When we first saw the Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X in early 2019, the Mate X’s “outie” form factor is the one I preferred in principle (I wasn’t the only one). It required fewer cameras than the Galaxy Fold, functioned like any other regular phone when closed, and didn’t necessitate a notch. I understood an external display was riskier, but contrary to popular expectation, the Galaxy Fold’s screen was the first to suffer from design problems.
Now in its second generation, the foldable phone market isn’t a novelty anymore and there’s even less margin for error. The Huawei Mate Xs is the semi-globally available successor to the China-only Mate X. It retains the majority of the original’s design with some subtle changes to improve durability, strength, and functionality. It’s a bold device put out by a company that’s known for being bold — this is the Huawei Mate Xs review.
Update August 19, 2020: Added information about 5G-equipped foldable competitors including the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G, Moto Razr 2, and Galaxy Fold 2 (see Value section below). Updated software section to reflect recent updates. Also added information about the rumored Huawei Mate X2 (aka Huawei Mate V) and updated Mate Xs pricing information in Europe to account for recent price drops and bundles.
Huawei Mate Xs review: The big picture
Do you need a folding phone? No, not really. But, like me, you probably want one anyway and regardless, they’re here to stay. Do you need Google Play Services? Maybe. But more to the point, can you live without it? Maybe, maybe not.
In what follows, I’ll necessarily be taking two things as a given. First, that you’re on board with the basic premise of an expensive foldable device, and second, that the absence of Google apps and services on recent Huawei devices isn’t a dealbreaker for you.
The Huawei Mate Xs is a bold device put out by a company that's known for being bold.
I approached this Mate Xs review from the perspective of someone who knows what they’re getting themselves into. Both on the form factor front as well as on a software level. You won’t find me diving too deep into whether foldables should exist or if Google Play Services is the lynchpin of modern society. You can make your own minds up on those issues.
What’s in the box?
The Mate Xs box contains an unfolded Mate Xs with a pre-applied screen protector I don’t advise you to remove, a 55W charging brick (region-dependent, I got a 65W version), USB-C to USB-C cable, a SIM ejector tool and some USB-C earbuds.
I also got a bumper “case” with the Mate Xs but I expect it will be sold separately. Regardless, I cannot encourage you enough to pick one up. It’s a sensible idea for a device like this and a nicely designed bit of protection. Until we have a better long-term feel for foldable durability, a bumper or case just makes sense. As it would on any expensive purchase.
How durable is the Huawei Mate Xs?
This is the million-dollar question. Because of the screen-everywhere design of the Mate Xs, the bumper is more like a frame to protect the exposed edges than a traditional case. If you’re the careful type you could probably manage just fine without the bumper. I, however, was glad to have one, even if for no other reason than peace of mind. Because beyond all other considerations, durability is what matters most here.
I’m ashamed to admit I did drop the Mate Xs. Fortunately for me, the phone came out completely unscathed (it was in the bumper by then thankfully). This incident served two purposes: it reminded me that I should really be a bit more careful with a €2,499 device, and that my initial paranoia about durability was unfounded.
I certainly didn’t expect to drop the Mate Xs so early on, but I’m kind of glad I did. I noticed in the first few days I was treating it very gingerly, like, impractically so. Being extra careful when sliding it into my jeans pocket, being super cautious when popping it into my inside jacket pocket which has a zipper, and so on.
I certainly didn't expect to drop the Mate Xs so early on, but I'm glad to see it survived.
After spending a few days with the Mate Xs and even dropping it — all with no catastrophic damage — I realized it’s much more like a normal phone than I originally thought. I don’t want to get too carefree with my phone abuse habits, but there’s no need to step on eggshells either. The bumper even adds a little lip at the edges, so when laying the Mate Xs on a table, the display is never in contact with the surface. Nice.
The Falcon Wing hinge has been upgraded for strength and confidently locks into place when fully open. While you might have some misgivings about pressing on the screen to fold the Mate Xs open, you quickly realize it’s plenty durable enough for that. If it still bothers you, you can always lock it into place using the edges, but honestly, that level of care isn’t necessary.
