Foldable questions: Huawei Mate X2


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indospot

Hi everyone!

 

As you or may not have seen on our Twitter feed, I currently have a Huawei Mate X2 with me on loan from Huawei, and I only get to have it for a week. We haven't had much of a chance to cover foldales before, so I wanted to hear everyone's thoughts and questions on it (and foldables in general). Anything you'd like me to address in a hands-on/review article? Just let me know here and I'll try my best to answer your queries in said article.

 

Thanks, everyone!

 

EDIT: For some additional context, we did cover the launch of the Mate X2 here: https://www.neowin.net/news/huawei-introduces-the-mate-x2-with-an-inner-folding-display. Be sure to check it out beforehand.

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goretsky

Hello,

 

A few questions:

  • Do applications specifically have to be written to take advantage of both screens? 
  • Any notable or interesting demo apps for this?
  • Can you run two applications side-by-side?  If so how well does that work?

Regards,

Aryeh Goretsky

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indospot

 

On 03/05/2021 at 05:24, goretsky said:

Hello,

 

A few questions:

  • Do applications specifically have to be written to take advantage of both screens? 
  • Any notable or interesting demo apps for this?
  • Can you run two applications side-by-side?  If so how well does that work?

Regards,

Aryeh Goretsky

Hi, sorry for the delayed response. I'm currently in the process of finishing up my review, and I was hoping to have a section dedicated to questions, but it doesn't look like there are enough to justify that. So here are some answers to your questions>

 

  1. The only notable advantage of the two screens is just being able to use apps on a bigger canvas, so for the most part, as long as the app is designed to scale to the screen size, it shouldn't matter. However, as a developer, it also apps to design apps that know how to scale while they're open, because some apps may ask you to close and reopen in order to update the interface.
  2. Like I said, there's not a lot of special stuff about the two screens, but some of the apps that work well with the big screen are Telegram, YouTube Vanced (official YouTube doesn't work because Huawei), and the new Edge browser.
  3. You can run two apps side-by-side like on any modern Android phone, and it works fine. You can also open more apps in floating windows. Huawei also includes a feature to multiple apps so you can open more than one instance of the same app, but the app has to specifically support it, and none of the apps I use does.

Hope that helps!

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Nick H.

I've played with a foldable before but it wasn't really for me. When folded it's too chunky, and unfolded I didn't find any major advantage to the larger screen compared to my S20.

 

A question that isn't specific to the Mate X2 would be, how do covers and screen protectors work and fare? In your last picture it looks like there is a screen protector on the outside screen, but I guess there wouldn't be a need for one on the inside/larger screen? You would be expected to fold it away rather than leaving it in tablet mode and putting it in a shoulder bag?

 

This is perhaps a basic question that has been asked before for many other devices, but it looks like the forward camera is on the top left of the screen. Does that cause an issue for something like video calls? Do you find that your portrait is offset to one side? And it looks like there is no camera on the enlarged screen, so I guess you wouldn't be able to have a video call on the larger display? That would be a pity, since for something like a group call the extra screen space would help fit more people on the screen at one time.

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Steven P.
9 minutes ago, Nick H. said:

 and unfolded I didn't find any major advantage to the larger screen compared to my S20.

Exactly, it's maybe for people who prefer a tablet-like experience.

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indospot
19 minutes ago, Nick H. said:

I've played with a foldable before but it wasn't really for me. When folded it's too chunky, and unfolded I didn't find any major advantage to the larger screen compared to my S20.

 

A question that isn't specific to the Mate X2 would be, how do covers and screen protectors work and fare? In your last picture it looks like there is a screen protector on the outside screen, but I guess there wouldn't be a need for one on the inside/larger screen? You would be expected to fold it away rather than leaving it in tablet mode and putting it in a shoulder bag?

 

This is perhaps a basic question that has been asked before for many other devices, but it looks like the forward camera is on the top left of the screen. Does that cause an issue for something like video calls? Do you find that your portrait is offset to one side? And it looks like there is no camera on the enlarged screen, so I guess you wouldn't be able to have a video call on the larger display? That would be a pity, since for something like a group call the extra screen space would help fit more people on the screen at one time.

