Hands-on with Huawei’s Mate X: Will surprisingly good hardware be enough to win over jaded smartphone users?
The solid build and a screen that did not bunch when folding and unfolding made for positive first impressions, but not quite enough to make me forget the Mate X costs the price of a full-fledged laptop. Or two.
SINGAPORE: Would you fork out an eye-watering €2,299 (S$3,524) for a competent and solid foldable smartphone?
That question has been asked since Huawei unveiled its foldable smartphone, the Mate X, and its price tag at last month’s Mobile World Congress (MWC).
Make no mistake, the Chinese manufacturer’s hybrid device is a proper product - “It’s not a prototype, it’s a finished product,” reiterated Mr Clement Wong, Huawei Consumer’s global head of Global Product Marketing - and is on track to launch later this year.
Giving Channel NewsAsia a short hands-on preview of the Mate X on Monday (Mar 18), Mr Wong shared that flexible display technology has been in discussion for as far back as 10 years ago. However, it was “not easy” to put such a screen on smartphones, more so one as thin as the Mate X (11mm thick when folded) until now.
The key differentiator, according to the Huawei executive, is its Falcon Wing hinge design that allows the screen to fold more tightly.
“If you see other people, the normal way of working is to have a big hole (at the hinge) because when you fold materials in, everything will move together and there will be bending with a curve radius,” he said.
“(Huawei’s) magic hinge can make the display and components move together such that (the fold) is gapless. It took about three years to think about this hinge.”
The gap at the hinge area can be seen for both Samsung’s Galaxy Fold and Chinese maker Royole’s FlexPai device.
Another hardware design worth mentioning is how Huawei shifted many of the phone's components to one side in order to keep the device slim.
Today's smartphones usually have cameras or fingerprint sensors housed at the back of the phone, but given that this is not possible with a thin foldable screen, these components, including the 5G antenna and processor are moved to a slim bar on the right side of the phone, Mr Wong said.
This design aesthetic also ruled out including an in-screen fingerprint sensor, the executive explained.
Additionally, the magnetic clasp holding the screen when folded is satisfyingly secure, preventing any accidental unfolding and possible damage.
WHAT’S THE MATE X FOR?
While much thought was clearly put into the design of the physical device, this was not so evident on the software side of things.
One of the key features demonstrated at the February unveil was how the device changed the way pictures are taken. A screen on both sides of the folded Mate X allows the subject a live view of how they would look in the picture. This is not possible with today's smartphones.
The gyroscope built into the phone also ensures that the screen “follows” the user when the phone is turned from one side to another.
Using apps like Google Maps or YouTube and even Web browsing may be easier on the eyes, but that appears to be the extent of the benefits of the bigger 8-inch form factor.
So, why would you splash out more than S$3,000 for the Huawei Mate X when a notebook or PC costs about the same or less?
“Actually, this is better than a PC to me because I can carry it around; it is true mobility,” Mr Wong said. “I think this is the most advanced technology in this little gadget.”
He added that the Mate X is an example of a device that caters more to the early adopter - “people who would love to enjoy some cool technology” - but it will not satisfy the needs of everyone at this point.
“For tech-advanced consumers (though), they will love this device.”
He pointed out that as the Mate X is a 5G-enabled phone, it is working with telcos with the next-generation mobile network to launch the device.
“So in the Q3 or Q4 timeframe, after we complete the testing with 5G operators, it will happen,” Mr Wong said.
He was coy about naming the partners Huawei is working with on this, including potential partners in Singapore, other than saying it is working with “many, many operators”.
Singapore is unlikely to be one of the initial launch markets for the Mate X, given that the actual network rollout is being planned for 2020, according to the Ministry of Communications and Information at this year’s Committee of Supply debate.
Only time will tell if the foldable smartphone concept will take off in a big way globally, or just an expensive marketing gimmick to bring life to an industry starting to grow stale.