The Huawei Mate X2 made me realize how much I was missing out on
The future of the smartphone is foldable. It’s not a matter of if, but when foldables are priced low enough to overtake traditional flagships in popularity. Ask any person who’s used a foldable phone, and they’ll tell you the same thing: They’re the future. Until this week, though, if you asked me about foldables, I could only relay what others on the XDA team have said about them. After spending a week with my first foldable phone, the Huawei Mate X2, I’m now fully onboard with foldable smartphones. Had my first time with a foldable been with one of the first-gen devices, I might have offered a less enthusiastic vision of the future. But I lucked out and got a chance to try Huawei’s China-exclusive Mate X2 for a week, and I’m now eager to get my hands on a foldable phone as a daily driver. They’re that good.
Huawei offered me the chance to review its ultra-premium flagship foldable a few weeks back, and I jumped at the opportunity to try out a foldable for the first time. However, I knew from the get-go that I wouldn’t be able to do a traditional review of the Mate X2 for XDA. First of all, the phone is only sold in China, where it starts at a whopping ¥17,999 (~$2,750). That’s both far too hard to get and too expensive for the vast majority of our readers, so there’s little point in us reviewing the device to offer a purchasing recommendation. Second, the Mate X2 doesn’t ship with Google apps or services, making it hard for the average user to download and use many apps. Lastly, the phone lacks full compatibility with most U.S. carriers, so I haven’t been able to exclusively use it as my daily driver. For these reasons, I’ve focused on the experience of using the Huawei Mate X2 as more of a foldable tablet rather than foldable phone, ie. as a strictly at-home media consumption device. Here are my thoughts after a week of use.
Huawei Mate X2 Specifications - Click to expand
|Specification||Huawei Mate X2|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|RAM & Storage|
|Battery & Charging|
|Security||Side-mounted fingerprint scanner|
|Front Camera(s)||16MP wide-angle selfie camera, f/2.2|
|Port(s)||USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port|
|Software||EMUI 11 based on Android 10|
About this review: I received the Huawei Mate X2 in its 8GB RAM/256GB storage configuration from Huawei on Thursday, April 1st, 2021, and have used the device for approximately 1 week. Huawei did not preview or provide any input regarding the content of this review.
Huawei Mate X2 Review Highlights
- Improved durability of the foldable display with shift to inward folding design
- Sturdy hinge motion that snaps in place
- Virtually no gap between the two displays when folded thanks to asymmetrical wedge design
- Comfortable to hold with its center of gravity shifting design
- Included case features grippy leather-like texture and kickstand
- Plastic OLED display feels very smooth and fluid
- Overall build construction feels very premium
- Clear, decently loud stereo speakers placed sensibly with minimal distortion
- Expandable storage via NM Card
- Beautiful, expansive 8-inch foldable OLED display with no visual interruptions
- Large, 6.45-inch outer OLED display that isn’t too narrow
- Apps transition seamlessly between displays
- Added screen real estate lets you fit a lot more content on screen
- Kirin 9000 plows through any high-end game or emulation needs
- Fast 55W Super Charge support with included 66W adapter
- EMUI 11 offers loads of customization, smooth animations, multitasking, multi-screen features, and first-party Google alternatives
- Difficult to fold and unfold one-handed
- Difficult for left-handed users to hold with one-hand
- Difficult to use when half-open
- Very thick when folded
- Very heavy overall
- Glossy glass back is a smudgy fingerprint magnet
- No 3.5mm headphone jack
- No wireless charging
- EMUI 11 is based on an outdated Android 10 release and doesn’t support GMS
- Very expensive and hard to buy
Navigate this review
- Design: What makes the Huawei Mate X2 a good foldable?
- Ergonomics: How easy is it to hold the Huawei Mate X2?
- Audio Experience: How good are the speakers?
- Visual Experience: How good is the display?
- Performance: How fast is the Huawei Mate X2?
- Battery Life & Charging
- Software: What’s Android like on the Huawei Mate X2?
Design: What makes the Huawei Mate X2 a good foldable?
