back to article It all hinges on this: Huawei goes after Samsung with its own foldable hybrid Mate X

Huawei's foldable phone made its debut at Mobile World Congress on Sunday, and it's the most impressive attempt yet at creating a new consumer device category: the phone that becomes a tablet. Following Samsung's Galaxy Fold, unveiled last week, it's one of several devices using folding OLED displays expected to be on show …

  1. alain williams Silver badge

    How long before it breaks ?

    Unless you have a big wrap around cover - one of these is going to spend a lot of time in the repair shop.

    If it survives being carried around, how many times can you open/close it before the screen at the hinge wears out ?

    This will sell well to the idiots with more money than sense and want to show their latest bling to impressionable friends.

    1. Drat

      Re: How long before it breaks ?

      Yes, havng a screen on both of the outside planes sounds a bit fragile, and putting a protective case on it would make it a pain to unfold.

      Still exciting to see the development though, wonder what the ideal form factor is going to be?

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: How long before it breaks ?

        Yes, havng a screen on both of the outside planes sounds a bit fragile, and putting a protective case on it would make it a pain to unfold.

        What I tend to think and, based on Planet's feedback from the Gemini, what many people who already own foldables think: secondary, minimal display on the outside makes sense, but fold out to use. The Huawei can't help but fall "butterside down". But I'll reserve judgement until we see more of these.

        While Samsung must be kicking itself seeing the competition launching at the same time, the launch of such similar form factors looks a lot like convergent evolution, which might suggest there is life in it.

      2. Mage Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: what the ideal form factor is going to be?

        For really BIG tablets, combine outside and inside folding :)

    2. LDS Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: How long before it breaks ?

      Why do you believe they kept it away from journalists' hands?

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: How long before it breaks ?

        A flexible, replaceable screen protector seems to be the only way to protect the screen - hard, inflexible scratch proof materials aren't an option unless in a very thin laminate.

        Gorilla Glass is a hard laminate atop tougher, more flexible materials, tuned to give a balance of scratch and shatter proofing. If we take Gorilla Glass to represent the current state of the art, we can assume there's no scratch proof material flexible enougth for this foldable tablet.

        The Samsung foldable is at least protected from scratches by the same means as a matt laptop screen - it lives inside the clamshell.

        Still, keeping this device inside a case isn't necessary a deal breaker - if one's use-case is using it on a train commute, taking it out at the beginning of the journey and putting it back in at the end of the journey before slipping in a pocket does give it an edge over a conventional 9' tablet (though still a faff compared to a conventional phone)

  2. Halfmad

    and here's me wondering why there are so few smaller phones..

    So few options on any mobile OS these days for phones at 4", not everyone wants or needs a brick especially one where there's moving parts on the primary surface!

    Then again if they could perfect this AND bring it to a 4" sized phone that doubles out - that'd be nice.

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: and here's me wondering why there are so few smaller phones..

      4" phone? Not likely

      I was shopping for a new phone a couple of weeks ago - my main priorities were (a) enough horsepower to run the latest Android and a few apps (my old phone was starting to wheeze a bit, and (b) pocket size (I don;t want to have to refresh my wardrobe and purchase trousers with vastly capacious pockers just so I can carry my phone around.

      Verdict from every phone shop I went to? Forget it. The market for phones like that is now considered to be "niche" - if you want a half-decent phone then you have to get something bigger. As it was, the best I could find was the Pixel 3 - a good enough phone but still a bit bigger than I'd like. I have at least one pair of jeans which if I put the phone in my front pocket and sit down, it can get a bit uncomfortable around the gentleman's vegetables

      1. Mobile Mole

        Re: and here's me wondering why there are so few smaller phones..

        It's all about the bill of materials I'm afraid. Prices are lower for 5" plus screen than for lower volume smaller screens, so counter intuitively small screen phones (if they still existed) would be more expensive than larger ones due to economies of scale. The Chinese domestic market has driven this to a large extent. Look at the price of the recently launched Palm as an example.

    2. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: and here's me wondering why there are so few smaller phones..

