MWC 2019: Huawei Upstages Samsung With Folding 5G Mate X

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Huawei claims its device folds thinner and flatter than Samsung’s, and adds 5G – all for an eye-watering 2,299 euros

Huawei’s folding phone, the Mate X, was greeted with applause at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Sunday.

The device uses a design significantly different to Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, unveiled less than a week earlier, which appears to fold into a thinner form-factor than the Fold.

In any case, the company’s claims of outdoing the Galaxy Fold were clearly successful on at least one point – the gadget’s price, which makes the already expensive Fold look comparatively reasonable.

The Mate X starts at 2,299 euros ($2,600, or £1,996), compared to the $1,980 given by Samsung, and is due to go on sale in mid-2019, following the Fold’s debut on 26 April.

Design difference

MWC 2019 has so far been marked by a number of 5G smartphone announcements, with devices on the way from the likes of Oppo, OnePlus and LG, in spite of the fact that network deployments are only beginning this year.

“It feels like the challenge for operators is going to be which devices to range,” commented analyst Ben Wood. “Unthinkable two years ago when it was hard to believe there would be any commercial 5G phones in 2019.”

Huawei, which became the world’s second-biggest smartphone maker last year after Samsung, argued at its MWC launch event that its hardware is technically superior to Samsung’s, saying the Mate X’s screen is bigger than the Galaxy Fold when unfolded and its device is flatter and thinner than Samsung’s when folded shut.

While few have been able to get their hands on either device to date, Samsung’s official images appear to show the Galaxy Fold doesn’t fold quite flat when shut.

Huawei’s design takes a different tack to Samsung’s, with the screen on the outside.  The Fold X, for comparison, places the screen on the inside, with a secondary screen on the outside for use when the device is shut.

Huawei’s Mate X features a split-screen mode. Image credit: Huawei

No notch

The Mate X also features a ridge into which the device’s sensors are built.  That means there’s no ‘notch’, something Huawei made much of, but it also means there’s no front-facing selfie camera when the phone is unfolded.

According to Huawei, the Mate X’s screen measures 8 inches when unfolded, and when closed, features a 6.8-inch screen and a 6.6-inch screen, both of which would be larger than those of the iPhone XS Max.  When shut, the Mate X is 11mm thick.

By comparison, the Fold’s main screen is 7.3 inches when unfolded, with a 4.6-inch secondary screen, and the Fold measures 17mm at its thickest point when shut.

“If this is an accurate representation of the competition, it underlines just what a great job Huawei has done with its industrial design on its foldable,” Wood commented.

Huawei’s Mate X. Image credit: Huawei

Innovation at a price

However, analyst Patrick Moorhead said on Twitter that the Mate X’s screen seam was “apparent”.

But Huawei’s claim that the Mate X is the fastest 5G foldable phone does appear to be accurate – since Samsung’s folding device doesn’t support 5G.

Like the Galaxy Fold, the Mate X features a battery on each side of the device.  Huawei claimed its batteries would charge faster than Samsung’s.

Huawei consumer devices chief Richard Yu acknowledged the Mate X was “very expensive” and said it would take at least two years for foldable prices to descend to the level of other phones.

But he said the innovation displayed in the foldable was worth the price.

“The age of the 2,000-euro smartphone is upon us, and it’s not so long ago 1,000 euros was the new frontier…” commented analyst Wood.

Huawei’s Mate X. Image credit: Huawei

Diversity

A number of industry watchers noted that this year’s MWC is a sharp change from 2018’s show in the diversity of device designs on offer, as well as the introduction of innovative 5G gadgets.

Last year’s conference was noted for the introduction of flagship phones that mostly took their cues from Apple’s iPhone X.

“The foldables frenzy at MWC 19 signals a new chapter in design diversity for many consumer electronics products,” analyst Wood said. “This is an innovation journey that will last for years. It’s the Stone Age of foldables right now.”

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