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Huawei Mate X2 review: Tainted love
Huawei Mate X2
Retail price: RMB17,999.00RMB17,999.00 at Huawei
What we like
What we don't like
I want you to imagine an alternate timeline. In fact, just think about the one Huawei was on a few years ago. Google support, killer devices, consumer confidence: Huawei was on target to be number one globally in short order. Then, the US trade ban happened and everything changed.
In the intervening years, Huawei has continued driving innovation on the hardware front — all while in software limbo. The apps, access, and APIs most consumers outside China rely on simply ceased to be part of the equation. Huawei has had the unenviable job of building an app ecosystem from scratch at lightning speed, while pretending everything was just fine with its mature and accomplished devices.
Related: The best foldable phones you can get
Nowhere is that dichotomy more heartbreakingly clear than the Huawei Mate X2. If we existed in the alternate timeline I mentioned, I’d probably be calling the Mate X2 the best phone ever made. I cannot express how impressive this phone is (and I’m not even a foldable fanatic). It’s an uncompromising regular phone, every bit the killer flagship Huawei has made for years, while delivering on all the promises of foldable phones.
This is the Huawei Mate X2 review.
What you need to know about the Huawei Mate X2
- Huawei Mate X2 (8GB/256GB): 17,999RMB (~$2,750)
- Huawei Mate X2 (8GB/512GB): 18,999RMB (~$2,900)
The Mate X2 was announced on February 22, 2021 as the last entry in Huawei’s series of Mate X foldables. It has only been announced for the Chinese market so far but the device appears on Huawei’s global site so a more widespread launch may come down the line. The Mate X2 went on sale in China on February 25, 2021.
It succeeds last year’s Mate Xs but changes its predecessor’s design from an outward-folding main display to an inward-folding screen. Its primary competitor right now is the $1,999 Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2. The Mate X2 is available in Black, White, Light Blue, and Rose Gold colorways.
Everything and nothing
At first, I wasn’t sold on the original Mate X idea, but I liked the product. Then, with the Mate Xs, I still didn’t think it was time for most people to buy a foldable. The Mate X2, at least on a hardware level, screams “now is the time.” I can now confidently say I’m sold on the product and the idea.
The Mate X2 is the hardware everyone interested in foldable phones has been waiting for.
I forgave the Mate Xs for some of its quibbles because I didn’t see it as a mainstream product. It was a luxury product for those with more money than concerns about long-term durability. The Mate X2 flips that on its head. It’s every bit a polished mainstream product, despite being eye-wateringly expensive.
However, for everything the Mate X2 does — and it does a lot extremely well, as you’ll soon see — it can’t do the most basic thing most consumers in the West want their phone to do: access Google apps and services. Yes, there are workarounds I wouldn’t necessarily recommend and decent enough alternatives to most services Google offers. Let’s be real, very few people outside China would choose Huawei App Gallery if the Google Play Store was an option.
With that gargantuan caveat out of the way, let’s put the Google situation aside for a bit and take a look at everything else the phone has going for it.
Is it any good as a phone?
The new design, as clearly as it has been lifted from Samsung’s approach, is the right idea. While I didn’t suffer any devastating issues with the externally folding Mate Xs, even after prolonged usage, most people aren’t as careful with their phones as me. The “innie” design is far better for protecting a folding display.
I love that the Mate X2 looks and feels like a regular phone when closed.
I love that the Mate X2 folds almost completely flat. This provides less room for pocket debris to get in the gap and damage the screen. The hinge seal where the Mate X2 folds has been redesigned. The new trim around the internal screen means less accumulated fluff and grime than the Mate Xs, paired with a more polished aesthetic.
You’d have to use the Mate X2 for a lot longer than my week of testing to know how much more durable it is than the Mate Xs. Overall, it definitely looks to be a more resilient upgrade. The wedge-shape allows the Mate X2 to accommodate a periscope camera. I didn’t notice any balance or weight issues when using it one-handed but my hands are pretty large. It’s noticeable to look at but it doesn’t impact usage at all.
The Mate X2 charges super fast thanks to its 55W charging speeds. I got a full charge in an hour for the 4,500mAh battery. Naturally, battery life depends on how much you use each screen. With some photos, plenty of emailing, messaging, and YouTube (via browser) I managed a day just fine on several occasions.
The side-mounted fingerprint scanner housed in the power button is reliable and fast. I much prefer a capacitive sensor that’s accessible in both open and closed mode to an in-display sensor on this form factor. The stereo speakers are loud and sound good to my ears. I didn’t use the bundled earbuds, however, because the review unit had to be sent on to someone else.
2021 SoC showdown: Snapdragon 888 vs Exynos 2100 vs Kirin 9000 vs Apple A14
The Mate X2’s performance was impressive. The 5G-enabled Kirin 9000 delivered everything it needed to, even on a complicated form factor like this. I particularly appreciated how seamless the software experience was this time around after suffering a few glitches and issues on previous generations. App Gallery may be but a shadow of where it’d need to be for me to like it, but Huawei is taking care of business on the UX front.