The Huawei Mate X2 is Huawei’s third attempt at a foldable after the Mate X and Mate Xs. The Mate X2 wildly diverges from Huawei’s previous two foldables in terms of the overall design. Rather than having a single display that folds outward, the Mate X2 has a main display that folds inward and a secondary display on the outside that doesn’t fold. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s similar to the design of the last two Samsung Galaxy Z Fold devices.
Some would argue that this shift in design proves that Samsung had it right from the beginning, but I would argue it doesn’t matter who did it first but rather who does it better. Since I haven’t used the Galaxy Z Fold 2, I can’t actually compare it to the Huawei Mate X2 to tell you which foldable has a better design overall. What I can tell you, though, is that Huawei has nailed basically every aspect of the hardware. They’ve proven their engineering is at least as good as if not better than Samsung’s. In our best of 2020 article, we said that Samsung’s gen-two foldable made other foldables feel like first-gen products. I can now definitively say that that comment is outdated.
So what makes the Mate X2 a good foldable? It starts with the hinge. Huawei calls the new design “Teardrop” which describes how the screen curves to avoid showing a crease. It’s made of a zirconium-based liquid metal that Huawei says is twice as strong as on the Mate Xs. The hinge motion feels sturdy but doesn’t allow you to fix the phone at any angle. Instead, it snaps to either the fully unfolded or fully folded state whenever the hinge angle is nearly 0° or 90°. The snap really helps with fully folding and unfolding the device and relieves some of the pressure that the user may place on the device in trying to get it to fully fold or unfold.
When the two parts are closed, they’re held together magnetically. As a consequence, there’s some noticeable tension that needs to be overcome to pull the two halves apart. I find it very difficult to fold and unfold the Huawei Mate X2 with one hand, so I always use both hands.
After closing the Mate X2, we can start to appreciate the ingenuity behind its design. First of all, just as Huawei claims, there is virtually no gap between the two displays. Contrast that to Samsung’s foldable which has a gap of air between the two screens since they don’t perfectly stack on top of one another. Huawei’s solution to this problem is an asymmetrical wedge design. The Huawei Mate X2 is shaped like a wedge, meaning that one half is slightly thicker than the other half. This allows the two halves to stack on top of each other with no gap between them.
The thicker half houses the main internal components, including the Huawei Mate X2’s single, large 4,500mAh battery, quad-camera setup, SoC, buttons, and USB-C port. (Side-note: there’s also an IR blaster, which is a rarity these days, and a fingerprint scanner embedded in the power button that is super responsive.) The thinner half features the outer display, both speakers, and the hybrid nano-SIM card + NM card tray.
Ergonomics: How easy is it to hold the Huawei Mate X2?
Normally, I’m not a fan of phones with uneven weight distributions, but it definitely works in the Mate X2’s favor here. That’s because the sheer size of the device forces you to hold the phone with two hands when it’s unfolded. I find the phone most comfortable in the hand when both corners of the thicker half are centered on the palms of my hands. Oddly, holding it the opposite way also works for me, though I stopped doing it after a short time because it required me to grip the outer display (and I’m not a fan of glossy glass).
The incredible thinness of the device really helps with the ergonomics. Coming in at 4.4mm at its thinnest all the way to 8.2mm at its thickest when unfolded, the Mate X2 can easily rest in the palms of your hand. When it’s folded, though, it’s one of the thickest phones you’ll ever use, ranging from 13.6-14.7mm. Couple that with the 295g weight and the phone definitely needs two hands if you want to use it for extended periods.
There are a couple of downsides to the asymmetrical wedge design, though. Since I’m right-handed, I am able to use the Mate X2 when it’s unfolded and held upright, but lefties might find that difficult to do since the right half weighs more than the left half. The phone itself weighs a massive 295g anyway, so I don’t think one-handed use for long periods of time is really feasible without it getting uncomfortable to hold. Next, because of this design, the Huawei Mate X2 can’t be easily used when the phone is half-open on a table. The uneven weight distribution causes the hinge to force one half to snap to the other half or to the fully unfolded position. If you do get it half-open without it forcing shut or open, then you’ll notice the Mate X2 will simply wobble when used. That means you can’t effectively use the Mate X2 like a laptop to type on one half, and it also means you can’t play around with the angle to take a photo. I don’t see these as huge losses of functionality, but they are trade-offs that Huawei had to make and users should be aware of. Overall, though, the asymmetrical, wedge-like design is one of the highlights of the Huawei Mate X2.
