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Huawei Mate Xs foldable smartphone review – amazing but it has its challenges

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  • VERDICT

The Huawei Mate Xs is an amazing feat of engineering and a truly remarkable smartphone. It needs to be treated with care but it provides an amazing experience especially for commuters and travellers – what a shame we’re not commuting and travelling right now. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Huawei has produced an amazing device. If you can afford it and are willing to go the trouble of setting it up without a Google Play Store, you’re going to love it – and it will really impress your friends when you’re eventually allowed to see them.

The Huawei Mate Xs is a stunning foldable smartphone that is an impressive feat of engineering. But despite its head-turning design – it does have its share of challenges.

The new Mate Xs is the latest version of the head-turning original which stole the show at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in 2019.

In fact, it was revealed barely days after Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Fold and many were preferring the Huawei version of this new foldable smartphone category.

But the Mate X never made it to market in Australia.

Samsung, too, had its challenges with the Galaxy Fold. After some early issues, the company went back to the drawing board and it was eventually released in October 2019.

Huawei was due to return to Barcelona to launch the Mate Xs but the show was cancelled because of the coronavirus so the same spectacular reveal the company enjoyed the previous year failed to materialise.

Instead, Huawei had no choice but make a low-key announcement before quietly releasing it into the market.

The device, priced at a whopping $3,999, is a two in one product – it a smartphone that unfolds to become a tablet.

That added screen real estate make it an ideal entertainer, content viewer and also provides multitasking and productivity opportunities.

DESIGN
There aren’t too many differences between the Mate X and the latest Mate Xs – our understanding is there have been refinements to the hinge mechanism but it’s basically the same device we saw for the first time more than a year ago.

The Huawei Mate Xs, unlike its rival the Samsung Galaxy Fold, folds out to transform from a 6.6-inch smartphone to an 8-inch tablet.

The secret sauce is in that hinge which can fold out the screen flat and then tuck it back into the shape of a smartphone again.

It’s got as much in common with a Transformer as it has with a smartphone.

When folded the Mate Xs is actually not that much thicker than a regular smartphone.

And when unfolded the device is just 5.4mm at its thinnest point.

Along one side is a grip which is where the phone’s main circuitry and the three lens Leica camera system resides.

The Mate Xs folds easily but it did make a slight creaking noise when you opened and closed it. Not an issue – it still folded and closed beautifully.

The idea of the Huawei Mate Xs is to be a smartphone and a tablet in one and it has achieved that admirably.

DISPLAY

The Mate Xs Aerospace Flex Display is obviously not made glass but of plastic polymer material with multiple layers to add to the strength and durability.

There is an additional protective layer that’s clearly visible especially at the edges of the screen.

It is remarkably sharp and clear and provides an excellent viewing experience in the folded and unfolded position.

It is a great way to consume your content, view websites and use apps.

Watching videos and using apps like email make great use of the added space and the square shape of the 8-inch display.

But some apps, like Instagram and Facebook, don’t actually offer more content on the square screen but actually less but just a larger version.

The deeper shape of the 6.6-inch front screen actually fits more content.

But when using email, the larger screen offers a much richer experience.

The larger display is also handy for multitasking and productivity with up to three apps able to run side by side on the main screen.

We also like the ability of typing with a much larger keyboard that spreads the width of the screen and even makes two handed typing possible.

PERFORMANCE

The Huawei Mate Xs is powered by the company’s very own Kirin octa-core processor so you’ve got a lot of power in your hands.

The device also has 8GB RAM and 512GB of internal storage but unfortunately no microSD card slot to expand the memory.

But it does offer dual SIM usage so you can two number on the device.

On the security side, there is a fingerprint reader on the right edge which can be unlocked with your thumb when you grip the Mate Xs.

The device is also 5G compatible so you can enjoy that extra speed on the go if you have 5G coverage.

WEAR AND TEAR

The Mate Xs is an impressive device but it is also a product that needs to be treated with care.

There is no protective case you can put on it because the screen – which is basically the front and back of the device – needs to open and close.

Scratches around the display near the hinge

The only protection in the box is a frame cover that adheres to the edges of the device and offers some defence against corner and edge scrapes.

But that still leaves the screen wide open when it’s resting on a surface.