As with previous Mate X devices, I love that it’s 100% a regular phone when closed and you don’t have to suffer a tiny, awkward display. If you never opened the Mate X2 up, the only difference between it and any regular Huawei phone would be its weight and thickness.
How are the displays?
The displays on the Mate X2 are big improvements. The seam where the main display folds is barely noticeable. You can feel it if you go looking for it, but it’s pretty much invisible to the touch. I had to keep the screen off and shoot at an extreme angle to make it visible in the photos you see below. They look far worse than it is in reality, and it’s far less noticeable (to touch or sight) than the seam on both the Mate Xs or Galaxy Z Fold 2.
The seam where the Huawei Mate X2's main display folds is barely noticeable.
The Mate X2 provides more space in both open and closed mode compared to the Galaxy Z Fold 2. This is the case despite the Fold 2 displaying the same amount of on-screen text. The normal aspect ratio on the external display makes the Mate X2 more usable on the daily than Samsung’s awkwardly narrow display. It also means you’re far less “pressured” to use the Mate X2 in open mode. I prefer this, personally. I like that the choice between open and closed mode on the Mate X2 is one of preference, rather than necessity.
The choice between open and closed mode on the X2 is one of preference rather than necessity.
The OLED panels, 90Hz refresh rate, resolution, and colors are what you’d expect from Huawei at this point. The fact that they’re part of a foldable phone just makes them even more satisfying. Software transitions are fluid between internal and external displays. I like that split-screen mode puts two apps side-by-side with normal aspect ratios when the Mate X2 is open. While there are still some compatibility issues at play with the different aspect ratios inside and out, the experience is really enjoyable.
What about the camera?
As with any other Huawei phone, the camera setup doesn’t disappoint. The combination of a 50MP main, 3x optical, 10x optical, and a wide-angle lens is the perfect combination. You can digitally zoom up to 100x but, as with other phones that offer this, don’t bother. I will give Huawei some credit for producing a less muddy result than most but photos taken at 100x will not end up on your Instagram.
As you can see in the gallery above, the Mate X2 performs admirably in low light and at night, but not as well as some other modern flagships. There are some blown-out highlights in the food truck and the view across the water, even if most of these images are satisfying.
See also: The best camera phones you can get
The versatility of the four cameras is on display in the four shots of the museum with the plane on top. From super-wide shots to 10x optical zoom, you can capture exactly what you want of a scene without digitally zooming or cropping. Color accuracy across lenses is pretty good, and even the macro mode (using the 16MP Cine Camera, not a separate, dedicated lens) provides natural-looking results with clean detail.
The bird and train tracks above, both shot at 10x, reveal Huawei’s typical processing. This looks good on your phone but can look a little painted up close. It looks like it has been toned down a bit since the Huawei P40 Pro’s zoom. The low-light shots are again very good and detailed. The optical lenses at 1x, 3x, and 10x are tons of fun to use when punching in on a subject.
The combination of a 50MP main, 3x optical, 10x optical, and a wide-angle lens is the perfect combination.
Given the way the Mate X2 folds, it’s possible to use both the dedicated front-facing camera or any of the rear-facing main lenses for selfies. Simply launch the camera app when the X2 is open, switch sides to take much more detailed 50MP selfies, all while using the external camera as a viewfinder. It’s a little more awkward to hold a big square phone this way for selfies, but the results are far superior to the regular selfie camera. Both the detail and processing are greatly improved, as you can see below.
You can check out the full-res originals of all these sample photos here.
I think the Mate X2 is the superior phone to the Galaxy Z Fold 2 overall, but the Fold 2 does offer three things (other than Google access) that might make a difference to your particular use case: Ultra Thin Glass, refresh rates and wireless charging. They’re not huge advantages in my opinion but they should still be noted.
Samsung made headlines with the Ultra Thin Glass (UTG) on the Galaxy Z Flip and Galaxy Z Fold 2, but the Huawei Mate X2 stick with a polymer layer and screen protector that you absolutely shouldn’t remove under any circumstances. Huawei says it’s introduced a “magnetically-controlled nano optical layer” for reduced glare, but the lack of glass-based protection on the large foldable display may be a turn-off at this price.
See also: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 review
Likewise, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 supports 11W wireless charging and the Mate X2 does not, which is a bit mind-boggling on a device this expensive. 11W is hardly sufficient to make wireless charging your default choice on the Fold 2 but it’s still nice to have. This feels like a missed opportunity on Huawei’s part. With that said, wired charging is much faster on the Mate X2: 55W vs the Fold 2’s 25W.
The Fold 2 also offers a 120Hz screen inside with the smaller external display refreshing at 60Hz. Huawei splits the difference with dual 90Hz displays. I think this is better for consistency’s sake but you may disagree if you’re a gamer. For me, 120Hz takes too much of a toll on battery life to consider it worthwhile for casual scrolling.