Fortunately, the included case features a kickstand that allows you to prop the Huawei Mate X2 up on a table. The case nicely covers the back and is raised above the camera bump, making it easier to hold the Mate X2 without smudging the camera lenses. I also like that the case has a leather-like texture, which makes it much gripper and less fingerprint-prone than the incredibly glossy glass back. For me, the case is a must-have at all times, because the smudges I leave all over the back make the phone feel too slippery in my hands. I’m not prepared to drop a nearly ~$3,000 phone!
As expected of an ultra-premium, ~$3,000 phone, the Huawei Mate X2 features a metallic outer frame and hinge. Both the front and back are made of glass and are protected by an anti-scratch and shatter-resistant layer (presumably Gorilla Glass). The front also has a pre-applied screen protector. On the inside, the frame surrounding the foldable display is plastic. Speaking of which, the foldable OLED display itself is made of plastic rather than glass and does not have a layer of Ultra-Thin Glass (UTG) on top of it. Still, the display feels smooth — not quite as smooth as glass, but still smooth. When you slide your finger over the crease, you can definitely feel the slight indent. I would wager it won’t bother you unless you frequently perform sliding actions that traverse the center of the display. Since the crease is hardly visible, it definitely won’t bother you if you’re just browsing the web or watching a video.
Audio Experience: How good are the speakers?
Huawei equipped the Mate X2 with two speakers, both of which are centered on the thinner half of the device. They’re not quite balanced in terms of speaker output volume and don’t get that loud anyway, but the audio output sounds really good to me. Sound output is clear with minimal distortion. According to Huawei, the device features ultra-thin large amplitude speakers that deliver 180% more bass and 40% better high-frequency response performance compared to the Mate Xs.
Because of the way the Mate X2 is designed, both speakers will be facing to the left and right when you hold the phone in its unfolded state in landscape orientation. Phones with great speaker hardware like the ROG Phone 5 feature forward-firing speakers in the bezels to get around the possibility of the user’s hands covering them up, but the Mate X2’s design naturally places the speakers away from the user’s hands. Of course, that all goes away when you hold the phone when it’s fully folded, as you’ll easily cover it up.
The Mate X2 doesn’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack, but Huawei does include a pair of basic USB-C earbuds in the box. I haven’t used them yet, but you’re probably better off using any higher-end wired or wireless audio accessory. It’s nice that Huawei included a pair so it doesn’t look like they cheaped out on the in-box accessories, but if you’re shelling out nearly three grand on a phone anyway, you probably already own or can afford to own much better audio hardware.
Visual Experience: How good is the display?
On the outside, the Huawei Mate X2’s 6.45-inch outer display has an OLED panel at 2700×1160 resolution for a pixel density of 456ppi and aspect ratio of 21:9. That’s tall, but not quite as narrow as the Galaxy Z Fold 2’s 25:9 outer display. It’s a pretty standard high-quality OLED panel marred only by a large hole-punch cutout on the top left. Speaking of which, the main display doesn’t have any cutouts, notches, or under-display cameras. In fact, there’s no front-facing camera at all around, under, or near the main display. That makes it really immersive but removes the ability to do video calls while the phone is unfolded.
On the inside, the Huawei Mate X2 has an 8-inch foldable OLED panel at 2480×2200 resolution for a pixel density of 413ppi. The display is sharp and easy to read, and the screen refreshes at 90Hz making for a smooth visual experience. (The outer display also refreshes at up to 90Hz, by the way). As previously mentioned, the display here is made of plastic but still feels very smooth and fluid. The crease isn’t visible when viewed head-on, so content won’t be marred by ugly bends in light. To reduce glare and reflections, Huawei applied a nano-optical layer. I haven’t used the phone outdoors yet, but I can tell it doesn’t get bright enough to be easily readable under direct sunlight.
