Will foldable phones ever take off in the mainstream, or will they remain expensive toys owned by wealthy tech enthusiasts? Huawei is making a strong case in favor of these bendy gadgets with its recent launch of the Mate X2.
After using the Mate X2 for a week, I can declare that it has the best foldable phone hardware currently commercially available (though only in China for now), eclipsing. (You can read about that in detail below.) The cameras, typical of Huawei phones, take excellent photos in all kinds of lighting conditions. Plus, multitasking is so much easier compared to a regular phone thanks to the inner display, which expands to the size of a tablet when opened.
Huawei put the Mate X2 through a Samsung-inspired redesign, so the device opens and closes like a book instead of folding backward like its predecessors. This design switch also means the Mate X2 has two screens instead of one: an outer panel the size of a full-fledged phone as well as a tablet-size inner display, which is entirely notch-free. Both screens are crisp and responsive, and handoff when you unfurl the device is wonderfully seamless.
Beyond offering a smooth folding phone experience, Huawei didn't skimp on other features. Most notable is its excellent camera system consisting of some of the best smartphone shooters money can buy, including the appearance of a periscope-style telephoto camera -- possibly making the Mate X2 the first foldable to get such a lens. There's also a powerful processor in the form of the Kirin 9000.
Given its astronomical price tag -- nearly $3,000 -- I'm pleased Huawei didn't hold back on accessories: In its box you'll find a bundled fast charger, wired headphones and a handy vegan-leather case, which has a stand for propping up the phone when expanded.
Admittedly, the Mate X2 has obvious drawbacks. The sky-high price tag puts it out of range for most people and it's a China-only release, though I suspect Huawei will launch the next-gen Mate internationally. Like all newer Huawei devices, the Mate X2 doesn't run Google apps like Gmail or Google Maps. Fortunately, you can access services like Gmail on the native web browser, and I easily managed to load my Gmail account on Huawei's native email application. Finally, , the phone is simply too bulky for me.
Even with those imperfections, I think Huawei's third-gen foldable is a phone that demands and deserves your attention, even if you can't buy it outside of China: It demonstrates the potential of foldables and where they might take the smartphone industry. But the Mate X2 is less about its impressive specs than it is about giving the world a taste of the future. Still, I don't think we'll see the real potential of foldable phones until Huawei (or Samsung) can bring the price much lower -- say, $1,000 to $1,200 -- and build slimmer, more portable foldables.
Design: Third time's the charm
The Mate X2 represents Huawei's third attempt at a foldable phone, and this time it seems to have nailed it. The company took a page out of Samsung's playbook with the Mate X2, overhauling its design to feature an inward folding screen instead of a front-facing one like last year's Mate X -- which left it continuously exposed to potentially damaging keys or coins in your pocket.
Using a phone with two displays has obvious trade-offs: The Mate X2 is thick and heavy. The phone can't comfortably be used one-handed, and it was cumbersome to lug around during my routine hikes. But Huawei found a crafty workaround to help reduce the hefty feeling of a 295-gram (10.4-ounce) phone by employing a wedge-shaped design, like a doorstopper. The Mate X2 is thickest near the camera module, then gradually slims down to 4.4mm, pushing the phone's center of gravity to its thicker side.
Also key to the redesign is a new hinge that forms a teardrop shape when folded, helping the screens fold with a narrower gap. Inside the mechanism, there's a zirconium-based liquid metal that Huawei says is twice as strong as the Falcon Wing hinge from its previous models.
What's the exterior display like?
The Mate X2's exterior screen is basically a full-size phone. It takes the form of a 6.45-inch OLED panel with a pill-shaped notch housing two front-facing cameras. The display has a 2,700x1,160-pixel resolution (456 ppi), meaning its image quality is better than the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2. Because of the Mate X2's ample exterior screen, you can depend on it for day-to-day tasks without needing to open up the phone for when you want to type an email or read a long article. This was an issue CNET's Jessica Delcourt faced with-- she found the keyboard too small on the exterior screen, making the typing experience feel cramped. No such feeling with the Mate X2.
Interior display: Is there a crease?
The real fun begins when you unfurl the Mate X2, especially if you're a big-screen lover. It's tough not to marvel at the engineering feat the exemplary inner screen represents. When open, the Mate X2 runs on a tablet-size display entirely free of notches (and creases to a certain extent, too). The 90Hz interior screen is crisp, smooth and responsive.
I mostly didn't notice or feel a crease, except for when I maneuvered the phone to certain angles. What I'm saying is that I had to try to find the crease, it wasn't obvious, so it didn't bother me much at all. One of my favorite things to do was use Android's split-screen mode to run two apps side by side. It was ideal for multitasking, and having a tablet-size display to work from was a dream.
Mate X2 has epic zoom skills
One of Huawei's superpowers has always been its cameras, and the Mate X2's quad camera module is no exception. Leading the pack is a 50-megapixel main sensor accompanied by an ultrawide lens and two telephoto lenses, including a periscope-style one capable of 10x optical zoom. Remember, 10x optical zoom is the highest level of lossless zoom currently available on smartphone cameras, so even the Samsung or Apple flagships lack this coveted feature. It was my first time using a device with this level of zoom, and I was left astonished with the kind of images it captured.
As far as digital zoom goes, the Mate X2 can zoom in 100x. Overall, the camera took detailed and color accurate photos in all kinds of lighting conditions. I also liked being able to unfold the device to take a higher-quality selfie with the rear cameras.
Battery and performance
There's a Kirin 9000 processor with eight cores under the Mate X2's hood, along with 8GB of RAM and 256GB or 512GB of storage. Huawei has added support for storage expansion (256GB) via its proprietary card slot. The battery isn't massive given this is a device with an 8-inch OLED screen, but when the phone eventually died, the fast charger fully revitalized the battery in an hour.
Huawei Mate X2 specs
|Display size, resolution, refresh rate||Exterior: 6.45-inch OLED, 2,700x1,160 pixels, 90Hz. Interior: 8-inch OLED, 2,480x2,200 pixels, 90Hz|
|Pixel density||Exterior: 413 ppi. Interior: 436 ppi|
|Dimensions (Millimeters)||Folded: 161.8mm (H) x 74.6mm (W) x 13.6~14.7mm (D), Unfolded: 161.8mm (H) x 145.8mm (W) x 4.4~8.2mm (D)|
|Weight ( Grams)||295 grams|
|Mobile software||EMUI 11.0 (based on Android 10)|
|Camera||50-megapixel (main), 16-megapixel (ultrawide angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto), 8-megapixel (telephoto with 10x optical zoom)|
|Front-facing camera||16-megapixel (wide-angle)|
|Storage||256GB or 512GB|
|Special features||5G, inward-folding phone, 10x optical zoom, 55W wired charging|
|Battery||4,500 mAh, 55W wired charging|
|Price||17,999 yuan for 256GB ($2,800, £1,985, AU$3,640 converted); 18,999 yuan for 512GB ($2,965, £2,095, AU$3,840 converted)|