We are at the beginning of the era of foldable smartphones, as you may see from the explosion of hype surrounding these sci-fi devices. By attending the Mobile World Congress this week, I'm looking at the enthusiasm of manufacturers, mobile operators and technology enthusiasts, and I see almost universal energy and demand for this category to become a part of the business. important of our common technological future.
Previously, the market was waiting for Apple to popularize new product categories, as was the case with the iPad for tablets, but the rest of the technology sector is moving forward. The patience is low, the enthusiasm is high and, judging by the Huawei Mate X presented yesterday, the design and development of the product are already in an advanced stage.
Before explaining why Mate X has me and the majority of other CMM participants excited, it is worth summarizing the brief history of foldable objects so far. First there was Royole, a start-up stripper focused on creating flexible screens, which was market some kind of product on the market to say that it's primarily a foldable gadget of this type. The result, the $ 1,300 FlexPai Royole that I played at CES in January, was a charming but predictable mess. This has shown how extremely difficult it is to develop an entirely new form factor from scratch.
Less than a week ago, Samsung completely overshadowed its launch of the Galaxy S10 with the launch of the Galaxy Fold, its collapsible device at $ 1,980. The Fold is an attractive hybrid of tablets and cell phones, with a sophisticated finishing measurement and a relatively close release date suggesting that it is close to the finished product. But I do not hold the Fold in high esteem. The device matches the thickness of two phones, has enough cameras and RAM for two phones, offers the same screen as two phones and, yes, it costs the same as two phones. Ars TechnicaRon Amadeo summed up the situation a humorous video he tweeted following the announcement of Samsung. Amadeo and I do not see the innovation of Fold, we expect something a little earlier than a device supposed to redefine mobile computing.
You have this new foldable SWEET smartphone.
Multitasking 2 and 3 way, 12 GB RAM, six cameras and only $ 1100! Nearly half the price of these other guys. pic.twitter.com/SqMpD0C1QH
– Ron Amadeo (@RonAmadeo) February 20, 2019
To date, I think the Huawei Mate X at 2,299 euros (2,600 euros) is closest to the goal of resetting our expectations and using mobile technology. It's the finest design, the thinnest and thinnest form factor, and the most judicious use of space that no manufacturer has yet shown. (In a funny way, a senior Oppo executive posted pictures of a foldable design by Oppo that is about the same as Huawei's, so this idea has been around Chinese product manufacturers).
The Mate X uses an 8-inch flexible OLED panel to give the user Three screens. Once folded up, you get a 6.6-inch, no-notch, no-bezel main screen, combined with a 6.4-inch recessed rear display. This allows you to take selfies with the main camera system. Once you open the device, you get an almost square 8-inch screen, almost without any bezel.
Where the Samsung Galaxy Fold offers you a compromised smartphone experience – a 4.6-inch screen with glasses from the early 2000s and a thick to match – the Huawei Mate X is pretty much on par with modern flagship products . Yes, it's thicker than your classic smartphone, but it's not twice as thick as the Galaxy Fold. The Mate X not only combines a phone with a tablet, it combines a very respectable dual-screen phone with a tablet. This is unprecedented.
There is no empty space in the Mate X when it is folded, as in the case of the Galaxy Fold, because the screen is outside and not inside the fold and there is therefore no threat of wrinkling. I must emphasize what is obvious here: wrap the screen around the outside of the device exposes it to a lot more risk than placing it inside as did it Samsung. I do not know what kind of coating or scratch resistant treatment Huawei could have applied to Mate X, nor what kind of repair and replacement strategies it could offer. The company did not even specify whether the Mate X would support screen protectors of any type, although it does provide a protective shell protecting the back and side of the screen when the Mate X is used as a smartphone. This remains a concern.
A related trend that makes a design like Huawei's more acceptable nowadays is the fact that all flagship phones now have a glass in the front and back. The Huawei Mate X has a plastic screen rather than glass (the glass does not bend), which may be even easier to scratch than modern phone screens. Yet, that might have been more of a market disruption a few years ago, when the majority of phones had aluminum shells. But we are all more and more accustomed to the added vulnerability of our phones and, as a result, our tolerance for more fragile devices is increasing.
For me, the most ingenious trick of this design lies in the way Huawei has refined the majority of peripherals and gave the user a thicker grip section to house the cameras. As consumers, we insist on high quality imaging, which requires depth for lenses and sensor modules, but we also want incredible finesse at the same time. The balance between the two Huawei with the Mate X is commendable and, with a thickness of 5.4 mm from the main billboard, the device still takes advantage of this sci-fi charm that has just been extremely thin.
My key question for judging a new mobile technology is whether the new device improves what I could do before with a smartphone. The fitness trackers on the wrist are an obvious "yes" to this: I do not want to run or swim with a $ 1,000 supercomputer in my pocket. Smart watches, on the other hand, trying to feed me notifications and replace my phone for message and alert management, are a "no". The Galaxy Fold is a "maybe" for me, and the Mate X is closer to an affirmative "Yes."
The 7- to 8-inch tablets are popular with users, but their mid-size – too bulky for a clothes pocket, but smaller than a 10-inch tablet worn in the same way – has made it easy. they a kind of niche. The design of Mate X breathes new life into these tweener tablets by reducing their size by half and making them handy (for men, at least). It does it better than the Galaxy Fold keeping the thickness under control, making better use of its unique screen and avoiding the horrific cuts in the cameras.
There is still a long way to go with folding objects. It would be nice to be allowed to hold some and see if they are as light as they are. The main reason for Samsung's and Huawei's reluctance to let us play with their new devices is not really hardware-related: I watched a representative of Huawei manipulate the Mate X with the same flippancy as the one I was using. use my phone. This device is physically ready. It's the software that keeps Samsung and Huawei product managers awake at night. Neither company is renowned for its great software innovation, and both hope that Google (which has already been promised) will help them find simultaneous multitasking on their new slate.
Before seeing this implementation, I said "nobody needs a foldable phone". After seeing this, I changed my mind.
– George Ou (@GeorgeOu) February 24, 2019
The Mate X has turned many critics of foldable objects into believers, and the difference lies in the refinement and quality of the design. Prices will have to come down the stratosphere before most of us start talking about buying one, but, talking with IDC Analyst Francisco Jeronimo at the MWC, I learned that mobile operators could not wait to receive collapsible items in their stores. Their main question about the Galaxy Fold is: "how much can we get and how long?" The hype is therefore real throughout the chain of producers-consumers. Samsung plans to release its Fold in April, and Huawei will follow with the Mate X in June, asking for a higher price, but also bringing the added hype sticker of the 5G.
At this early stage, where there are so many unknown and collapsible things still untouchable, all we can really say is the design that each company has shown us. After seeing the Huawei Mate X closely, I am confident in the logic and aesthetics of its design. It's the future that I want to see more of.
Photograph of Vlad Savov / The Verge