Due to time and equipment restraints, we aren’t able to do a full display analysis of the Huawei Mate X2. Subjectively, both displays look very good. Huawei offers options to switch between a Normal, Vivid, and custom color mode. The Vivid profile has punchy, colder colors, while the Normal profile switches between sRGB and P3 depending on the content. I never really noticed any substantial differences in quality, brightness, or calibration between the two displays, which suggests Huawei did a good job to make the transition between the two seem seamless. I also didn’t notice any issues with the automatic refresh rate switching between 60 and 90Hz. Since both displays do not have LTPO backplanes and/or variable refresh rate implementations, they instead switch between discrete display modes. The transition is seamless and is controlled by the OS depending on the content, but only when the refresh rate mode is set to “Dynamic”. For simplicity, the Huawei Mate X2 synchronizes the brightness, display modes, and refresh rate of both displays.
One feature we weren’t able to test is HDR, but without Google Play Services and Widevine L1 support, we weren’t able to play back either HD or HDR content on YouTube or Netflix.
Having discussed the overall display quality and features, I think it’s next worth talking about the experience of using the larger, main display. First of all, the transition of content between the outer and main displays is seamless — there are no redraws whatsoever. Second, the extra vertical space offered by the main display is a huge boon to gaming and reading. For games with lots of on-screen buttons like Genshin Impact, things feel a lot less cramped. For reading manga, an entire page can comfortably fit on screen without needing to pan and zoom. Videos, though, have a fixed aspect ratio and thus don’t benefit much from the added screen real estate. The only exception comes from watching videos with subtitles, as the subtitles can be shifted below the video rather than layered on top.
Many apps treat the unfolded state like a tablet, giving you dual panel layouts. However, the default display density is too large to really take advantage of this, so you’ll need to adjust the settings if you want to actually see more on screen. Basically, the Huawei Mate X2 is a smartphone in the pocket and a tablet in the hand. It’s exactly the kind of experience you’d expect from a phone with a display that gets bigger when it unfolds. It’s not hard to understand why it’s useful, but you don’t really appreciate the benefits until you try it yourself.
Performance: How fast is the Huawei Mate X2?
Powering the Huawei Mate X2 is HiSilicon’s Kirin 9000 chip. It’s Huawei’s latest — and seemingly final — ARM-based SoC, and it features notable improvements over the previous-generation Kirin 990. The Kirin 9000 is based on TSMC’s 5nm process node technology and is comprised of an octa-core CPU with 1x ARM Cortex-A77 core clocked at up to 3.13GHz, 3x ARM Cortex-A77 clocked at up to 2.54GHz, and 4x ARM Cortex-A55 cores clocked at up to 2.05GHz. For graphics processing, the Kirin 9000 features an integrated 24-core ARM Mali-G78 GPU. For connectivity, the Kirin 9000 features Huawei’s integrated Balong 5G modem with support for sub-6GHz and millimeter frequencies on both NSA and SA networks.
It’s unclear how many Kirin 9000 chips were produced before the U.S. government blocked chipmakers from supplying to Huawei, but a limited supply of the chip would likely result in a limited supply of the phones that are powered by them, which includes the Mate X2. In any case, we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to test the Kirin 9000’s performance in one area where Kirin chips have traditionally lagged behind Qualcomm Snapdragon chips: gaming.
Compared to Huawei’s last-gen Kirin 990 which featured a 16-core Mali-G76 GPU, the new 24-core Mali-G78 GPU in the Kirin 9000 should perform much better in graphically-intensive games. While Qualcomm is rather opaque about the Snapdragon 888‘s GPU IP, we know that Samsung’s Exynos 2100 features a 14-core Mali-G78 GPU. Potential thermal throttling issues notwithstanding, we thus expect the new Kirin 9000 in the Huawei Mate X2 to perform very well in highly demanding Android games. To test that, we installed Genshin Impact and played through a 30-minute session with all graphical settings set to their maximum and the Mate X2’s performance mode turned off.
As you can see, Genshin Impact ran flawlessly on my Huawei Mate X2 review unit. In fact, the game ran even better than it did on the ASUS ROG Phone 5, a phone dedicated to gaming. I didn’t encounter any thermal throttling issues, and the phone didn’t become uncomfortably hot after a 30-minute session. (For reference, my 30-minute GI tests always consist of starting from a brand new account and playing until a little bit after the Winds of the Past quest. I do this for consistency and to ensure that gameplay always consists of a good mix of indoor and outdoor movement, battles, and cutscenes.)