      "So few options on any mobile OS these days for phones at 4", not everyone wants or needs a brick"

      To be fair, quoting a phone's size in inches is rather misleading, since while screens have grown, the surrounding have shrunk. I engaged in the usual mockery on announcement of the Galaxy S10, until I looked up the actual dimensions and discovered the 6.1" phone is actually slightly smaller than my two year old 5" phone, while the S10e is basically the same size my S3 was back in 2012.

      There might be some market for smaller phones, but if you fondly remember your 4" phone of several years ago being the right size, you probably don't want a 4" phone now because it would actually be much smaller.

      1. Halfmad

        Re: and here's me wondering why there are so few smaller phones..

        I'm typing this on a 4" phone.. I've it for a few years and can't find anything suitable to change to when I inevitably start having problems with it.

      2. juice Bronze badge

        Re: and here's me wondering why there are so few smaller phones..

        > There might be some market for smaller phones, but if you fondly remember your 4" phone of several years ago being the right size, you probably don't want a 4" phone now because it would actually be much smaller.

        Not sure why anyone would be put off by a phone with the same size screen and a smaller physical footprint?

        Personally, I don't think I could go back to a 4" screen, simply because I'm using my phone for things which traditionally I'd have done on a PC or laptop - social media, email, banking, basic photo editing, web browsing, maps/directions, etc.

        Unfortunately, there's also a trade-off between readability and physical usability - I'm a big lad and I've got reasonably large hands, but when holding my phone in one hand, it's a struggle to thumb-tap things in the top-left of the screen. And given that I'm a shade over 6" taller than the average male in major smartphone markets such as China, I'm guessing there's quite a few people who are finding that their shiny large-screen status-symbol phone isn't actually that practical on a day-to-day basis.

        One thing I noted with interest is that Samsung's experimenting with "giant headers" in the S10's One UI, precisely to work around this issue.

    3. RockBurner

      Re: and here's me wondering why there are so few smaller phones..

      The Sony 'Compact' Xperias are nice and pocket sized, even with a protective casing. Perfectly usable screen size unless you've got hands like a gorilla. My Z5C is still perfectly capable.

      I just hope that Sony keep offering the Compact line in the future.

  3. Craig 2

    "foldables are a gimmick no more"

    I disagree, now they're just a gimmick the average person / rich lunatic can buy.

    Even the Huawei guy said 3-5 years...

    1. teknopaul Bronze badge

      I dont like working on a laptop without two screens.

      A laptop that has a fold up and a fold out second screen would be great. Bonus is while folded in and down it would be in tablet mode.

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        Buy a decent-sized screen in the first place.

        Honestly, never understood the multi-screen thing. If your screen is adequately sized (and 22" and above LCDs are dirt-cheap), you don't need a second screen at all. I'm not even talking 4K resolution either.

        "Extend display" is the option for people who can't work "Alt-Tab".

        1. MrBanana

          Two screens: your regular laptop, or desktop screen, in landscape mode, the second is a monitor to one side, physically orientated into portrait mode for editing documents. Way better than cocking about with a single display, no matter how large.

        2. Kernel

          "Honestly, never understood the multi-screen thing. If your screen is adequately sized (and 22" and above LCDs are dirt-cheap), you don't need a second screen at all. I'm not even talking 4K resolution either."

          One of the neat things about the internet is that there is always at least one person who is firmly convinced that if they don't have a need for some particular item or feature, then there is no possibility that anyone else could.

          Personally, I usually have three screens at work - one showing multiple sessions of the customer's system I'm working in at the time, one showing the various manuals and fault finding/fixing processes related to that system and the third one (usually the actual laptop screen) with email, Jabber and similar stuff on it.

          If you really don't understand the need for more than one screen I'd venture to suggest you don't really deal with any but the most superficial level of problems.

        3. Steven_RW

          Multi screen

          Hey - multiscreen is really useful. I have a 34" 3440 x 1440 ultra widescreen and a 27" 1080p widescreen that is in portrait running at the same time extended.

