Foldable screen does not come cheap

The Huawei Mate X resembles a typical smartphone when folded, but with a 6.6-inch screen at the front and a 6.4-inch screen at the back.
The Huawei Mate X resembles a typical smartphone when folded, but with a 6.6-inch screen at the front and a 6.4-inch screen at the back.

Arguably the most exciting device at Mobile World Congress this year, the Huawei Mate X was kept behind glass, away from the prying hands of the hordes of journalists.

But while I could not touch it, I did get a very close look at only the third foldable smartphone to be unveiled after efforts from Samsung and Royole.

The Mate X has a thin, squarish foldable Oled screen measuring 8 inches when unfolded. This is slightly larger than the 7.3-inch Galaxy Fold, Samsung's foldable device announced a week ago. Both devices have a flexible polymer layer instead of rigid glass over the screen.

There are other differences. The Mate X resembles a typical smartphone when folded, but with a 6.6-inch screen at the front and a 6.4-inch screen at the back. This asymmetry is because of a sidebar, which acts as a handle for you to grip the phone.

It also houses the camera modules and the USB Type-C charging port.

In contrast, the Galaxy Fold opens like a book and has a second 4.6-inch screen, dubbed Cover Display on its front when closed.

Due to the way it is designed, the Mate Xh has only a single set of Leica-branded cameras - there is no distinction between front and rear. On paper, this should lead to more impressive-looking selfie shots than a standard smartphone because the latter usually has an inferior front camera.

 
 
 
 

The bonus - there is no display notch because there is no need for one now with this design.

Huawei boasts that the Mate X's patented hinge, which enables the screen to fold completely flat with no space between the two layers unlike the Galaxy Fold's gap, is made of over 100 components. Based on the visuals provided by Huawei, the hinge reminds me of the interlocking links used by the one in the Lenovo Yoga computers.

Like the Galaxy Fold, the Mate X has a side power button, which doubles as a fingerprint sensor.

To accommodate the foldable design, it comes with dual batteries - because batteries cannot yet be folded - for a total capacity of 4,500mAh. This is slightly higher than the 4,380mAh on the Galaxy Fold.

Powering the Mate X is Huawei's Kirin 980 processor, which is also found in its other flagship devices. But Huawei has also added its own Balong 5G chipset, which the Chinese firm says makes the Mate X the world's fastest 5G smartphone. The Galaxy Fold too will have a 5G variant.

There are still question marks over how apps would appear and adapt to the larger unfolded screen, but Huawei plans to sell the Mate X in the middle of the year. Prices will start at €2,299 euros (S$3,524) for a model with 8GB memory and 512GB internal storage.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2019, with the headline 'Foldable screen does not come cheap'. Print Edition | Subscribe