Although I don’t have any data collected for the other games I played due to time constraints, I can reveal that the Huawei Mate X2 performs nearly flawlessly in other Android games like Call of Duty Mobile and League of Legends: Wild Rift, both, of course, at their maximum settings.
Even more exciting is the fact that the Mate X2 performed exceptionally well in retro console emulation. If you’ve ever dabbled in emulation on Android before, then you’ll know that non-Snapdragon chips tend to fare worse overall in emulators mainly due to driver incompatibility issues. Using the Citra-MMJ fork of the popular Nintendo 3DS emulator, I was able to run Super Mario 3D Land at a nearly constant 60fps for 30 minutes at 3X internal resolution (1200×720) after building up a shader cache. Using the latest official build of the popular Dolphin Emulator for the Nintendo GameCube/Wii, I was able to run Super Mario Sunshine at a constant 30fps for over 30 minutes at 2X internal resolution (1280×1056). I tried running Super Mario Sunshine at 3X internal resolution (1920×1584), but even with the better performing Vulkan graphics backend, the game performed unacceptably for me (hovering around 20-23fps in Bianco Hills). While the ROG Phone 5 with its Snapdragon 888 does have the slight edge here, it, too, struggles to maintain 30fps in Super Mario Sunshine with 3X internal resolution. Nevertheless, Nintendo 3DS and GameCube games look fantastic at or above 2X internal resolution, so I’m happy to say the Huawei Mate X2 with its Kirin 9000 performs like a champ in retro console emulation.
Gaming isn’t all the Huawei Mate X2 excels at. Huawei tends to do a good job at optimizing its devices to run Android as quickly as possible. During my week-long use of the Mate X2, I’ve encountered very few, if any, frame drops or stutters while using image and video-heavy social media apps like Twitter or Facebook. Switching to and from apps like Discord, Reddit is Fun, Telegram, and Slack happens very quickly. The phone’s 8GB of RAM is ample for keeping apps in memory, though as you can see above, you may run into app redraws if you run memory-hogging games like Genshin Impact.
I’m glad that Huawei equipped both screens with a 90Hz refresh rate, but I wish they would have gone with a faster 120Hz refresh rate. For me, there’s still a noticeable difference between 90Hz and 120Hz, but after that, the visual differences are imperceptible to me. Having used plenty of phones with refresh rates at or above 120Hz, the Huawei Mate X2 feels less fluid even though it actually isn’t. If you’re coming to a phone with a 60 or 90Hz refresh rate, though, you’ll likely feel differently than me.
I haven’t noticed any storage bottlenecks when using the phone, though I haven’t tried to benchmark the speed. Huawei uses a custom filesystem to eke out more performance for loading system apps. The company also continues to roll out SIM card trays with a slot for a NM (Nano-Memory) card, which few vendors make.
I would expect the Mate X2 to perform really well given the phone’s excellent camera hardware. It has a 50MP main RYYB sensor, a 16MP ultra wide-angle sensor, a 12MP telephoto sensor for 3X optical zoom, and an 8MP telephoto sensor for an incredible 10X optical zoom. That Huawei managed to pack in a 10X optical zoom lens while keeping the phone thin when unfolded is a testament to the stellar engineering that went into this device. The Kirin 9000 in the Huawei Mate X2 features a new NPU with two big cores and a new ISP with improved HDR processing for stills and videos, so real-time image and video processing should be improved from the P40 Pro+ which also featured an impressive 10X optical zoom camera.
Unfortunately, due to poor weather conditions (I’ve been blessed with dark, gloomy, and cloudy weather this past week), I haven’t been able to use the Mate X2 for a proper camera test. I did manage to take a couple of camera samples that you can see in this Google Photos album, though. One of the highlights of the camera is the fact that you can use the main rear cameras to take selfies by looking at the viewfinder on the external display. This results in much sharper selfies compared to shots from the front-facing camera embedded underneath the external display. Another highlight is the fact that Huawei’s cameras pull in a lot of light even in low-lighting conditions, and this can be further enhanced by using the camera app’s Night Mode. Night Mode works best when used with the main camera, but it is passable when used with the ultra wide-angle and 3X telephoto cameras.
