a near-perfect foldable, held in place by software

Huawei Mate Xs 2 is not exactly a new phone, it has been announced since spring, and available on the Romanian market for several months now. However, after testing the Galaxy Z Fold4 and Flip4, playing around with Motorola’s foldable phones, and recently even seeing a foldable laptop, I thought it was time to see what other manufacturers were doing with the concept. On the one hand I was pleasantly impressed with the Mate Xs 2, but on the other hand I still find it hard to recommend a foldable phone, even with well-built hardware, and even more practical than other competing solutions.

The Mate Xs 2’s outward-facing screen design is much more practical

Even though this is the third generation of foldable phone of its kind from Huawei, the Mate Xs 2 is the first one to make it into my hands for serious testing. I’ve only seen the previous Mate X and Xs models from a distance or buttoned them up for a few minutes at an event. So, after spending a few weeks in the company of the Mate Xs 2, I have to admit that Huawei seems to have found a good design on the first try. Sure, Samsung’s Fold models are better protected, with the screen on the inside, but those are also much thicker, heavier, and the outer screen, which you’re supposed to use for regular phone activities, is impractical.

Huawei Mate Xs 2 unfolded back

The Mate Xs 2, like previous models, uses a single foldable screen that wraps around the left side to the back. The screen has a mechanical grip that keeps the phone folded until you need to open it. Opening is done by pressing a button, and the screen automatically jumps to a ‘half-open’ position. To fully open the screen, you have to pull it open manually.

The hinge seems to be of a very high quality, this holding the screen straight without feeling like it might “slip” in use. Furthermore, it has a stroke is very smooth and doesn’t look like it could easily be damaged in normal use. Unlike Samsung’s solutions, this one is also much smaller in size and seems to be built from fewer components.

Huawei Mate Xs 2 folded front handheld

On first contact with the phone, I had a bit of a shock as it is extremely thin when open. It seems almost impossible to have anything other than the screen in the body, but Huawei has managed to integrate all the electronics, speakers and battery under the screen and into the part that remains on the right side, where the cameras and charging port are also housed. It’s hard to believe there’s a millimetre of wasted space in this device.

When the phone is folded, however, it becomes an “almost” regular smartphone, with a 6.5″ screen on the regular form factor. The thickness isn’t great either, with the two parts of the screen forming the shape of a traditional phone, even when stacked. In fact, there’s a chance that once you put the case on the Mate Xs 2 you can walk down the street talking on your phone without attracting the attention of having a foldable device.

Huawei Mate Xs 2 folded vs iphone 11 pro max

The case is very “unusual” though. It has glue on the right side, attaching quite well to the phone. However, it only covers the extremities and the whole back is “mobile”, not fixed. So you can have your phone in the pouch, protected, but you can also open it quickly by pulling the left side out from under the pouch. I don’t like that the case stays attached in an unsightly way, on the back, but at least it’s practical.

And, the truth is that this phone needs protection, as it is made mostly of plastic. The screen is plastic, obviously, but other elements like its back are also plastic. That doesn’t mean it feels “cheap”, quite the opposite, but it’s clear that Huawei has adopted new ways to reduce weight with these materials. The bezel is metal all around, and the band on which the cameras are integrated is glass. Given that the phone weighs 255 grams, just 15 grams over the iPhone 14 Pro Max, perhaps plastic was the only solution to not deliver a “brick”.

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Huawei Mate Xs 2 accessories

Also included in the package is a 66W charger, something we don’t see much in competing phones.

The screen doesn’t have as visible a trace as other foldable models on the market

The screen is the most important aspect in a foldable phone, and in the case of the Mate Xs 2 we’re dealing with a single 7.8″ panel. When open, the screen appears to be about the same size as Samsung’s Fold, but on a slightly more “square” format. The screen doesn’t fold in half, but only in a third, leaving a full-sized 6.5″ screen in folded mode.