Let’s talk foldable design
- 161.3 x 146.2 x 11mm (open)
- 161.3 x 78.5 x 11mm (closed)
- Falcon Wing hinge
I won’t waste too much ink here debating the merits of inside-folding vs outside-folding designs — you will have already made your mind up on that front. The majority agrees the “innie” approach of the Galaxy Fold, Moto Razr, and Galaxy Z Flip is the correct one. This is pretty logical, as it naturally protects the display when closed. I won’t argue: that is indeed true.
The internal fold of the Galaxy Fold, Moto Razr, and Galaxy Z Flip is more logical but less practical than an external fold.
The problem I have with those designs is that you are forced to unfold the device to use them in any meaningful way. That this is a problem is clear: on all three innie foldables, there’s still a token effort at a screen on the outside to make them at least marginally useable when closed. I think we can all agree that while yes, there is an external display on the Fold, Flip, and Razr, none of them are what you’d call ideal.
In contrast to the foldable competition, the Huawei Mate Xs is a fully-fledged smartphone whether it’s open or closed. You don’t miss out on anything no matter which way you’re using it, unlike the innie foldables which are gimped when closed. That’s really cool, even if Huawei will probably never convince the majority that it has the right design.
The Mate Xs is like a regular phone with a secret weapon rather than a fancy phone that's gimped when folded.
Of course, Huawei’s design does put the display at greater risk, but if you’re careful there’s no reason this phone couldn’t last as long as any other, and it just feels so much more right. After a week and a half I can hardly assure you that the Mate Xs will hold up for a couple of years, but so far so good. I prefer this design personally, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I still have some long-term concerns.
Huawei Mate Xs review: Display
- 8-in 60Hz P-OLED display (2,480 x 2,200)
- 6.6-in folded main screen (2,480 x 1,148)
- 6.38-in folded rear screen (2,480 x 892)
The Mate Xs display is great. Yes, it still has a slight crease like any other foldable, but, you quickly learn to live with it. The slight bump of the fold isn’t a big deal, but the wonky reflections you get from any foldable display take a little more getting used to.
When folded, the Mate Xs is 11mm thick. That is also the thickness of the little handle on the back, which might look a little goofy but actually makes the Mate Xs very ergonomic. In tablet mode, it is comfortable and secure to hold despite the Mate Xs’ 300-gram heft. When unfolded, the thinnest part of the phone is 5.4mm.
Colors are punchy and bright, and there’s great contrast and dynamic range. You can switch between Vivid or Normal color profiles in the settings, tweak the screen’s color temperature as needed, or select from default, warm, or cool presets. Outdoor legibility wasn’t an issue. You can change the screen’s resolution from High (2,480 x 2,200) to Standard (1,860 x 1,650) or Low (1,240 x 1,100). The Mate Xs defaults to High but Smart Resolution automatically lowers that to save battery.
When opened, the Mate Xs’ 8-inch display is close to a 1:1 aspect ratio. When folded closed, the main screen is very near a 2:1 display. The folded rear screen is circa 3:2. It’s more a leftover of the foldable design than a functional screen, but it is put to good use when taking selfies (more on this in the camera section).
The pre-installed screen protector has various cutouts along the edges of the display, so no sensors are obscured. Unfortunately, these create all manner of grooves for dust to collect in. The P-OLED display doesn’t feel terribly different from a normal glass layer and it collects finger grease just as easily.
There’s a double layer of polyamide sandwiched beneath the screen protector, then the flexible P-OLED display panel. Beneath that is another layer of soft polymer and a final barrier layer before you get to the internals. What this all means is lots and lots of plastic, so don’t expect some kind of special bendable “glass” such as with the Galaxy Z Flip. I didn’t manage to scratch the Mate Xs display in my two weeks with it, but I’m not saying I won’t manage to eventually.
It’s a typical Huawei beast
- Octa-core Kirin 990 5G CPU
- 16-core Mali G76 GPU
- 8GB RAM
- 512GB storage
- NM SD card slot
Everything here is as you would expect on a modern Huawei flagship. The Kirin 990 5G is Huawei’s first chipset with an integrated 5G modem. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to test its sub-6GHz 5G capabilities but at least it’s futureproof (unless you need mmWave).
The chip’s CPU and GPU combo are more than capable of keeping up with hi-res games. Despite several hours of Asphalt 9 I never saw so much as a dropped frame. The new Flying Fish Fin cooling system uses flexible graphene to dissipate heat. I certainly didn’t notice any excessive warming or throttling, even when charging or gaming.