For the first question, you'd be correct. The case is designed to protect the phone mostly when it's folded, and you're supposed to store it in that position rather than putting it anywhere while it's open. That would bring about a whole slew of issues, like putting pressure on the hinge in the wrong direction and scratching the screen (it's made of plastic).

 

For the second question, I've never really had a problem with cameras being off to the left side in phones as far as my position in the frame goes, I think it's just natural to slightly adjust the angle so you're more centered.

 

And yes, regarding video calls, that is what I would consider a big problem with this phone (and it's in my current draft for the review). You can't take video calls on the big screen, unless you want to show off whatever is in front of you rather than yourself. The camera app also lets you use the cover display as a viewfinder if you want to take selfies with the main camera (which is better), but sadly that doesn't work with video calls, either.

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    • By indospot
      Huawei Mate X2 hands-on review: an expensive foldable with an ingenious design
      by João Carrasqueira

      It's been over two years since the first foldable phone made its way to the market. I find that it's a little crazy to think that it's been that long, and that's because despite it being two years now, these products still feel like a complete novelty. Despite numerous concepts, Samsung and Huawei have pretty much exclusively been the only companies releasing new models, and even then, they're still ridiculously expensive. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 launched for a whopping $1,999, and even the less impressive Galaxy Z Flip 5G costs $1,200 after a big price cut earlier this year. Even as a reviewer, it's been hard to get my hands on one.

      Huawei released the Mate X2 foldable in China a few months ago, and it really doesn't make things look a whole lot better in terms of making the foldable market more approachable. While international availability and pricing is still a mystery, the Chinese model starts at over $2,700.

      Now, the company has sent me a unit of the Mate X2 to try out, and I got a full week with it. I had a few minutes with the original Mate X at MWC 2019, and then with the Galaxy Fold later that year, but nothing that allowed me to really appreciate the features of those phones. Still, I choose not to call this a full review because first, I don't like making assessments based on a period as short as one week; and second, I think it's pointless to try and tell you that you should buy this phone. Aside from the fact that it's availability is still extremely limited, justifying that price point was always going to be an impossible task.

      I don't think the discussion around foldables as they are right now should focus on whether you should buy them, but rather on what each one brings to the table that we should hope to see in future iterations, what other companies should learn from them, and what still needs to improve. So let's take a look at what Huawei did right with the Mate X2 and what needs to be done to make future foldables better.

      Specs
      CPU Huawei Kirin 9000 - one Cortex-A77 at 3.14GHz, three Cortex-A77 at 2.54GHz, four Cortex-A55 at 2.05GHz GPU 24-core Mali-G78

      Display Exterior: 6.45 inches, 1160x2700 (21:9), 456ppi, 90Hz refresh rate, OLED, Glass cover
      Interior: 8 inches, 2480x2200 (8:7.1) , 413ppi, 90Hz refresh rate, OLED, Plastic cover

      Body Unfolded dimensions: 161.8 x 145.8 x 4.4-8.2mm (6.37 x 5.74 x 0.17-0.32in)
      Folded dimensions: 161.8 x 74.6 x 13.6-14.7mm (6.37 x 2.94 x 0.54-0.58in)
      Weight: 295g (10.41oz)

      Camera 50MP RYYB main, 16MP ultra-wide, 12MP telephoto (3x), 8MP periscope (10x)
      Front: 16MP Video 4K - 60fps; Front - 4K - 60fps Aperture f/1.9 + f/2.2 + f/2.4 + f/4.4, Front - F/2.2 Storage 256GB; non-expandable RAM 8 GB Battery 4,500mAh Connectivity Wi-FI 6, Bluetooth 5.2 Color White (as reviewed), Black, Crystal Pink, Crystal Blue

      OS Android 11 with EMUI 11 (without Google Play Services) Price ¥17,999 (roughly $2,779) Design
      Let's start with the design, which I think is truly where the Huawei Mate X2 shines the most. Unlike the original Mate X, the company has opted for a inner folding screen paired with a flat external display, similar to Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold line. Unlike its competitor, though, the inner display is covered by plastic, but since it's protected when it's closed, I think this is much less of an issue. Plus, while it is very impressive that Samsung created its Ultra Thin Glass that's able to fold, some users have noticed micro-cracks forming along the crease, so some work may still be required on that type of harder material.



