As the Mobile World Congress, the industry’s biggest annual event, kicks off in Barcelona, smartphone makers are showing off their latest and most advanced gadgets as they prepare for the 5G era. The hot topic this year has been foldable devices — a smartphone with foldable screen that can turn the handset into a tablet.
Samsung last week unveiled its Galaxy Fold an event in the US, grabbing headlines around the world, but just four days later Huawei has made an even bigger splash as it unveiled its Mate X.
China’s biggest smartphone maker has once again managed to bring in an element of surprise to the market as it readies to face off with Samsung in a super-premium segment.
On Sunday, Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, hosted a product press conference at Barcelona to unveil the firm’s Matebook series, a laptop computer product line of Huawei, and Mate X, the world’s first 5G foldable smartphone.
Amid the various offerings, the attention of industry analysts and technology media was all on the foldable phone, as the Mate X does really bring some surprise to phone users.
Social media has been abuzz with chatter about Huawei’s new device, with many commentators saying Mate X appears to have knocked off Samsung in the foldable smartphone battle at this stage.
Let’s take a look at Mate X and what it actually promises. The phone offers three screen options. In its folded position, it has a main screen of 6.6 inches for a standard smartphone display. On the back of the phone is a second display of 6.38 inches. In the unfolded position, the Mate X bears an 8-inch tablet OLED display.
The Mate X successfully beat all rivals in foldable or traditional smartphones in screen size comparison. Its 6.8 inch screen is bigger than Apple’s iPhone XS Max and Samsung Galaxy Fold. And in unfolded screen size, Huawei beats Samsung Fold by one inch.
Mate X can meet the user demand for larger screen size for work or entertainment on both screens. It could be quite difficult for users who have been using a 5-inch device downgrading themselves to use a 4.6-inch device like Galaxy Fold in its normal status.
One of the key issues for foldable smartphones is the hinge technology.
Samsung Fold and Mate X have adopted different folding ways to fold their screens. For Samsung the Fold has just one fold to turn the screen from small to big, while Mate X needs to fold two times for the big screen.
There is no right or wrong as to which type of folding is used in the phone. But Huawei has knocked out Samsung Fold in the hinge technology, helping the device completely fold flat at the back of the phone.
Samsung Fold does not fold flat, and leaves a small gap there. Huawei said it has been working on the fold screen for three years and that inside the hinge there are many components. The gap-free foldable screen shows Huawei outperforming Samsung in industrial design.
Thickness is another talking point for gadget lovers with regard to foldable screen phones. It’s unavoidable that a foldable screen phone in general is thicker than a traditional single screen phone given different technical requirements. But for Huawei Mate X, it is just 11 mm thick when the phone is folded.
In comparison Apple iPhone XS is 7.7 mm thick. But in the big screen mode, Mate X is just 5.4 mm thick, just slightly thinner than the latest iPad Pro. And Mate X is much thinner than Samsung Fold, which claims to be 17mm thick at its widest point when closed, and 6.9 mm when unfolded. Once again, Huawei is beating its rivals in terms of product design.
The reason why Huawei has been able to bring such a thin product is that it has adopted a Falcon Wing design, as the Mate X has a compact handheld bar for users to hold the device. The handheld bar is also a room for all important components and hardware, including a re-designed Leica three camera system for the phone.
Samsung Fold and Huawei Mate X adopted different folding technology in their products. Samsung put the folding screen on the inside of the device, which opens like a book to reveal a 7.3-inch screen, and a smaller 4.6-inch screen on the outside for use like a standard phone, The Guardian reported.
Huawei’s Mate X has just one screen on the outside. When closed, the front screen measures 6.6 inches, comparing favorably with large non-folding handsets. The screen that folds around the rear is dormant unless used to take photos or for other similar tasks, the newspaper noted.
The price for the Mate X, which goes on sale later this year, has been set at 2,299 euro (about US$2,600), higher than the Samsung Fold, which has a tag of US$1,980.
That means pushing the boundaries of smartphone pricing to a new limit, leaving Apple — the traditional leader in that aspect — far behind.
That leaves us with this question: will consumers bite in enough numbers, or will the price factor prove a deterrent despite all the attractions and convenience of the new advanced gadgets?
Will foldable phones become a lasting phenomenon or merely prove a temporary fad or marketing gimmick as mobile industry players seek a new growth avenue amid signs of market saturation?
Huawei’s Mate X will be available in June the earliest as the phone needs to undergo 5G network test and trials with operators before commercial launch. According to the Chinese firm, Mate X will be able to download content at a rate of 4.6Gbps, which is ten times faster than 4G networks. A 1GB movie can be downloaded in three seconds.
Mate X clearly shows Huawei is a technology innovation leader, analysts have pointed out. The new device can compete directly with Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, triggering a battle for market dominance in the new segment between the two firms.
With regard to the other smartphone biggie, Apple, if the US tech giant takes too long in coming up with its own answer to the new Samsung and Huawei products, it could find itself losing steam further in hardware sales.