Huawei Mate X2 Review


I’ll make a confession as I begin writing this: I’m not really sure how to review the Huawei Mate X2.

This is a phenomenal piece of hardware, with top-of-the-line specs across almost every aspect of the phone that should make it a shoo-in for the best foldable phone around.

On the other hand, no-one reading this is ever likely to buy one. For starters, it’s only available in China anyway. Then there’s the price, which roughly converts to a ruinously expensive £2,000/$2,800. Oh, and since it’s a modern Huawei device, it has the now-familiar problems running anything to do with Google.

So don’t take this as buying advice, as I’m assuming none of you are planning on buying the Mate X2 anyway. But if you want to know how Huawei’s hardware holds up, read on.

Design and build

Huawei basically rebuilt its second-generation foldable from scratch. The first Mate X, and its half-step sequel the Mate Xs, used an external folding display that wrapped around the device. This time, Huawei has followed Samsung’s lead in switching to an internal fold, that opens out like a book, but with a few clever design tweaks that help the company beat Samsung at its own game.

When the Mate X2 is closed, it looks and feels like a pretty standard slab phone – albeit an unusually thick one. The front display is a 6.45in panel at a slender aspect ratio of 21:9 – the same slim format that Sony has adopted for its last few Xperia phones.

There’s a slightly thicker bezel around the edges of this display than you might be used to from a regular phone, along with a large punch-hole selfie camera, but Huawei has done a good job maximising the display space on this outer screen, so beyond the extra weight and thickness – 295g, and 14.7mm thick when folded – there’s really no compromise on usability when the phone is closed.

What’s perhaps most impressive here is how solid the closed phone feels. Unlike other foldables, which still leave a small gap when folded, the Mate X2 seals almost completely. That means it feels like a single, solid unit, enough so that you can kind of forget it’s a foldable phone at all.

That’s in part thanks to a new hinge design, and in part down to a tapered design that leaves the left edge of the phone much thinner than the right side. When closed, they fit together perfectly to leave a balanced whole, but when open the bulk of the phone’s weight sits on the right-hand side. That’s actually a good thing for the ergonomics of holding the phone one-handed while it’s open – but only if you’re right-handed. Lefties need not apply.

The hinge itself has its pros and cons. Held closed by magnets, it feels sturdy and secure, but is difficult to open with one hand. Unlike Samsung’s latest foldable it also can’t anchor itself partway – the screen has to be either fully closed or fully open, so there’s no way to prop the display open at an angle, laptop-style.

Once it’s open, you get an expansive 8in display that’s almost square. Again, there’s a bit of bezel going on around the edges in the form of a plastic frame, but that’s the nature of the beast. On the plus side, there’s no selfie camera at all on this internal screen, which means it’s entirely uninterrupted.

Other than the plastic frame around that display, the rest of the phone is built almost entirely out of metal and glass, with Huawei making no compromise on the premium feel – though it’s worth noting that there’s no official claim on the scratch-resistance or durability of the glass, and there’s also no IP rating for water-resistance.

The rear of the phone comes in a range of glossy finishes: black, white, pink, and blue (pictured). The glass finish is a touch slippy, and an undeniable fingerprint magnet, but it definitely looks slick, and is interrupted only by a small Huawei logo and not-so-small camera module.

Audio comes from a pair of stereo speakers. They’re positioned on the top and bottom of the phone, so even when it’s unfolded you’ll want to turn the screen sideways to get stereo sound while watching anything. Audio is crisp and surprisingly loud though – plenty for basic TV watching or a bit of music.

One final note – Huawei actually includes a kickstand case with the phone, which you can see below. This case clips onto the bulkier right-hand/rear section of the phone, and has a faux leather finish which adds a little bulk but does improve grip. More importantly, the small plastic kickstand, while a tough fragile in feel, lets you prop the phone up in a couple of different orientations, which goes some way to making up for the hinge locking out at either open or closed.

I haven’t tried out the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 for any length of time, and haven’t seen the Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold in person at all, but I’m still pretty confident that, right now, this is the smoothest bit of foldable hardware out there. It feels sturdy, it feels premium and, aside from the locked-out hinge, it works pretty flawlessly.

Display

It’s worth talking a bit more about the displays in particular, which remain a big point of differentiation in the foldable space.

Both displays are OLED, and support a 90Hz refresh rate. I’m surprised Huawei opted for 90Hz over 120Hz, when even budget phones are now hitting that higher refresh rate, but in fairness the jump from 90 to 120 is hard for many to even spot.

The 6.45in outer panel has an aspect ratio of 21:9. It’s slim, but not as unusually slim as Samsung’s equivalent, which means it still feels fairly natural to use, and most apps will still display correctly. This is, in all honesty, the screen I actually used the most often.

The larger internal display has its pros and cons. I love Huawei’s choice to omit a selfie camera here, and really maximise all that screen real estate, but anyone hoping to make video calls on the big screen will understandably be disappointed.