          The bigger one is ideal for gaming or movie watching and the other one runs monitoring software all the time plus web browsing on portrait works really well for news articles. It would have to be a heck of a single monitor to provide the same working real estate to me.

          Maybe we have completely different wants from a PC.

          1. Lee D Silver badge

            Re: Multi screen

            My eyes move. That's what they do. It's almost like they have muscles to do that with.

            They read one line of text at a time. Now, admittedly, they can be aided by certain-length text and certain arrangements of text, but a dual monitor *does not* stop them needing to move. It just makes them have to move further, in fact. Especially the portrait monitor thing - that baffles me. I'll give you a small exception if you're doing full-page previews in a desktop publishing job. Otherwise... you can't see all the screen at the same time anyway, and your eyes move.

            Thus, with a tiny, tiny, tiny piece of training, you are able to put any text you want to read smack bang in the center of your vision in fractions of a second. If you want to compare spreadsheet rows, you can side-bang the windows (in modern Windows) and line them up side by side in seconds. Or use different Excel views. And then your eyes compare left-to-right, left-to-right.

            You are enforcing context changes that involve head and neck movement and a longer range of eye movement, where the same job is perfectly viable without such things... moving the data under your eyes.

            Anecdotally, all the people I know who "have to have" dual monitors work just fine with one when they realise they aren't getting a second. All the people who *see* someone with dual monitors suddenly want one (status-symbol-itis), even though they have no idea whatsoever about how to arrange windows (i.e. they use dual-monitor, with only two apps, one per screen, but don't maximise either - or they lose an application because they don't know which monitor it's on, or they end up using the second monitor to "get windows out of the way" of the primary monitor, and so on). Without exception, those people don't know Alt-tab, side-banging of windows, split views in Excel, etc. etc. etc.

            And are you watching the movie, or are you browsing? Because you can't do both simultaneously (unless your eyes are capable of separating), so you're ignoring the image of one to look at the other. So... you may as well switch windows and then switch back.

            Screen real estate literally doesn't matter. Your eyes only see a tiny portion. As I look at this screen typing this, without moving my eyes, I cannot discern with any accuracy the shape of the text just two lines above... a few dozen pixels. It actually takes a lot to FORCE my eyes not to move to read it. Watching a movie, I'll give you, because you want "suspension of disbelief" where the movie fills your vision and more no matter what your eye chooses to look at. But PC and text work... that's an entirely different matter.

            It's not a case of different wants. I do basically every job that's possible on a computer - web design and browsing, system management and monitoring, long text documents, complex spreadsheets (finance systems), technical documents, novel-writing, gaming, movies, coding... I live on all my machines and all my machines have only one screen. Second screens - when I work on a machine with one - go unused. It's a case of a working practice that doesn't rely on having a second screen, a working practice which makes any job possible, and virtually every job happen faster/smoother than someone whose job it is to do that all day long (I guarantee you that I can out-spreadsheet the finance department, because they ask me all the time when they get stuck knowing that I can do that much more quickly).

            And I have the complete choice of whatever I like as I "have to" specify entire networks and supply some users with dual-screens, so I can easily have whatever hardware I want for my own PC, I could specify almost anything, authorise the purchase, order it myself, have it delivered, asset-tag it and keep it on my desk and nobody would ever be any the wiser and it would never get questioned. And it's just not worth having a second screen.

            You've taught yourself to be reliant on a second-screen that you can't utilise simultaneously with the first (unless, I would suspect, it was part of a monitoring wall, at a distance, to show up flashing red flags for systems that were in error - in which case we're not talking desktop-PC-with-dual-monitor but that you should just have a monitoring PC with its own screen independent on anything you might do with Word on the desktop) and then convinced yourself that flicking your head/eyes between two screen of different location / size / brightness / angle / focus-depth / orientation(!) is somehow better than doing the same, on a bigger monitor, over a single surface. Or even, barely moving your eyes at all and putting the data you need to see underneath them (via Alt-tab, side-banging windows, etc.)

  4. Mage Silver badge
    Coat

    Foldable phone?

    No, they are unfolding Tablets that fit in a pocket.

