On a total surprise visit to Switzerland on Friday, Walter Ji, President of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group in Western Europe, brought along the Huawei Mate X foldable smartphone recently unveiled at MWC.
Of course, Ji didn’t need to ask twice for Techgarage to sit down with him and put this new folding miracle through a thorough hands-on test, not to mention posing a few questions to the head of Europe about the device, the right way to fold a phone and Huawei’s future.
Hands-on with the Mate X: answers to important questions
We have to admit that after Samsung’s and Huawei’s presentations at MWC, our initial euphoria over folding smartphones was still somewhat subdued. Our main concerns, which raised more questions than they answered, had to do with its daily use and the screen’s durability in response to repeated opening and closing.
But 20 minutes with the Mate X was enough to dispel a lot of our doubts and to realize that there were definitely lots of benefits to a foldable smartphone. The advantage of the Mate X is that you can use it like a regular cell phone in folded mode, while the screen has a lot more space for content in its unfolded state, whether you’re watching videos or surfing the net. As you can see in our hands-on video, Techgarage’s site looks just great on the 8″ screen with its thin bezels.
Sensible design decisions for the Mate X
An example of one thing we loved about the Huawei Mate X was that it doesn’t need a selfie cam. Instead, while the Mate X is closed, you can take selfies with the powerful main camera’s three lenses. With the wraparound screen, you always have the picture in view, making blurred selfies from second-rate selfie camera lenses a thing of the past.
From a weight point of view, the Mate X feels a bit heavier than the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, probably because of the larger battery. Huawei has incorporated a «dual battery» with a capacity of 4,500 mAh into its folding cell phone.
How does the folding bit work?
Cell phones with a folding mechanism remind a lot of people of the days of the Motorola Razr. But the way the Mate X folds is a lot different: When closed, the screen has a mechanism that locks it. This prevents the device from opening by accident. If you press the button to release the lock, the screen snaps open a few centimeters, allowing you to bend it into the flat position without much effort.
There’s no squeaking or creaking: The whole process is well thought out and solid. And yes, under the right light, you can see the reflection of tiny irregularities on the surface where you bend the screen. They’re not visible, though, when the device is lying before you like a tablet with the contents displayed. Incidentally, the screen itself is not made of glass and feels a bit like a plastic placemat. But it’s not at all unpleasant.
It should fold for the duration of its smartphone life
You should be able to fold and unfold the screen over the long run as well. According to Huawei, the Mate X is designed for two to three years of daily use, the average functioning time of a standard smartphone. That means that you would have to fold and unfold it around 200,000 times. A Huawei team member told us that it was even significantly more in lab tests.
Naturally, with so many impressions of this totally new category of smartphone, we had some questions that we were able to personally ask Huawei’s European head. So let’s get started:
Interview with Walter Ji – and a surprise at the end
Techgarage: Mr. Ji, Huawei’s Mate X screen folds outwards, while other manufacturers’ foldable smartphones fold inwards. What’s the right way to fold a smartphone?
Walter Ji: At Huawei, we’re convinced that the Mate X is the right way to fold a smartphone. You see, if I fold the screen outwards, I can use the phone like a regular smartphone even when it’s closed. I don’t need another external screen, which would add complexity and weight. With only one screen that I can unfold as needed, our device can stay nice and thin.
TG: It’s definitely thin, but the folding looks complicated – and possibly prone to malfunctioning?
WJ: Our engineers worked on our Falcon Wing Mechanical Hinge for three years. We didn’t come up with this result overnight. The Mate X is a consumer product, not a prototype. That’s why we already know it can handle the demands of everyday use, and that’s something we’ve tested extensively. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have launched it.
TG: What’s the advantage of a foldable screen?
WJ: It allows the user to display more content – and that opens up whole new areas of application for smartphones. The Mate X’s form factor is virtually the same as the standard model’s and can turn into a tablet with an 8” screen size if needed. All of a sudden, you have the option to use your cell phone as a notepad or use the notes you’ve made on it for a presentation.
TG: In the future, will all smartphones be foldables?
WJ: I imagine that, in three to five years, all manufacturers’ flagship models will have a foldable screen. That includes those manufacturers who haven’t yet introduced a foldable model – like Apple.
TG: In three to five years? So we’ll still be staring at smartphone screens?
WJ: Possibly, but maybe not exclusively. At Huawei, we believe that there are three major trends shaping our technology. One is the upcoming 5G mobile communications standard, which will open up a lot of new possibilities with its networking of devices. The second is the integration of artificial intelligence into our devices. And the third trend is foldable screens.
TG: And what about AR glasses like Google Glass or Microsoft HoloLens? Aren’t we moving away from holding a screen in our hand?
WJ: You’re right. There are, of course, other ways to bring connectivity and AI into our users’ lives. Just as with Google Glass, there are other ways to display information. Huawei will soon be introducing a new product along those lines.
TG: Are you talking about a new category of product?
WJ: Huawei already has a large product line: smartphones, laptops, tablets, smartwatches.
TG: So this will be something new? Something we haven’t seen yet?
WJ: It will be a new product.
TG: And when can we expect the unveiling?
WJ: It will take place in the first half of 2019.
And with that, our interview time was over, just like the dramatic cliffhanger at the end of a TV series. There was only a little time left to say thank you and take a few pictures with the new Huawei Mate X, to be released in this part of the world in the summer of 2019.
The speculation begins: What did Walter Ji mean by «a new product»?
We really hadn’t expected that. Our goal was to talk to one of Huawei’s heads about a device that’s not yet on the market, and we ended up with a hint about another device that hasn’t even been announced to the public yet!
We now know that Huawei’s next announcement at the end of March in Paris will include the Huawei P30 Pro, a cell phone that Huawei could use to justify its camera crown through a superzoom-function. We also have a pretty good idea of what the P30 could look like.
But a totally new category? As noted earlier, aside from smartphones, tablets and notebooks, Huawei’s consumer electronics division also makes smartwatches. When we think of other devices that we wear or clip on, what comes to mind are either eyeglasses or a set of smart headphones (like in the movie «Her») with integrated AI.
What do our readers think? What else will Huawei come up with?
What do our readers think? We look forward to hearing your feedback. Leave a comment or write us about which category of devices Huawei might tackle next. Be brave – be crazy! We’ll take the best ideas and compile them. Who knows? We might even be able to have someone make a sketch.