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Huawei Mate X review: Hands-on with the “world’s fastest” foldable 5G phone

My first thoughts about the Mate X after going hands-on with it at MWC in Barcelona

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Following the news that Google has restricted access to the Android operating system on  Huawei and Honor smartphones worldwide, the Mate X's future is somewhat unclear. Indeed, although the stunning foldable phone was expected to arrive as soon as "mid 2019" on UK shores, its highly likely this recent development might affect its release date. For as long as these restrictions remain in place and until it becomes clear what alternative software the device will use, we'd recommend not buying it.

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Huawei Mate X hands-on review

If there’s one product that stole the most headlines at MWC, it was surely Huawei’s Mate X, which the Chinese firm has labelled the “world’s fastest” foldable 5G phone. And it’s hardly surprising, because the phone has a mind-boggling design and a jaw-dropping price (€2,299).

The company was a little cagey about letting anyone get too close to the Mate X following its grand reveal, which is most likely because it’s still many months away from public release – according to rumours it’ll be available from September 2019. However, when I delivered two Expert Reviews “Best of MWC” awards to Huawei’s stand at MWC, I was fortunate enough to be among the first to hold the device and see it up close.

What follows, then, are my early thoughts about the device following my very limited time with it.

Huawei Mate X: Key specifications, price and release date

  • 5G compatible (theoretical speeds up to 4.6Gbps)
  • 8in 2,480 x 2,200 display when unfolded
  • 6.6in front screen and 6.38in rear screen when folded
  • 7nm Balcon 5000 + Kirin 980 5G chipset
  • 8GB RAM
  • 512GB of storage
  • Dual 4500mAh battery
  • 55W SuperCharge charger
  • UK release date: Rumoured September 2019
  • Price: €2299 (approx. £1970)

Huawei Mate X: Design, key features and first impressions

I should be clear that I only had the the Mate X in my hands for a couple of minutes in Barcelona and was not at any point allowed to fold it. I did, however, have it in my hand and was able to see it working in both its folded and expanded state.

In many ways, it’s the unfolded state that is of most interest, because it’s the device’s raison d’etre and offers the main benefit over using a regular smartphone. In this form, its display measures 8in across the diagonal and has an impressively sharp 2,480 x 2,200 resolution. That’s 0.7 larger than the Galaxy Fold’s main display.

That’s a considerably larger screen than you’ll find in even the largest of smartphones, too, and its almost-square form makes for a very unusual 62:55 aspect ratio. The benefit of this boxy display, Huawei claims, is that you can multitask more easily with multiple different apps open at once.

I have to say that the phone looks absolutely stunning in this state, not least because it’s only 5.4mm thick, but also because the display is surrounded by only very narrow bezels and no notches or cutouts as with the Samsung Galaxy Fold. There’s no imperfection in the flexible screen to speak of when it's viewed head-on (although a subtle crease can sometimes be seen when the screen is viewed from an angle) and you get very little sense that it’s even a folding device.

However, although it seems obvious that larger screens are better for working on, my main worry around the Mate X’s unusual form factor concerns what typing with it will be like. Unfortunately, I didn’t have long enough with the foldable phone to try composing an email, but I’d imagine using an on-screen keyboard on an 8in display will present some unique challenges compared to using a narrower smartphone screen.

Having said that, the Mate X feels great in the hand. It’s not supremely lightweight, nor especially heavy but it feels balanced despite having most of its components hidden away in the grip on its rear right side. It’s this grip, of course, that’s enabled Huawei to do away with the sensors and selfie cameras that necessitate notches in the majority of the current crop of flagship smartphones. This, too, might present problems of its own if you want to place the Mate X on a surface, because it prevents the device from lying uniformly flat.

The Mate X differs from the Samsung Galaxy Fold and TCL prototypes at MWC in that it uses what Huawei describes as an outside curvature. This means that, somewhat mind-bogglingly, both halves of the screen remain on the outside when it’s closed and both halves of the phone sit perfectly flat to one another with no air gaps. This is made possible by Huawei’s patented “falcon-wing” hinge, which you really need to see to believe.

The main downside to the Mate X’s impressive outward folding mechanism is that it means half of the screen is on the back of the device when it’s folded. As such, the Mate X is sold with a full-cover protective case to ensure you don’t scratch it. I didn’t see this case in the flesh and it’s difficult to envisage how it’ll work without putting that 6.38in screen largely out of action most of the time. The main benefit to this reverse display, Huawei says, is that it lets you see yourself on-screen when taking selfies and you can also let the subject of your snaps see how they look as images are captured.

As for the folding itself, this is initiated by pressing a latch on the grip. It looks fairly seamless and effortless when I’ve watched others use it but I can’t comment on how it feels having not tried it for myself.

The folding mechanism isn’t all that’s impressive about the Mate X. Thanks to its Kirin 980 chipset and 7nm Balong 5000 5G modem, Huawei claims it can also deliver 5G speeds twice as fast as the Samsung Galaxy Fold. To quote the firm’s own figures, the phone can achieve download speeds up to 4.6Gbits/sec – fast enough to download a 1GB movie in just three seconds. Those numbers might sound nigh on fictional considering the 5G roll out hasn’t even started in the UK yet, but Huawei is clearly making a statement of intent by promising speeds twice as fast as its main rival.

Other details about the Mate X are still fairly thin on the ground for now. We don’t know much about the triple camera arrangement, for instance, except that it’s going to be Leica branded, as with all Huawei’s flagship phones. Clement Wong, the company’s Vice President of Global Marketing, was also unable to confirm whether the device will have waterproofing but I’d be surprised if it did given how new the folding technology is.

The firm did, however, reveal that the phone’s Kirin 980 chipset is backed by 8GB RAM and 512GB of internal storage. And then there’s its impressive battery technology. The phone uses a 4,500 mAh dual battery that, thanks to its “SuperCharge” 55W charger, Huawei claims will charge to 85% capacity in just 30 minutes. If that’s true, that’s not far off matching the fastest charging phone we’ve ever seen, the Oppo RX17 Pro.

Huawei Mate X: Early verdict

The Huawei Mate X is absolutely captivating because until MWC 2019 nobody had ever seen anything quite like it before. Even compared with Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, it offers a drastically different design, only has one screen and solves the problem of having to build in a notch as well.

It's impossible to say just yet how much of a success it will be until we have more time to test it. And that might be some time given how precious Huawei was about allowing people to handle and fold the phone at MWC. There’s the thorny issue of its €2299 price tag, which is in dreamland for most smartphone fans. But for those who care enough about owning the very latest in technology and have the cash to back that up, the Huawei Mate X is shaping up to be the best of the first-generation folding phones.

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