WHEN was the last time a mobile phone stirred the kind of excitement you remember from childhood, when you discovered the latest Matchbox car waiting for you under the tree on Christmas Day? For me, that would be all the way back to 2006 when Sony Ericsson—leveraging Sony’s decades of music expertise, gleaned in part from its hugely popular Walkman brand of portable players—came out with the W810, arguably the first truly refined fusion of Sony’s strength and Ericsson’s formidable networking muscle.
These days, it’s quite the challenge to get a rise out of new mobile phone releases, as these devices, whether in the value-proposition end or the premium category, have become so generic-looking that it would take the trained eye of a gadget junkie to spot any significant differences. And even then, one might only be able to muster a “Nice!”
“Blasé” is, however, not the reaction I had when I got my hands on the latest flagship from tech giant Huawei, the Mate Xs 2—the latest iteration in the foldable phone category the company debuted in 2019 with the first-ever Mate X, which gave “users the first glimpse into the future of smartphone design.”
Since 2019, according to the company, it has “continued to experiment and innovate in a bid to provide different foldable form factors for all different users.” With the Mate Xs 2, Huawei ditches “the inward-folding approach it took with the X2” to what it dubs as a “return to its roots to deliver an outward-folding handset, which is the thinnest, lightest and most reliable flagship foldable device on the market.”
Try “excited” and “amazed” as my initial emotional response when I first powered up the Huwaei Mate Xs 2 and unfolded it to reveal all of the phone’s gloriously dazzling display, then quickly marveling even more at the impressive technology the company has packed into its slim dimensions.
This foldable has none of the unweildy bulkiness that marked earlier foldables, as the Huawei Mate Xs 2 just weighs 255g and has a thickness of 11.1mm when folded and 5.4mm when unfolded. According to the company, the Mate Xs 2 is “the thinnest and lightest foldable phone (that is) a joy to hold and once you’re ready to put it away, it takes up barely any space in your pocket or bag”—and they’d be right. Not unlike my Huawei P40 Pro Plus, the Mate Xs 2 slipped in and out of my pants easily despite the slim jeans I can still manage to squeeze into following my pandemic weight gain.
Of course, you might be inclined to think that impossibly sleek profile necessitated Huawei to make a few compromises here and there—and you’d be wrong. While just a smidge smaller than the X2’s 8” display, the Xs 2’s 7.8” high-resolution screen nonetheless delivers a profoundly compulsive viewing experience “with 1.07 billion colors, plus support for the P3 wide colour gamut on the True Chroma display.” As an aside, you will see here True Chroma mentioned a few more times. Stripped of the sort of dense tech speak that can make eyes glaze over, the technology is about capturing and yeilding images close to true-to-life colors—and it is also the technology that underpins 50MP True Chroma camera system found at the back of the phone, along with a 13MP Ultra-Wide-Angle Camera and an 8MP Telephoto Camera. Meanwhile, the front camera is a 10.7MP shooter with, like with the rear camera system, support for up to 3840 x 2160 pixels for video, which should thrill these so-called TikTok and YouTube influencers—which, alas, is just about everybody these days.
Of course I have been told on several occasions by pedantic engineer friends that it is in the moving parts of anything where the weakest link can be found. Think of the kitchen cabinet door you accidentally yanked off its hinges because you absently leaned on it. So, yes, I did have my qualms about the Huawei Mate Xs 2, whose glorious display needs to be unfolded to be fully appreciated.
Huawei sought to allay my fears: “Some may be concerned about how reliable (the foldable phone) may be. This is not a worry with the Huawei Mate Xs 2, which has been designed, engineered and tested to the highest possible standards. In terms of design and engineering, the (phone) introduces the new-generation Double-rotating Falcon Wing Hinge design, which moves with precision and fluidity. Thanks to the proprietary hinge technology, the components are packed tightly into a small space to achieve a foldable screen that is as close to seamless as possible, with no visible crease. This makes the Huawei Mate Xs 2 the flattest foldable phone in the world.
“The screen itself is sturdy and reliable, as the Huawei Mate Xs 2 adopts a bullet-proof Composite Structure Screen with a protective film, support layer, and rotating shaft. The layered structure and high-performance materials provide an excellent shock absorber and buffer, while improving its resistance to drops, crushing or impact. When placing the phone on a desk, the screen is prevented from directly touching the surface thanks to the gap created by the aluminium alloy protective frame around the screen, making the phone scratch-resistant. Structurally, Huawei Mate Xs 2 adopts a leading-edge honeycomb structure and innovative light materials to deliver a lighter, thinner and more reliable user experience.”
From this consumer, I take all that to mean this foldable isn’t going to be an ugly, broken mess after typical use—which, besides doing the usual stuff one does with a typical slab phone, includes routinely unfolding the display to enjoy entertainment content in ways one does on a desktop or a mini tablet, or to enjoy a group Zoom call with more than just the current speaker being shown onscreen. I have been playing around with the Huawei Mate Xs 2 for a few weeks now, and the screen displays none of the unsightly waves or indentations from the the folding and unfolding it has been through.
Needless to say, the success or failure of a mobile phone these days is largely dependent on the wealth of software that is available to it. Go ask Microsoft and what happened to its Windows Mobile operating system. Of course I have already written about the Entity List that Huawei found itself on in May 2019, which, along with other Chinese companies, prevented the tech giant from doing business with any organization that operates in the US. Which means no access to Google software and services, no access to the latest processors packing 5G technology.
Not a few pundits quickly predicted the demise for Huawei in the smartphone space it was all poised to dominate before the US ban.
Despite this no small setback, however, the company continues to march on—not only by judiciously shedding some of the product portfolios it has successfully built up (the value brand Honor comes to mind) but also, and more importantly, developing a software ecosystem, now under the AppGallery umbrella, that helps mitigate some of the drawbacks stemming from the US ban.
So, yes, consumers should have no qualms that buying into the Huawei platform would be severely limiting, as the AppGallery already provides access to such popular apps as TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Viber, WhatsApp, Zoom, a slew of banking apps local and foreign, plus not a few of the world’s popular games including Mobile Legends, PUBG Mobile, Asphalt Nitro and more. And, yes, the number of apps and games to found on the AppGallery continues to grow. Just in case you do need—as I do—those must-have Google apps and services like Gmail, Maps, Photos, Drive, YouTube, Chat, Calendar and Google Play Books the app Gspace provides the perfect solution, as I wrote some months back in my review of the Huawei P50 Pro.
All that said, the only barrier to entry I can see for most people to embrace foldables is of course price, which not surprisingly is steep given the years of research, design, engineering and technology that have gone into making foldable displays viable in the general consumer space. But if price is not an issue, then the Huawei Mate Xs 2 will make the experience supremely satisfying.