      Additionally, Huawei is using a new folding mechanism that's somewhat reminiscent of the Motorola razr, where the display curves into a waterdrop shape when it folds. Huawei says this helps the crease be less noticeable since it's spread out over a wider area, and I'd say it works really well in terms of the visual effect, which is helped by the reduced reflectivity of the display cover that Huawei also touts. You need to look at the display from an unusual angle to see the crease, and even when you see it, it's not that distracting. You do feel it when you move your finger over it, though, but the rest of the display feels pretty solid considering the cover is made of plastic.



      What I think makes the design truly special and unique is how Huawei tried to cram most of the components into one half of the phone. When you unfold it, it gets thicker and thicker towards the right side, and while that may seem odd, it's actually great for usability. it reminds me of Amazon's Kindle Oasis, which is purposefully designed to be thicker on one side. What that does is that it puts most of the weight of the device directly on your hand, so you don't feel like it's going to tip over on the other side, and that means you can use it with one hand more easily than other foldables without straining your fingers to hold it.



      When you fold it, each half of the phone aligns in a way that makes it almost completely flat, so the odd shape isn't really noticeable when you're just using it as a normal phone. Its design also makes it noticeably thinner than Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold2, and it's actually manageable with one hand, even though it's obviously much thicker than your average smartphone. As I said above, I haven't had a ton of time with other foldables to make a direct comparison, but Huawei did some great work here.



      The hinge on the Mate X2 feels pretty good, but it's also a fairly new unit, and the real question with these devices is how well they hold up over time. There is some noise from the plastic flexing when you open and close the phone - but that's to be expected, according to Huawei - and otherwise everything feels as solid as can be. The phone slams shut with very strong magnets that are actually a bit challenging to separate when you want to open it, but you can get used to that.



      Just to round out some parts of the design, there are stereo speakers on the top and bottom of the phone, specifically in the thinner half, along with a SIM card slot on the top edge. The thicker portion houses everything else: a USB Type-C charging port and microphone at the bottom, another microphone at the top along with an IR blaster, and a volume rocker and power button on the right-hand side of the phone. The power button also doubles as a side-mounted fingerprint reader, so there isn't one under the display here.



      The two displays
      As mentioned above, the Mate X2 has two displays, one on the outside, and a foldable screen on the inside. Here, too, Huawei has outshone Samsung in a few ways. It starts with the external display, which has a much more reasonable aspect ratio of 21:9 - compared to the tall 25:9 display on the Galaxy Z Fold2 - and with a fairly high resolution, too, at 2700x1160. It's also a 90Hz display, while Samsung used a 60Hz panel for the cover display on its phone.



      Once again, this means that using the Huawei Mate X2 as a normal phone is a much better experience than on the Galaxy Z Fold2. It's only slightly taller than a typical smartphone display, and given that it's 6.45 inches diagonally, you still have enough space to type comfortably on a keyboard, or to have five columns of apps on the home screen grid.

      Of course, the star of the show is the inner 8-inch folding display, with its nearly square aspect ratio of 8:7.1. It, too, has a 90Hz refresh rate - which in this case is worse than the 120Hz panel used by Samsung in its foldable - and the resolution is 2480x2200, which means it has 413ppi. I've found it to be more than sharp enough, and if we're talking numbers, then it still edges out Samsung's competing device with its 373ppi.



      I've found the internal screen to be fantastic for reading and watching videos, of course, thanks to its large size. The aspect ratio of the display means you'll have huge black bars on top and under the video that's playing, but you still get a much larger canvas than a typical phone. As for reading, while I don't normally read e-books, this display is great for reading on the internet, simply based on how large the display is. It's just nice to have this big canvas, and some apps even scale to have multiple panes, like Telegram lets me see my conversation list on the left and the current conversation on the right.



      Games are also awesome on this big screen, and titles like PUBG Mobile and Asphalt 9 scale really well to the big screen, so you get a huge canvas for them while still having solid controls. However, cloud gaming services don't work as well in terms of the touch controls offered, since they'll always be blocking your view at least a bit. It's up to each service to make it possible to move the game stream to the top portion of the display, though, which would help a lot.

