GSMArena team,13 May 2020.
Regardless whether you are a fan of Huawei's outer-folding display design or not, there is no denying that it has a striking look to it.
If you ignore the fact that most of its surface is a display, the Mate Xs looks surprisingly "conventional" in both of its end states. The really "unorthodox" bit about it only manifests itself while it is being folded or unfolded.
In its folded state, the Mate Xs both looks and feels like a modern, slicker take on some of the rounder smartphone designs of the past. Huawei has done an excellent job of lighting up only the part of the screen that makes up a 6.6-inch display with equal bezels on each side. The inactive display that folds around the back blends so seamlessly with the overall design, that an occasional viewer may not even notice it's an extension of the same panel.
Unlike the thin and very tall outer display offered by the Galaxy Fold, on the Huawei Mate Xs external display (the one meant for folded use) has a rather standard 19.5:9 aspect ratio. This means the Mate Xs has none of the resolution scaling issues, which have been plaguing the Galaxy Fold's external display.
Unfolded, the Mate Xs is another beast entirely. But, again, unless you witness the actual transformation taking place, it looks quite conventional once fully unfolded - which is to say, like a sleek tablet.
We found it quite amusing that the asymmetrical design with a bulging part at one end was quite reminiscent of Amazon's Kindle Oasis ebook reader - the similarity between those two is really striking.
Falcon Wing Design hinge
A big part of why the Mate Xs feels so natural in the unfolded state is its impressive hinge. Huawei calls it a Falcon Wing Design and claims it has been improved and refined since the original Huawei Mate X implementation.
The hinge is supposedly made using zirconium-based liquid metal - an extra tough alloy which is both sturdy and easy to work for creating complex shapes - and the entire mechanism uses more than 100 precision-cut pieces.
The rotating shaft of the hinge is designed to contract and extend, depending on the current folded/unfolded state of the display, so that it supports the flexible panel in the best possible way. The main advertised benefit of that is that you get a "completely flat" surface in the unfolded state and no "deterioration or distortion of the image along the hinge".
As we can confirm, when you unfold the Mate Xs, there no noticeable crease whatsoever - neither physically nor is there any image distortion on the screen to suggest one.
The large folding display on the Mate Xs is a lot flatter and looks a lot better than the one on the revised Samsung Galaxy Fold.
Still, there actually is a palpable crease in the display's surface - only you can't see it that easily. It's mostly noticeable when doing longer swipes across the display.
We didn't expect a foldable screen to be as perfectly flat as a glass-covered panel. So when you put your expectations in check, it's clear that Huawei has done a great job with the foldable screen on the Mate Xs.
The impressive look and feel remain consistent when the phone is folded. The curvature of the closed display is so uniform and seamless that we honestly couldn't tell it apart from the other side of the phone, which ended in a solid frame. Color us impressed!
It's worth noting that the opening and closing motions on the hinge are far from smooth. At least this time around the hinge does not sound ratchety like it did on the original Mate X. Still, the folding and unfolding motion is not assisted in any way, and there is no easy way to fully close or open the phone without applying significant pressure on the panel. This fact certainly adds to the overall anxiety this particular reviewer felt about keeping the humongous screen safe from scratches. It is one area in which Samsung's approach and inner-folding solution earn back some points. But if you have a more care-free approach towards your gear, you'll get used to it in no time.
Build and finish
In the next section of the review where we discuss materials, build and finish, we can't miss pointing out the fact that the way the Mate Xs was designed puts the screen at constant risk - regardless of whether it's open or closed.
With devices like the Galaxy Fold and Z Flip, you can hide-away the semi-soft surface of the panel, which is suspectable to damage, and even then, scratches seem to appear almost like out of nowhere.
On the Mate Xs, the risk for the screen getting scuffed, scratched, marked, or otherwise damaged is taken on a whole other level. There is no feasible way of protecting it unless you have a soft case, and you always take great care when handling it. We don't know about you, but after dealing with this daily, this particular reviewer started having some unusual thoughts about getting a second phone as a backup just for situations that require care-free operation .
Now, it is worth noting that unlike Samsung, Huawei seems to be playing the PR game a bit more cautiously here, without tossing-around words like "glass" for its finish. Instead, the official press materials have an assortment of technical jargon to relay the claim that the Mate Xs provides "a high degree of resilience against scratches and cracks."
The technical description outlines something called "Double Aerospace-grade Optical Polyimide Design". It consists of two layers of aerospace-grade optical polyimide (PI), stuck together via a Huawei-pioneered process, using an optically clear adhesive (OCA) and then placed on top of the actual flexible OLED panel. We were also assured Huawei's engineers have used two layers of the optical polyamide instead of one, making the whole thing 80% stronger.
Mind you, that polyamide, reportedly, costs three times as much as pure gold by weight, which is a "weird flex" (pun intended) when we are talking about such small quantities and such an expensive device.
We get the point, though. No efforts were spared to making the Mate Xs screen more resilient. But the truth is, there is only so much they can do about the flexible outer layer, which is inherently softer than glass.
We can't say much about the scratch resistance of the screen, but we can't say we're fans of how the screen feels to the touch. It feels nothing like glass, with plenty of drag. It also seems to gather a lot of fingerprint grease, as well as dust. The latter just loves sticking to it. We get that this kind of trade-offs come with the territory when you are venturing into foldable designs, but we think Samsung's finish has better oleophobic properties. Worth noting.
Speaking of Samsung, we are sure you all remember the fiasco with peeling the "screen protector" off of the original Galaxy Fold. The Mate Xs has a top layer of its own that looks like it can be peeled, yet is also an intrinsic part of the display. It has a rather odd shape, with cutouts in certain areas, likely to account for pressure points while folding. Fair enough.