Battery Life and Charging
As for battery life, I can’t offer any commentary or data. Since the phone lacks Google Play Services, I wasn’t able to use all the apps I typically use. Plus, nearly all the apps I use couldn’t send push notifications. Furthermore, I didn’t use the phone outside of my home because of network issues. Thus, I concluded there are too many different factors at play that would make any battery life judgments inaccurate.
As for charging, the Huawei Mate X2 supports Huawei’s 55W SuperCharge protocol but no wireless charging of any kind. The actual adapter that comes in the box is a 66W Super Charge brick, but the phone itself doesn’t charge at over 55W of power. The Mate X2 doesn’t have a dual-cell battery design, so having it charge any faster would likely put serious strain on the battery and reduce its longevity. From 0 to 100%, the Mate X2 takes about an hour to fully charge.
Software: What’s Android like on the Huawei Mate X2?
The software running on Huawei’s phones is in a bit of a weird state right now. While Huawei’s phones all currently do run Android, the OS version they’re running is the outdated Android 10 release. We’re coming up on Android 12 in a few months, but it looks like Huawei has no interest in further upgrading the Android OS version on its devices. Instead, Huawei is transitioning its phones to its in-house HarmonyOS software, though it’s unclear how different the current beta differs from Android. Regardless, the Huawei Mate X2 isn’t running HarmonyOS yet — the company told us it plans to release the software for the foldable sometime this month. Right now, the Huawei Mate X2 runs EMUI 11 based on Android 10, a software release we’ve covered extensively in the past. Apart from the underlying framework changes necessary for Android 10 to seamlessly transition content between the two displays, EMUI 11 on the Mate X2 isn’t that different from on the P40 Pro.
EMUI 11 based on Android 10
EMUI 11 on the Huawei Mate X2 features the same UI customization features, animations, improved multitasking capabilities, and multi-screen collaboration integrations as seen on the P40 and Mate 40. Huawei’s new “Mondrian” Always on Display style is present alongside other “Artistic” AOD options, and, of course, you can still create your own custom AOD. As I said previously, Huawei has done a good job at optimizing Android/EMUI on the Mate X2. Transition animations between activities feel fluid, and so do all of the fullscreen navigation gestures. EMUI 11’s “Smart Multi-Window” panel, coupled with the software’s expansions to Android’s split-screen/freeform multiwindows, made multitasking more palatable on the Huawei P40; with the Huawei Mate X2’s more generous screen size, multitasking is now a breeze.
For those of you who need to get more serious work done remotely, you can hook up your Huawei Mate X2 to an external display and enable the Easy Projection interface. Easy Projection is EMUI optimized for desktop mode, complete with a taskbar and support for multiple floating app windows. It can be enabled when connecting the Mate X2 to an external display either wired (via the Type-C port’s DisplayPort Alternate Mode) or wirelessly (via MiraCast). Huawei doesn’t allow you to toggle the Easy Projection interface without hooking the phone up to another display, though. I’m sure that some people would have preferred this interface to show when the phone is unfolded, but to be honest, I think it only really makes sense when the display is at least 10-inches in size.
There are a couple of other EMUI features I was unable to test on the Huawei Mate X2. First, I was unable to test Huawei’s AI voice assistant because it was forcing me to use the Chinese locale version of it. Next, I couldn’t test Huawei’s HiCar feature since I don’t own a compatible vehicle. I also couldn’t test Huawei’s AI Life app since I don’t own any products supported by their IoT ecosystem. Lastly, I was unable to test any of the multi-screen collaboration features because I don’t own a Huawei PC or TV. My colleague, Ben Sin, was able to test out Huawei Share, though, so I’ve embedded a tweet from him below in case you’re interested in seeing what that looks like.
