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What Apple and Samsung should nab from Huawei’s folding phone

From hoverboards to scientific research, and, of course, selling smartphones, no idea is original for long.

Apple is probably the worst culprit when it comes to ‘inventing’ something new we’ve all seen before. From its blurred background portrait mode and multiple lens camera, through to waterproofing and UI widgets — Android phones wore it first, even if iPhones wore it best.

It works both ways though. An iPhone X-style notch found its way onto countless mid-range Android phones in 2018. And Samsung’s AR Emoji was launched swiftly after the Apple Memoji was unveiled.

With all this borrowing and lending, it’s worth looking at the future of folding phones as something of a collaborative effort, and right now, Huawei and Samsung are leading the way.

The Huawei Mate X2 recently launched in China. It’s Huawei’s third foldable, and clearly borrows a lot from the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2. While Huawei’s previous Mate X phones had wraparound folding displays, Samsung has always opted for inward folding displays — a miss with the Z Fold, but a hit with the Z Fold 2. Now, Huawei has joined the club, clearly inspired by Samsung’s best foldable to date.

On first glance, the Mate X2 (£1,985) looks like a Z Fold 2, P40 Pro Plus lovechild. Huawei’s clearly conceding foldable displays are too fragile to adorn the outside of a smartphone.

Our old Mate X is a testament to the fact, with the screen denting and discolouring after a chance encounter with the corner of another phone. A week in using its successor as our primary, and the Mate X2 is clearly the best folding hardware we’ve seen in five key ways.

It stands up

What Apple and Samsung should nab from Huawei’s folding phone

What do you do with a tablet or big-screened foldable? You watch it. What makes watching anything on your phone a thousand times easier? A hands-free experience, and in turn, a kick stand.

The Huawei Mate X2 ships with a fantastic kickstand case, or as Huawei calls it, a Flip Stander. Available in four colours, black, blue, pink and white, the case styling matches the phone’s curved glass back panel beautifully and adds a vegan leather finish to the mix for a soft-touch sensation. An instant win in the looks department, when you’re spending almost two grand on a phone, you don’t want to hide it in an ugly, chunky case.

Securely propping the Mate X2 up at two angles, the spring-loaded arm puts the phone at a 70-degree pitch, or a 30-degree angle when rested on a surface. We understand Apple and Samsung have never shipped cases with their phones — why cannibalise on all those accessory sales? But given the price of foldables, that’s one cash cow that could be worth ditching in favour of user experience.

A usable front-display

What Apple and Samsung should nab from Huawei’s folding phone

The Galaxy Z Fold 2 is great on paper, with two quality AMOLED screens, one flexible, one fixed. The outer display, however, has a 25:9 aspect ratio screen. Despite being much better than the tiny screen on the front of the original Z Fold, the Z Fold 2’s beanpole display is tall, thin, and very difficult to type on. Swiping through photos on it feels like you’re looking at thumbnails, and even 16:9 movies are a challenge thanks to ridiculous amounts of letterboxing. By contrast, the Huawei Mate X2’s front screen is much better.

With a Sony Xperia 1 II aspect ratio of 21:9, the Mate X2’s main display is tall without being totally impractical. The 90Hz refresh rate glides, and matches the inner-screen smoothness, picture quality is tastefully, naturally calibrated, and that handy kickstand helps show off the outer screen when watching widescreen, cinema aspect ratio content.

A decent front-screen is imperative for battery optimisation on a foldable as well. After all, whether you’re Apple, Huawei or Samsung, if your foldable constantly forces users to switch to the 8-inch tablet-sized flexible display, your foldable’s battery won’t go the distance.

Flagship cameras

What Apple and Samsung should nab from Huawei’s folding phone

Samsung’s camera phones only caught up with Huawei’s P and Mate series’ in 2021, with the Galaxy S21 Ultra hitting a 10x zoom home run. Unfortunately, Samsung’s foldable is falling behind. The Galaxy Z Fold 2’s camera is a humble 12MP trinity with a 2x zoom.

Meanwhile, in the Huawei camp, the Mate X2 has the best camera we’ve ever used on a foldable, with its 50MP main sensor, ultra-wide camera with macro capability and two telephoto cameras, one 3x and one 10x zoom.

Huawei’s image processing is always sensational on its flagships, and that the camera array on the Mate X2 is identical to that of the P40 Pro — a masterclass in how to make a fantastic camera phone — is exactly what we’d expect in future from flagship foldables.

For the Galaxy Z Fold 3, or Apple’s iFlap, iFlex or iFold, a compromise-free, true flagship camera would be a must to keep it competitive with the best from Huawei.

Fast charging

What Apple and Samsung should nab from Huawei’s folding phone

Compared to Huawei and OPPO, Apple and Samsung are trailing behind when it comes to charging speeds. While Huawei’s Mate X2 Pro charges at up to 55W, powering up almost 70 per cent in just half an hour, the Z Fold 2 charges at 25W, just over half that speed.

Even Samsung’s flat phones aren’t breaking through these speed barriers, with the only Samsung device currently showcasing nippier 40W charging being the Tab S7+, and it doesn’t even ship with a 40W charger.

Meanwhile, Apple’s trailing behind everyone with the iPhone 12 Pro Max charging capping at 20W, and missing out on any charger in the box, let alone a fast one.

Just like front-display quality, charging speed matters more for foldables. They drain faster when watching or gaming on their big screens. In turn, there’s a greater chance foldable owners will need a fast top-up to get them through the day without running dry.

Size matters

What Apple and Samsung should nab from Huawei’s folding phone

The whole point of folding phones like the Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Huawei Mate X2 is to enjoy a tablet experience that fits in your pocket.

Tablets tend to be about 10 inches, with anything smaller generally constituting a big phone. The Huawei Mate 20X has a 7.2-inch screen, which isn’t much smaller than the Galaxy Z Fold 2’s 7.6-inch ‘tablet’ screen. As for the Z Fold 2’s outer display, it’s 6.23 inches.

Huawei has been much more generous when bestowing those inches on its foldable. Opened up, the Mate X2 is a full 8-inch tab, while the front display is 6.45 inches. Both screens on the Mate X2 are also sharper than those of the Galaxy Z Fold 2, clocking in at more than 400 pixels per inch, and the inner display ditches a tablet selfie camera in favour of an interruption-free, virtually square screen.

A decent size to type on, edit documents with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse hooked up, and – game on – the Mate X2 really is dream foldable hardware.

We can’t stress enough, it’s riding on the coattails of the Galaxy Z Fold 2, and Samsung deserves a huge amount of the credit for Huawei’s latest foldable triumph. Additionally, in the West, Samsung’s smartphone is a much easier sell than Huawei’s, given the fact it’s available locally, not just on import from China, and it also offers full access to the Google Play Store.

Mark Twain famously said it: “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.”

With the foldable market expected to generate $105.3bn by 2025, it probably won’t be long before Apple announces its own curious foldable combination, and Samsung is definitely due a Z Flip successor in 2021.

And with the Mate X2, among the best smartphone hardware we’ve used, as a template for success, for one of the first times to date, we actually have faith in the future of foldables.

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