The Huawei Mate Xs caught my attention when it initially launched as the Mate X at the start of 2019. Landing at MWC 2019 in Barcelona, Spain, the foldable phone was famously displayed behind glass, with hands-on opportunities hard to come by – and I, unfortunately, didn’t manage to try it out.
Originally slated to go on sale in June 2019, it was delayed until November and ended up only being available in China, scuppering my attempts to get hands-on with the most exciting foldable around.
At the time its competition was sparse. There was the Royole FlexPai, which felt and operated like a rough prototype rather than a genuine product, and the Samsung Galaxy Fold, which was pulled before it even hit stores after review units developed screen and hinge faults, eventually went on sale later in 2019 with fixes for those issues.
While the Galaxy Fold gave most of the world its first real taste of a foldable phone, its chunky, bezel heavy (on the front) design meant it didn’t quite carry the foldable swagger of a highly desirable product. It looked very much like a first generation device.
The Huawei Mate X, in contrast, oozed desirability – and it got even better when an updated version with a newer chipset and improved durability was unveiled under the moniker Huawei Mate Xs, and then actually became available to buy in markets outside of China.
Dressed to impress
The Mate Xs looks the part. Foldable phones need to look both futuristic and desirable, a difficult balance to find. And with a sky-high price tag, you certainly want a good looking device.
Instead of opting for Samsung’s inward-folding display, the screen on the Mate Xs folds outward and back onto itself, and the result is a more slender, streamlined design which still allows you to use half of the screen as a traditional smartphone when the device is folded.
However, with the press of an easy-to-reach button the rear part of the screen is released from the body, allowing you to fold it out – and watching the interface seamlessly shift from the traditional portrait rectangle of a phone to a squarer, tablet-style display is magical.
This easy transition between states makes the Mate Xs easier to use than the Galaxy Fold, Galaxy Z Flip and Moto Razr – as their screens fold in on themselves, forcing you to use (or view) less intuitive, smaller displays on the outside of the handsets.
While the Galaxy Flip and Moto Razr provide smaller form factors overall, you’re not getting a screen much bigger than that of a standard handset when opened out; and that sort of misses the point of foldable phones, which is to increase the available screen real estate – and both devices still come with sizable price tags.
So the Mate Xs has an ease of use advantage and a larger display than those, and it just looks so much nicer than the Galaxy Fold. It’s why the Huawei Mate Xs is still the best foldable phone right now, but it’s not perfect.
Are you Appy with that?
The current major sticking point with Huawei smartphones is the US-imposed ban on the firm being able to use Google’s Mobile Services suite.
That blocks Google’s core apps and the Play Store from being available on the Mate Xs, which means the foldable phone has to rely on Huawei Mobile Services and the firm’s own, and relatively new, App Gallery storefront.
The simple fact is there just aren’t as many apps available on the App Gallery as you’ll find on the App Store or Play Store – especially for those living in Western markets. Huawei is aware of this, and is working with developers to bring more and more applications natively to the platform.
You’re able to side-load some apps (such as WhatsApp, Prime Video and Netflix) via APK downloads, which the App Gallery and Huawei’s Petal Search can direct you to.
Video streaming services are one of the biggest beneficiaries of this form factor. Being able to pull out a phone-sized device from your pocket and then flick the screen out to almost double the surface area makes a huge difference when watching TV shows and movies on the move.
Whether you’re on public transport, a plane, or sitting in a car, being able to have a larger screen without the need of taking a second device such as a tablet or laptop with you is a real boon.
It also makes web browsing, emailing and working more comfortable, however you won’t be able to access the Gmail app or Google’s Drive and associated Docs, Sheets and Slides applications. Microsoft’s Office suite of productivity apps are available though (via APK download), giving you access to the likes of Word, Excel and Outlook.
Huawei is adding new applications to its store regularly, and it recently added the TomTom Amigo, Emirates Flights, Mondly, Marvel Strike Force and Merriam-Webster Dictionary apps around the time of writing.
Using Huawei smartphones sans Google Services does require some adjustments to your habits – you’ll need to use Here Maps, for example – but the app selection is growing.
Whether the transition to a different way of using your phone is worth the considerable outlay the Mate Xs demands is something which you’ll need to decide.
There are more foldable phones on the horizon, with the Samsung Galaxy Fold 2 rumored to arrive at the firm’s August 5 event, plus we know Xiaomi, TCL, Oppo and more are working on their own foldable options – plus we’re still waiting for Microsoft’s Surface Duo to go on sale.
But right now, for open-minded users with cash burning a hole in their pocket, and who are looking for a taste of foldable phone action, the Mate Xs is your best option if you can get over the app compromise.