Huawei Mate XS Hands-on: Solid hardware, but lacks Google Play Store

Huawei Mate XS is the premium and expensive foldable

The GSMA cancelled Mobile World Congress, but despite this, Huawei still unveiled its latest slate of devices, with the highlight being the Mate XS foldable handset. The Mate XS is the successor to the Mate X foldable that never launched in Canada.

This year, however, Huawei will bring the Mate XS to Canada.

I spent roughly 20 minutes with the Mate XS, so these are just my initial impressions of the handset. And though I was at Mobile World Congress last year, Huawei didn’t allow media to touch the Mate X; therefore, I won’t be comparing the two foldables.

To fold or not to fold

Folding the Mate XS is a weird feeling.

I almost thought I was breaking the smartphone. You have to apply a bit of pressure to fold the handset, but that’s not a bad thing. Because of this extra sturdiness, the Mate XS doesn’t wobble when unfolded — it feels like one solid tablet. To unfold the phablet you press a red button below the camera that swings the phone open. And when you fold the phone, there’s a satisfying click as it locks into place.

Huawei says the Mate XS should survive everyday usage for up to two years, but there’s no way to verify that claim right now. I’m also not sure how drop-proof it is. It seems that the hinge might be easy to break if dropped. But, otherwise, I thought the Mate XS’ overall hardware was solid.

Feels heavy

The first thing I noticed about the Mate XS was its weight. The smartphone is heavy weighing in at 295g, but that makes sense, because unfolded the phone features an 8-inch display. Weight-wise it feels like you’re holding a regular smartphone with a protective case.

And the weight isn’t always a bad thing though. I typically think heavier phones feel sturdy, and that was my experience with the folded Mate XS.

Thick, heavy and most importantly, sturdy, are the words that come to mind when holding the Mate XS. And when folded it doesn’t feel like the phone is easily breakable like other foldable smartphones currently on the market.

When unfolded, however, the Mate XS feels unbalanced. Huawei’s Mate XS carries most of its weight on one side, so there’s a noticeable difference between the two sides of the device. MobileSyrup’s Patrick O’Rouke felt similarily about the recently released Galaxy Z Flip, which was also top-heavy.

The back of the phone features an aluminum panel, so it’s not as much of a fingerprint magnet as a lot of smartphones. Greasy fingers will smudge the back, but the Z Flip suffers a lot more on the fingerprint side.

Plastic layered screen

The phone’s display doesn’t necessarily feel like glass, but it doesn’t feel weak either. Huawei says the phone uses a double layer optical polyimide screen, which adds an extra layer of plastic on the handset’s display. It felt durable to me and better than the first iteration of the Galaxy Fold, but I haven’t touched the Galaxy Z Flip’s ultra-thin glass screen, so I can’t speak to how the foldables compare.

The crease on the Mate XS’ display also wasn’t that bad. It’s surprisingly not easy to see and you barely feel it when you run your finger over it. It’s still there, but it’s really not that bad and is likely similar to the Z Flip’s crease. That said, you’re not continually running your finger over it like Patrick’s experience with the Z Flip’s clamshell design.

This is helped by the ‘Falcon Wing’ hinge that folds outwards instead of inward like the Galaxy Fold. I watched a video on YouTube with the phone, and I didn’t notice the crease whatsoever.

The app ecosystem

Speaking of YouTube, the Fold doesn’t support Google apps, and users will have to download their apps from the limited AppGallery, Huawei’s Play Store replacement. However, the Mate XS I used included apps like Facebook, Instagram and others not available in the AppGallery.

When I asked about it, I learned that by using Huawei’s native transfer feature, ‘Phone Clone,’ you’ll clone everything from one device to the other, even your apps that shouldn’t be in the AppGallery. For example, Phone Clone will copy apps like Facebook to the Mate XS. Even though Phone Clone worked to bring apps that weren’t on the AppGallery, it’s unlikely these apps would ever get updates without the Play Store.

However, not all apps are optimized for the 8-inch 1:1 aspect ratio.

While watching YouTube in-browser, there were two large black bars on either side. Trying to expand the video made the experience worse. Huawei will have to work with other companies to try and optimize the viewing experience when unfolded.

The cameras I barely used

I didn’t use the cameras a lot during my short time with the Mate XS, but the experience isn’t as good as what the P30 Pro offers. At a glance, the pictures remind me of the Mate 20 Pro, but more testing is necessary.

What I like is that similar to the Mate X, the XS uses the primary cameras for selfies. I quickly thought my selfie game on the XS was superior to what’s available on the Mate 20 Pro, which makes sense as the Mate 20 Pro uses a single 24-megapixel shooter, whereas the Mate XS features a 40-megapixel primary camera.

I thought the Mate XS was pretty quick, and I didn’t notice the device stuttering or anything of the sort, but I didn’t really get the chance to put the phone through its paces. Huawei’s Mate XS uses a 990 Kirin processor, so when 5G is finally available in Canada, it will be able to take advantage of the next-generation wireless technology.

Initial thoughts

While Huawei’s Mate XS is coming to Canada, it’s unclear specifically when the phone will release.

The foldable smartphone costs an expensive €2,499 (roughly $3,592 CAD). Outright, I don’t think any phone is worth that price tag, even if it folds.

In my short time with the Mate XS, I thought it was impressive. It’ll be interesting how long the fold lasts, how good the camera is, how long that 4,500mAh battery can survive for, and what apps have been optimized for its expansive 8-inch screen.

Additionally, the Mate XS lacks Google’s Play Store, so when I get my hands on the phone, I’ll test out what life is like without the entirety of Google’s app ecosystem.