Huawei Australia isn't going to hold back on selling its second-generation foldable phone, the Huawei Mate Xs in Australia, but you'd better be prepared to part with a lot of cash to get your hands on one. Which is why we've already done that, at least for a few minutes.
At a media briefing in Sydney tonight (disclaimer: Huawei also paid for dinner and the steak was delicious), Huawei took the opportunity to show off assembled media its latest, fresh-off-the-plane-from-its-Barcelona-launch foldable phone, the Huawei Mate Xs.
Huawei Australia Consumer Business MD Larking Huang also let slip when Huawei expects to start selling its second-generation foldable phone in Australia, as well as what we'll most likely end up paying.
While this wasn't a formal announcement to the world – so it could well change – to the media at the dinner he indicated that the plan is to start selling the Huawei Mate Xs in Australia from April, with pre-sales to open up in March.
That doesn't give you all that much time to save up for one… and save is exactly what you'll need to do, with Huawei expecting to charge $3,999 for the phone according to Larkin's comments. That shouldn't be too much of a shock given the expected price for the European market, where it's expected to launch for €2,499, which would equate out to around $4,100 after conversion. That European pricing may take into account EU taxes that could be lower here relative to GST, and of course that price could change. But probably not by much.
Can any phone be worth that much?
It's the killer question, isn't it? At the event, I had the opportunity for a little hands-on time with the 2nd generation foldable phone. Huawei even had a first-generation Mate X – only ever officially sold in China – on hand so it could show off the differences between the two devices.
The experience of using the Huawei Mate Xs splits – you might even say folds – in two distinct directions. There's the hardware, which is actually pretty darned impressive in the current foldable market. Then there's the software, which has some interesting challenges ahead of it.
Hardware: Huawei pulls out some fancy tricks
On the hardware front, I've long been a fan of the idea of foldables that become larger devices, and the Huawei Mate Xs does it for me in a way that the Samsung Galaxy Fold simply doesn't. Sorry, Samsung, but that tiny external screen on your foldable drove me nuts the entire time I was testing it out. Then again, the Galaxy Fold is 25% cheaper than the Mate Xs' predicted price, so there is that to take into consideration.
The new hinge on the Mate Xs offers a much smoother folding experience when you're pushing it into its full tablet sized display mode than on the original model. It's still too much to really try single handed – and I felt super nervous that I'd drop this insanely expensive phone as it was – but it's definitely a more robust hinge design to play with. Huawei says it's also improved the film that sits on top of the Huawei Mate Xs' plastic display, but I really didn't have enough time to properly play with that.
OK, I was sort-of-tempted to see what would happen with it if it came too close to a steak knife, but not $3,999 tempted, if you follow me.
Also, before you ask, yes, you can feel the hinge when you slide your finger across it. It's also quite heavy for a modern phone, but then physically it is rather more like two phones folding together, so some heft is to be expected.
I'm also a notable fan of Huawei's cameras ever since it got into bed with Leica, and the Huawei Mate Xs certainly appears to deliver the goods there, with a camera approach that's a mix of the best parts of both the Huawei Mate 30 Pro and Huawei P30 Pro.
I do reserve the right to think of it as a lesser device if Huawei's P40 phone – which Huawei also intends to bring to Australia – bests them when it launches in Paris in late March. Being able to use the "external" display as a selfie mirror is a neat party trick, and there's not much doubt that buying a high-end foldable phone in 2020 is all about that status symbol lifestyle.
Software: Could be a problem for many users
Huawei currently can't get a licence for Google services on any of its new phones, and that includes the Huawei Mate Xs. That means it's running on the open source version of Android 10 with Huawei's own EMUI 10 on top. So it looks like Android – especially if you've used previous Huawei Android phones – but there's no YouTube, no Google Pay and most importantly no Google Play services.
Instead you get Huawei's App Gallery, which Huawei is super-keen to sell as an emerging and open alternative to Google Play. Emerging is fine in one sense. There's a good argument that competition in the app space can only be a healthy matter, after all.
However, it also means that Huawei's $3,999 phone lacks a whole host of apps you're almost certainly used to installing on your regular Android phone. Huawei representatives did point out that some of these missing apps, such as Uber will work via the web browser in Australia, but that feels a little lacking on such a premium priced phone. For as long as Huawei's blocked from dealing with US companies expect that to be the status quo.
There are a few interesting nods to the fact that the Huawei Mate Xs is both a phone and tablet, including a multi-app view that's rather similar to Samsung's approach on the Galaxy Fold. You can have a single instance of an app floating on each "side" of the screen plus one, for 3 apps running on the underlying Kirin 990 processor that runs the whole show. The fact that it's a full screen 6.6 inch phone when folded means that (as long as it's on the web or on app gallery) you can treat it like any other Android phone most of the time, and then use it like a tablet when the opportunity for some larger screen action presents itself.
However, in the Australian context, you're either in the iOS camp, where Android is a dirty word, or the Android camp where the concept of a phone that looks like it should be "full" Android will be undeniably jarring for a lot of consumers. Huawei may well get App Gallery to the point where it's indistinguishable from Google Play in terms of app access – but I wouldn't bet on doing it before the Mate Xs is replaced by its successor. This is a phone that's likely to live with a limited app set for its effective service life, and you'd have to be ready for that.
So you're buying one, right?
Sadly, tech journalists don't bring in the kinds of dollars that go with the lifestyle that can drop $3,999 on a phone, so it seems unlikely. I am intrigued by the Huawei Mate Xs, however, because I do like the concept of what devices like it are trying to do.
Realistically, Huawei's never going to be expecting to ship or sell millions of these in the local market, because there's only a small subset of folks with the kind of money and the kind of interest to lay down that much on a single phone. Gizmodo will be giving an Australian Mate Xs a more thorough run-through as soon as we're able to, so whether you're in that kind of tax bracket, or just enviously looking on, stay tuned.