This is how Huawei Mate X2 works when synced with a Huawei laptop via Huawei Share pic.twitter.com/7oxKV1nzeA
— ben (@bencsin) April 10, 2021
While I was digging through the Settings and looking over all the features I can and can’t test (and also uninstalling all the pre-installed Chinese app bloatware), I came to realize just how far Huawei’s app ecosystem has come. If you’re as entrenched as I am in Google’s ecosystem and the apps that rely on that, then it’s hard to get used to the Google app-less Mate X2. If you’re not as invested in Google services, though, then you’ll find that Huawei offers an alternative for just about everything. Huawei has its own apps for search, maps, dialer, messaging, web browser, video, music, wallet, video conferencing, books, digital wellbeing, smart home, calendar, clock, notepad, contacts, weather, calculator, files, audio recording, measurement, location tracking, IR remote control, compass, and more. Those are just the basics, though. Huawei also offers more sophisticated apps and services to compete with Google’s smarter offerings like Lens, Assistant, Live Caption, and more. Now, the quality of some of Huawei’s offerings may not be as good as Google’s; I personally prefer most of Google’s services over Huawei’s, but I’m impressed by how effectively Huawei has built a de-Googled version of Android.
Lack of Google Mobile Services
The biggest problem with EMUI 11 isn’t a lack of first-party apps, because Huawei’s got plenty of those. The biggest problem, of course, is the lack of Google Mobile Services. I can live without the Google Play Store since there are fully open-source versions of it like the Aurora Store, plenty of APK hosting sites, and Huawei’s own Petal Search service. (Huawei’s AppGallery, while constantly seeing improvements, is still not as convenient to use as Aurora Store is for me.) However, the lack of Google Play Services is a dealbreaker for me since very few apps I use daily have implemented Huawei’s HMS Core. Without Google Play Services, I don’t get push notifications in most apps, I can’t use Android Auto, I can’t use my Wear OS smartwatch, I can’t use Google Cast, and I can’t sync my KeePass database to my Google Drive account. Without Google’s Widevine L1 DRM certification, I can’t stream Netflix or Amazon Prime Video above 480p resolution. I can get around the hard blocks of YouTube and YouTube Music by using Vanced and Vanced Music (though I’m hesitant to sign into my Google account using modified apps), but I can’t get around most of the other issues unless I somehow get Googlefier working on EMUI 11. I really love the hardware on the Huawei Mate X2, so if this wasn’t a review unit, I would probably put more effort into hacking the Play Store and Play Services onto the device. I’m not sure that many other people reliant on Google services could say the same, though.
Since the Mate X2 is only sold in China, a country where all Google apps and services are banned, I can give this device a pass. There’s little doubt in my mind that had it not been for the U.S. trade sanctions, Huawei would be selling the Mate X2 outside of China with Google Mobile Services onboard. There’s no point in contemplating hypotheticals, though, so I can only offer my thoughts on the software that actually ships on the phone. EMUI 11 is a fine custom Android-based OS with lots of great customization options, unique multitasking features, smooth animations, and annoying app-killing behavior (as is the norm with Chinese flavors of Android), but it’s held back by a lack of Google services outside of China. If you don’t care about that, then all the more power to you — diversifying the apps and services you use is smart in the long run.
Conclusion: The Huawei Mate X2 is an exceptional foldable but too elusive and expensive
I’ve long been a fan of foldables — in theory. Many of my colleagues in the media have told me how their first time with a foldable was transformative for their views. My 1 week with the Mate X2 has indeed been a transformative experience. I can’t see the future of smartphone design going in any other direction. Whether the industry settles on an asymmetrical wedge design and inward folding display isn’t something I can predict, but I can say for certain that this is a winning design combo. The Huawei Mate X2 feels like a very polished product that’s only really held back by its lack of availability and absurdly high price.
In an alternate universe, Huawei wouldn’t be barred from shipping Google apps or making new HiSilicon chips. They would be selling the Huawei Mate X2 for a premium in Europe or even the U.S., possibly with enticing trade-in offers and accessory bundles. I would be sitting and waiting for the phone to drop in price before I buy one. Here in reality, though, there’s no chance I’ll be getting one. I’ll instead have to settle for Huawei’s 1-week teaser of what could have been, as if this is their way of telling me, “this is what you’re missing out on!”
- The Mate X2 is Huawei's third attempt at a foldable phone, and they've finally nailed it. The zero-gap hinge and asymmetrical wedge-like design solve two of the biggest issues with foldables. Plus, the uninterrupted 8-inch foldable display offers a truly immersive visual experience.