Hands on: Huawei Mate Xs impresses with foldable design but is costly

March 13th, 2020 | by Wilson Wong
Hands on: Huawei Mate Xs impresses with foldable design but is costly
Cellphones
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PHOTO: Handout

A year after the first version went on sale only in China, Huawei is bringing its latest foldable phone, the Mate Xs, to Singapore. It’s a good thing because you now get the enhancements in the second version.

The Chinese phone maker has improved the design of the hinge, for starters, and it’s obvious from the quick hands-on session I had yesterday in Singapore.

Made of zirconium, a hardy metal, the new hinge is said to be 120 per cent tougher than titanium alloy. The promise: higher durability as users fold and unfold the screen thousands of times.

The Huawei Mate Xs has a screen that folds outwards, though the aerospace-grade material that protects the screen feels a little plasticky. I do wonder how it will hold up after prolonged usage. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
The Huawei Mate XS unfolded. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

The hinge allows the flexible OLED screen to be opened up flat like a tablet with an 8-inch screen boasting a resolution of 2,480 x 2,200 pixels. When you fold it up, the front screen offers 6.6 inches of display real estate, rather like a regular smartphone.

The back-facing part of the screen will be switched off when folded away, only to be used when you are taking selfies and want a preview.

Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Fold, which seems to have a rather large gap when folded, the Mate Xs folds more tightly. It feels a little more assured in some ways.

Then again, the Mate Xs’ screen folds outwards, exposing the screen to the elements and our oily hands. Even with a pouch to hold the phone, I can imagine that prolonged usage might produce unsightly scratches.

The upgraded hinge. PHOTO: Wilson Wong
When it closes, the phone is 11mm thick. Once the phone is in tablet mode, the design of the phone has a spine that houses the cameras and lets me have a firm grip. It also folds flat with no obvious gap. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

With the phone resembling more of a square rather than the more common 16:9 screen, you’d find black bars covering the top and bottom of the screen when you fire up a video. Alternatively, you can watch the video with the screen folded, though that would be smaller.

Using a YouTube 4K HDR10 video as a test yesterday, I could see that the screen is bright with nice saturated colours and no obvious ghosting.

One gripe is that I can still feel the hinge bulging beneath the surface of the screen as I swipe across the device. Good thing the bulge does not distract much when you’re looking at the screen.

Having the main camera sensor taking your selfie means a huge jump in image quality over the usual front-facing camera in a notch or cut-out. The screen also allows mirror shooting, so you can see yourself as the subject. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

The Mate Xs’ folding screen design has other advantages. With the back facing screen switched on for selfies, the main camera is used for taking higher quality photos.

So, you do away with a dedicated front-facing camera which usually has a poorer quality sensor and lens. Open the screen out and the camera housing acts as a spine that provides a better grip of the device.

In the imaging department, the Huawei Mate Xs does not seem to be as good as the Mate 30 Pro, on paper.

While it has the same 40-megapixel main camera, 3D depth-sensing camera and 8-megapixel 3X optical telephoto camera, the ultrawide-angle camera only has 16-megapixel resolution, compared to the 40 megapixels on the older model.

The four-camera system comprises the main wide-angle camera, an ultra-wide-angle camera and a telephoto camera capable of zooming up to 30x (digital). The fourth one is a depth-sensing camera that helps with bokeh effects. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

With ultrawide-angle cameras gaining popularity, this seems more like a downgrade for avid snappers.

Despite that, the camera system that is co-engineered with Leica uses the Red-Yellow-Blue sensor also found on the Mate 30 Pro, which promises sharper and more detailed images.

The telephoto lens can go up to 30x digital zoom although I highly recommend stopping at 5x to maintain some image quality. Pushing up the zoom often results in loss of details, not to mention blur images if you don’t have the phone on a stable tripod.

While the folding screen and the cameras are the main selling point, the Mate Xs is clearly no slouch in terms of raw performance. It’s got what you expect from a flagship phone.

It is powered by the latest 5G version of Huawei’s Kirin 990 chip. It also sports 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage space.

You can also expand the storage space using Huawei’s proprietary Nano Memory card to up to 256GB. While the smartphone has a dual-SIM slot, only one SIM tray can support 5G speed – the second slot only works with 4G/LTE.

Power may be a concern, but we have to test this out more to see how well the Mate Xs does in a typical day. Despite being a physically bigger phone than the Mate 30 Pro, Huawei has kept the battery capacity at 4,500mAh.

A quick test shot showing the macro capabilities of the Mate Xs camera. Users who are used to the Huawei-Leica camera will feel at home with the new flagship model. PHOTO: Wilson Wong

Finally, the price. As you’d expect, the Mate Xs does not come cheap. At S$3,788, it comes costs more than what you’d pay for a flagship smartphone and a tablet, combined.

The premium being charged by Huawei is not only for the folding mechanism but also for having 5G connectivity. But will Singapore users be willing to fork out so much?

Remember that 5G licences have not even been awarded in Singapore yet, so telecom operators still need to build up networks to support 5G phones such as the Mate Xs.

For some users, what also counts against Huawei is the lack of Google Mobile Services. That’s a major consideration for users, even as the Chinese company is building up its own app store.

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