The high resolution – 2200 x 2480 – helps, but the almost-square aspect ratio is a little more complex. It’s not tall enough for apps like Instagram to display correctly – it can’t actually fit a full image in view at once – but it’s too tall for most video, so if you watch a film you’ll get extensive letter-boxing. There’s no real way to win here, as no one aspect ratio can possibly suit every purpose, but bear in mind that there will still be little compromises and frustrations as a result of the screen shape.

The other caveat here, as ever, is the crease. Yes, you can see it. Yes, you can feel it. No, it really doesn’t matter.

It is the first thing people seem to notice about the phone when it’s opened up, but within a few minutes of use I honestly stopped noticing the faint outline, and you don’t swipe sideways across the centre of the screen often enough for the feeling to be an issue either.

It helps that there’s a solidity to the display elsewhere. You can tell it’s flexible plastic rather than glass, but there’s none of the mushiness that other foldable screens often have, so you don’t ever worry you’re about to somehow put your finger through it if you jab too hard.

Specs and performance

The Mate X2 is powered by the Kirin 9000, Huawei’s latest and greatest 5nm silicon. It’s essentially a rival to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, the chip you’ll find in most other top tier Android flagships this year. Huawei combines it with 8GB of RAM, and either 256GB or 512GB storage – this is expandable, but only with Huawei’s proprietary Nano Memory format, not microSD.

In benchmark results the Mate X2 does lag a little behind Snapdragon 888 rivals, and the Exynos 2100-powered Galaxy S21 Ultra, but not by much. Geekbench 5 CPU scores lag by a few hundred, and framerates on GFXBench were also slightly lower than other 2021 flagships, though this is partly explained by the higher resolution display – I ran the benchmarks on the larger internal screen.

In any case, performance is close enough on paper, and indistinguishable in real use. The Mate X2 is smooth and responsive whichever screen you use, and I didn’t hit any appreciable lag in my time using the phone.

I didn’t really put it through its paces in any mobile gaming, but with the specs on offer it should be more than capable of making the most of that big internal screen for gaming – though as ever, bear in mind that not every game you’re used to will be available in the Huawei App Gallery.

The Kirin 9000 brings with it 5G support of course, along with Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2.

As for biometrics, you can use face unlock when the phone is folded shut, or a fingerprint sensor at any time – instead of using in-display readers, Huawei has opted for a more reliable side-mounted physical fingerprint scanner.

Camera

If you compare the Galaxy Z Fold 2’s camera setup to any of the firm’s Ultra flagships, you’ll find that despite a higher price tag, the foldable comes up short.

Not so with the Mate X2.

Huawei has packed in what is essentially the same camera setup found on its highest spec slab phone, the Mate 40 Pro+: a 50Mp RYYB main camera with a 1/1.28-inch sensor, ultrawide, 3x telephoto, and 10x periscope.

To put it succinctly, this is one of the best camera setups you’ll find right now. Details are crisp and noise is minimal across the lenses, and the 10x periscope delivers exceptional sharpness and clarity – enough to read the spines of my record collection from across the room. Digital zoom goes up to 100x, but results at this point are much blurrier.

Colours are vibrant but not quite to the point of over-saturation, and tend to leave shots looking natural, but with a little extra kick. The big sensor helps deliver some beautiful bokeh effects too, though if (like me) you have a tendency to shoot quite close up, you may find you have to pull back a bit and crop in to get the focus quite right.

I wouldn’t quite say the camera is perfect. Even in good light I spotted some colour consistency issues between the ultrawide and the other lenses, and this lens in particular struggled to cope with unusual lighting – photos taken in the glow of a heater lamp came out with an orange hue, even as the main lens managed to colour-correct without issue.

I also found low-light performance to be a mixed bag. Some shots were beautifully tuned and exposed, while others suffered from blown-out lights and glare. You can at least get good results from across the cameras thanks to optical stabilisation included on every lens except the ultrawide.

Video caps out at [email protected], which may disappoint those hoping for 8K or higher framerates, but for most practical purposes this will still over-deliver.

As I’ve already mentioned, there’s no selfie camera inside the fold, so selfies – and video calls – are limited to the outer display. Here the pill-shaped punch-hole doesn’t contain two lenses, but instead a single 16Mp selfie lens along with a colour temperature sensor. It’s hard to assess exactly how much this sensor brings to the table, but I do admit that given the choice I’d probably ditch it in favour of a smaller punch-hole.

Battery and charging

With two screens to power, you might worry that the 4500mAh battery in the Mate X2 wouldn’t be enough, but here at least I was pleasantly surprised.

This isn’t quite a battery powerhouse, but it comfortably lasted the day, which for most people is all that matters. You’ll definitely get better battery elsewhere, but that’s not really why you’d consider buying a fancy foldable.