The only problem is that all of these cutouts are quite visible and tend to stick out. You can feel them when swiping from the edges of the phone. Especially problematic for gesture navigation. Samsung specifically had these tucked-away in its Fold re-design, so this makes them stick out all that more on the Mate Xs. Lint also tends to get caught on the edges of this layer, making for a nasty look whe the display is off.
Nitpicking on our end, for sure, but we still feel like these are the kinds of design choices that need to be analyzed and even over-analyzed on these early generation foldable devices, just to get a better understanding of what works well and what does not.
Looking at the Falcon Wing hinge more closely, for instance, leaves us rather worried about how exposed a lot of its bits are. Not having the top layer's edges hidden-away is the least of its potential problems. Both "spokes" that stick out on the top and bottom of the hinge not only look like tips of a stylus, but also include a lot of empty space between their tip and the rest of the phone body.
We can only imagine the stuff that's going to find its way there over time - the same goes for the hinge itself. We can only hope that Huawei has engineered a solution to this problem. Only time will tell whether hinge design is solid. The one on our review unit did start creaking, just a bit, at times, after some use. Nothing we would consider worrying, though.
Controls, ergonomics usability
What is it like to use the Huawei Mate Xs? Well, in short - it's an amazing experience and a glimpse of one possible take on a more convenient and productive smartphone future.
Like we already mentioned, the Mate Xs feels equally familiar and approachable in both of its folded and unfolded states even if it's in very different ways.
While folded-down, the Mate Xs is almost inconspicuously similar to any other modern-day "slab" design smartphone. We already praised its choice to limit the available display area to a manageable and softly-curved, 6.6-inch area, with a standard aspect ratio of 19.5:9. Even the 11mm hefty thickness of the phone's body is not hard to get used to. It's 300-gram weight, on the other hand, is a bit harder to maneuver. We found it perfectly manageable, though.
Control placement around the body is well thought-out. The volume rockers are positioned at a convenient height, and so is the power button+fingerprint reader, combo.
The fingerprint reader works well. It is both quick and reliable. It is worth noting that this is the only biometric authentication solution you get on the Mate Xs. With no front-facing camera, there is no face unlock.
There is also no elegant way of having a video call that we could think off, besides a rather "hacky" solution of invoking the back display, while the phone is folded.
The rest of the controls end up logically placed in a folded state, as well. The bottom, or rather the right "handlebar" side has just enough space to house the USB Type-C port. The same frame has two microphones on the bottom. On the top - the front piece has the third microphone and a pretty well-concealed earpiece, that doubles as a speaker.
The back half of this "sandwich" has a speaker on the bottom side. On the top - the Dual nanoSIM and NM card, hybrid combo tray. Next to that, it a rather impressive flex of internal space management - an IR blaster. Points there.
There was no space for a dedicated status LED, though. You have to rely on the AlwaysOn Display for staying on top of your notifications. It only offers a few clock styles and no actual way to get it working on the back side of the display, while the device is folded.
Unfolding the Mate Xs requires the press of a latch-release button on the back, below the camera array. It is in a rather inconvenient spot to press while holding the phone with one hand. However, that might just be on purpose, since it forces you to involve a second hand for the unfolding process.
Pulling-off a single-handed unfold might be possible - with enough dexterity and perhaps an extra surface to use as leverage. It really isn't a good idea, though. The latching mechanism itself feels very solid. While a magnetic solution would have definitely felt more satisfying to open and close, but Huawei has made the right decision in terms of reliability here. Plus, there is quite a bit of inherent tension in the display while fully folded, which requires a secure method to hold it in place.
Once you unfold the Mate Xs and look at the control layout once again, and start to appreciate the thoughtful design choices better. Like the fact that the speaker now ends up on one side of the phone, with the earpiece on the other, in horizontal orientation. This makes for proper stereo separation.
Using the phone in a landscape orientation definitely feels comfier if you have the hardware "handle" bit on the bottom, rather than the top side. It does weigh a bit more than the other side and having it in your palms feels a bit better. Plus, that way, the speaker ends up pretty high-up and thus hard to accidentally cover up.
The location of the charging port is a consideration as well. The USB port ends up buried in your palm with our suggested hand-hold, so it's not ideal for charging. If you'd like to charge the phone while using it, you might have to go for the top-heavy option and hold it in the other orientation instead.
Whatever way you are holding the phone though, that huge 8-ich display makes for an amazing gaming and multimedia experience.
Propping the Mate Xs on a table can be somewhat useful for typing. In this case, you definitely want the "handle" on the top, to get a more ergonomic hand-hold. The on-screen keyboard isn't really big enough in this orientation to get both hands on there, though.
On the flip side, quite literally this time around, when you use the unfolded Mate Xs in the other orientation, the keyboard gets very, very big and it's a breeze to type on with two hands. The "handle" is also thin enough to hold in your hands and still have both thumbs move across the display with comfortably.
As per press materials, Huawei seems to envision using the part we have been referring to as "the handle" just the way its name suggests. We found it useful but perhaps it's best suited for people with smaller hands.
Finally, in case it was not obvious from context already - using the Mate Xs unfolded with one hand is very close to impossible. Even with a good one-handed grip on the handle, a long thumb and willingness for plenty of stretching, you can kind of get to half of the display. Using the phone in "Tent" mode is not possible either, due to the persistent tension in the hinge which always aims to straighten the display out unless it's latched into place. Folding and unfolding is definitely not a smooth linear motion.