The Huawei Mate X Is Even More Exciting Than You Think It Is


Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

By now, anyone even remotely interested in tech has probably heard about the Mate X-Huawei's fantastically expensive bendable phone that despite launching second, somehow managed to steal the spotlight from Samsung's Galaxy Fold.

The Mate X even managed to turn some skeptics into bendy phone believers. But not me, I've always been bullish about flexible display tech. Foldable screens are not like notches. They're not just an incremental stepping stone on the way to achieving a bigger goal like an all-screen phone. Flexible displays have the power to transform the way people create and design between categories of gadgets, most notably wearables and phones.

But after checking out the Mate X, what surprised me the most is that despite being first-gen tech in a space that still has a lot of room for refinement, the Mate X was even more enticing in-person than I thought it'd be

The Mate X's hinge is spring-loaded so when you hit the button, it pops open about 45 degrees.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

However, before we go deeper, all this sort of comes with caveat that at least initially, we need to ignore how much this thing will cost. Yes, with a listed price of $ 2,300 (about $ 2,600), the Mate X is ungodly expensive, and under almost no circumstances will it warrant paying 150% premium over phones like Mate 20 Pro or Galaxy S10, which are already pricey devices . High prices are common for new technologies. Consider that when the Motorola DynaTac, the first cell phone, was released in 1983 it cost $ 4,000-and that's before you even consider inflation. Bendy tech will be expensive at first, and if it catches on, it will get more affordable.

So back to the device itself. From the moment I picked it up, the Mate X felt way more substantial than its hinged, bendy-screen design might suggest. A large part of that stability comes from the Mate X's asymmetrical body, which features a large bar on the right side that holds much of the phone's guts and the USB-C port, while also serving as a more substantial handhold.

You normally would not use the Mate X while bent, but here's what it looks like when you do.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Even when you hold it in a hand and shake, the screen does not really flop around, and while you really try, you can bend the screen in the opposite direction of the hinge, it's not something that happens without provocation. Huawei also opted for a surprisingly old-school solution to keep the phone firmly closed when folded in half: a simple button below the Mate X's triple cams.

It's a surprising addition; so many new phones lean towards more streamlined appearances (and some even brag about not having any ports at all). But it works. The click you hear when you close the Mate X's screen leaves you with a reassuringly satisfying audible cue that lets you know its screen is closed.

Huawei also worked on the Mate X's software so that regardless of whether you're using the camera app, surfing the web, or checking your calendar, the transition between switching from one half of the foldable display to full-screen mode is quite smooth . Unlike the Royole FlexPai, there is no jitter or graphical artifacts that appear when transitioning between modes.

Meanwhile, in one-handed mode, the Mate X does not feel all that different from a normal device. Thanks to reinforced panels behind the display, the screen does not have the screen squishiness found on old Nintendo 3DS displays, and the way the screen curves to the side when folded almost gives the same impression you get from modern phones with rounded "3D" glass displays.

As for the screen itself, it looks damn good. Colors appear rich and saturated, and for people who like taking pictures with a tablet or just do not have great eyesight, being able to use the camera app or view photos with the Mate X's full 8-inch screen is a real treat. For something that is essentially a pioneer of a whole new class of device, it does not seem to have the first-gen frustrations of something like the dual-screen ZTE Axon M.

That said, there are still very important questions that the Mate X needs to answer, most notably regarding the screen's long-term durability. When Samsung first teased its bendable Infinity Flex display last year in November, the company stressed all the work it did to create a new flexible OLED layer and backplane, an ultra-thin polarizer, and even new types of flexible adhesives that would allow its fordable phone to survive thousands of bends.

Even when viewed this far off-center, the Mate X I tried out practically no signs of wear.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Huawei has made similar claims for the Mate X, but unlike Samsung, has provided way less detail on how Mate X's screen was made, or even where it came from. When I asked Huawei for more detail about the origins of the Mate X's screen, a spokesperson said that Huawei does not disclose the names of its suppliers. In total, there are only a handful of companies across the world that can even make flexible screens, and with Samsung almost certainly not the company responsible for the Mate X's screen, which only leaves a few other possible suppliers like LG or TCL.

However, there is one scenario that suggests that Samsung's direct involvement, the Mate X and Galaxy Fold's screens may be based on the same underlying tech. In late 2018, Samsung supplier was caught and charged with a flexible display and a Chinese display maker, with some rumors claiming the display on the other side of the transaction was BOE, the manufacturer known to have supplied components for use on previous Huawei devices.

Some units had a screen that showed more signs of wrinkling than others.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Not knowing the origin of the tech can be a concern for those worried about durability, and there are signs Mate X could have problems. Huawei had a handful of Mate X's on display, some of which showed suspicious wrinkle down the middle of its screen. This had some questioning on the veracity of Huawei's durability claims.

Though in some ways, the wrinkle itself could be a non-issue, because when viewed from head-on, or from anything other than viewing angles, you can not actually see the wrinkle. The wrinkle was also present on every Mate X I saw, though that's not surprising, as some units probably saw a lot more use than others.

The other concern is that with the use of plastic instead of glass for the top protective layer on flexible displays, they could be more prone to drops damage from otherwise innocuous things like coins or keys, objects which for the past few years have not really posed a threat to modern smartphone displays. Regardless, until devices like the Mate X and Galaxy Fold actually become available in the wild, we will not know how hard bendable phones really are.

Another small worry is Huawei's claims over the Mate X's purported 5G abilities, which allegedly can hit speeds up to 4.6Gbps on a sub-6GHz network. If true, that would be twice the speeds obtainable by Qualcomm's X50 5G modem, though the industry analyst Patrick Moorhead pointed out on Twitter, only something running on millimeter wave 5G should be able to reach transfer speeds that fast.

Taking selfish on a foldable phone, what a great use of tech.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

But even with the questions, what Huawei showed off at MWC with the new Mate X was still revolutionary. And even more than before, I'm convinced that unlike 3D TVs and LaserDisc, devices with flexible screens are not just some fad. I'm just hoping that by the time bendy gadgets actually become affordable, most of the kinks will be worked out by then.

The Mate X is scheduled to go on sale this June, two months after Samsung releases the Galaxy Fold.


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