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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Huawei Mate Xs 2 initial review: Reviving a trailblazer

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(Pocket-lint) – Huawei was among the first companies to launch a folding smartphone with a flexible display in the Mate X. It was something of a pioneer in that regard, delivering a phone to market unlike anything we’d seen before. 

The phone featured a tablet sized screen that folded around the hinge to shut, making it feel like a normal smartphone, before being opened up to its full size. 

Now Huawei is back with this old formula, but with refinements and improvements that should address a lot of those early durability concerns. It’s slimmer and stronger than before, so can this deliver in ways the likes of the Fold 3 can’t? 

Our quick take

In a market of folding book-style phones and flip phones, the Mate Xs 2 has managed to stand out. It’s truly different to anything else, and it looks and feels like a genuinely compelling piece of hardware.

Of course the lack of Google Play Services is an issue, but with Huawei’s App Gallery improving over the past few years, and other – although slightly clunky – workarounds to getting apps on the phone, that isn’t as much of a problem as it might have been a couple of years ago. What’s more, with a big screen like this, you may just find the browser can do a lot for you on this phone. 

The one thing you can’t workaround is the price. With a price tag of €1999 in Europe (no UK pricing just yet), it’s hardly the cheapest phone around and is still in that ‘very expensive’ territory. 

Huawei Mate Xs 2 initial review: Reviving a trailblazer

For

  • Solid and durable design
  • Big and bright display
  • Triple camera system seems strong
  • Light and easy to hold
Against

  • It is very pricey
  • No 5G
  • Old Snapdragon processor
  • No Google Play

Design

  • Outward folding display
  • Titanium alloy frame, fibre glass infused back, steel hinge plate
  • 156.5 x 139.3 x 5.4mm (unfolded) – 156.5 x 75.5 x 11.1 mm (folded)
  • 255 grams 

There were two major concerns with the first couple of generations of Huawei’s outward folding phones. First: durability. Not just because there’s a bending screen and lots of moving parts in the hinge, but also because the screen was always on the outside and not protected by glass. 

Second: size. A lot of the early folding phones have been the thickness of two regular smartphones stacked together, taking up more space in your pocket and being quite hard to use comfortably one-handed when shut. 

Huawei has attempted to address these two pain points with the Mate Xs 2. The flexible display is now made up of four composite layers stacked onto each other. This was to make the screen more durable, but also to reduce the appearance of the crease that appeared very visibly on previous versions. 

The phone body is made of a titanium alloy, with a rear that’s infused with fibre-glass, while the hinge has a stainless steel cap on it. The end result is a phone that’s much more durable and capable of surviving every day knocks and bangs. 

Pocket-lintHuawei Mate Xs 2 photo 2

This combination of materials also makes it lighter than the previous Mate Xs, and when open, it’s just 5.4mm thin at its thinnest point. 

From a form factor standpoint, it takes the main ideas from the Mate Xs. That means the screen is held in place with a catch on the inside of a grip that runs down one side of the phone. Press the little red button, and it releases the screen for easy unfolding. 

This same grip is where you’ll find the three cameras stacked vertically in a line. And it makes for a convenient place to hold the phone in one hand. In some ways this approach reminds us a little of the Kindle Oasis. It’s got that narrow grip on one side, and the rest is a flat, skinny device that’s mostly all screen. 


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Pocket-lintHuawei Mate Xs 2 photo 12

On the whole it feels like a decent device based on our little bit of time with it so far. The hinge feels smooth and solid when moving, and not at all loose. The phone doesn’t feel all that awkward or heavy when held open. It does still feel a little chunky when folded and held in one hand, but it’s not horrendous. You could comfortably get used to it, especially if you’re used to bigger phones anyway. 

Display

  • Flexible 7.8-inch OLED panel
  • 1 billion colours – 120Hz refresh rates
  • 2200 x 2480 resolution (424 ppi)
  • 6.5-inch – 1176 x 2480 when folded

There’s no denying that the display is the star of the show when it comes to features on the Huawei Mate Xs 2. When open it forms a large 7.8-inch panel that takes up nearly all of the space on the top surface, with skinny bezels all the way around and just one tiny punch-hole selfie camera in the corner. 

Pocket-lintHuawei Mate Xs 2 photo 5

Then, when you fold it shut, it takes the form of a much more traditional 6.5-inch display, just like a normal smartphone. It’s a great panel too, by the looks of things. 

We’ve only used it a short while, but it seems very bright and sharp, with great colours. And that shouldn’t be a surprise really. With a resolution of 2200 x 2480 delivering 424 pixels per inch, that means fine details should look really clear and sharp. 

It’s OLED based too, and has support for over 1 billion colours. Combined that means excellent colour coverage, a generally all-round vibrant image with high contrast and really dark, inky black levels. What’s more, it’s capable of reaching refresh rates as high as 120Hz, and that should mean animations in the interface are lovely and smooth. 

Performance and battery

  • 4600mAh battery – 66W fast charging
  • Snapdragon 888 processor
  • 8GB RAM – 256GB/512GB storage

If there’s one part of the spec sheet that reads a little on the underwhelming side, it’s the hardware and specs. It has a Snapdragon 888 processor, the flagship chipset from last year, which – for some – will be a bit of a turn off, especially when considering the outlay for the phone. 

Pocket-lintHuawei Mate Xs 2 photo 6

Then there’s the fact it doesn’t support 5G; you get 4G support maximum. Plus, the battery inside seems quite small for a phone this large at 4600mAh. Powering that big, bright and sharp display could drain that quite quickly. Although, again, we do need to test it to see how it performs through an average work week or two. 

On the flip side, Huawei’s often been great at battery optimisation in the past, delivering battery life that’s seemingly beyond what its batteries should manage. And there’s always fast charging to fall back on. In this case, that’s 66W SuperCharge. It should give you a speed refill when you’re in a hurry and running out of juice. 

Camera system

  • Triple camera system
  • 50MP f/1.8 primary/wide camera with PDAF
  • 8MP f/2.4 telephoto 3x optical zoom with OIS
  • 13MP f/2.2 ultrawide 
  • 10.7MP punch-hole selfie camera

Huawei’s long been a company that delivers great cameras in its phones. Even with all the challenges it’s faced in the wake of the trade ban fallout, it continues to deliver versatile and strong phone camera systems. 

Pocket-lintHuawei Mate Xs 2 photo 7

With the Mate Xs 2 you get a triple camera system made up of the usual primary (50-megapixel), ultrawide (8-megapixel) and telephoto zoom with 3x optical (13-megapixel). Combined with some of Huawei’s advanced image processing capabilities, the promise is photos with true to life, but bright and vivid colours. 

Of course, without having tested it, we don’t know if it does deliver good results, but based on some early hands-on time, it certainly seems like a strong all-round offering. 

To recap

Yes, it’s expensive and no it doesn’t have 5G or Google Play, but the Mate Xs 2 is a testament to Huawei’s hardware design and innovation. It’s a stunning example of a folding phone form factor that other manufacturers have generally shied away from.

Writing by Cam Bunton.



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