8GB of RAM is perfectly sufficient for keepings apps cached and launching quickly. On top of that you’ve got Huawei’s NPU for data crunching, translation, image recognition in Master AI mode in the camera, resource allocation, and noise canceling.
Huawei Mate Xs specs
|Huawei Mate Xs|
|Display||8-inch FullView P-OLED screen (when open), 8:7.1, 2480 x 2200; |
6.6-inch front screen (when closed), 19.5:9, 2480 x 1148;
6.38-inch rear screen (when closed), 25:9, 2480 x 892
|SoC||HiSilicon Kirin 990 5G|
|GPU||16-Core ARM Mali-G76|
|Cameras||Leica quad camera|
Main: 40MP f/1.8, 27mm
Tele: 3x optical 8MP f/2.4, 52mm
Wide: 16MP f/2.2, 17mm
ToF 3D depth camera
|Battery||4,500mAh battery (2 x 2,250mAh cells)|
65W/55W SuperCharge wired charging
|Sensors||Side-mounted fingerprint sensor|
|Network||5G NR: N38 / N41 (2515 ~ 2690 MHz) / N77 / N78 / N79 / N1 / N3 / N28（TX: 703 - 733 MHz,RX: 758 - 788 MHz）|
4G FDD LTE: Bands 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 12 / 17 / 18 / 19 / 20 / 26 / 28 / 32
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)
|Software||EMUI 10 on AOSP version of Android 10|
|Dimensions and weight||161.3 x 146.2 x 11 (open)|
161.3 x 78.5 x 11 (closed)
What’s the Mate Xs battery life like?
- 4,500mAh battery
- 55W wired fast charging
Battery life was generally really good. I used the Mate Xs in open mode more often than closed and reliably got between five and six hours of screen-on time from the twin 2,250mAh cells. Obviously the exact battery life you get from a foldable is going to depend on how much you use it in which orientation. You’ll also need to consider normal stuff like what your screen brightness is typically set to, whether you use adaptive brightness, how often you use the camera, if you enable the always-on display, whether you use dark mode, if you’re more on cellular or WiFi, and so on.
I’m typically at 50%-75% screen brightness, on WiFi thanks to lockdown, using dark mode, and not using the camera all that much (again, thanks to not being able to go outside very often). I’ve shared my best and worst screen-on times below as well as a battery log of the fast charging speeds.
Naturally, your mileage may vary and I expect mine will too when I’m back to normal life. I’ll update this Huawei Mate Xs review if I notice any significant changes when that happens. For now though, in the bizarre situation we’re currently in, I’m impressed by the Mate Xs’ battery.
Charging rates with the bundled brick were exactly as advertized: a 60% charge in 20 minutes, 85% in 30 minutes, and a full charge in just 50 minutes.
Same great camera performance
- Main: 40MP f/1.8, 27mm
- Tele: 3x optical 8MP f/2.4, 52mm
- Wide: 16MP f/2.2, 17mm
- ToF 3D depth camera
Like CPU performance, the Huawei Mate Xs camera is just as you’d expect from a Huawei flagship. The combination of standard, wide, and telephoto lenses (the same as the Mate X) are great.
The image processing straddles the middle ground of untouched naturalness and processed improvement. I’ve historically been OK with Huawei’s image handling and I like the results here. If you’re more into Samsung’s or LG’s image processing, though, you might not like it as much.
The Mate Xs’ primary lens has a slightly narrower aperture than the P30 Pro and Mate 30 Pro, both of which use f/1.6. It’s not a huge issue for picture taking and low-light shots still come out fine. On a phone this expensive, however, it’s difficult to justify the decision. The Mate Xs uses the same-sized 40MP RYYB 1/1.7-inch sensor, pixel binned to 10MP by default.
The camera app has wide, 1x, 3x, and 5x toggles, but digitally zooms all the way up to 30x. The 5x toggle is hybrid, using the 3x optical lens and a little digital zoom. In my experience, the differences aren’t that noticeable: you’ll see much the same result by cropping into a 3x optical shot as you would using the hybrid 5x zoom.
