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Mate X costs $2,600, but Huawei hints at cheaper foldable phones

Huawei's foldable Mate X may just be the tip of the iceberg for the Chinese company's foldable phone plan.

The Mate X could be the first of many Huawei foldable phone designs.
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Update, Oct. 23: The Huawei Mate X was released, but only in China so far. Original story follows.

When Huawei announced that the Mate X foldable phone would sell for 2,299 euros -- roughly $2,600, £2,000 or AU$3,660 -- the audience at Huawei's Mate X launch event at MWC gasped and groaned. But it may not be that way forever. 

"It is not just only one phone," said Clement Wong, director for product marketing at Huawei. "A lot of different phones will be coming out," he added, hinting that they could sell at different prices.

Foldable phones are shocking, and not just because they introduce a completely new design. With prices that double that of today's $1,000 4G flagship designs, these bendable devices will shoot the cost of ownership into the stratosphere. In 2016, Samsung's most expensive Note phone cost $850, while the price of Apple's most expensive iPhone soared from $769 in 2016 to $1,099 in 2018, a 43 percent increase.  

The possibility of cheaper Huawei foldable phones was one new Mate X detail that trickled out at a small group session for journalists after Huawei's press conference in Barcelona. Another was an insight into why the phone is so expensive in the first place, surpassing even the price of Samsung's new Galaxy Fold, which will sell for $1,980. While a foldable design and high-end specs do inflate the price, the key might lie in the Mate X's shape.

"Honestly," Wong went on, referring to the Galaxy Fold in veiled terms, "it's not really, really true foldable." Huawei didn't want to sell a foldable phone with a large gap between the sides when they bend shut. The Galaxy Fold has a noticeable loop, seemingly large enough to slot in a pencil, while the Mate X is much more flat. 

The hinge, Wong said, was a major R&D effort that took three years to design. "That is the very critical part to develop the phone," he said. 

Read: Galaxy Fold versus Huawei Mate X: Battle of the foldable phones

Huawei's wise to admit it wants to build lower cost foldable phones. TCL, another Chinese brand that's best known for selling midprice TVs, also has its eye on making affordable foldable phones that come in far below Huawei's asking price for the Mate X. We got to see concept devices that included a wallet-style fold and even a tall, narrow strip you can fold around your wrist like a watch.

Now playing: Watch this: Huawei Mate X is a foldable phone with 5G

The Mate X closes with a physical latch, supported by magnets, and will not support wireless charging. As for its four cameras, which take selfies as well, Wong confirmed that it has the same wide-angle, standard and telephoto lens as the Huawei Mate 20 Pro.

"This camera system is as good as our flagship product line Mate series," he said. "Maybe not exactly the same, but the performance is as good as that one."

Mate X hands-on: Read about our time with Huawei's foldable phone here.

Originally published Feb. 24.
Updates, Feb. 24: adds background on TCL foldable devices; Feb. 25 and March 2: adds more detail, links and photos.