On Saturday afternoon, dozens of journalists from around the world filed into a warehouse in downtown Barcelona for a briefing on what could be one of the most significant consumer product launches in Huawei history.
In the days leading up to the event, a photo of a billboard that appeared to reveal the design of the firm’s first foldable phone, the Huawei Mate X, went viral. Yesterday, the Chinese tech giant confirmed – under embargo – that the rumours were true.
The design and display
The Mate X – soon to be the flagship in Huawei’s line of premium smartphones – boasts “two revolutionary tech breakthroughs”, Huawei claims. The first is its foldable screen, which stretches eight inches, making it 0.7 inches larger than screen of the Galaxy Fold that Samsung revealed last week.
Unlike the Galaxy Fold, which opens like a book, the Mate X’s screen folds backwards, revealing a fully usable 6.6 inch screen at the front and a 6.3 inch screen at the back. The remainder of the rear panel is a side bar, which has been designed to make the tablet easy to hold in one hand when it’s unfolded and doubles up as a compartment for the Leica camera system. This allows users to take selfies and standard shots with the same camera, but different screens.
As well as being larger than the Galaxy Fold’s screen, the Mate X’s also does away with the top right screen cutout, which in the Fold houses the front facing cameras. Huawei also claims it’s the world’s slimmest foldable phone, measuring just 5.4mm when unfolded – making it half a centimetre thinner than the iPad Pro. The hinge itself is 11mm wide and is described by Huawei as a “falcon wing design”. The company’s engineers have been working on developing the hinge, which contains 100 components, for three years.
The second “revolutionary tech breakthrough” is around 5G. Huawei claims this will be the world’s fastest smartphone, boasting download speeds ten times faster than 4G and twice the speed of the 5G industry standard. It can download a 1GB movie in three seconds, Huawei claims, and boasts speeds of up to 4.6 gigabytes per second. This is all powered by Huawei’s Kirin 980 AI chipset, its Balong 5000 multi-mode 5G modem and a quad 5G antenna design.
The fact that Huawei develops not only 5G chipsets and handsets, but also telecoms equipment means it is in the unique position of being able to test its phones on live networks.
Huawei claims the Mate X will have the fastest 55W supercharge of any phone on the market, enabling owners to charge their phones to 85 per cent in just 30 minutes. Yesterday the company described it as a 4500 mAh “ultra long-lasting” dual battery, but did not disclose any data about the battery life. Those details may come today – we’ll update this piece if they do.
Release date and price
Speaking on stage at MWC on Sunday, Huawei’s Richard Yu revealed that the phone would cost €2,299 (£1,997), making it significantly more expensive than Samsung’s Fold (£1,515). He revealed it could be launched in June, a few weeks after the Samsung Fold, which set to be released on 26 April (3 May in Europe).
What does this mean for Huawei’s smartphone brand?
While Huawei’s flagship phones have received rave reviews in recent years, the company’s design aesthetic has remained heavily inspired by its friends across the Pacific in Cupertino. However, by releasing one of the first foldable phones, Huawei will burnish its credentials as one of the most innovative players in the smartphone space. And yet with such a steep price tag, it remains to be seen whether the device will ever go truly mainstream.