first tried out the Mate X. Samsung's Galaxy Fold was to have made its debut in April, but some reviewers who had early access to the phone ran into problems with the Fold's display. Samsung spiked the launch while it worked out solutions to those problems. With those issues now fixed, Samsung has launched the phone in several countries, including the U.S.
Why is that relevant to the Mate X? Because the outpouring of bad publicity for Samsung apparently rattled Huawei enough to get the Chinese phone maker to delay the Mate X's launch. Instead of debuting in June as originally planned, the Mate X has been pushed back twice — first in September and now to later in the fall. “We don’t want to launch a product to destroy our reputation,” a Huawei spokesperson told CNBC when announcing the initial delay.
But now the Mate X's arrival is upon us. The phone is set to ship on Nov. 15, with Huawei limiting the launch to China, and only to select customers in that country.
One other factor that's sprung up since Mobile World Congress hangs over the Mate X: Huawei has landed on the U.S. Department of Commerce's Entity List, which means U.S. firms can't supply it with hardware or software. Initially, Huawei said this wouldn't impact the Mate X, but the phone will apparently ship without access to Google's apps, similar to how Huawei handled the launch of its more conventional Mate 30 Pro smartphone.
What it’s like to use a foldable phone
Huawei bills the Mate X as "world’s slimmest" foldable phone. At a time when foldable phones are very much in their infancy, this isn’t the biggest-ever boast, but fold the Mate X — and it does fold flat — and the device is just 11 millimeters thick (or 0.43 inches). Compare that to the Samsung Galaxy Fold, which is reportedly 17mm thick, and this is one svelte device.
The Mate X’s 8-inch display is divided into two panels when the device is folded — one 6.6-inch screen that would serve as your "main" smartphone display, and another on the back that measures 6.38-inches and sits flush with the bar that houses the phone’s camera stack, USB Type-C port and much of its other circuitry.
The device is heavier than your average smartphone, but not as hefty as you’d expect. In fact, holding it our hands, the Mate X felt quite light when it was folded out in full tablet mode, and would certainly weigh in as one of the lighter 8-inch tablets out there. It was only when we held the device in our hands shut that all that extra hardware really made its presence known.
Huawei said at Mobile World Congress that it was still ironing out the software of the prototype unit we handled, and based on our experience with it, that seems to be the case. There's a lag of a few seconds when the Mate X is figuring out that it needs to change the screen orientation, and when the device was folded, it didn’t always know which side of the screen to use. In fact, the Mate X lit whichever side was facing down in the palm of our hand, until we powered the display off and then on again.
The foldable display flexes a complete 180 degrees and then latches shut. There’s a button on the top of the bar, below the cameras, that unhinges the screen so it can be folded out. While we couldn’t fold the phone ourselves — Huawei reps handled that task — we were able to press that button which makes the display pop out. There’s a definite mechanical feedback to it, but in a way that feels right.
Mate X specs
|Huawei Mate X|
|Unfolded Display (Resolution)||8-inch OLED (2480 x2200)|
|Folded Display (Resolution)||6.6 inches (2480 x 1148) + 6.4 inches (2480 X 982)|
|Expandable?||Yes, up to 256GB|
|Cameras||40 MP (wide-angle), 16 MP (ultra wide angle), 8 MP (telephoto)|
|OS||Android 9 Pie with EMUI 9.1.1|
A flexible, 4K display
When shut, the Mate X offers a front-facing 6.6-inch screen with a resolution of 2480 x 1148 and a 19.5:9 aspect ratio. That’s complimented by a back screen measuring 6.38 inches (2480 x 892 resolution, 25:9 aspect ratio).
We watched as the Mate X changed from a phone into a tablet while browsing YouTube. The video looked fantastic on the 8-inch screen, as the device played 4K footage of a vibrant Macaw parrot. The bird’s red, yellow and blue feathers popped off the display along with the verdant greens of the foliage behind it, and the picture was as crisp, bright and satisfying as any we’ve encountered in previous Huawei flagships.
Interestingly, you can use the Mate X unfolded in either vertical or horizontal orientation. However, because the aspect ratio is nearly that of a square, it doesn’t make much of a difference which way you hold the device. As a bonus though, when you lay the Mate X flat with the bar at the opposite end from where you’re sitting, it kind of props the "top" of the display up, which may provide a slightly more ergonomic touch typing experience.
Cameras in focus
The Mate X’s sidebar houses its Leica camera lenses, which is why its displays extend from edge-to-edge — there’s no need for camera cut-outs. Instead, the lenses can be used in any orientation to take photos or selfies. That means no matter which way you’re shooting, you’re always using the best (and only) lenses — and you can use all the tools in the Camera app, from videos to Portrait Mode and more.
The secondary screen also handles some really interesting tasks, including acting as a mirror for when you take a picture of someone. That lets them see exactly what they are going to look like before a picture is taken. We tried this out for ourselves in a private demo of the Mate X, and it’s an unexpectedly useful feature (though you might end up looking at yourself in the mirror preview as the shutter clicks, as we did).
The strip that carries the cameras is the beating heart of the device. It's here that Huawei has managed to squeeze in the Kirin processor, 5G modem and all those Leica lenses.
As for the lenses, Huawei wouldn't give us a definitive answer as to what cameras the device uses back in February. It did hint that they were the same quality of lenses on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. (For what it's worth, the specs sheet for the Mate X says the phone offers a 40-megapixel wide angle lens, 16-MP ultra wide angle lens and 8-MP telephoto shooter.)
Power and performance
Huawei was set to pull out all the stops in other areas, too. Initially, it billed the Mate X as "the world’s fastest foldable 5G phone." (Try saying that 10 times fast.) And the Mate X coming in November will feature 5G connectivity, via a Balong 5000 modem alongside the Kirin 980 chipset.
The Kirin 980 is a powerful processor, but not the most recent one developed by Huawei. That would be the Kirin 990, which has integrated 5G connectivity. As suggested in an earlier report that claimed there would two different Mate X models, it sounds like Huawei is releasing a Kirin 980-powered version of the phone now, with a Kirin 990-equipped Mate X following later (probably next year).
The battery tech for the Mate X is literally two-fold, with two batteries adding up to 4,500 mAh powering the thing. Huawei has sped up charging, with a 55-watt fast charger that will get you to 85 percent power after just 30 minutes.
On paper, Huawei has made something special with the Mate X. It’s made sure that this foldable phone goes beyond the gimmick, packing in some serious camera tech and making sure both variants of the device have a reason to exist.
We can't help but be disappointed by Huawei's limited launch plans for the Mate X, though. Huawei had a chance to take on the Galaxy Fold to stake out an early claim for the best foldable phone, but we can't help but feel that the company is passing up that opportunity. Hopefully, the Mate X starts becoming available in wider number after its initial launch — and in more countries.