      One thing that you might find disappointing is that you can't open the display halfway, so it's always either fully open or fully closed. As such, there's nothing that would take advantage of that ability, like being able to watch a video on one half while scrolling through comments on the other half. On the other hand, Huawei does better in terms of accessories and includes a case in the box that doubles as a kickstand, so you can watch videos on the big screen much more easily. The kickstand can be used in either portrait or landscape orientation, but when the phone is unfolded, it works better in landscape due to the weight distribution.



      However, I still find the lack of dedicated features for this big display a bit disappointing. Just like any other Android phone, the Mate X2 lets you use apps in split-screen mode, but using it on the big display is hardly any different from using it on the smaller one. You can split the screen in half, but you can't resize the apps to your liking as far as I've been able to tell. It's always half the screen for each app. I also feel like we could have used the ability to split the screen into even smaller sections, like how Samsung allows for up to three apps to be open at once. You do get floating windows for additional apps, but that's not the same thing. On top of that, you can't create app pairs so that the same two apps are launched at once, you always have to set them up manually, which is a cumbersome process after a while. You can, however, use a feature called App Multiplier, which lets you run multiple instances of the same app at the same time.



      The closest thing to a unique feature that you get for this dual-screen dynamic is that if you have an app open on one display, it will transition over to the other one when you fold or unfold the phone. I feel like that's the bare minimum you'd expect from this form factor, though. Even then, how well the transition goes depends on how each app scales its UI, and some apps may have to be restarted to offer the best experience on each display.

      You could argue that having a big screen that fits in a normal(ish)-sized phone is a big benefit by itself, and it certainly is, but Samsung has proven that more can be done with it, and I wish Huawei had learned from that.

      Cameras (and the one that's missing)
      One of the criticisms that's been directed at Samsung's foldables has been the fact that they're mostly using camera setups that lag behind its traditional flagships, making it seem as though they're an afterthought. The Galaxy Z Fold2, for example, has overall lesser cameras compared to the Galaxy S20 that preceded it, and even more so compared to phones like the S20 Ultra or Note20 Ultra.

      Huawei has taken a different approach, with a camera setup that doesn't seem to be lacking in any way, at least on paper. There are four sensors on the back of this phone, including the 50MP RYYB flagship sensor we've seen on other Huawei flagships. This sensor is a big deal for night time performance, and on that front, it delivers well. You also get a 16MP ultra-wide camera, a 12MP 3x zoom camera, and an 8MP periscope camera with 10x optical zoom. That combination of zoom levels is impressive and something I praised heavily in my review of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, and it truly makes this feel like a flagship phone in terms of cameras.



      For the most part, the Huawei Mate X2 delivers in its camera performance, though I must reiterate my relatively short period for this review. The main sensor is naturally the star of the show, and low-light performance is so good it nearly makes night mode redundant. I did find some inconsistencies between the color balance across the different cameras, which I think were more noticeable than some other phones, even during the day. Even the main camera sometimes tends to oversaturate, and other times makes colors a bit too cool.

      Gallery: Huawei Mate X2 camera samples
      Like other phones, you'll see most of the differences between cameras at night, and that's where you'll really need night mode to help even things out. I find Huawei's night mode to be a bit more painful than other phones, since it often asked me to hold still for up to seven seconds while it took a photo, which meant I got blurry photos more often.

      One issue that I found is that the camera sometimes has issues with autofocus, specifically the 3x zoom camera can look very messy in some scenarios. I also had some problems nailing the right shot when zooming in to 100x, and got overall lesser quality than from the Galaxy S21 Ultra at that zoom level.

      One benefit of foldables is that the main camera can also be your selfie camera when you unfold the phone, and the main camera on the Mate X2 makes for a stellar selfie camera compared to the one on the cover display, but that's not to say that the selfie camera is bad. You can see a comparison of the two cameras above. One thing that Samsung does and Huawei doesn't is let both displays be used at the same time. For example, if you're taking a picture of someone else with the phone unfolded, the Galaxy Z Fold2 lets the other person see themselves on the smaller screen. You can't do that here, though.



      Here's a fun fact: you have to manually tap the option to switch cameras if you want to take a selfie with the main camera, and you have to tap it again to switch back. If you swipe up to go to the home screen while using the small screen to take a selfie, you can only go back to the big screen by closing and re-opening the phone, or opening the Camera app and switching the screens again. Again, I feel like some software work could be done to make this process a bit more natural.

