• September 24, 2022

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When foldable phones first hit the market in 2019, there were two distinct form factors pioneered by Samsung and Huawei. Samsung’s method was the inside fold, in which the screen closes on itself like a book, Huawei’s way was the outer fold, which sees the screen bend backwards and wraps around itself.

There were pros and cons to both: Samsung’s inner fold method provides more protection, as the folded screen is closed up in folded form. However, this means a second outside display is needed in order for the device to be used in folded form. The necessity of the second display made the device thicker and heavier.

Huawei’s outer fold method only required one display, so it’s thinner and lighter, but this also meant the soft, folding screen is exposed at all times.

Personally, I preferred the Samsung method as the protection gives me peace of mind, and when Huawei itself went the inner fold method by 2021 with the Mate X2, everyone thought it was Huawei conceding, that Samsung’s method is the ideal way. It didn’t help that other Chinese foldables that have subsequently hit the market from Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo all followed the book-like inner fold method, too. But alas, it appears we spoke too soon, because Huawei is back with a new foldable, one that brings back the original outer fold design.

Named the Huawei Mate Xs 2, the phone mostly looks identical to the original Huawei Mate X, at least if you’re only looking at it. Once you pick it up—which I recently had the chance to—you’ll realize Huawei made subtle improvements across the board.

A lighter, thinner foldable

As mentioned, the outer fold method results in a thinner and lighter form factor than the dual-screen inner fold devices. This was true even back in 2019, when the original Huawei Mate X measured just 11mm in thickness when folded compared to the original Samsung Fold’s 15.5mm. But the new Mate Xs 2 further shred weight, coming in at just 255g. For comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3 weighs 271g, Vivo’s X Fold weighs a whopping 311g, and the original Huawei Mate X weighs 291g.

Huawei managed to move down a weight class by shrinking the screen slightly (down to a 7.8-inch OLED panel compared to the original Mate X’s 8-inch) and using supposedly aerospace grade titanium alloy for most of its frame. The difference is noticeable in the hand—as the Mate Xs 2 feels noticeably lighter than any big foldable I’ve handled lately. And it’s still 11mm thickness is no thicker than a new iPhone in a case.

Improved display materials — with a hole punch

The 7.8-inch, 2200 x 2480 OLED display also saw improvements: it’s now covered in four additional layers of materials that Huawei says improves durability, with the upper most layer being an ultra-thin glass that gives the display a more glass-like feel instead of the original’s mushy plastic feel. Ultra-thin glass is a technology pioneered by Samsung and has been used in not just Samsung’s last several foldables, but also all the recent Chinese foldables, too, so this isn’t new technology per se, but it is much welcomed for a device whose screen is always exposed.

One new addition to this new model is a hole-punch in the upper right corner housing a 10MP selfie camera. The original Mate X did not have a selfie camera per se, because its folding nature means the user could just use the main camera system as selfie camera.

The screen also doesn’t exhibit much signs of creasing (the mark left by the folding point) which is still an issue in Samsung’s foldables.

A clever case that solves some of the durability concerns

As mentioned, I was weary of this form factor in the past because it made me nervous that the soft bendy display was always exposed—particularly when the phone is in folded form, the backside is entirely screen. The fact that the phone changes form factors meant I couldn’t slap a case on it—or so I thought.

Included in the retail package of the Mate Xs 2 is a new case with a clever design that allows it to stay on the phone while the device is being folded or unfolded. Essentially, the case has a hinge in the back that allows one side of it to slip off for folding/unfolding action. This case does add an extra action (and second) to the unfolding or folding action, but in return you have protection for the back of the device now when it’s in folded phone form.

Huawei’s XD Optics

The new phone packs a triple lens main system consisting of a 50MP main camera, 13MP ultra-wide lens, and an 8MP 3x telephoto zoom lens. The hardware here is just average if we go by image sensor size or newness of sensors, but these cameras benefit from running on Huawei’s XD Optics engine, a computational photography algorithm designed by the company to help produce well-balanced, sharp photos with accurate colors. I did not have enough time to test this particular phone’s cameras yet, but if performance is at least on par with Huawei’s last several releases with XD Optics, then it’d already be a very good camera system.

The rest of the package

The Huawei Mate Xs 2 is powered by the Snapdragon 888, a one-year-old chip that is still plenty powerful today (but if you care about having purely the latest, then the Snapdragon 888 obviously falls short of the newer Snapdragon 8 Gen 1), with 8GB of RAM and a respectable 4,880 mAh battery that can be fast charged at 80W speeds (the charging brick is in the box).

On the software front, the phone runs Huawei’s EMUI, which behaves mostly like an Android software but with no access to Google Mobile Services due to the ongoing U.S. sanctions. The lack of GMS is not new, and at this point, consumers should already have decided on whether this is a dealbreaker or not.

Premium foldable, but premium price

The Huawei Mate Xs 2 is already on sale in China now and will go on sale in Malaysia, Hong Kong, as well as chunks of Europe including the U.K. starting in June. In China, the phone is considered low priced at 9,999 yuan ($1,502) but in Europe, it’s priced at 1999 euro, which is ($2,145). The latter price is higher than what Samsung’s asking for its Galaxy Z Fold 3, but that has always been the case with Huawei foldables. It’s clear the Chinese tech giant sees itself as a premium brand and sells its products in the higher tier of pricing.

More options for the foldable scene is good

Huawei’s Mate Xs 2 releasing internationally and in this form factor is good news for fans of foldables or phone enthusiasts in general, because it gives Samsung some competition and at least puts in the mind of consumers the reality of other options.

Chinese brands such as Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi have made some impressive foldables—Vivo’s, in particular, has objectively better hardware than Samsung’s foldables—but up until now, they are still China-only devices. Without competition on a global scale, Samsung won’t feel pressured.

I also think it’s good that Huawei is bringing back an alternative form factor, because the last five or six foldables that have hit the market all essentially are variations of the Samsung form factor. Diversity in phone shapes and forms, like competition, are both great things for an industry starting to feel a bit stagnant.

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