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Video: I spent 2 hours with the Huawei Mate X at IFA 2019!
The state of foldable phones right now is such a drag. Back at MWC 2019, it seemed like phones were about to change forever. Both Samsung and Huawei had unveiled their new foldable form factors. There was so much hype, I was sure we’d be reviewing foldables from there on out.
It was a little bittersweet when Samsung’s Galaxy Fold started breaking and Huawei was all but banned from working with U.S. manufacturers. I can’t help but feel that if neither of these things happened, we’d be on our way to second generation foldables already.
So, we’ve gone back to reviewing the traditional form factor for smartphones. Don’t get me wrong — in the last few months we’ve seen some incredible offerings from Samsung, OnePlus and others, but I was so incredibly excited for a totally new form factor.
At IFA 2019, both Samsung and Huawei gave us more time with their upcoming foldable devices, and I have to say they’ve really re-kindled the hype I have for these phones. The Galaxy Fold feels a lot sturdier than it did previously, and Huawei gave us two solid hours to play with its upcoming Huawei Mate X. I hadn’t spent much time with Huawei’s offering, so I wanted to give some impressions about how this phone operates, and also clear the air regarding some new developments we learned from Huawei CEO Richard Yu.
The Mate X feels incredibly practical
While Samsung’s Galaxy Fold feels more industrial than the Mate X, it forces you to use a small 4.6-inch display when folded. This is fine for minor things like checking the time and notifications, but it seems difficult to get actual work done in this state. On the Huawei Mate X, you still get a 6.8-inch display to use when the device is folded. This seems much more practical because you can use the device as a standard smartphone during normal use, but expand it when you want a bigger display.
The hinge mechanism on this phone is a great idea. While the Samsung Galaxy Fold clicks into place when you open and close it, the Huawei Mate X has a clasp, requiring the user to push a button to unhinge. This helps keep the unit in place and also looks great with a striking red accent. There’s also a satisfying click when you press the button to unlock it.
The speakers on the Mate X also get incredibly loud. Considering this is a device meant for content consumption, this is great to see. Plenty of people watch Netflix and movies on their tablets, and if you can do that comfortably on your phone without having a bad experience, that makes this thing even better. The whole point of foldable devices is to get rid of the need for separate phones and tablets, and the Mate X does a great job of that, even if the aspect ratio when unfolded is a little weird.
I’m still nervous about scratches
The Samsung Galaxy Fold sacrifices folded screen real-estate with a small 4.6-inch display, but it does protect the plastic OLED better than the Mate X. Huawei’s option bends the display outwards instead of inwards, which means you have an exposed plastic OLED in your pocket when you’re not using it unfolded. The phone comes with a screen protector to help make scratches less common, and Huawei told me it doesn’t recommend taking it off. Taking off the screen protector won’t break the display like the top layer on the original Samsung Galaxy Fold did, but it will make the device much more likely to scratch or be pierced.
On a device that costs over $2,000, this is a little concerning. Huawei includes an incredibly nice leather case with the Mate X, so I assume it’ll want you to use this whenever possible. I would probably be fine with a case like this, but we all get lazy. At some point, someone is just going to put the phone in their pocket exposed, where there is generally a lot of dust and debris.
That said, I can’t speak for durability until I’ve used it for a couple weeks. Huawei likely developed the device with this in mind, and you’d have to assume it knows people will be rough with their devices. I’m interested in how this phone holds up over time.
It’s shipping as soon as next month, but we don’t know the price
In a small roundtable interview after the Huawei keynote at IFA, Huawei said we could see this phone on the market as soon as October. The company mentioned it thought about shipping the device last month, but it wanted to get more developers to ensure their apps work well in both folded and unfolded orientations of the device.
Ironically, Android 10 will have native support for foldables, but since Huawei can’t currently use new versions of Android, it has to optimize apps itself.
When announced, the Mate X was supposed to cost €2,229. We’re curious to see if the price stays that high, since it was so long ago. That is, if the device even ships in Europe anymore, since it won’t have native access to Google Play services. Huawei did say it was working on a way to get the Google Play store on the Mate X through a third party, but it’s still unclear in which regions the phone will be sold.
I’m still hyped as hell for foldables
Using both the Huawei Mate X and the Samsung Galaxy Fold this week, I’m reminded of why I’m so excited for this form factor. We’ve had the same glass slabs for the last five years or so, and while devices have gotten bigger, they haven’t really changed all that drastically. Folding phones make me want to explore what’s possible with a screen that large, and I could even see myself being a lot more productive on a device like this.
What’s your take on foldable phones? Are you still hyped, or not so much? Let us know.