Huawei Mate Xs 2 Hands-On: The lightest large foldable yet
When foldables first came into existence in 2019, there were two forms: the book-like inner fold established by Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, or Huawei’s wraparound outer fold as seen in the Mate X. While I’ve always thought the inner fold made more sense because the design protects the main screen when not in use, there were several prominent reviewers who preferred the outer fold design. Their argument was that the inner fold design requires two screens, which significantly increased the weight and thickness of foldables.
By the time Huawei launched its third foldable in 2021 adopting the inner folding design, it seemed like it was a concession that Samsung had the right idea all along. But that’s apparently not the case, because Huawei is back with a new outer wraparound fold device, the Mate Xs 2.
The phone actually launched in China late last month, but it made its international debut at a Huawei event in Milan today that also saw the release of three new smartwatches. I was in attendance and got hands-on with the device for a bit, and after testing a series of inner folding foldables the past two years, I am reminded that, yes, the outer fold design is indeed much lighter and thinner. And Huawei even designed a new case to somewhat address my concern about the screen being too exposed too.
Huawei Mate Xs 2: Specifications
|Specification||Huawei Mate Xs 2|
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 4G|
|RAM and Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
About this hands-on: This first impressions article was written after about 45 minutes of use of a Huawei Mate Xs 2 in a controlled indoor environment ahead of Huawei’s launch event. Huawei flew me to Milan for the launch. The company did not have any input in this article.
Huawei Mate Xs 2: What’s new?
The Huawei Mate Xs 2 will be familiar to most people who have seen or read about the original Huawei Mate X or the 2020 follow-up the Mate Xs. The overall design and form factors looks almost identical, but there are improvements across the board both noticeable and subtle.
The most notable change to me is that the Mate Xs 2 feels noticeably lighter than previous Huawei foldables, not counting the small clamshell Huawei P50 Pocket, of course. A small part of this is because Huawei shrank the Mate Xs 2’s screen sizes a bit compared to its direct predecessor, to 7.8-inches unfolded, and 6.5-inches folded, but the main reason is the use of lighter materials all around, including aviation-grade titanium alloy.
The numbers back up my feeling: the Mate Xs 2 weighs just 255 g to the Huawei Mate Xs’ 300 g, a jarring weight difference given that the size difference isn’t substantial.
And since the Huawei Mate Xs was already relatively thin and light compared to the inner folding phones (because the latter needs to use two separate screens), this makes the Mate Xs 2 feel dainty compared to the typical inner foldables. The Galaxy Z Fold 3, for example, weighs 271 g, and the Vivo X Fold I tested was a behemoth, at 311 g. Huawei’s own inner folding Mate X2 weighed 295 g.
When the Mate Xs 2 is in folded form, it feels almost like a traditional slab phone compared to other foldables, thanks to its typical 19.5:9 aspect ratio and rounded sides due. Its 11mm thickness is about equivalent to any modern flagship with a case too.
The screen gets a refresh rate upgrade to 120Hz (it was 60Hz in the original Mate X and 90Hz in the Mate X2), and its 2200 x 2480 looks sharp enough. The other noticeable change: there’s now a 10MP selfie camera located in the typical hole-punch format in the upper right corner of the display. The previous two Mate X and Mate Xs phones did not have a conventional selfie camera, and instead required you to flip the phone over to use the main camera system for selfies — this is made possible because the wraparound screen design essentially gives the phone a screen on front and back side when folded. You can still do this, but it’s nice to have the additional option to just snap a quick selfie with less effort.
The Huawei Mate Xs 2 runs on a Snapdragon 888 without 5G, with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, and a 4,600 mAh battery. The older SoC without support for 5G networks is a bummer, but this is due to restrictions beyond Huawei’s control.
The main camera system consists of a 50MP main camera, 13MP ultra-wide, and 8MP 3.5x telephoto zoom lens, backed by Huawei’s XD Optics software image processing algorithm. I had very limited time with the phone and I wasn’t allowed to share photo samples, so there’s not much more I can report at this time. I will say that I thought the Huawei P50 Pro had an excellent camera system, but the P50 Pocket had a good, but not a great system. This camera system seems to lean more towards the P50 Pro in specs and hardware. Zoom shots up to 10x zoom looked quite good.
The Huawei Mate Xs 2 runs on EMUI (instead of HarmonyOS like in the China version) and it looks and behaves like any Android phone, with the obvious caveat that it does not support Google Mobile Services. This is old news by now that virtually all readers who’ve made it this far already know. At this point, readers should have a fair idea of whether this is a dealbreaker or not. I have gone on record saying that the lack of Google Mobile Services will never be ideal for me, but it doesn’t make the phone unusable for me. There are many legal/authorized workarounds to still access Gmail and Google Calendar, and most apps I use like WhatsApp, Instagram, work fine. I wrote about my experiences using EMUI in my P50 Pocket review for those interested.
The potential fragility problem of outer foldables
Earlier I wrote that I always preferred the inner foldable because that design protects the soft bendy screen when it’s not in use, while Huawei’s outer fold design left the folding screen exposed at all times. In folded form, the back of the phone is still a screen, which made me nervous anytime I put the phone down on a surface. Using a conventional case was a hassle, as it meant I’d need to take off the case every single time I needed to unfold the device.
Huawei attempts to address this by first building what it claims is a stronger, more durable folding screen with four layers of protection. I can’t vouch for this extra durability right now given my limited testing, but the material did feel more glass and less plasticky than before.
The second thing Huawei did is design a clever case that will be included with the phone. The case seems like a typical plasticky case that just slips on over the back and sides of a folded Mate Xs 2 at first, but the case has a hinge that allows one side to easily come off with a push at just the right angle. This allows the Mate Xs 2 to be housed in a case protecting its backside when in folded form, and still stay on even when in unfolded form.
Yes, the case does slow down the unfolding action — it takes an extra half-second of fiddling — and the material doesn’t feel as nice as the naked phone, so it’s still a compromise, but I don’t know of any other solution right for an outward folding phone.
Huawei Mate Xs 2: Early Impressions
The Huawei Mate Xs 2 is the first large-screen folding phone that doesn’t feel noticeably heavier and bulkier than using a typical slab flagship phone, so this is a major plus in my opinion. I am also confident the camera system should be pretty good given Huawei’s XD Optics engine has impressed me before.
But the Mate Xs 2 is going to be a very niche device internationally, catering only to enthusiasts. It’s not just the older SoC or the lack of Google Mobile Services, but also the really high price of €1999 ($2103). This is quite a mark up from the 8999 yuan (roughly $1500) price in Europe. But that tends to be the case for all Chinese phones selling in Europe. It’s hard to see the average joe picking up this phone, but Huawei knows this, and it seems intent on pushing ahead with global releases anyway. I will say that in Hong Kong and Malaysia, Huawei phones are still in high demand.
Whatever the case, I am always a fan of more phone options. And the Huawei Mate Xs 2 adds another foldable device to the international market that is sorely in need of more options.