With the launch of Huawei’s new Mate Xs 2 folding smartphone in South Africa, Samsung might finally have some competition. Maybe.
We’re basing this idea on the fact that folding smartphones are in short supply in SA. Anything that hits the market is bound to cut into Samsung’s market share. But these really are completely different devices, at least on short acquaintance.
Quite the mechanic
This much is obvious when you examine how the Mate Xs 2 folds. Instead of inward, over a very complicated hinge, Huawei’s device folds outward. The sensitive, flexible screen is always exposed both front and back unless you stuff it into the rather odd case Huawei provides for this one. When it’s in the case, the Mate Xs 2 reminds us very heavily of one of Samsung’s older Note handsets. There’s the same sense of strength and density to the phone.
Despite the fact that the screen is always exposed, we actually don’t feel all that panicky about it. Everything about the display, from the bright 7.8in panel (unfolded) to the hinge and the thin section of metal backing it all, feels fantastically sturdy. It should, given how hard it is to open and close the phone. A fair bit of force is needed to press the screen closed. It also won’t unfold entirely on its own once the catch has been pressed. Manual manipulation is required.
Unfortunately, while it feels great, the design seems to have its drawbacks. Either you can use the phone as a smartphone, with a 6.5in OLED display, or you can use it as a tablet. There’s no way to do anything in between. It won’t act as an effective camera stand and there’s no option to do a mini-laptop sort of thing either. The Huawei Mate Xs 2 only swings between two extremes. There’s no space for any middle ground.
Behind the times
This carries over into the phone’s internals. Huawei’s specs are solid, but they’re also from last year. We know that’s not the company’s fault — American choices have cut down on what Huawei is able to offer in its devices. But it doesn’t change the fact that almost any folding smartphone launching this year will offer better performance at a lower price.
There’s a Snapdragon 888 processor inside. It’s speedy, but it’s also from last year. It’s also the 4G version of the chipset, so the Mate Xs 2 doesn’t actually support 5G. 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage aren’t the sort of thing we’d kick out of bed, but the only category where Huawei comes out on top is storage space.
And before you ask, no, Google’s services have yet to make a comeback. EMUI 12 runs the show but it’s still just Android-flavoured. That’s not the deal-breaker it used to be, but we’ve got our doubts about fold-specific apps being extensively supported.
We’ve only had a little time to mess with the camera, but it’s a little less capable from what we can see. Not much — maybe we’re still stunned by the news that Leica has switched brands and is being biased. More testing will be taking place.
Huawei hasn’t skimped here — there’s. 50MP main sensor, an 8MP telephoto, and a 13MP ultrawide. It’s not the best camera loadout the company’s ever fielded. But it’s far from the worst either. The front camera, which is tucked away under the upper right part of the screen, is a lowly 10.7MP. Huawei’s software is still great, but the camera has lost some of its shine.
Especially if you try to use the Mate Xs 2’s folding capability to act as a camera stand. Never mind the fact that the flexible screen is touching whichever surface you’ve placed it on. The camera app also seems to default to full-screen every time we put it down. So it can take photos while acting as its own little stand, but you’re unable to frame the bottom half of the image effectively. That doesn’t give us much hope for other fold-specific app functions, sadly. Still, it’s early days. There’s plenty of time for us to be converted.
Huawei Mate Xs 2 initial verdict
We really want to like Huawei’s take on the folding phone. It feels like it might withstand harsher treatment than the competition. But the design differences seem to be holding it back. Samsung’s clamshell fold has the benefit of protecting the screen and enabling a series of interesting use cases. Huawei might save on screens and the number of camera sensors but the phone isn’t as physically versatile as Samsung’s Fold lineup is. We’ll give it a little more time before rendering a final judgment, but despite the Mate Xs 2’s physical attributes, it’s looking like a hard sell. Especially at its R40,000 price point, no matter which extras Huawei throws in free of charge.
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