Huawei Mate X full review

Huawei, the embattled Chinese tech superpower, has announced its first foldable smartphone at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The device, called the Mate X, came just four days after the fanfare of Samsung’s similar Galaxy Fold device

Tech Advisor was at a preview event to view the new phone before its announcement. We weren’t allowed hands-on time but saw the device working in a demo area. No media at all were allowed to hold the device so photographs will have to suffice for now.

The Mate X comes in interstellar blue (the little of it that isn’t screen), though that’s hard to see in real life.

Here’s our first impressions on a stunning new form factor for smartphones.

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Price and availability

OK, so it is expensive. A Mate X with 8GB RAM and 512GB storage will cost €2,299. That's compared to the €2,000 Galaxy Fold. £1,000 iPhone X from 2017 eat your heart out.

Huawei said the phone will ship from the 'middle of 2019'. It's since been delayed and current estimates point to a November 2019 release date.

When it does finally go on sale the Mate X is said to have had a bit of a spruce up since we last saw it, now with the Kirin 990 chip and upgraded cameras. Trusted Reviews has unearthed images at TENAA that reveal a new ToF camera and mention two variants: 6GB RAM/128GB storage and 8GB RAM/256GB storage.

Screen to be believed

Debatably more a tablet than a phone, the Mate X appears to outdo Samsung by having three displays – the largest of which is 8in, has no notch impediment and is edge to edge.

The device has a display on the front and the back when closed but can fold outwards, opposite to the book-like opening on the Galaxy Fold. On the Mate X these displays are actually one single panel that can fold along a hinge. Maybe it’s because we’ve seen it up close, unlike the Fold, but the Mate X just looks better.

We saw a similar concept on the Royole Flexpai at CES but that was a mere prototype - Huawei is fully flexing its might here, and the Mate X is leagues ahead and ready for market.

The 8in main tablet display is practically bezel-less where the Fold has a large camera notch cut-out.

The Mate X has a 6.6in display on the front when closed that acts as a traditional smartphone display. It looks pin sharp, running the same Android 9 Pie with EMUI 9 that you’d find on the Mate 20 Pro. It also shares the Kirin 980 processor of that phone, along with a Balong 5000 7nm 5G chipset, so it's a phone ready for the next-gen of mobile networking.

The foldable design means this likely insanely expensive concept phone has a screen that is fully plastic, with no glass in sight.

Opposite number

When unfolded, the two displays click flat to form that larger 8in panel that is the body of the device and can be used like a tablet. This differs from Samsung’s phone that folds outwards like a book and whose smaller display does not form part of the larger when unfolded.

The Mate X is a svelte thing that is only 11mm thick when fully closed and a ridiculous 5.4mm when unfolded. As Huawei pointed out, that’s thinner than practically every phone out there, and even thinner than Apple’s latest iPad Pro.

The Mate X will be too expensive and alien for a lot of people but for us, this is one of the most impressive pieces of modern smartphone design in years. Like the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, it hints at where consumer technology is heading and has seemingly come out of nowhere.

It will be to Samsung’s chagrin that one of its key rivals has outdone it on this front.

Design chops

Huawei’s decision to have the cameras on a bar module that you hold at one end seems to be the correct decision here and is reminiscent of the Kindle Oasis.

The bar holds the camera set up, USB-C port and more while dual batteries in each half of the display makes up a 4500mAh battery. Huawei said it has developed 55W SuperCharge tech for the Mate X that will charge it from 0-85% in 30 minutes.

More specs will follow, as at our briefing there were no questions taken despite the lack of further details.

Huawei demoed the phone behind a rope (yes, really) and showed the phone in every way you can use it. Shut, the 6.6in display looks manageable albeit in two hands, while the rear display seems to be there to basically act as a selfie mirror. We’re sure there are more practical uses, but really, it’s just there to bleed into the front screen as the device’s large display when it’s opened.

Behind the veil

The decision to show media the device in this controlled fashion has us believe that, again like Samsung, Huawei has made a technological marvel but is cautious about the software bugs. A room with scores of tech journalists will quickly find way to pick holes in a new device as much as they have just fawned over it.

We’re not sure when we’ll be able to go hands-on with the Mate X but it’s certainly a giant leap into the mobile future. It doesn’t feel like the sea change of the original iPhone but it hints at the creativity new technologies are giving to smartphone companies in 2019 that allow them to think beyond the black slab design.

The fact this product comes from Huawei, a manufacturer that has raced to the top of the OEM tree in less than five years, is all the more impressive.

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