Huawei Mate Xs 2 tent

When using the phone folded, it feels just like a totally normal phone, except that the left side is slightly curved, while the right side is perfectly flat. The camera is integrated into the top-right corner in a subtle punch-hole cutout. Games, movies, apps and any content made for regular screens will display perfectly this way, with no compatibility issues related to aspect ratio or resolution.

When you open the full screen, the interface and apps are transformed into their tablet versions, giving you more screen real estate. Huawei’s software is smart enough to reformat the screen quickly and smoothly, but not all apps recognize it automatically. Some have to be manually forced from the settings to widen across the screen, which usually leads to a less than ideal experience.

Huawei Mate Xs 2 screen top

The OLED panel supplied by Huawei and produced by BOE is a quality one, with refresh rate at 120 Hz, good but not great brightness. Color calibration is similar to what we see on other Huawei phones. I find it interesting that Huawei has a less glossy foldable screen than Samsung, so more comfortable in use even if you have lights that might reflect off it.

The folding area leaves a mark on the surface of the screen, but not a visible one in use. You can feel it when you run your finger over it, but not being on center, you encounter it less often than on other devices. I did notice, however, that the plastic screen protector is very durable, with the screen being scratch-free even after passing through several hands before it got to me. The phone will go back to Huawei scratch-free after this test period, so as long as you don’t intentionally scratch the screen, or touch it to harder objects, it should be OK even in the long run.

Huawei Mate Xs 2 case

Mate Xs 2’s performance is at 2021 flagship level, but still good

Performance-wise, Huawei’s phone could be considered outdated in its price range as it uses an already outdated chipset. It was already a generation behind even at the time the phone was announced, but now an even newer Qualcomm chipset model has already been announced. The Snapdragon 888 is still a capable chipset and probably won’t show signs of fatigue anytime soon, but there will certainly be use cases where a newer model would offer either better performance or more efficient power consumption.

Performance in tests is good, but even so, it’s below what other Snapdragon 888 models offer. That’s because internal space is much more limited and there’s not much room for cooling. The Mate Xs 2 is thus not a gaming phone, but it will do pretty much everything else you normally need very well.

Benchmarks

  • AnTuTu – 619.362
  • GeekBench – Single-Core: 919 / Multi-Core: 3,522
  • 3DMark Wild Life Extreme – 1.546
  • PCMark – 9.949

Decent battery life, but fast charging is much appreciated

And in the autonomy department it stands pretty well, given its size and capabilities. With a large battery at its disposal, the phone can deliver over a day of normal use, despite the large screen. Incidentally, fast charging is a big advantage over Samsung’s models, which can be charged at a maximum of 25W. With the 66W charger, you can have your phone fully charged in less than an hour.

Huawei Mate Xs 2 folded bottom

The only “premium” feature missing is wireless charging, as the device’s shape and thickness don’t allow for that. However, you can charge a pair of headphones or a watch from its USB port in reverse, at 5W.

Software hasn’t evolved much since the debut of the first Huawei Mate X

Huawei’s software, the Android-based EMUI 12, is unchanged from other Huawei phones we’ve tested in the past when it comes to interface, services, apps, etc. The only differences on the Mate Xs 2 that appear are in the foldable screen.

Huawei Mate Xs 2 dual apps

The phone comes with a modified version of the SwiftKey keyboard pre-installed, which offers many good customization options. These are much needed, as typing on a large foldable screen is very different from typing on a regular phone. Incidentally, SwiftKey was also my preferred keyboard on the Galaxy Fold, offering similar options.

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Unfortunately though, Samsung still has better multi-tasking options, even if neither offers a very good user experience. Whereas Samsung allows three apps to be displayed at once, plus others in the window, Huawei only allows two apps to be attached to each side. This is done with simple gestures, with the task manager interface having a dedicated button that sticks the app to one of the sides.

Huawei Mate Xs 2 picture in picture

However, as with Samsung, when you open a keyboard to enter text, it takes up a large portion of the screen, making running multiple apps on the same screen redundant.

