Huawei has been launching Google-free phones for over a year now, but none have been as eye-catching as the Huawei Mate X2, its third foldable, and one of the most expensive smartphones we’ve tested to date. Until it’s announced for global markets, you’ll have to buy it from China, and costing 17,999 CNY (roughly $2,785 or £1,985), plus import fees, it’s hardly an accessible phone.
Then there’s the fact it runs a Chinese version of Huawei’s interface, EMUI 11. Just like other Huawei phones sold in Europe, there’s no Google support, so no access to the Play Store, or Drive, Gmail, and YouTube apps. Add to that drawback a smattering of Chinese text throughout the UI, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the Mate X2 was dishing out one compromise too many to be usable, let alone recommended at the price.
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With its fantastically versatile camera system packing up to a 10x equivalent zoom, sensational hardware, and the novelty of it being a folding phone that works well, the Mate X2 is an easy phone to fall in love with, even with its obvious drawbacks – and this is still the best fold phone ever.
Design and screen
The Mate X2’s design ditches the wraparound screen of the Mate X and Mate Xs, instead, emulating the form-factor of the Galaxy Z Fold 2 almost to the letter. While Huawei took inspiration from Samsung, it also clearly built on the Z Fold 2’s successes, adding size to both the front and internal displays.
When opened up, the Interior screen measures a healthy 8 inches, benefits from a 90Hz refresh rate OLED panel, and features a resolution of 2480 x 2200 — 413 pixels per inch (PPI). Fold the Mate X2, and the exterior screen is a 21:9 aspect ratio, 6.45-inch OLED panel, also sporting a 90 Hz refresh rate. With a resolution of 2700 x 1160, however, it’s a touch sharper than the main screen (456PPI).
The screens of foldables really do form the central element of their design and Huawei calibrates both the Mate X2’s displays with naturally color balanced high-quality panels — a pleasure to watch, read, and swipe on.
How better to showcase great screens than with a phone that stands up by itself for a hands-free experience? It makes sense, therefore, that Huawei includes a very smart-looking kickstand case in the box with the Mate X2. Color-matched to the color of the phone (Crystal Blue or Pink, or a more traditional Black or White), its textured vegan leather plays off against the high-gloss glass and metal of the device beautifully.
Measuring 145.8mm when unfolded, and 74.6mm folded, the phone screen as good as doubles in usable size, and at an incredibly thin 4.4mm at its thinnest point (unfolded), through to 14.7mm at its thickest point (folded), it’s a strange, nuanced device that feels like both a slender mini-tablet, and a chunky phone. At 295g, it’s also significantly heavier than traditional smartphones.
All things accounted for though, the build quality of the Mate X2 is superb. The fold feels solid, the hinge didn’t leave us with any cause for concern, and the front glass didn’t pick up any untoward scratches or scuffs in our week with it. It’s crease is also less noticeable than that of the Galaxy Z Fold 2. What’s more, with an enticing camera bump looking strikingly similar to that of the Huawei P40 Pro Plus, our expectations of the Mate X2’s imaging capabilities are sky-high.
The Huawei Mate X2’s main camera module features a 50MP Ultra Vision Camera, as found on the excellent Mate 40 Pro. With a wide-angle of about 23mm, the lens is matched with an f/1.9 aperture and OIS.
Huawei’s doesn’t tend to offer especially wide ultra-wides, and the Mate X2 is no exception. Its 16MP Cine Camera sensor is matched with a 17mm lens — just 6mm wider than the main camera. While it misses out on OIS, it does feature an f/2.2 aperture and autofocus, not to mention impressive macro capabilities.
As with the Huawei P40 Pro Plus, the Mate X2 also doubles up on the telephoto cameras. The near-field telephoto module combines a 12MP sensor with a 70mm equivalent focal length (roughly 3x zoom), an f/2.4 aperture, and OIS. Alongside it, the second tele lens extends to 240mm, which, matched with an 8 MP resolution, an f/4.4 aperture, and OIS, takes the Mate X2 from — good for a foldable — to one of the best camera phone of 2021.
Of course, you can use the main camera as a selfie camera, but if you don’t fancy opening up the Mate X2 to snap yourself, the front display has a pill-shaped punch-hole selfie camera with a resolution of 16MP and an f/2.2 wide-angle lens, as well as a depth sensor for secure face unlocking.
