Huawei Mate X2 review: a foldable masterpiece... at a price
The wheels on the foldable phone bus go round and round, and, while some like Xiaomi are just starting with the Mi Mix Fold, others like Samsung or Huawei are already on their third release cycle. While the first foldable phones were somewhat of a learning exercise, 2021 will seemingly be when the technology will get mainstream attention, judging from the Mate X2 we got here for review.
We'll spare you the suspense - we found the Mate X2 to be the best foldable phone so far when it comes to display(s), ergonomics, aesthetics, camera quality, and media prowess. Too bad phones in this category are still very expensive, plus you'd have to import the Mate X2 to get it, with all the software conundrums that would entail. There is one thing the Mate X2 ascertains, though - foldables have matured enough to be your daily driver, and now you have to just chase deals on their pricing.
In the box: matching color case with a kickstand, 66W fast charger, in-ear headphones, warranty and information leaflets.
Mate X2 foldable display and teardrop hinge design
Swapping the bump for a crease, Huawei made the most compelling foldable phone ergonomics so far
Available in a black, blue, and pink glass body, as well as a white ceramic version, the Mate X2 swaps the bump of its predecessor's outfolding design with the crease of an in-folding type that has by now established itself as the dominant solution for foldables. The main 8" display is now situated on the inside of the phone when closed, with a separate 6.45" panel left on the outside, while its predecessor the Mate Xs used one screen that stayed on the outside, forming a slight "bump" in the middle when unfurled.
Huawei, however, has drastically improved on the in-folding design, removing its main disadvantages in one fell swoop, despite the Mate X2 being its first such effort. Moreover, the sloping thickness and ingenious "teardrop" hinge mechanism with less yet tougher moving parts, allow not only for prolonged endurance but also superior visuals and ergonomics compared to the competition.
The hinge opens and closes with much less effort now, and the phone feels sturdier than basically all such efforts so far, including the Z Fold 2. The creaks and gaps of the second and especially the first foldable phone editions, are gone on the X2, and the inevitable "crease" in the middle has somehow been ironed out significantly thanks to the new hinge design making it much shallower and way less visible in comparison with, say, the Fold 2.
Not sure about flattening the curve, but in the 'flatten a crease' game, the Mate X2 is a winner
When we close the Mate X2, for instance, the top and bottom half overlap perfectly without leaving a huge gap at the hinge side. In addition, the company thought long and hard about the heft distribution balance when you hold the phone with one hand, and moved most of the internals on one sight as a counterweight, including the single 4500mAh battery unit. This leaves you with a great ergonomic feel in the hand, as Huawei told us that the flexible display panel is now much more advanced and heavier than before thus balancing itself out perfectly towards the thinner side when unfurled.
What's more advanced about the 8" 2480 x 2200 pixels main screen? For starters, it has a new nanolayer that makes it reflect the least light of any phone screen on the market, to the tune of less than 1.5%. Even the best phone displays have thrice the amount of mirror reflections, so we were thoroughly pleased to use this screen with glaring lights or outdoors in the sunshine, as the most annoying type of reflections were almost gone.
The slightly lower brightness of the Mate X2 display compared to the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is more than offset by the record low screen reflections when using both outside. Huawei also managed to calibrate the BOE-supplied panel better than Samsung's own creation, with better Delta E and Gamma values for its wide-color gamut coverage. Coupled with the larger diagonal, and the high 90Hz refresh rate, this is currently the best main display you can get on a foldable phone. Ditto for the big 6.45" 1160p external display. With its 21:9 aspect ratio, it has much more real estate, and is much more usable than the tall and narrow Z Fold 2 sidekick.
Huawei Mate X2 performance
Armed with a top-shelf Kirin 9000 processor with integrated 5G modem, the Mate X2 often outscores the Snapdragon in the Z Fold 2, as you can see below, with the only gaps being graphics performance and browser rendering. It also has the superior 5G support, with hot-swappable dual SIM 5G card support, and most 5G bands under the sun.
When it comes to software, Huawei has put an emphasis on multitasking for when the large internal display is open. It deliberately chose the aspect ratio so as when split in the middle, you basically get two giant 21:9 displays sitting side by side.
You can resize them, split the screen in three separate apps, or transition into floating windows, so that you can, say, watch YouTube or Netflix, and chat at the same time. The on-screen keyboard has several layouts to choose from depending on the ergonomics you desire, including a split one with duplicate edge keys for faster thumb typing when the screen is unfurled.
Mate X2 banking, Netflix, and Google apps support
Huawei has been working on app compatibility ever since the Google Services usage ban, and we have to report that it has made enormous strides populating its App Gallery even before the eventual Harmony OS update that is expected to hit the phone after its announcement. When we reviewed the P40 Pro+ last year, for instance, you had to jump through a lot of hoops to make some apps that require Google Services work.
Netflix needed an older version to run, for instance, and local banking or popular fintech apps didn't work. Now, however, you can sideload almost anything, including finance apps, and they work. We tried with our Revolut and N26 accounts, and they got authenticated. So did our local banking app, which, even though we got a Google Services warning at one point, ran us through the 2FA process, and granted an account access.
The only apps we had a problem with running natively were, naturally, the Google ones (YouTube, Gmail, or Maps), but Huawei provides preinstalled Gmail and Maps solution, while YouTube Vanced is (cough, no ads, cough) an alternative that is miles better than the original YouTube app.
Mate X2 battery life and charging speeds
The 4500mAh battery is enough to last you through the day, though we found gaming on the large display, or streaming Netflix videos, to exhaust it faster than alternative uses as it has to power that giant 8-incher.
As if to offset the power hunger of the main display, Huawei equipped the Mate X2 with a 55W charger in the box that was able to fill up the battery in half an hour flat, placing the phone right up there with the best in the pantheon of the fastest charging phones. It certainly is the fastest charging foldable phone at the moment.
Huawei Mate X2 camera quality
Best camera on a foldable phone
- 50 MP Ultra Vision Camera (Wide Angle, f/1.9 aperture, OIS)
- 16 MP Cine Camera (Ultra-Wide Angle, f/2.2 aperture)
- 12 MP Telephoto Camera (3x Optical Zoom, f/2.4 aperture, OIS)
- 8 MP SuperZoom Camera (10x Optical Zoom, f/4.4 aperture, OIS)
As you can see from the raw camera specs above, Huawei hasn't skimped on photography features. Coupled with the 16MP front camera with a ToF sidekick, this is currently the best camera kit you can get on a foldable phone, and then some. In fact, it is the one that's on the P40 Pro+ that can still only be beat by phones like the Galaxy S21 Ultra that also offers a 3x telephoto zoom, and 10x periscope optical zoom.
As you can see from the samples here, the drawback of such a rich camera kit with disparate sensor sizes, resolutions, and lenses, is a big discrepancy between the dynamic range, color presentation, and white balance abilities. The zoom and and ultrawide cameras could use a bit wider dynamic range, the main camera with its unorthodox RYYB pixel arrangement produces colors that are very different from what the ultrawide and zoom cameras do, and so on. On the whole, however, you have an extremely versatile camera on the Mate X2.
Huawei has improved the zooming algorithms for clearer shots at much farther distances, and has also provided a way to take selfies with both the front camera for when you are in a hurry, and the exemplary rear kit when you have more time to unfurl the phone open, using the external display as a huge 6.45" viewfinder of the main camera. Take that, puny Mi 11 Ultra secondary screen!