The ultrawide is, as always, my favorite lens to shoot with. It’s not as practical on the daily as the main shooter, but I’ve always loved super-wide-angle mobile photography. There’s basically no barrel distortion around the edges either, even on close subjects, which is great.
White balance across the three lenses is very consistent and I didn't find myself avoiding any lens.
White balance across the three lenses is very consistent. I didn’t find myself avoiding any one lens as I have done with other multi-camera setups in the past. Even the Super Macro mode, which lets you get as close as 1 inch (or 2.5cms) from your subject, was good.
I’ll let you check out the image gallery below for some sample shots with full-sized originals available here.
One of the upshots of Huawei’s foldable design is that the main camera is also the selfie camera. Tapping the selfie button in the camera UI prompts you to close the phone and flip it around. You’ll then see your viewfinder on the smaller screen and automatically jump into Portrait mode. If you don’t like the skin smoothing effects Portrait mode brings, just switch back to the normal Camera mode or even to another lens.
One of the upshots of Huawei's foldable design is that the main camera is also the selfie camera.
The normally-unused “back” screen also becomes a second screen when using Mirror Shooting. Simply tap the icon at the top of the viewfinder to let your subject see what you see. This is great if you have a picky subject that insists on controlling everything about your framing.
Is Huawei’s App Gallery any good?
The Huawei App Gallery is very clearly still in its infancy. There’s no getting around the fact that Huawei is essentially building its own app store. That entails enticing developers the world over to develop for it. Huawei has the resources with which to do this, but it will take time.
The App Gallery adds more apps every day but some you need might not be there yet. Others simply may not work because they rely on Google Play Services.
The App Gallery is still relatively light on the ground where your standard suite of apps is concerned. Many of those can, however, be installed without the App Gallery, either directly from the company’s web site, through trusted APK sites, or alternative app stores. The App Gallery adds more apps every day, but you might have to do some searching to find all the apps you need. To fill the gaps, Huawei recently launched an app called Petal Search which makes tracking down and updating APKs that much easier.
I got Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, Slack, Facebook, and more with no problems via sideloading. TikTok was preinstalled on the Mate Xs and Telegram is already available in the App Gallery. I signed into my Gmail via Huawei’s Email app without issue and I just put a browser shortcut to YouTube on my home screen.
Unfortunately, some apps that I need for work, such as Asana and Google Calendar, simply don’t work without Google Play Services. Likewise, while you can install Google Maps and it works fine, you can’t sign in to your account. The one I really missed though was Google Photos. Thanks, trade war.
If you’re looking for the exact same app possibilities as you have on your current phone, the Mate Xs is not for you, clearly, but you can get most of the way there. It all kind of depends on how indebted you are to Google’s ecosystem and how willing you are to adopt alternatives.
App limitations notwithstanding, the EMUI 10 experience on the Mate Xs is really good. The split-screen experience is great, with an additional floating app possible for a total of three on-screen apps at once. Side-by-side apps are handy, and being able to quickly pull up a calculator or something without disrupting your flow is nice. There are also some nice layouts and animations in tablet mode, either adding more on-screen content or nicely transitioning between layouts.
In August 2020, Huawei updated the European Mate Xs to EMUI 10.1 with the July security patch. The update didn’t bring any significant visual changes, but new features include:
- Always-On Display (colors change throughout the day, 3D clockface and other additional styles available)
- You can answer voice and video calls to the Mate Xs on your Huawei laptop
- Remotely read and edit Mate Xs files on a Huawei laptop
- ISO / IEC 27701 data protection certification
- July 2020 security patch
- AI Voice added (say “Hello Celia” or press and hold Power button to activate)
- System performance improvements
Value for money
After all this, do I think a €2,499 folding phone is worth it? Not at all, but that’s just me. I don’t think most $1,000 phones are worth their price tags, either. With devices at this end of the price spectrum, it’s not a question of components and capabilities. It’s about prestige and having the most expensive thing, whether it’s practical and durable or not. For what it’s worth, Huawei is rumored to be releasing a cheaper foldable phone later in 2020.
The Mate Xs is a luxury product, not a regular consumer product. It’s for those that can afford it, and those that can easily afford to replace the screen if necessary. Traditional definitions of value are largely irrelevant here (no one complains that Ferrari parts are expensive, after all). Huawei already has some experience with the success of over-priced devices via the Porsche Design partnership. So Huawei knows there’s a market for this kind of thing even if it’s not your average reader of Android Authority.
