It was unclear whether foldables would be a significant part of the conversation at IFA this year... until both Samsung and Huawei came in swinging with both of their bendy devices.
I had a chance to play with both throughout the week, and have some initial comparative thoughts.
New form factors are always exciting, but nothing else in recent years has captured people's imaginations quite like foldable screens. When it comes to the Galaxy Fold, drama has ensued. From its micro-debut at Samsung's Developer Conference in 2018, to faulty review units, there have been many question marks around how it would eventually perform. And while some may have even assumed that the first generation of the Fold would become Vapourware, it made a surprise appearance at IFA 2019. And we got to spend 45 glorious minutes with it.
I didn't have a great deal of time with either device - 45 minutes plus a quick show floor session with the Fold, and a mere 10 minutes with the Mate X. So these are just some extremely topline first comparisons.
|Samsung Galaxy Fold||Huawei Mate X|
|CPU||Exynos 9820||Kirin 990|
|Memory||12GB RAM, 512GB storage||8GB RAM, 512GB storage|
|Display||7.3-inch Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-flex 2152x1536 display and 4.6-inch Super AMOLED 1680x720 displays||8-inch 2480x2200 and 6.6-inch 2480x1148 displays|
|Rear Camera||12MP + 12MP + 16MP||40MP + 16MP + 8MP + ToF|
While both are folding phones, the difference between the two is immediately visible.
The Galaxy Fold is rectangular and folds inwards and also has a third screen on the back of the device. Comparatively, the Mate X is more of a square shape and folds outwards, meaning that the screen is always exposed.
While both devices have a visible crease that you can also feel while you use them in tablet mode, it is more pronounced on the Mate X.
They also both open slightly differently, with the Galaxy Fold simply needing to be folded outwards, while the Mate X has a clasp-like button that needs to be triggered for it to unlock.
While both devices can also run multiple apps simultaneously on the one screen, they appear as narrower on the Mate X due to the square screen. Being foldables, both phones are both noticeably thick when folded up.
You can see the red button clasp situation with the Mate X here
When it comes to phone calls, the Galaxy Fold will automatically default to loud speaker if you try to talk on the phone while it's unfolded.
If you want to have a more private conversation, you need to fold it up so you can put the speaker up to your ear. This is not an issue with the Mate X.
It's also worth noting that both devices are most likely going to be prone to scratching due to the plastic screens.
The Samsung team was particularly nervous when I kept shoving the device into my back pocket.
The cameras in both devices borrow from other 2019 flagshipsfrom their respective manufacturers. The Galaxy Fold has the same setup as the S10, whereas the Mate X is rolling with the P30 Pro setup. Well, mostly.
While I didn't get a chance to take many shots (or keep the camera samples) this time around, I have used both the S10 and P30 Pro extensively.
The latter has the best camera phone setup of 2019 so far, and is a clear winner for me. While the S10 camera is incredibly decent, it just isn't as good as Huawei.
However, one big downside to the Mate X is that it doesn't include the P30's god-tier selfie cam. In fact, it doesn't have a front-facing camera at all.
Instead, you have to fold the phone up and turn it around so the image of yourself appears on the smaller screen.
It's far less convenient than a regular selfie cam, which the Galaxy Fold does have, and is more convenient to use in that particular situation.
App continuity on the Fold. As you'll notice it doesn't go to full screen when folded, which is a little odd
Both devices did consistently good jobs of keeping apps running when folded and unfolded.
This went for both stilted apps as well as video, which continued to play automatically.
However, the Galaxy Fold has this continuity switched off by default for every individual app.
Every freshly downloaded app has to be toggled on in the settings, otherwise it will not continue displaying on the outside screen once you fold the device up. There's currently no option to have all apps toggled on by default.
It's odd and I expect that quite a few users may not realise how to toggle the apps on at first. Not the best or most intuitive user experience here.
The Mate X swaps from full screen and folded-screen video flawlessly
However, the Galaxy Fold does do a brilliant job of having several apps open simultaneously. I found two to be best in terms of usability - though you can open many at once, and even have floating icons just to muddy up the screen real estate a little more.
It was especially satisfying to have YouTube and a browser open at the same time. It made for a perfect dual screen setup, but on one small screen nestled into your hands:
While I'm sure the Mate X also does a good job at this, I didn't have enough time to test it. However, it did an incredibly job of flawlessly playing video between tablet and folded mode.
Both devices also get top marks for rotating content quickly when you spin them horizontally and vertically.
At the time of writing Australian pricing for both the Galaxy Fold and the Mate X weren't available. However, based on global pricing it's likely that the Fold will be around the $3,000 mark, with the Mate potentially being closer to $4,000. But again, that's unverified.
Both prices are eye-bulging, and for slightly different reasons. Firstly, Samsung is having to hope that customers will be able to trust the Fold despite its initial issues.
As for Huawei, it will potentially launch without Google applications (and perhaps even Android) thanks to the trade war ban handed down by the U.S. government.
First generation new form factor products are already a tough sell, but are Aussies really going to want to buy such a pricey phone that doesn't have any Google applications, not to mention social platforms owned by other U.S. companies, such as Instagram and Facebook?
Both manufacturers are likely to have issues, but Huawei may still struggle that little bit more unless Trump backs down.
I guess we'll see what happens over the next couple of months. Hopefully by then I'll have had far more time to spend with both devices, which are genuinely great.