Huawei turns tables on Samsung with foldable 5G Mate X phone

24 Feb 2019

The new Mate X foldable phone from Huawei. Image: John Kennedy

Who will fold first in this new smartphone war?

Chinese tech and telecoms giant Huawei may have just eclipsed the Samsung Galaxy Fold with a 5G foldable phone that appears to boast superior specs and mechanical engineering.

Ahead of Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019, the CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, Richard Yu, today (24 February) in Barcelona revealed the new Mate X smartphone. It comes with a bigger display and is yet thinner than the Galaxy Fold, which was unboxed in San Francisco earlier this week.

‘Foldable phones create a new slot in the market. This is the start of a new era’

The Mate X has a 6.6in OLED frontal display, is 11mm thick when folded, is a fully fledged 5G smartphone, and the Kirin 980-powered device comes with a beast of a 4,500mAh battery.

When folded, it is a dual-screen smartphone that allows you to shoot selfies with the rear main camera, which boasts a three-camera cluster co-engineered with Leica. Opened up, it turns into an 8in tablet with virtually no bezels.

This compares with Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, which has a 4.6in front screen and opens up into a 7.3in tablet.

Heralding the device as the world’s first 5G foldable phone, Yu said that the Mate X will be capable of broadband speeds of 7.5Gbps, “double the speed of the 5G industry standard”.

He added: “The Mate X will be the first phone to support future standalone architecture that is coming.”

The device, which will also have dual-SIM support and will achieve the 4,500mAh power level because it will have two batteries. The device will take 30 minutes to supercharge to 85pc and will use the same supercharger to power up Huawei’s Mate X Pro PC, which was also unveiled in Barcelona today.

“The Samsung device with its 4.6in display is too small,” Yu told media.

However, consumers are likely to balk at the €2,299 price tag envisaged for the Mate X, pricier than the €2,000-plus figure expected for the Galaxy Fold.

The Mate X is tipped to be released in the middle of this year and will come with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage.

What success hinges on

Man on stage at crowded tech event revealing specs to a new devices.

Huawei’s consumer business group CEO, Richard Yu. Image: John Kennedy

Where Yu also said the Mate X will triumph over the Galaxy Fold is in terms of mechanical design.

The new foldable phone from Huawei comes with a ‘Falcon Wing’ design. This is Huawei’s own patented technology and a side view showed a design not too dissimilar from a bicycle chain. The feat of mechanical engineering has more than 100 microcomponents.

Yu was able to show of a slew of multitasking and split-screen applications that the device will be capable of, including more immersive web, video and reading experiences.

“This is a very sophisticated hinge and enables true back-to-back fold,” said Yu, unlike the Galaxy Fold, which he said leaves a gap when folded.

Crucially, he said, it signals a new beginning with 5G. “The future is here and the future is now.”

5G smartphones in Europe

Man in a suit holds open an unfolded smartphone.

Huawei’s president of handsets, Kevin Ho, holds the opened Mate X foldable smartphone. Image: John Kennedy

Speaking with journalists, Huawei’s handset president, Kevin Ho, said that the company is working with operators in Europe to bring out a range of 5G devices. “We have already received POs from our partners.”

In terms of the foldable design, Ho said: “This is really just the beginning of foldable products and there may be lower-priced products at the end of this year.”

He said that Huawei has no confirmed plans to sell the foldable device in the US.

Ho said engineering challenges remain in terms of making sure the glass on the screen can be protected. He envisaged that on average the device should have a two-year lifetime. As well as this, Ho said that the Mate X will be capable of a whole day of operations on a single charge.

The evolution of the design is to meet the challenge of what is a pain point for consumers in terms of consuming content such as video without being confined by a smaller screen.

“Traditional phone designs will still dominate the market, but the foldable phones create a new slot in the market. This is the start of a new era,” Ho said.

Updated, 9.18am, 25 February 2019: This article was updated to provide the correct figures for the screen size and thickness of the Huawei Mate X and the Samsung Galaxy Fold, and to clarify the price of both phones in euro, not dollars.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years