      As for the selfie camera on the inside of the phone, there isn't one, which is one of the faux pas this phone makes in my opinion. Having no camera cutout on the inner display may please some people, but it means that you can't take video calls on this phone while using the big screen. The phone just asks you to close it and look at the cover screen instead. That's a big deal because a lot of people are taking a lot of calls right now. And when you're already charging this much for a phone, it's an odd omission.

      I also have to mention that I'm just not the biggest fan of Huawei's camera software. What you see in the viewfinder is sometimes radically different from the final shot, night mode takes a bit too long to process (though you get the benefits of that, too), and I would prefer if the zoom controls were closer to my thumb. Also, HDR is a whole separate mode instead of simply having a toggle for it while taking photos, which makes it more inconvenient than some other phones.

      Performance and software
      While I made the point earlier that there's no point debating whether you should buy this phone, I think it's still worth talking about the basics of a phone review. The Mate X2 is powered by the Kirin 9000, which is a 5nm chipset introduced last fall, but still based on older Cortex-A77 cores from Arm, opting out of both Cortex-A78 and Cortex-X1 cores that were introduced last year. It also has 8GB of RAM, which seems oddly low for a phone this premium, and up to 512GB of internal storage.

      Despite that, the Huawei Mate X2 pulled slightly ahead of the Galaxy S21 Ultra and even the OnePlus 9 (though it loses to the 9 Pro) in the AnTuTu benchmark, so it looks like Huawei didn't miss out too much by using older cores. This benchmark measures various performance aspects in one test.



      Usually, I'd include GeekBench results as well, but the app refuses to run on the Mate X2, so we'll have to move on to GFXBench, which tests the GPU of the phone. The results here are in line with other flagships, too, so performance isn't something you'll be missing.



      Battery life on the Mate X2 is solid, often lasting me a day and a half with at least a couple hours of YouTube on the big inner display, some web browsing, and some texting. Considering the display size and the 4,500mAh battery, those are impressive numbers, but it doesn't take long to realize how that's achieved. Huawei phones are notorious for delayed notifications, and that certainly applies here. It's happened almost every day that notifications are either delayed or just not sent at all, and I've gone hours not knowing I had received messages in some of my apps. It's incredibly frustrating, and it's a long-standing issue with the brand, so if you're already a Huawei fan, it's probably not going to be worse than usual.

      Also, this phone is only available in China for now, but even if it releases worldwide, it will be plagued by the same problem as every other Huawei phone nowadays, which is the lack of Google services. No matter how much you hate Google, too many apps just don't work without those services. Like I said, GeekBench 5 wouldn't run even after sharing the APK file from another phone. Pokémon GO doesn't work either, and I also lost the ability to use Microsoft Authenticator because of this.

      Conclusion
      Despite being over two years old, the foldable market still feels like it's in an embryonic state, which makes it exciting to keep an eye on but also somewhat frustrating when it comes to actually using these devices. I love a lot of what Huawei did here, especially the design. Having most of the weight of the phone directly on the user's hand is ingenious and it almost makes you question why no one else has done it yet. It's also one of the thinner foldables right now, and the cover display has one of the most natural aspect ratios we've seen on any foldable so far, so using it as a normal phone is actually a viable option.



      I also appreciate that Huawei wasn't afraid of using a flagship camera setup on the back of the phone, which you can't say for Samsung's foldables. The results aren't always the best, but at least it isn't evident that Huawei was trying to cut corners in this area. And a lot about the phone is in line with flagship material - high-resolution displays, 90Hz refresh rate, and a solidly built design.

      But some decisions are a bit frustrating, such as the lack of a camera on the inner portion of the phone, making video calls far less convenient. I also feel like there's plenty of room for improvement in terms of multitasking on the big screen, and some software limitations make it feel like the dual-screen dynamic could have been more thought through. Of course, that's to say nothing of Huawei's overly aggressive battery management and lack of Google services.



      In the end, I don't think it would be possible to recommend any phone that costs over $2,700, no matter how much Huawei did right; I just wish I had been more blown away by it than I was. Regardless, there's a lot that other manufacturers can learn from this phone. I hope the wedge-shaped design becomes more of a trend with future foldables, and I hope more of them also have a cover display more similar to this one. I hope we'll eventually see flagship cameras on foldables like Huawei tried to do here. At the same time, I think Huawei could stand to learn from what Samsung has done, too, particularly on the software side of things.