What I liked most about Huawei is that switching from using a “normal” phone to a mini-tablet is simpler, faster and more enjoyable. Then the “folded” screen is uncompromising, offering a full-size keyboard and a traditional screen format.

Huawei Mate Xs 2 folded front vs iphone 11 pro max

The major disadvantage of the Mate Xs 2 is that you’ll have more trouble with apps. Since many apps not yet in the AppGallery won’t recognize the device as a foldable one and won’t automatically adjust to its screen. Then the apps in Gspace, where you can access even YouTube, work just fine, including Picture-in-Picture capabilities can be used, but not without problems. Sometimes, when transitioning between apps or changing screen orientation, these apps can have display or resizing issues.

What seems most obvious to me, however, is that Huawei hasn’t made much effort to evolve software for foldable devices in the few years since their debut. The hardware is still good, well built and well balanced, but it needs more features for multitasking to really compete with Samsung.

Mate Xs 2 uses a fingerprint sensor in the power button and somewhat “anemic” speakers

The fingerprint sensor in the side button on the Mate Xs 2 is far superior to the one on the Galaxy Z Fold4, which gave me a lot of trouble. It recognizes your finger very quickly and is well positioned, below the physical volume buttons.

Huawei Mate Xs 2 speaker

Unfortunately, the stereo speakers are disappointing. I expected that, given how thin the phone is, and their diagonal positioning on the sides makes use tricky if you try not to cover at least one of them. The Mate Xs 2 is definitely not a music-listening phone unless you’re using headphones.

Camera delivers above expectations, even without Leica partnership

The camera on Huawei phones is usually the most important subject. In the case of the Mate Xs 2, it’s a secondary one at best, as the foldable screen immediately steals everyone’s attention. That’s not to say we don’t get quality cameras, just that they’re not necessarily new or very interesting.

Huawei Mate Xs 2 camera

The camera on the Mate Xs 2 uses a 50 megapixel sensor for the main camera, 13 megapixels for ultrawide and an 8 megapixel sensor for 3x zoom. So it’s about as well equipped as some flagships, except that it doesn’t have stabilisation on the main sensor, just the zoom. Also, the Leica branding disappears from this model.

Photo day

The main camera is very good, even comparable to other flagships this year, while the ultrawide camera is only “decent” and the zoom camera, despite the low resolution, delivers very good results. Being a foldable phone, the main cameras can also be used for selfies.

Photo night

On night mode however, only the main camera gives good results. The ultra wide camera is too dark, while the zoom camera is not used. For 3x zoom, the main sensor is digitally zoomed in at night, and the results are rather lacking in detail. At least capturing on night mode is fast.

It’s impressive though that all these cameras, along with the rest of the components, are housed in the strip of casing on the side of this model.

Conclusions

Of all the foldable devices released so far, I like the Mate Xs 2 the most on a hardware level, as it is by far the most practical. It looks and feels like a regular phone when folded, has a large and roomy screen when open, has great battery life, fast charging and good cameras. What’s more, I can keep it in my pocket without it taking up any more space than a regular phone and it’s only slightly heavier than other flagships on the market.

Huawei Mate Xs 2 unfolded front center

On the software side, however, we have two problems. First, the problems we know about Huawei, which relate to the availability of popular apps in the phone store and the search for alternatives to get them. Then, for the foldable area, Huawei has made too few adjustments to offer a multitasking experience at least comparable to the competition. With some more effort put into this direction, Huawei could have the “near” perfect foldable.

Still, I have a hard time imagining who the target audience is for this phone, at least in Europe. With no Google services and a significantly higher price, the Mate Xs 2 seems like a harder model to recommend than a Galaxy Z Fold4, for example. At the time of writing, the Fold4 is on sale for 5,999 lei, while the Mate Xs 2 costs 8,499 lei. The nicer form factor can’t make up for its other shortcomings, and Samsung also has better hardware and 5G network compatibility.

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