Finally, on to the accessories. The Mate X2 comes with a pretty swish PU leather case with a built-in kickstand. You can use it to stand the phone up in both open and closed mode. Of all the included cases I’ve seen this is among the best. The Mate X2 box also includes USB-C earbuds, a 66W charging brick, and a USB-C to USB-C cable. You need to use the included Huawei Super Charge brick-and-cable to achieve the Mate X2’s 55W max charging speed.
Huawei Mate X2 specs
|Huawei Mate X2|
8-inch (when open) 90Hz OLED, 2480 x 2200, 413ppi;
6.45-inch (when closed) 90Hz OLED, 2700 x 1160, 456ppi
Kirin 9000 (octa-core, 1 x Cortex-A77 @3.13 GHz, 3 x Cortex-A77 @2.54 GHz, 4 x Cortex-A55 @2.05 GHz)
24-core Mali-G78, dual big core and tiny core NPUs
256/512GB, NM card expansion
50MP Ultra Vision camera (wide angle, f/1.9 aperture, OIS);
16MP cine camera (ultra-wide angle, f/2.2 aperture);
12MP telephoto camera (3x optical zoom, f/2.4 aperture, OIS);
8MP SuperZoom camera (10x optical zoom, f/4.4 aperture, OIS)
16MP selfie camera (wide angle, f/2.2)
66W/55W SuperCharge wired charging (phone supports max 55W)
Sensors: fingerprint, gravity, infrared, hall, barometric pressure, gyroscope, compass, ambient light, proximity, laser, colour temperature
Primary SIM card
5G NR: n1/n3/n28(TX: 703MHz-733MHz, RX: 758MHz-788MHz)/n38/n40/n41/n77/n78/n79/n80/n84
4G FDD LTE: Bands 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/12/17/18/19/20/26
4G TDD LTE: Bands 34/38/39/40/41
3G WCDMA: Bands 1/2/4/5/6/8/19
2G GSM: Bands 2/3/5/8(850/900/1800/1900 MHz)
Secondary SIM card
4G FDD LTE: Bands 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/12/17/18/19/20/26
4G TDD LTE: Bands 34/38/39/40/41
3G WCDMA: Bands 1/2/4/5/6/8/19
2G GSM: Bands 2/3/5/8(850/900/1800/1900 MHz)
GPS (L1 + L5 dual band) / AGPS / GLONASS/ BeiDou (B1I + B1C + B2a + B2b quad-band) / GALILEO (E1 + E5a + E5b Tri-band) / QZSS (L1 + L5 dual band) / NavIC
Dual-SIM, NFC, USB 3.1 GEN1 (included cable only supports USB 2.0), Bluetooth 5.2 (supports BLE, SBC, AAC, LDAC), dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax, 2x2 MIMO, HE160, 1024 QAM, 8 spatial-stream sounding MU-MIMO (requires router support)
EMUI 11 on AOSP version of Android 10
Open: 161.8mm x 145.8mm x 4.4mm ~ 8.2mm;
Closed: 161.8mm x 74.6mm x 13.6mm ~ 14.7mm
Crystal Blue, Crystal Pink, White, Black
Value and competition
The Mate X2 is the hardware everyone interested in foldable phones has been waiting for. To my mind, at least, it represents the maturation of the foldable phone idea. There’s no getting past that three-thousand-dollar price tag, though — especially when there’s no Google support. If it had Google Mobile Services on board, I’d recommend it to anyone in a heartbeat, but it doesn’t.
The Mate X2 may become little more than an advertisement for what to expect from future foldable phones.
The Huawei Mate X2 is poisoned perfection. Hardware heaven in a software purgatory. Like Huawei’s other recent flagships, it’s recommendable to only a small sliver of the population. The difference is that there are dozens of competitive alternatives to Huawei’s regular phones but no challengers to the Mate X2. It’s that good.
It’s superior to the Galaxy Z Fold 2, but the Z Fold 3 is, if the rumors are correct, only six months away. Due to the Google issue, the Mate X2 will be little more than an early advertisement for what to expect from the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3.
Huawei Mate X2 review: The verdict
You probably could’ve seen this conclusion coming a year ago. The Mate X2 is the perfect foldable with a giant asterisk for the Western market. If you don’t care about Google access then buy it, now. It’s the most uncompromising foldable I’ve seen, and every bit as exciting to use as we hoped foldable phones would be.
The Huawei Mate X2 is poisoned perfection. Hardware heaven in a software purgatory.
For most of us, though, the Mate X2 will remain forever out of reach due to its price tag, market availability, or lack of Google support. It’s an overpriced technical marvel that can’t install YouTube. But as has always been the case with Huawei, you can’t help but admire the feats of engineering that made this possible.
Regardless, I hope you get a chance to play around with a Mate X2 at some point. This device, not the Z Fold 2, made a foldable believer out of me. I’ve long thought foldables were an unnecessary inevitability. After using the Mate X2, I’ve changed my mind. If this ends up being the form factor all phones assume in the years to come, I’m fine with that.