Huawei Mate Xs 2 reviewon September 16, 2022 at 11:39 Tech Advisor

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At a glance

Expert’s Rating

Pros

Stunning, sleek hardwarePowerful camera setupHuawei AppGallery is better than ever

Cons

No 5GNo Google apps or servicesNo wireless chargingFragile foldable display is always exposed

Our Verdict

The Mate Xs 2 is a fantastic piece of foldable hardware, only really held back by concerns about durability, with its soft, foldable display always exposed. There’s no 5G support though, and while Huawei’s software situation is ever-improving, we still really miss the Google Play Store.

Price When Reviewed

£1,799

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When Huawei launched its book-style Mate X2 foldable, we all thought the writing was on the wall for its original outward-folding format. Apparently not though, as the Mate Xs 2 followed a few months later using Huawei’s unique form factor, and it’s even been given a European launch. 

But should anyone actually buy one? The cool factor of the hardware is off the charts, but even by foldable standards there are serious questions about practicality, not least thanks to the software struggles that now come with any hardware phone.  

I put my SIM in the Mate Xs 2 and tried to use it as my main phone for a couple of weeks to find out. 

Design and build 

Sleek, brilliant-looking design Hinge feels solid and tough Surprisingly slim and light 

It’s impossible to talk about this phone without first talking about the shape. Unlike Samsung’s new Galaxy Z Fold 4, and indeed unlike other foldables from Xiaomi, Oppo, Vivo, Honor, and even Huawei itself, the Mate Xs 2 doesn’t fold inwards like a book. 

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

Instead, it features a single large screen with an external fold, which sees the display wrap around to the phone’s rear – meaning that when closed, both parts of the screen are out and exposed. 

Let’s start with the good aspects of this. First: it’s hella cool. Even compared to other foldables this feels like a bit of sci-fi kit. It’s also very natural to use the single display while it’s closed, then expand that same screen out when needed, rather than switching displays when you want the extra space. 

Huawei’s hinge tech feels sturdy and secure, and the shape of the fold means there’s almost no crease at all to the screen when it’s open. The screen locks into place when closed, with a button to release it, which quickly becomes second nature to use. 

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

Another benefit is that with only one screen to worry about, Huawei was able to keep the Mate Xs 2 impressively slender. When shut, this feels only a little larger than the biggest slab phone flagships – it’s 11.1mm thick, weighs 255g. 

Open it up though, and suddenly you have a svelte tablet, just 5.4mm thick across the bulk of the body. That’s except for the bar that holds the charging port and cameras, but that’s not a problem – it becomes a welcome and comfortable grip for the phone, making this just about the only big foldable you can realistically use one-handed – at least to a point. 

It helps that the back of the phone is coated in a grippy, textured finish that helps you hold on, available in either black or white. 

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

The bad is that the screen is always exposed to the elements. Huawei includes a free case with the phone, but this only protects the back half of the display while shut (and requires fiddling around to remove it to open the phone, making it more trouble than it’s worth). 

You might think that I’m over-egging this a little – after all, all phones have their screen exposed all the time. But regular phone displays are made of toughened glass, and you can add a screen protector on top for further protection. This folding display is formed from softer plastic, and in a couple weeks of use it’s already picked up scratches, dents, and smears that simply won’t go away. That makes me worry about how long this phone would really last in use. 

Unlike Samsung’s latest foldables there’s no water-resistance rating either, so you’ll have to be careful around rain and the bath (we’re all phone bathers, right?).

Display and audio 

Huge 7.8in display 120Hz OLED Folds to “normal” 6.5in panel 

The nature of the Mate Xs 2’s design means that it only packs a single screen: a large, square-ish 7.8in panel that folds in half to a 6.5in outer screen the rest of the time – one that’s proportioned much like most Android phones, rather than being uncomfortably narrow as in some rivals. 

This packs the usual tech – an OLED panel, 120Hz refresh rate, HDR support – and generally looks pretty great. It’s bright and punchy, and display quality never feels overly compromised by the foldable elements. 

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

Like most big foldables, when open the screen’s aspect ratio is close to a square. That makes this well-suited to multi-tasking and productivity, with apps open on either side of the screen, but not so great for watching anything.  

