We used the Huawei Mate Xs 2 for a few days to discover a little more about this foldable smartphone with its very particular design. A technological jewel as impressive as it is frustrating.
One knee on the ground, cornered, but not resigned. Admittedly, Huawei is less and less of a smartphone brand outside of China and today seems to have focused on laptops or connected watches. Despite this, the brand has not completely given up and still intends to sign a few brilliant strokes like the Huawei Mate Xs 2 that we have already been able to take in hand. This foldable smartphone was unveiled in May 2022. Its particularity is to have an outward-facing fold. It therefore does not adopt the same format as a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 or even a Huawei Mate X2 at all, which close in on themselves like a book. We spent about five days with this phone, the opportunity to share some food for thought.
The Huawei Mate Xs 2 against the human brain
From the outset, a first reflection emerges: the Huawei Mate Xs 2 has something disturbing. I circulated it to various colleagues within the editorial departments of Frandroid (editorial, video, tips and buying guides). If all these people are versed in Tech, they have not all had the chance to handle a foldable smartphone in the past. However, regardless of the level of experience, two genes were frequently mentioned:
- Although essential, the safety button to trigger the unfolding of the screen is a brake on intuitiveness;
- we tend to have an instinctive fear of breaking the screen when unfolding it.
Indeed, you should know that a small clickable button is on the back of the phone. Above all, do not try to unfold the screen without pressing this button, you risk damaging the mechanism. However, this gesture is not the first that comes to mind. My little experience with my colleagues tends to reinforce my idea that a foldable smartphone closing inwards is more intuitive to use than the format adopted by the Mate Xs 2. Yes, the gesture to open a Galaxy Z Fold 3 or a Mate X2 (without the little s) is close to what you would do for a book. In other words, it comes more naturally.
Conversely, unfolding the Mate Xs 2 almost feels like breaking the laws of physics. Hence the instinctive fear mentioned above: several of my colleagues were scared to go through with the unfolding, convinced that they were going to break the screen. It was with reluctance that they complied. Perhaps despite centuries of evolution, our humble human brainsomo sapiens sapiens still inhibit this kind of movement for fear of damaging a fragile tool. However, during our discovery of the product, we did not encounter the slightest problem of this kind.
Nevertheless, one can always wonder if the foldable screen – less robust, in fact, than a classic slab – will be able to withstand the ravages of time while it is always facing outwards. It makes it a priori vulnerable to the risk of scratches on a table or in the bottom of the pocket.
Another question of durability that remains: what about the physical button to deploy the Mate Xs 2? This key moves a small latch. By force, is this mechanism not likely to seize up? So many turpitudes proving that being an ultra-innovative technological gem is not enough to instantly convince the public.
A neat job
Let’s also dwell on the great work done by Huawei to offer high quality finishes on this smartphone. I am thinking in particular of the hinge, which seems much more robust than on the Huawei Mate X of 2019, the first smartphone with an external fold offered by the Chinese giant. This one was really scary, emitting a crackle as soon as you switched from tablet to phone format or vice versa. This is absolutely no longer the case on the Mate Xs 2 and this is a very good point.
Especially since the smartphone is rather pleasant in hand when it is folded. Admittedly, it still suffers from a certain overweight specific to foldable smartphones (regardless of the format) and still displays 257 grams on the scale, but the well-rounded edges offer great comfort. The finicky and finicky among you will probably cringe when you notice that the right edge is wider than the left. Normal, since it is on this side that the screen extends and folds back on itself.
Another real annoying point brought by this solution of a folding screen inwards, the part of the screen which is found at the back catches fingerprints as quickly as a jar of honey attracts Winnie the Pooh. Fortunately Huawei still thought of a solution. The problem no longer really exists when using the special shell of the Mate Xs 2. This accessory benefits from a particular design making it relatively easy to detach one of the borders to let the smartphone screen unfold. The solution is not perfect, but we can salute the ingenuity of Huawei.
In tablet mode (or unfolded), the phone is however well refined. In this format, the Mate Xs 2 becomes very thin (5.4 mm) and also succeeds in greatly reducing its crease on the slab. This is not only less visible than on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 for example, but is also less disturbing under the finger. Instead of feeling a line dug by passing our knuckles over it, we are dealing with a discreet bump. Sensation to which one adapts very quickly.
So we have a design that is both very successful on certain points (slimness, robustness, prowess), but with some weaknesses induced by the idea itself.
A doomed smartphone?
Note also that the path of the Mate Xs 2 is strewn with pitfalls. In 2022, should we still remember the concerns encountered by Huawei since the embargo imposed by the United States? Because of Washington’s sanctions – motivated by suspicions of espionage on behalf of China – the Shenzhen giant is encountering many difficulties on its supply lines. Worse: its smartphones can no longer embed Google services. However, in the West, the vast majority of users perceive the Play Store or applications like YouTube, Gmail and Maps as inseparable parts of Android.
Thus, despite all the efforts around Huawei Mobile Services (HMS), the general public will still have to agree to make several concessions on the Chinese manufacturer’s EMUI interface. It’s hard to maintain hope.
Beyond these worries, I would have liked to discover an option to use the part of the screen that is found at the back of the smartphone when it is folded. To display notifications or certain important information, for example. We have asked Huawei if such a feature exists and are awaiting a response.
As on many other foldable smartphones, however, you can use the back part of the screen to display video feedback when using the camera. Convenient for selfies (to take advantage of the best photo sensor) or so that the person you are taking a portrait of can see what they look like.
In the photo, moreover, it is nice to see that Huawei did not want to sacrifice its know-how in this area. While it is often complicated to integrate high-end photo equipment on a foldable smartphone, the Mate Xs 2 benefits from a 50 megapixel sensor which did not disappoint on our few days of use with rich colors and careful management of the dynamics. Same in portrait mode.
Added to this is a 13MP ultra wide-angle and an 8MP x3.5 telephoto lens. A complete solution worthy of a premium device. A new opportunity to realize Huawei’s impressive work on this Mate Xs 2. Yes… but what’s the point?
Beyond the wow effect
The Huawei Mate Xs 2 is therefore a smartphone with a guaranteed wow effect. Screen with an outward-facing bend, thin device when deployed in tablet format, solid hinge, greatly reduced crease on the panel and uncompromised photo experience. We are clearly dealing with a technological gem and if we stopped there, we might think that this is the perfect foldable phone.
However, that would be to forget too quickly the absence of Google services – and therefore of the usual Android experience in Europe -, the rather unintuitive use of the product and the fears about the long-term robustness of the screen and the physical button that allows you to unfold it.
Huawei has clearly sought to do better than the others and succeeds very well in some respects. Paradoxically, the brand fails on other points. Like what, doing better is not necessarily doing well. And with an official price announced at 1999 euros – for a release very soon normally, it is difficult not to blame him.
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