(Pocket-lint) - If you were following new foldables last year you’ll know that two key phones debuted – the Samsung Galaxy Fold and the Huawei Mate X.

The fold-inwards Samsung had problems and was sent back for a rethink before launching.

The fold-outwards Mate X was shown this time last year, then launched in China during November…and nowhere else.

Part of this could be due to Huawei’s well-documented problems as it’s subject to a US trade ban, but it’s tempting to conclude that the device just wasn’t ready – or that Huawei thought the European market wasn’t ready for it.

Now, however, it has introduced the Mate Xs. It isn’t actually a lot different to the Mate X, but includes a stronger hinge mechanism and Huawei’s latest generation chipset used in the Mate 30 series from last September as well as its upcoming P40 and P40 Pro.

We’ve known for some time that an improved version of the Mate X would be incoming since Richard Yu, the head of Huawei’s consumer business, almost. While we previously thought that Huawei intended to bring the existing Mate X to Europe, it’s likely it will just launch the Mate Xs here instead. 

It'll cost 2,499 Euros - there's no word on a UK price as yet. That's actually more than the Mate X prices we saw last year, which is rather surprising. 

Design

  • 11mm thick when folded
  • Spine includes hinge, ports and cameras
  • Button to release screen, which you fold out yourself
  • Comes with its own leather case

When folded, the device is 11mm thick and everything folds into that footprint. It's weighty though, clocking in around 300g. 

Because of the way it folds, the screen is permanently on the outside of the phone, which may cause durability issues from external factors like keys or wallets. You’ll certainly want to keep it in the provided leather slipcase rather than carry it around naked.

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The key new design element is inside the 100 element hinge. It’s been made significantly more robust than before and we were encouraged in the hands-on session we attended to give it a good workout. That’s significantly different than the kid-glove treatment for the Mate X this time last year.

There’s a button on the back of the hinge that releases the folded display. When you fold it back it clicks into place.

The hinge – which is, essentially, how you hold the phone - certainly feels solid and the ‘click’ that secures the display is reassuring. When you release the display you then need to fold it into place yourself – this feels a bit alien at first but you quickly get used to it.

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The cameras are housed in the rear of the hinge near the release button, while it also has a volume control down the spine. The USB-C port for charging is on the bottom edge of the hinge part, while the SIM card tray is at the top.

Dual-screen supremacy

  • 8-inch screen when unfolded
  • 2,480 x 2,200 resolution AMOLED
  • Front screen (folded) is 6.6-inches (1,148 x 2,480 resolution)

This phone is, like the Mate X, an 8-inch device with an AMOLED 2,480 x 2,200 resolution display. Obviously that’s pretty much tablet-size.

There’s no discernible crease in the screen when it is folded flat, although it’s not totally flat if you look at it at eye-level. Would it get worse over time? We’d say that’s a distinct possibility.

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When you fold it up, the front display is 6.6-inches which is obviously still fairly sizeable.

The rear screen isn’t used when the device is folded unless you want to take a selfie (because, as we mentioned, the row of cameras is in the hinge).

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The screen uses two layers of film with optically clear adhesive in between. It’s not glass, of course.

It’s certainly a great-looking display with punchy colours as you’d expect from an OLED screen.

Latest-gen performance

  • HiSilicon Kirin 990 5G platform
  • 512GB storage, 8GB RAM
  • Quad camera system
  • 4,500 mAh battery with 55W fast charging

Unlike some foldable devices we’ve seen – we’re looking at you Moto – the Mate Xs uses latest-generation hardware. Here it’s in the form of Huawei’s latest-generation 5G-toting Kirin 990 chipset. It supports all the top 5G standards. That’s the main change in specification from the Mate X we previously saw.

The model we used had 512GB of storage plus 8GB of RAM – we believe that will be the only available version when the phone goes on sale.

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The camera hardware is Leica-approved as usual with Huawei phones and here you get fairly standard fare from the last year - a 40MP wide-angle camera (27mm, f1.8), an 8MP telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom (f2.4), a 16MP ultra-wide angle lens (f2.2) and finally a 3D depth-sensing camera for bokeh photos. There’s optical image stabilisation, too.

Of course, when folded out the device requires some clever hardware to keep things cool. Huawei refers to the hardware inside this as a ‘flying fish’ cooling system because it spreads out across both halves of the phone so needs to be flexible.

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The 4500mAh battery (it’s split between the two halves of the device) can be charged for 30mins to get it 85 percent full using the provided 55W SuperCharge plug.

Huawei doesn’t say how long the battery will last, though so we’ll have to test that out in our full review. We suspect it will be a little disappointing in terms of longevity, however.

Software

  • EMUI 10 running on Android 10
  • Side-by-side apps
  • Native apps are optimised for the display

Like the Mate 30 Pro, the Mate Xs will ship with Huawei's EMUI 10 interface based on top of Android 10.

But as with that device there are no Google apps like Google Maps or Gmail due to Huawei's US trade ban, though numerous other apps are available from Huawei’s App Gallery. Many native apps have obviously been optimised for this new display size.

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Like Huawei’s newly announced MatePad tablet the Mate Xs can take advantage of some EMUI enhancements such as dock if you want it, plus two side-by-side apps with a third in a floating window.

Being able to use two apps side-by-side is fairly standard fare now, even on a phone, but that floating window is right out of Apple’s work on iPadOS with Slide Over.

There’s little doubt that the OS absolutely sings on the display

First Impressions

The Mate Xs is a marginal improvement on the Mate X we saw last year, but it remains a very expensive device, while it’s naturally a lot chunkier than other flagship phones many of us use on a regular basis – it certainly isn’t that pocketable.

However, it does behave much more like a standard smartphone when folded and that’s a definite advantage it has over the Samsung Galaxy Fold.

There's plenty to like about it, too, although the lack of Google apps will remain a barrier for many. 

Writing by Dan Grabham.