As for charging, the phone maxes out at 55W wired charging over USB-C, which in my test was enough to top the phone up by 30% in 15 minutes, and up to 65% in half an hour.

Confusingly, although the phone caps at 55W, Huawei ships it with a faster 66W charger, so there’s a bit of extra overhead there. You can use this to charge other devices, but since it doesn’t support the PD standard, it won’t quick charge many non-Huawei gadgets.

In one of the rare disappointments for this phone, there’s also no support at all for wireless charging here – something I actually kept forgetting, dropping the phone down on a Qi pad and expecting it to start topping up, because of course this phone should have wireless charging. Presumably space constraints squeezed it out, but hopefully Huawei finds a way to work it back in next time around.

Software

Last and unfortunately least, we get to the elephant in the room.

Huawei’s ongoing US trade ban still unfortunately limits its phones’ software side, and the Mate X2 is no exception.

It ships running Android 10 with Huawei’s EMUI 11 skin on top. First, the good: EMUI has come on leaps and bounds over the years and feels fairly refined at this point. It’s far from my favourite Android skin, but it’s easy to navigate, fairly customisable, and remains a friendly entry point for anyone switching from iOS.

It also handles the foldable format with aplomb. Closing or opening the Mate X2 immediately switches apps from one screen to the other, while various multi-tasking options give you plenty of ways to make the most of the larger internal display. The split keyboard is a nice touch too, making it easy to type two-handed when the phone is unfolded.

The bad, of course, is Google. There’s no Android 11, and certainly won’t be Android 12. You won’t get native Google apps like Gmail or YouTube, and with no Play Store access you’ll actually miss out on loads of non-Google apps too.

Huawei is, to its credit, working hard to improve things. Its Phone Clone tool will now copy across most apps from other Android devices, even those not available in its own App Gallery, and the Petal Search app does a great job of finding a few more. I had WhatsApp, Instagram, and Twitter all up and running fine, which honestly accounts for 90% of my phone use anyway.

Unfortunately, some remain impossible, and others will copy over but still not work if they rely on Google Mobile Services to function. Alternatives often exist, but not always, and you may find that some things – like banking apps – will simply be unavailable.

At the time of writing, Huawei is nearing release on HarmonyOS, its own in-house operating system, and promises that the Mate X2 will be one of the first devices to be offered the upgrade. I can’t say whether or not this will improve things – presumably it still won’t include Google support – but it’s another sign that Huawei at least isn’t complacent about the software side.

Price and availability

Like I already said: you’re probably not actually going to buy the Mate X2.

It’s only officially on sale in China, where it costs 17,999 CNY (approx. £2,000/US$2,800) for the 256GB storage model, and 18,999 CNY (£2,100/$2,900) for a version with 512GB. Some import prices are even higher – up to $5,000.

The closest comparable phone is Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 2, which is comfortably cheaper at £1,599/$1,799. Xiaomi’s more recent (and also China-only) Mi Mix Fold undercuts it even further, with a Chinese starting price of 9,999 CNY (£1,100/$1,500).

The Mate X2 outpaces both those devices from the hardware side, though they do have the benefit of full Google support. They’re ultimately all luxury devices though, so standard questions of value do fall a bit by the wayside. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it…

Verdict

In case it’s not clear by now: you shouldn’t really buy the Mate X2. Assuming you’re outside China then importing it will be a pain, adding additional fees on top of the exorbitant price, and after all that you still won’t be able to run half of your apps.

Set that aside though, and the Mate X2 is a clear triumph. There are small, specific compromises here – refresh rate and wireless charging are the obvious ones, though waterproofing would be welcome too – but in every other respect this phone is phenomenal.

Huawei already feels like it’s mastered the foldable form factor, and from a design standpoint it’s hard to see all that much room for improvement – an astonishing feat so early into the foldable era.

Throw in strong internal specs and one of the most powerful camera modules in any phone, let alone foldables, and it’s hard to argue that this isn’t the best foldable hardware in the world right now.

So no, you shouldn’t buy the Mate X2. But you should really want to.

Specs
Huawei Mate X2: Specs

Android 10 with EMUI 11

Interior: 8in foldable 90Hz OLED display (2200 x 2480)

Exterior: 6.45in 90Hz OLED (2700 x 1160)

Kirin 9000 chipset

8GB RAM

256/512GB storage

50Mp, f/1.9, RYYB OIS rear camera + 16Mp, f/2.2 ultra-wide + 12Mp, f/2.4, 3x, OIS tele + 8Mp, f/4.4, 10x, OIS periscope

16Mp f/2.2 front camera + colour temperature sensor

Side mounted fingerprint scanner

11az dual-band Wi-Fi 6

Bluetooth 5.2

GPS

NFC

5G/4G LTE

USB-C

4500mAh non-removable battery

55W wired charging

Unfolded: 161.8 x 145.8 x 4.4-8.2mm

Folded: 161.8 x 74.6 x 13.6-14.7mm

295g


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