Try to run Netflix or Disney+ and you’ll quickly realise that the big display doesn’t give you much extra viewing area, with letterboxing essentially giving you the same size image as any other phone. 

As for audio, the phone has stereo speakers. They’re not bad, but not great, and quite tinny – phone speakers, basically. 

Wireless audio is handled by Bluetooth 5.2, but this I’ve found surprisingly troublesome. The signal is blocked so easily that even keeping the phone in my trouser pocket results in an unreliable connection, forcing me to walk about holding the phone in my hand or keeping it in a jacket pocket. That’s … not good. 

Specs and performance 

2020’s Snapdragon 888 chip Solid high-end performance No 5G support 

The Mate Xs 2 is powered by the Snapdragon 888, the flagship chipset launched in December 2020. It’s a great chip, but ageing a little now, and definitely behind more recent ones. 

Still, performance is impressive day-to-day, and most of the difference between this and the latest 8+ Gen 1 will only be apparent to power users and committed gamers, who might hesitate to use this as a big-screen gaming device.  

In Europe the phone is launching in just one variant, with 8GB RAM and 512GB storage, though in China it’s also on offer with half the storage or up to 12GB RAM. The storage can be expanded, but only with Huawei’s NM (nano memory) cards, not microSD.

The bigger omission is that Huawei uses a 4G version of the chip, not 5G. This is out of the company’s hands, a result of trade sanctions imposed by the US government, but obviously it’s getting harder and harder to justify buying a 4G phone – especially at this price. 

While there may be no 5G, you do still get Wi-Fi 6, which works well – and the Bluetooth I’ve already mentioned that isn’t quite so effective. NFC is also included, but with no support for Google Pay/Wallet you may find that you don’t have much use for it anyway. 

Battery and charging 

4600mAh battery lasts a day, but not much more 66W wired charging No wireless charging 

Huawei has kitted the Mate Xs 2 with a 4600mAh battery (expect the 12+512GB model in China, which packs a larger cell for some reason). 

That’s a fairly typical battery size for a flagship phone, which is perhaps a worry given the larger display. In my experience it’s been enough to carry the phone to the end of the day, even with a mix of folded and unfolded use, but it won’t make it too much longer than that, so you’ll want to charge daily.  

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

When you do need to, the 66W wired charging is pretty nippy, giving you most of your battery back in just half an hour. Interestingly, Huawei recommends you unfold the phone to charge – presumably for the sake of cooling – though it will happily top itself up even when closed. 

The downside is there’s no wireless charging support here. That’s no real surprise given how slim the phone is – I’m not sure how on earth they’d fit a charging coil in if they wanted to – but obviously will be a disappointment for some given the price and the fact that Samsung’s foldables do support wireless tech. 

Camera and video 

Capable triple rear camera Weaker than other flagships in low light Decent selfie shooter 

While Huawei’s Mate X2 features a camera setup to rival the best traditional slab phones, the Mate Xs 2 is a little more restrained. This is still an incredibly capable camera, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not quite Huawei’s best. 

On the rear you find a triple lens setup: a 50Mp main camera, a 13Mp ultrawide, and an 8Mp telephoto at 3.5x zoom, with an extra option to punch in to 5x hybrid zoom in the app.

In good lighting all three cameras impress. Colours are bright but natural, and tuned consistently across the cameras. Details are plentiful, dynamic range is typically solid, and the main camera has a large enough sensor to deliver some natural bokeh effects. 

At night the three pull apart a little more. The main lens isn’t bad in low light, preserving a decent amount of detail and really only struggling when it comes to correctly exposing bright lights. The ultrawide and telephoto drop off sharply at night though, and generally should be avoided – this is no big surprise, but is the area where we’re beginning to see competition emerge elsewhere. 

The single selfie camera is positioned in a punch-hole in one corner of the display – no janky under-display camera here. This 10.7Mp camera takes capable shots, and is great for letting you take video calls on the big screen – though bear in mind that while the corner position is fine when the screen is closed, it does make the angles a little odd when the display is wide open. 

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

Video recording is limited to 4K from both the front and rear sets of sensors, but that’s plenty for most – 8K video remains a niche prospect.  

Software and updates 

Runs on EMUI, originally based on Android 11 No official Google app or service support AppGallery is better than ever Lots of bloatware 

So now we get to software, the thorn in the paw of Huawei ever since its feud with the US government began. 