We treated the phone with the utmost care and had it folded whenever we were out or moving around.

Screen issue with the first Huawei Mate Xs review unit

We only ever opened the larger screen when we were sitting down or stationary.

But despite the care we took we did notice some marks and scratches on the screen even after a week of use, especially around the hinge.

We did develop an issue with the first review unit we received.

Screen issue with the first Huawei Mate Xs review unit

It developed a line of dead pixels across the entire width of the display which wouldn’t go away when we restarted the device.

Huawei graciously replaced the unit within a day and told us they would take a look at it and try and work out what happened.

The replacement hasn’t missed a beat but if I paid $3,999 for it and saw that I’d be a little worried.

We’d be interested to see what sort of condition the phone would be after months of use.

We had for a couple of weeks and marks were clear to see when the screen was dark.

CAMERA

The Huawei Mate Xs has a triple camera Leica system and takes amazing photos as you’d expect from a $3,999 phone.

Leica’s partnership with Leica has been a successful one with their smartphones often being voted best camera on a smartphone by groups like DxOMark.

Quality is what you’d expect with the Huawei Mate Xs and also what you get, but there are a couple of extra features that comes with having a large foldable display.

One is the ability to use that 8-inch screen to frame your images – there is so much added detail to make the best call on the photos you’re taking.

And viewing your photos on that larger screen is amazing as well.

Another cool feature is giving the person whose picture you’re taking the ability to see themselves on the smaller rear screen when the device is folded to phone size.

This allows that person to see how they look and pose for the photo.

Picture taken with the Huawei Mate Xs

Same thing goes for videos as well. It can shoot 4K videos but only at 30 frames per second.

CHALLENGES

While the Huawei Mate Xs is a premium smartphone with incredible features and engineering, it does also have its challenges.

The first is that it doesn’t have any of the Google services like the Google Play Store, Gmail, Google Maps and YouTube among others.

Without the Google Play Store, Huawei offers the App Gallery, it’s no App Store or Google Play Store but it does have 500 million users which is nothing to sneeze at.

But it doesn’t have all the apps you want.

One way around this is with the Phone Clone app that can copy apps from another Android device and install them on the Mate Xs.

This actually worked pretty well and it brought over the Tesla app, Apple Music and most of the other apps imported from the other phone.

It didn’t copy Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp but we were able to download the APK through the phone’s browser so we could download and install the apps.

For other sites like YouTube, there is no native app but we could still watch YouTube videos through the browser.

In fact we could create an app shortcut and save the site as an app shortcut on the home screen which made it basically like a dedicated app anyway.

This didn’t work however with Netflix. The browser would keep directing us to use the Netflix app which wasn’t available on the Mate Xs.

And even without Gmail, we were able to use the Mate Xs native email app to set up all of our email addresses even though they were Gmail addresses.

Despite these issues, we still got 95 per cent of our stuff on the phone.

It might be time consuming but for the most part you can easily set up the Huawei Mate Xs, or any new Huawei phone for that matter, just like you would a regular Android smartphone.

BATTERY

The Mate Xs has a 4,500mAh battery that is actually split in half and positioned on either side of the hinge.

We used the Mate Xs as our daily driver for two weeks and the battery was just shy of two days. It easily cruised through a day and a half most times.

Even though it has a larger screen to power, we found that 80 per cent of the time we were using the Mate Xs in the folded smartphone mode so it didn’t need to power the larger 8-inch display that often.

It also has 40W Huawei Super Charge fast charging so you can get back to 100 per cent faster.

PRICE AND TIMING

It’s not the most ideal time to be releasing a smartphone with a $3,999 price tag at a time when businesses are shut down and people are being laid off as we deal with the coronavirus crisis.

The release was probably planned months ago so it’s just one of those things.

Huawei is facing enough challenges at the moment and this didn’t need to be another one.

VERDICT

The Huawei Mate Xs is an amazing feat of engineering and a truly remarkable smartphone. It needs to be treated with care but it provides an amazing experience especially for commuters and travellers – what a shame we’re not commuting and travelling right now. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Huawei has produced an amazing device. If you can afford it and are willing to go the trouble of setting it up without a Google Play Store, you’re going to love it – and it will really impress your friends when you’re eventually allowed to see them.