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      Curious about foldables? We recently got the Huawei Mate X2 in our hands and would love to hear your questions! Check our forums and let us know what you'd like us to clarify!

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      One of the companies to jump on that bandwagon was TCL, but only in concept. At MWC 2019, the company showed off its concept DragonHinge mechanism for folding displays, and then, last year, we got to see a phone with a tri-fold design, as well as one with a display that unrolls to become bigger. What we haven't seen yet, though, is a phone that does both, but TCL is changing that.

      Based on images seen by CNET, the company is working on a phone that can expand into a tablet form factor, but instead of using two folding mechanisms or just a rolling display, it's doing both. A portion of the display folds behind the device, and once it's unfolded, another portion of the display can be rolled out on the other side, increasing the screen real estate even further.

      Image credit: CNET The concept may be somewhat odd at first, but there are some potential advantages to this approach, Current foldable phones are already very thick, and to have two folding mechanisms on the same device could make it extremely uncomfortable to use or even carry in a pocket. The rolling mechanism may not require as much of an increase in thickness, thus offering a larger display without as much of an inconvenience.

      CNET reports that images of the device will be shown off at an event in April, where TCL is also expected to fully unveil the TCL 20 series that was announced at CES 2021. However, it's only a concept. There's no word on when or if such a device will be coming to market from TCL, and given the company's track record with foldables so far, the chances of that happening seem somewhat slim.

      At MWC 2019, TCL told Neowin that it wanted to wait until foldable technology has matured to release a device at a reasonable price point, rather than the exorbitant $2,000 commanded by Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 2. Combining two very recent technologies, one of which has yet to be seen in a real phone you can buy, is unlikely to fit that bill right now.

    • By Abhay V
      One UI 3.1 for the Galaxy Z Fold2 brings multitasking and ease-of-use improvements
      by Abhay Venkatesh

      Samsung recently detailed the new features brought by the latest One UI 3.1 update to its flagship tablets, the Galaxy Tab S7 series, and the Galaxy S20 lineup. While the update for the tablets brought with it improved cross-device usability with the company’s flagship phones, the release for the Galaxy S20 line introduced a bunch of camera features from the S21 series. Today, the company highlighted the improvements that the latest update brings to the Galaxy Z Fold2.

      For its foldable screen-sporting device, which is now receiving the latest Android 11-based OS update, the South Korean giant is focusing on multitasking and ease-of-use enhancements. The first of the improvements come to the task switcher, or as Samsung calls it, the “Recents” tab.

      Users can now directly switch to previously opened ‘Multi-Active Windows’ at once from the task switcher, meaning that if three apps were opened in a multi-window setup on the main screen and the user navigates to another app, the task switcher will let them return to the multi-window setup as is. The feature also lets users move two out of the three apps from the main screen to the cover display.

      Additionally, One UI 3.1 on the Z Fold2 adds the ability to drag an app from the notification shade and drop it into Multi-Active Windows. For example, users can drag a messaging app into a split view right from the notification shade, draft a response or add multimedia content and send it, and then dismiss the app. This negates the need to break away from the current app and helps make better use of the screen real estate.

      As for the ease-of-use improvements, the firm is adding a new ‘Palm touch to turn off screen’ feature that lets users use a gesture or double-tap to turn off the device’s screen. This makes it easier to lock the device in instances where your hands are full and you can't reach the power button – especially considering how you would not want to try juggling with an expensive foldable.

      The other usability enhancement comes in the way of the choice to move the camera controls in the Camera app when using Flex mode – a mode that adapts the UI of the device when it is partially folded –, giving users more control over where they want the shutter button or other options situated on the massive main display. The firm has also added Delete and Share buttons in image previews in Flex mode.

      While the changes aren’t massive by any means, these simple additions further improve the user experience on the Z Fold2. In addition to these, One UI 3.1 brings a host of other features such as Eye Comfort Shield, app continuity improvements, and much more. You can head to our detailed rundown of what’s new with the update here. One UI 3.1 has begun rolling out to the Galaxy Z Fold2 this week, so all users should begin seeing the update soon.