The Chinese smartphone maker Huawei
Introduced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Sunday, the Mate X has a flexible OLED display that covers both the front and back of the device, and which unfolds outwards to become an eight-inch (20cm) tablet screen.
Richard Yu, the chief executive of Huawei’s consumer business, said the Mate X represented “a voyage into the uncharted”. “As a new breed of smartphones, Huawei Mate X combines 5G, foldable screen, AI and an all-new mode of interfacing to provide consumers with an unprecedented user experience,” he said.
The design of the two cutting-edge devices is quite different. Samsung put the folding screen on the inside of the device, which opens like a book to reveal a 7.3-inch screen, and a smaller 4.6-inch screen on the outside for use like a standard phone.
Huawei’s Mate X has just one screen on the outside. When closed, the front screen measures 6.6 inches, comparing favourably with large non-folding smartphones such as Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro. The screen that folds around the rear is dormant unless used to take photos or for other similar tasks. That leaves the flexible screen exposed to the outside world at all times and at risk of scratching.
The 0.4-inch (11-mm) thick Mate X also has a solid strip on one edge that sits flush with the rear screen when folded over, acts as a handle and contains a quadruple Leica camera system. The phone also features a fingerprint sensor built into its power button, 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, a large battery and a new 55W version of the firms SuperCharge technology that can reach 85% from zero in 30 minutes.
Analysts viewed the unveiling as broadly positive, giving Samsung competition in the new folding-phone space, but were sceptical that a device costing as much as three times current top-end smartphones would sell in significant numbers.
Francisco Jeronimo, an associate vice-president with IDC, said the Mate X’s “form factor seems a lot more user friendly than the Samsung Galaxy Fold”.
Ian Fogg, vice president of analysis for OpenSignal, called the Mate X’s foldable design striking but warned: “Remember a foldable design places new tough demands on all aspects of the hardware, not just the display – it still has to deliver a great network experience, battery life etc.”
Huawei says the Mate X is the “world’s fastest foldable 5G smartphone”, and that its position as a manufacturer of 5G network infrastructure has given it a unique advantage because the company was able to test the phone on internal 5G networks before release.
That same position, however, has also made it a geopolitical talking point. The US has told European countries that it may find it difficult to work with anyone who uses Huawei products in their networks after raising security concerns about the company.
Huawei is the second-largest smartphone manufacturer by volume ahead of Apple and behind Samsung, and it has its eyes on first place. It is also expected to launch a range of flagship smartphones in Paris in March.
Huawei said its Mate X would be available later in the year to coincide with the launch of 5G networks, which are expected to begin limited rollout this summer in the UK and elsewhere. Several other Chinese firms, including Xiaomi, area also expected to unveil folding-screen phone designs this year, as the battle to lead the next wave of smartphone innovation heats up.