Huawei Mate Xs 2 Review: Second Draft

A few years ago Huawei and Samsung were poised to square off in the newly created foldable phone category. While both phone makers showcased devices at MWC 19, it is the latter, however, that has risen to dominate this fledgling segment.

In the years since Huawei has only officially launched two foldable phones in South Africa, the P50 Pocket which we reviewed earlier in the year and the new Mate Xs 2.

Having spent the past two weeks with the Mate Xs 2, is it a comparable competitor to the Galaxy Z Fold4? The short answer is no. This as Huawei is still trying to find its feet with this form factor despite developing three iterations to date.

While there is some interesting technology at work here, there is still quite a bit of work to be done to refine the experience and ultimately justify the significant asking price that foldables in general demand.

Here is how we came to that conclusion.

Folio foibles 

We start as always with smartphone at the design. Unlike the Fold series from Samsung, Huawei has adopted a folio-esque mechanism to its larger form factor foldable. As such, when folded up the Mate Xs 2’s display covers the entire exterior of the device.

This is an odd choice in our opinion and while it helps to differentiate the Mate Xs 2 in this category from other devices that will likely go the horizontal or vertical book-like design, there are a few downsides to all this.

For example, smudge causing fingerprints are nearly unavoidable when unfurling this foldable. Yes, there is a button that triggers a release mechanism, but you still need to handle the display in order to open it up fully.

The experience is not unwieldy, but we were hoping for something a little more elegant.

To ensure the device is protected, Huawei ships it with a cover. This is not the generic plastic that ships with most phones, but rather one customised to the Mate Xs 2. This cover fits over the phone when it is folded up and when you want to unfold it, you need to slip off the portion that covers the Falcon Wing hinge.

Again, this is not a necessarily elegant solution, but gets the job done, and may be the best way to protect a device that retails for around R40k.

Let’s focus on the Falcon Wing for a moment. It is indeed an impressive feat of engineering, allowing the Mate Xs 2 to fold flat, which is not something that all foldables can claim to do.

We were a little disappointed to see that the phone’s display is not quite straight when unfolded, however, which is odd considering Huawei dedicated time during its local launch of the Xs 2 to note that it is 70 percent flatter than its predecessor.

This may simply be the result of our specific review device, but for all its talk of manufacturing standards, it is not a good look for Huawei.

As for the display itself, when folded up it is 6.5″ and when unfolded increases in size to 7.8″. Like all foldables to date it is plastic-based too with an OLED panel. The result is a screen that is highly flexible, but one that is a little tacky to the touch as well. It is also extremely thin, which does bring into question just how durable the display is.

This thinness ensures the Mate Xs 2 is quite light at 255g, but also means that you can feel the seam of the hinge underneath, which still takes a little getting use to. As is the fact that you can spot the crease of the fold. To its credit, the Falcon Wing design chosen by Huawei means that it is not as pronounced as on a book-style foldable, but is nonetheless noticeable.

We’d like to say that it is the sort of thing you don’t notice over time, but after two weeks, we still do. That said, it is an issue that Samsung is yet to solve, so this may simply come with the territory for those interested in foldables.

A mix of components

Looking at the rest of the Mate Xs 2 and it is mix of new and old. Regarding the latter, while it is still boasting a powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 4G processor, along with 8GB RAM and 512GB onboard storage.

It is not a mix that can be sniggered at, but when you weigh against what Samsung’s foldables are sporting, it is unfortunately a step behind, not to mention that those phones support 5G too.

While the in-hand performance is rapid and the Mate Xs 2 never showed signs of sluggishness, regardless of switching between apps and the folded/unfolded modes, when buying a new flagship phones, especially one that costs R40k, you expect the best possible components.

Running the Xs 2 through the usual gamut of benchmarking, it yields scores on par with some of last year’s top Android flagship phones. To that end, it garnered a single-core and multi-core score of 780 and 2 872 on GeekBench respectively. This is quite close to the Xiaomi 11T Pro.

Shifting to some of the other components, the display is quite impressive as mentioned. It is bright and vibrant, even at lower brightness settings, along with serving up plenty of crisp visuals. When unfolded, watching media is solid, although you may need to pinch to scale the content as needed.

Sticking with the unfolded mode, like other foldables, the Xs 2 can snap together applications to make multitasking easier. While this can be useful, it is not a distinguishing feature and seems like Huawei is still working to see how it can make use of the different-sized screen real estates.

As for the camera performance, a 50MP true chroma lens is the primary shooter, with a 13MP ultra-wide and 8MP telephoto option. It is a solid mix that produces good images in a variety of lighting conditions, but once again, where competitors have made upgrades to their latest foldables, the Mate Xs 2 feels one pace behind.

These are not deal breaking elements, but once again, if you ask a customer to fork out R40k, the expectation is to get market-leading hardware.

Final verdict

By foldable phone standards, the Huawei Mate Xs 2 is priced as expected at R39 999 (RRP).

That said, it is still missing a few elements compared to other foldables on the market, such as 5G or the latest silicon. Added to this is an experience that still feels experimental as the unfolded mode is yet to take full advantage of the increase in screen real estate.

Whether that requires better software or more developers to build applications to take advantage of the form factor is up for debate, but R40k for an experimental device is not a purchase that many can afford to make.

As such, foldables in general could benefit from more iterations, and the Huawei Mate Xs 2 falls in the exact same category. It is not a device for early adopters, but rather risk takers who want to gamble on something different.


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