Video is captured at up to 4K resolution, 60fps, and Huawei’s latest flagship shoots video in DCI-P3 now, grabbing about 25% more color range than SRGB.
Pro mode supports manual ISO of up to 409600, which can legitimately see in the dark, especially when matched with a manual shutter of up to 30 seconds. Additional shooting modes include Slow-mo, Panorama, Monochrome, Light Painting, Time-lapse, Stickers, Documents, Dual-view, and Story Creator.
Real-world, incidental photos captured with the Mate X2’s camera are such a treat. Coming from most smartphones, which likely leave you a touch underwhelmed when you see the end result, the Mate X2’s pictures are nine times out of 10, a breath of fresh air.
Focusing is very accurate and reliable, as is metering. Shots are consistently bright, attractive, and immediately pleasing to the eye, and shadows are boosted appropriately, resulting in a tasteful, but compelling finish.
The phone’s 1/1.28-inch sensor has proven itself over the last year, and still holds up fantastically when matched with Huawei’s image processing, and software improvements made since we first saw it on the P40 Pro. Fine detail is beautifully resolved, noise is very well suppressed in shadow areas, and without any signs of overly aggressive image smoothing, it’s one of the best cameras we’ve used to date on a smartphone.
What’s most impressive is how Huawei matches its incredibly clever imaging software with the large sensor to deliver beautiful bokeh, and stellar nighttime performance. Subjects under half a meter away are separated from the background which is tastefully softened, and whether you’re shooting in automatic or night mode, the Mate X2 reliably, and tastefully brightens things up.
Colors look vibrant without being over-saturated, the phone’s focus is reliable, whether shooting close-up objects, or distanced objects, and the comprehensive manual mode ekes out that bit extra from the already impressive hardware.
Video captured on the Mate X2 looks steady, crisp and clean. It doesn’t fare as well in dimly lit scenes as photography, but still betters most of the competition. Meanwhile, Huawei’s selfie-game is on-point, with a warmth added to skin tones that finds a satisfying balance between flattering and realistic.
Huawei Mate X2: Additional specs
The Mate X2’s additional specs are a very familiar story. Just like the Mate 40 Pro, it’s powered by a Kirin 9000 paired with 8GB RAM RAM. In turn, there’s ample power for a smooth, stable experience, and coupled with two 90Hz screens, everything feels fast.
Running Android 10, with Emotion UI 11 (Huawei’s customized UI experience), the Mate X2 is a mixed bag. Of course, the lack of Google services is a pain. Anyone bought into the search giant’s ecosystem will feel handicapped, especially at first. That said, we managed to find workarounds for most things thanks to Huawei’s AppGallery, as well as PetalSearch, a tool which scours third-party app stores and manages updates so you don’t have to.
HBO Max, Gmail, Google Docs, and Meet were the apps that absolutely would not play ball though, so check on forums to find out which apps do work with Huawei phones if you’re thinking about importing the Mate X2, or picking one up when it’s available in your region.
With 256GB or 512GB storage, there’s plenty of space for files, movies, 4K videos, as well as apps and games. Huawei also customizes the interface beautifully to work in split-screen mode when open. This is where the foldable category flexes when working across multiple apps and benefiting from that extra screen size.
Despite a big screen, however, we mostly interacted with the smaller outer display — it did exactly what we needed it to do most of the time. With less surface area to light up, provided we only dipped into the main screen for a few minutes at a time, the Mate X2’s battery didn’t drain faster than a traditional smartphone. In turn, the 4500mAh battery, which charges at 55W with the supplied fast charger lasted a whole day comfortably.
Huawei Mate X2: Verdict
The Huawei Mate X2 is a fantastic camera phone, an exemplary foldable from a hardware point of view, and a lot of fun to use. Yes, it’s eye-wateringly expensive. And yes, it’s massively impeded by the lack of Google services. That said, if you can make peace with a few uphill app experiences, and money is no object to you, no foldable nails it quite like Huawei’s Mate X2— from its smooth, sharp, high-quality screens, fantastically convenient kickstand, class-leading cameras, and knockout novelty-factor.