The Mate Xs is a luxury product — not a regular consumer product — and it's priced accordingly.
Current foldable alternatives in the U.S. include the original Galaxy Fold at $1,980, Galaxy Z Flip starting from $1,380, and the Moto Razr priced at $1,499. While these are all cheaper than the Mate Xs, none of them support 5G. If you’re after 5G in the U.S., you can now pick up the Galaxy Z Flip 5G for $1,450, which drastically undercuts the Mate Xs and also supports Google app and services.
Samsung also has the Galaxy Fold 2 coming very soon which will undoubtedly feature 5G, and there’s also a 5G-enabled Razr expected on September 9, 2020 — what will most likely be the Moto Razr 2. From its side, Huawei has the rumored Mate X2 in the works which may fold inwards instead of outwards like the original.
Internationally, Samsung has the Galaxy Fold 5G in key European markets like Germany (€2,047.06) and the UK (£1,900) — the 5G version wasn’t sold in the U.S. — with the Galaxy Fold 2 coming soon to global markets as well. The Moto Razr 2 will also launch globally with regional details to be confirmed.
The Mate Xs is currently available in select European markets including the UK and Germany. In UK, the Mate Xs was originally priced at £2,299 but is on sale from August 19 until September 1 for £1,999.99 with a free Huawei Watch GT 2e. In Germany, the Mate Xs price was originally €2,499 but recently dropped to €2,436.97 with some bundled freebies like the FreeBuds 3 and a leather case.
Huawei Mate Xs review: The verdict
Ignoring the price question for a moment, is the Mate Xs actually any good? Absolutely. The software experience is very polished for the foldable form factor. The hardware is typically immaculate. And everything from the camera to battery to performance is top-notch as always. Even my early misgivings about durability were quashed to some degree in the almost fortnight I’ve been using — and dropping — it.
Do I think you should buy it or any other foldable for that matter? Only if the price doesn’t put you off generally. And for the Mate Xs specifically, only if you can live without access to most Google apps and services. With all the other 5G-equipped foldable available now or about to come out, the Mate Xs is starting to look a lot less appealing, especially when you factor in the support for Google apps and services on those other devices.
Do I think you should buy the Mate Xs? Only if the price doesn't put you off and if you can live without some Google apps.
When I first got my hands on the original Mate X I said I wasn’t yet sold on the idea, but I did like the product. Now I’ve spent more time with one, I’m increasingly sold on the idea and really like the product. Is it for most people? No. But for those it is meant for, they’re in for a treat.
As with most flagship “follies,” I fully expect the expensive foldables we’re currently seeing to go down in price. Innovations like these ultimately drive competition at the more affordable end of the spectrum. This is why I’m glad they’re here to stay and that we have a variety of different form factors on offer. Now may not be the time for most of us to invest in a foldable, but that time is coming.
Your questions answered:
On social, I asked for any questions you wanted answered. Here’s a selection of them:
- Does the Mate Xs scratch easily? Not in my experience. I treated it quite gingerly to start with, but quickly realized it was more durable than I expected. Once I was confident it wouldn’t just break, I used it like any other phone and it still didn’t scratch.
- Can you sideload the Google Play Store? I didn’t manage to. If Google Play Services are what you need, you’re better off looking at the Galaxy Fold or Moto Razr.
- Will foldable phones last? In terms of the technology, absolutely. In terms of durability over the course of two to three years of ownership? It depends how careful or clumsy you are.
- What’s the Mate Xs battery life like? In my experience, comparable to a similarly spec’d flagship phone. That said, I’ve been on lockdown so my usage hasn’t been completely typical.
- What’s usability like in everyday life? Fine, if it’s convenient, unfold it. If not, it’s the exact same as using a normal phone. You don’t miss out on any functionality in either mode.
- Is the Mate Xs worth the price? If you have to ask, then no.
- Does it support SD card expansion? Only with an NM SD card, not with traditional microSD cards.
- Can it survive a drop? Well, I dropped it and nothing happened. It was already in the bumper case though, which I highly recommend you invest in. I can’t speak to its long-term durability yet, but I haven’t seen any scratches or damage so far.