The Mate Xs 2 officially runs on EMUI 12, which is unofficially based on Android 11, though has been developed independently since then. It’s not running Huawei’s own HarmonyOS, at least not in the West, though in practice the software is much the same. 

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

Aesthetically, not much has changed from older Huawei phones, though this includes welcome tweaks to suit the tablet-sized screen such as a two-pane layout within Settings. 

As you’ve likely heard, Huawei phones no longer officially support Google apps or services. Most importantly that means no Google Play Store, so instead apps must be downloaded either from the Huawei AppGallery, or from Petal Search, Huawei’s tool to help you download and install .apk versions of apps from the web. 

This experience is steadily improving, and more apps than ever are now found in the official app store, and almost every other Android app can be downloaded using Petal. This doesn’t require any particular technical skill, but does take a few extra steps compared to Google Play. 

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

Petal even sort of handles app updates now. When you open an outdated app it will now prompt you to update it, but the problem is that this actually involves uninstalling the app and reinstalling the newer version. That means updates take a little longer than on other phones, and often require you to login again afterwards. Again, no extra skill needed, but a bit more hassle. 

It’s even possible to install Google apps like Gmail and Google Maps through workarounds like the portal app GSpace, but I found this unreliable, laggy, and frustrating. Browser shortcuts work better, but ultimately it’s still the case that any heavy users of the Google app ecosystem will be better off elsewhere. 

An extra odd hassle is that, perhaps to compensate for its awkard app store, Huawei has plastered the home screen of the Mate Xs 2 with a mix of pre-installed apps and icons that appear to be apps, but are in fact download shortcuts. It’s awkward and frusrating, and you’ll probably spend your first few minutes with the phone uninstalling apps and deleting icons. 

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

The other software frustration here isn’t unique to Huawei. Android apps are rarely well optimised for tablets and larger displays, with even popular options like Instagram rendering poorly. Some letterbox content, some sprawl strangely, some even cut content off when using the whole screen for some reason. Again, this would be just as true on any other Android foldable or tablet, but it’s an irritation nonetheless. 

Finally, Huawei hasn’t promised any specific duration of software support for the Mate Xs 2, so we’re not sure how long it will receive security patches and feature updates for. 

Price and availability 

The Mate Xs 2 is out now in the UK and Europe, along with a selection of other markets worldwide – but not the US. 

It’s not cheap, costing £1,799/€1,999 – a little more than the $1,799/£1,649/€1,799 Galaxy Z Fold 4, which is the only other large foldable available outside China for now. Of course, the Samsung phone includes both 5G and Google app support, giving it a clear edge even if the prices were equal. 

Still, the Mate Xs 2 is a unique prospect from a hardware perspective, and that will be the draw. It’s sleek and undeniably cool, with a level of physical polish that its Samsung rival lacks. 

You may struggle to make this your main phone, depending on the apps you use. But if you can afford to splurge, this could be an excellent portable tablet for working on the go, or a fun second phone. 

Verdict 

The Mate Xs 2 has undeniably impressive hardware, with a few obvious caveats. 

The design is sleek and slender, and the outward folding screen is arguably the most exciting foldable form factor around. It’s not the most practical though, and dents and damage to the display feel almost inevitable. 

Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry

Performance is solid even with an older Snapdragon chip, but you’ll have to live without 5G, and put up with surprisingly spotty Bluetooth performance. Capable cameras help make up for that, but you’d expect those given the exorbitant price. 

As always, it’s the software side where it all breaks down. Things are better than ever before, but at this price it’s almost impossible to justify the compromises involved unless you see this as a secondary device to complement your iOS or Android phone, rather than replace it. 

Specs

Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 4G8GB RAM512GB storage7.8in 120Hz OLED display (unfolded)Rear camera:50Mp, f/1.8 main camera13Mp, f/2.2 ultrawide8Mp, f/2.4 3.5x telephoto10.7Mp, f/2.2 selfie camera4600mAh battery66W wired chargingBluetooth 5.2Wi-Fi 6NFCEMUI 12255gUnfolded: 156.5 x 139.3 x 5.4mmFolded: 156.5 x 75.5 x 11.1mm
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