Huawei Mate XS folding phone REVIEW: Hardware masterpiece but lack of software hurts

And the screen is very much the focal point of this device. When it’s closed it’s a hefty 6.6-inch rectangular smartphone. But when you hit the release button, it unfolds to become an 8-inch tablet before your eyes.

Huawei Mate XS
Huawei Mate XS

A year ago I was in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress event to see Chinese tech giant Huawei unveil its first ever folding phone – the Huawei Mate X.

By Jeff Parsons https://metro.co.uk/

That device never went on sale outside China but here we are a year later and the sequel, the Huawei Mate XS, is set to arrive in the UK at some point later this year with a starting price of somewhere north of £2,000. That’s an eye-watering price for a telephone and it’s something I’m acutely aware of when Huawei offered to let me borrow one for a week to test out.

I have to confess though, after about three days of usage this fact did slip to the back of my mind as I began to treat it like I do my regular phone.

Before long, it was being carelessly thrust into pockets and slapped down on desk surfaces. In order to combat the inevitable knocks of real life, Huawei has employed a ‘quad-layer’ screen design that has two layers of film covering the OLED display and then a further fourth plastic layer beneath that for more durability.

And the screen is very much the focal point of this device. When it’s closed it’s a hefty 6.6-inch rectangular smartphone. But when you hit the release button, it unfolds to become an 8-inch tablet before your eyes.

Here is the Huawei Mate XS as a phone (Metro.co.uk) And here it is as a tablet (Metro.co.uk) The homescreen or whichever app you’re using spreads out and you can carry on as you were. Yes, if you really look closely there is a crease in the screen where it folds but after a while you don’t notice it any more.

The fold isn’t dead-centre, like a book. Instead, one side of the phone has a curving grip that the screen nestles back into. This means the screen sits flush when it’s folded back on itself. It also gives you a grip with which to hold the device in one hand when it’s in tablet mode. It’s a similar design to the Kindle Oasis e-reader from Amazon and is absolutely the best solution I’ve seen when it comes to designing a folding phone. My only annoyance with this design is that it generally favours right-handed folk and I’m a leftie.

That grip along the right hand side houses all the camera equipment which has been co-engineered with German camera company Leica. Because the screen folds backwards, Huawei has technically made a three-screen phone, although you’re not going to use the 6.38-inch rear-facing screen unless you’re using the camera. Thanks to a ‘mirror portrait’ mode, the rear-screen displays what the lens is picking up. So if you’re taking someone’s picture, they can see what the lens is seeing and it’s also the way you use the phone if you want to take selfie.

Obviously, the folding phone thing is mostly what gives the Mate XS its astronomical price tag, but it’s also stuffed full of the very best phone tech currently available. It’s got a Huawei-built Kirin 990 octa-core processor and 8GB of RAM backed with 512GB of storage space. The aforementioned camera comprises four lenses including a 40-megapixel main sensor, an 8-megapixel telephoto lens, a 16-megapixel ultra wide lens and a time-of-flight 3D depth sensor for measuring distance. This can be used for effective bokeh photography or for augmented reality apps. It’s got a gigantic 4,500mAh battery that Huawei says can be charged to 85% in 30 minutes with the bundled 45-watt charger. And it’s also fully supportive of 5G – so if you’ve got a 5G price plan from your provider, you can get bumper speeds from this thing. The antenna runs around the entire edge of the phone so you can theoretically hit speeds of over 4Gbps.

Even if the tech-talk means nothing to you, understand that this is absolutely cutting-edge hardware. Unfortunately, there’s a gigantic Google-sized issue with the Huawei Mate XS that may put off the small fraction of people not disturbed by the price tag. Because of the ongoing trade disputes between the US and China – and Huawei specifically – the Mate XS has been restricted from using any Google services. It runs on a tweaked version of Android (which is open-source) but you won’t find any Google apps preinstalled when you fire up the device.

More pressing is the lack of the Google Play Store. It’s nowhere to be found so you can’t use it to install the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp or Netflix. In order to get apps onto the Mate XS you have to use either Huawei’s AppGallery app store or a third-party option or find the APK yourself on the web and install them manually. You can also use Huawei’s Phone Clone app to copy them over from your old device although this failed on multiple occasions for me. I did managed to get a fair number of apps thanks to the Amazon App Store which carried some of the ones I use regularly and installing the APKs myself. However, this is far too much friction to expect any regular user to go through. After several days with the Mate XS I did find the lack of software to be a bit too much of a hindrance and ended up carrying another phone alongside it.

The Mate XS was fantastic for reading Kindle books or actually being productive with notes and pictures and the like. The reason being that you can drag apps across the unfolded homescreen and have them displayed next to each other in panes. You can even have a third ‘floating’ app showing up on top as well if you want. More

By Jeff Parsons https://metro.co.uk/