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MWC: How Huawei claims the lead in foldable handsets

The new Huawei Mate X, which unfolds into a tablet, is an attempt to claim the future, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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When Huawei announced its answer to Samsung’s Galaxy Fold at Mobile World Congress 2019 in Barcelona on Sunday, it invoked the language of science fiction and space travel to emphasise the futuristic approach of the new Mate X.

The handset is a two-in one smartphone and tablet, using 5G connectivity for speed, a foldable screen for versatility, artificial intelligence for anticipating user needs, and a new mode of interfacing for an enhanced user experience.

Bruce Lee, VP of Handset Business at Huawei Consumer Business Group, with the Mate X unfolded.
Pic by Arthur Goldstuck.

The key to the foldable screen is a Mechanical Hinge called the Falcon Wing, simultaneously invoking the iconic Millennium Falcon and X-Wing spacecraft from Star Wars. The very colour of the device was invented for Huawei, which describes it as an “Interstellar Blue colour wave”. It says it “epitomises the beauty of technology and sets a higher bar for future smartphones”.

And then there is the positioning of the phone: It represents a voyage into the uncharted,” said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei Consumer Business Group, at the launch, echoing the classic Star Trek slogan, “to boldly go where no phone has gone before”.

Can it be all that? Star Wars, Star Trek and the very future of space travel, all in one device? Of course not, but then this is not science fiction. It is the practical reality of flexible and foldable displays finally entering the mainstream.  The challenge is to convince the public to pay a premium price and, as with the Galaxy Fold, that is unlikely with the first generation of foldables.

What it does do, however, is confirm that Samsung has not been able to take a clear lead in foldables, having beaten Huawei by a mere four days with its announcement, and with a format more clunky than that of the Mate X.

The Samsung Fold has a 4.6-inch front display, and opens up to a 7.3-inch mini-tablet. In dramatic contrast, the Mate X has a massive front display measuring 6.6-inches, folding out into a 8-inch tablet. The fundamental difference is that the Fold display is on the inside of the device, separate from the cover display, while the Mate X is on the outside, allowing the cover screen to transform directly into the tablet display.

This has also allowed the Mate X to follow a more elegant design, with the two halves clipping neatly into the frame of the device. The Fold looks like two phones on top of each other. The result is that the Mate X is two thirds the thickness of the Fold, at 11cm compared to 17cm, when folded. That makes for a far bigger device in fact being far more compact.

Click here to watch the Gadget exclusive Huawei Mate X demo, recorded by Arthur Goldstuck.

Click here to see where Samsung leads, and pricing of the foldable handsets.

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