Hands-On, Smartphone

Huawei Mate Xs Hands-On: Small Upgrades, Big Absence

Huawei just launched the “second” iteration of its first foldable smartphone, the Huawei Mate Xs. Even though this is technically a new device, it looks pretty much identical to its predecessor, the Mate X. That being said, it does come with some neat upgrades here and there.

But even with those upgrades, one big thing is still absent from the Mate Xs. That’s right, it doesn’t ship with Google Mobile Services, which severely limits its appeal to general consumers. That’s a shame, really: after spending some time with Huawei’s latest foldable smartphone, I’m quite impressed with the Mate Xs, even if it’s lacking vital Google services.

So what kind of upgrades did the Mate Xs receive? For one, it now sports an upgraded hinge design that is made out of “zirconium-based liquid metal.” The result is supposedly a more durable and smoother hinge. While I can’t say if it’s clearly better than the hinge of the original Mate X, it definitely feels robust enough for me to fold and unfold the smartphone without feeling nervous.

Another neat upgrade the Mate Xs got lies in the construction of the flexible screen; notice how these improvements are meant to make the foldable phone more durable. Anyway, there are now two layers of “polyamide films” – Huawei made sure to mention that this material is more expensive than gold – on top of the screen to make it more robust. But…does the film really make a difference?

Well, for what it’s worth, I do think the Mate Xs’ screen feels more resistant to scratches than, say, the Samsung Galaxy Fold‘s display. While the screen of the Mate Xs is still soft enough for my fingernail to leave a mark, it doesn’t feel quite as effortless to do this compared to the Fold. Regardless, we’re still looking at an all-plastic display with this foldable smartphone, so don’t hope for glass-like durability here.

Beyond these two changes, the Mate Xs is virtually identical to its predecessor aesthetically, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The display still folds around the outside of the phone, allowing it to be closed flat when it’s folded. While there is some tension when trying to fold the device completely, it feels solid enough once it’s locked into place with a mechanism.

To unfold the Mate Xs, all I need to do is just press on the locking mechanism to release the screen. I can then proceed to fully unfold the display, and it really is quite satisfying to do this. Once the display is unfolded, the Mate Xs feels like a fully functional tablet in a thin, compact form factor.

If you’re wondering, yes, there is a crease running down the middle of the screen when the Mate Xs is fully unfolded. However, it’s not quite as obvious as the crease on the Galaxy Fold’s display. In fact, it’s barely noticeable in normal use, unless you really look for it. I tried to take a picture of the phone to make the crease as visible as possible, and…it’s not an easy task.

Okay, what about the display quality of the Mate Xs? As expected, it’s great. The 8-inch 2480 x 2200 OLED display – or 6.6-inch 2480 x 1148 when folded – looks stunning with deep blacks, vibrant colours, and good viewing angles. On top of that, it can get reasonably bright as well. Basically, it’s a high quality panel befitting of a flagship smartphone.

In the performance department, the Mate Xs is equipped with Huawei’s latest Kirin 990 5G chipset with (obviously) integrated 5G. This means it doesn’t have to rely on a separate modem anymore like the original Mate X, which had a Kirin 980 SoC. Naturally, the Kirin 990 can provide a good level of performance; it can run PUBG Mobile effortlessly.

As for battery life, the Mate Xs should behave like its predecessor. After all, it still comes with a 4,500mAh battery that supports Huawei proprietary 55W SuperCharge fast charging technology.

And then there’s the camera performance of the Mate Xs. Just like the original Mate X, the new Xs still has the same Leica-branded quad camera system. It consists of a 40MP f/1.8 primary shooter, a 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide angle camera, an 8MP f/2.4 telephoto lens, and a time-of-flight (ToF) sensor. There’s no front-facing shooter, as the rear sensors also double as a selfie camera, thanks to the secondary screen.

I only managed to take a couple of shots with the Mate Xs, and as a whole, the camera feels…alright. It doesn’t feel particularly amazing, but it’s not exactly bad either, though I do wish it had better detail preservation (especially with the ultra-wide angle and telephoto sensors) as well as a more responsive camera interface. All in all, it’s a decent camera system.

The Huawei Mate Xs, as far as foldable smartphones go, is a polished, attractive-looking device. Its only real competition is Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, and compared to its Korean rival, the Mate Xs features a much more usable outer display, sleeker design, and maybe even better durability with the revised hinge system and display construction.

But no matter how impressive the Mate Xs is, the fact that it doesn’t ship with Google Mobile Services is a big, big absence. Out of the box, it won’t come with essential Google apps like the Play Store, Gmail, Maps, and even YouTube. Sure, Huawei is aggressively growing its own AppGallery to fill the void left by the Google Play Store, but it will take a while before it can be considered a worthy alternative.

Nonetheless, there’s no denying the fact that the Mate Xs is one impressive foldable smartphone, even if it doesn’t have essential Google apps. If you’re interested to get your hands on the Mate Xs, good news: it’s set to arrive here in Malaysia next month on 20 March.

There’s still no word yet on the local pricing of the Mate Xs, but for the European market, this foldable phone goes for a whopping €2,499; that’s about RM11,440 for the sole 512GB model with 8GB of RAM. Granted, that price tag includes VAT, so this foldable smartphone should cost less for the Malaysian market.

Still, don’t expect the Mate Xs to be positioned in the same price range as conventional smartphones – it will likely cost just as much (or even more) as the RM8,388 Samsung Galaxy Fold.