[MWC 2019] The Huawei Mate X gave me hope for the future of foldable phones

I'm going to say it right away: the Huawei Mate X is my favorite foldable phone so far. The market for this kind of device is just starting to show up, but we already have two big players coming out with their own variants of the product. While Samsung isn't letting anyone touch its Galaxy Fold, Huawei gave us the chance to check out the Mate X, and while it's definitely not a perfect device by any means, it made me feel a lot more confident in what's to come.

The first thing I saw when I looked at the Mate X was the fully-open, 8-inch display that looks amazing. Of course, OLED panels are typically pretty good, especially if you're paying thousands of dollars, so this isn't unexpected. What's really great about it is how well Huawei used the space on the device. Unlike the Galaxy Fold, there is no notch anywhere on this screen, and it's still a nearly edge-to-edge panel that just looks great.

There are even more great things about the display, and that's the fact that you can hardly tell that it folds along the middle when you look at it from the front. In fact, until you look at the rear of the phone, it would be hard to know that it folds at all. I was trying pretty hard to look at it from an angle where the light reflected just right on the screen, and when it does, you can just make it out a little bit of a distortion, but it's really very light. And this is when the screen is off - when it's on, I really couldn't tell.

When the phone is folded, you still can't really tell it's a foldable phone if you just look at the screen. You still get a beautiful, nearly edge-to-edge screen (which is 6.6 inches in size) on the front, and sure, the phone may be a little bit thicker than today's smartphones, but you definitely don't expect it to be a folding device.

That is until you actually pick it up. The way the phone looks, it's incredibly deceptive about its own weight. I was in the meeting with a couple of other reporters, and this feeling was consensual. When you pick it up while the display is folded, it feels very dense and definitely heavier than you would expect for its size. That's not to say it's uncomfortable, but the first time I picked it up, I couldn't help being surprised.

But then, the phone is deceptive in the opposite way when you unfold it. You may expect it to be a little hard to handle with just one hand, but it actually feels very light and you can hold it very easily.

That's thanks to some smart decisions Huawei made with this design. On the right side of the phone, there's a ridge that's much thicker than the rest of the device when it's unfolded. This contains the triple camera Leica setup as well as a lot of the internals, and when you hold the phone fully open, you're gonna grab this side. This means that all of that weight is directly on your hand and not tipping over on the other side, a similar effect to what we see in devices like the Kindle Oasis.

Because a lot of the components of the smartphone are inside that ridge, the rest of the device is very, very thin. It's actually half the thickness of the ridge, which lets you fold the display back and make it sit almost flush with the ridge when it's folded. The phone folds seemingly perfectly, too, so there's not really a noticeable gap between the two portions as we saw on the Royole FlexPai.

Having the display fold outwards is likely to help here, since the angle isn't quite as tight as having it fold on the inside. Huawei says they chose to do it this way, as opposed to Samsung's inner fold, because while having the ability to unfold the phone might be cool, it's not something you'll always want to do. I can understand this, especially when you consider the small size and weird aspect ratio of the external display on the Galaxy Fold.

Having this ridge with the camera module is also what allows the device to have no notch of any kind. For selfies, you can enjoy the exact same Leica camera setup as you do for your regular pictures, and you just flip the phone over. When you do, the screen will move to the back side of the display, and if you're not already using the camera app, you'll be prompted to do so. Huawei knows you'd have no reason to use the rear display aside from taking selfies, so a button will pop up above a shrunken version of whatever screen you were looking at.

There's also a cool feature in the camera app that shows the preview of the picture you're about to take on both sides of the display. This isn't on by default, but you can turn it on if you're taking a picture of a person, letting them help you find their preferred shot.

Now, let's talk about the concerns I still have. A foldable display means that the screen is plastic, and with it folding to the back of the device, there's definitely a risk for scratches getting all over your screen when you put it down. For a device that costs so much money, you expect it to last a long time, and this is a big barrier to that. Of course, the pricing for the Mate X is a problem all on its own, but I think that's what we'd expect to see in this first generation of the technology.

Another thing that bothers me about foldable devices in general is the aspect ratio of the unfolded screen. This panel is almost square, and that means that watching movies will result is big black areas above and below the video and that in practice, the video size won't even be that much bigger than it would be with the unfolded display. I've believed that the solution for this is having the display fold twice, as seen in Xiaomi's video from a while back, but that could create other problems with the camera layout and such.

I've been skeptical in regards to foldable devices, and the Huawei Mate X doesn't yet answer all the questions customers may have. But my experience with it has made me feel confident that the future of folding smartphones can be a great one.

Neowin is at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona taking place between Feb 25-28 to bring you coverage direct from the show floor, click here for our other articles at the event.

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