    1. Graham Dawson

      Re: Foldable phone?

      Potato tomato.

  5. elvisimprsntr

    - Do you get a free toaster with the loan you have to get to finance it?

    - What is the software update plan, delay, and how long before they stop issuing updates after sales fail?

    - Looks fragile.

    - The screen warp at the seam (watch some of the launch demo videos)

    - Too big to put in a pocket.

    - How does it hold up to scratches?

    - Is it IP67/68?

    - Can't put a case on it and still use it.

    - How much does it cost to replace a cracked screen?

    - Contains two batteries that could become an IED.

    - Contains 5G, which means you have potentially cellular level alternating, millimeter wave antenna. (https://www.saferemr.com/2017/08/5g-wireless-technology-millimeter-wave.html)

    I don't see the use case given all the drawbacks. Just because you can, does not mean you should.

    1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

      Sheesh...

      Some good and some pointless questions

      - Do you get a free toaster with the loan you have to get to finance it?

      Sounds a lot, but this is not meant for joe consumer. It is for the those with money to burn who must have the latest and greatest. It certainly stands out compared to the latest iphone. Remember to some this is the same cost as a bottle of dinner wine

      - What is the software update plan, delay, and how long before they stop issuing updates after sales fail?

      Same as any other android phone i'm guessing

      - Looks fragile.

      Probably no more than your average iphone. However there is probably no way to add screen protectors, which could be an issue

      - The screen warp at the seam (watch some of the launch demo videos)

      I'm sure that will get better as technology improves

      - Too big to put in a pocket.

      Depends how big your pockets are, and a damn sight more convenient than carrying a tablet around as well. As someone who used to carry a Psion 5 knows , its small enough

      - How does it hold up to scratches?

      Again lack of screen protector is an issue. Presumably it has to be flexible material, so there will be some damage

      - Is it IP67/68?

      Don't see why not

      - Can't put a case on it and still use it.

      Probably not

      - How much does it cost to replace a cracked screen?

      Probably a lot. However if you can spend 2 grand on a phone, that is not going to be a major concern.

      - Contains two batteries that could become an IED.

      Now we are just getting silly. It is still far smaller than a tablet or a laptop

      - Contains 5G, which means you have potentially cellular level alternating, millimeter wave antenna. (https://www.saferemr.com/2017/08/5g-wireless-technology-millimeter-wave.html)

      Now we are just getting into paranoia. This phone is no different to any other 5g device that will be coming out in the next few year, and almost certainly will have to operate as a 4G device until the infrastructure is out there. While i know there are some concerns on 5g wavelengths there has been no peer reviewed evidence on any issues, just speculation and alarmist headlines.

      I don't see the use case given all the drawbacks. Just because you can, does not mean you should.

      On that basis we should still be hiding in caves, scavenging fruit and any meat we can scavenge. Progress means pushing in all directions. If we knew where to go we would already be there. Although I doubt I will ever have one I salute the technology pioneers who wish to go first

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Quite a few of your points relate to the longevity of the device, such as availability of s/w updates, durability, etc. I reckon those are largely moot points - the sort of people who will pony up for this are the sort who will discard it in a year or so in order to get the new latest model

    3. Phil Kingston Silver badge

      >- How much does it cost to replace a cracked screen?

      If it's bendable plastic, maybe it won't crack?

  6. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Thanks, but no thanks. I'll still stick to the traditional one-screener, and leave the fun and games for those who can afford it.

    There's a reason the word "Beta" exists.

    1. teknopaul Bronze badge

      I wonder how many companies send employees into the field with a phone and a tablet.

      Postie often has two devices.

      2000 might make sense if you are currently buying two flagship devices. Especially if you are writing software with support for two form factors or code to sync the devices.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you think that this device is expensive

    Just wait for 2021 when Apple joins the party with a foldable 5G iPhone.

    £3000 and up? Place your bets now...

    I like the design of this more than the samsung but TBH there does seem to be a lot of a solution waiting for a question here. But hey, life moves on.

    1. MiguelC Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: If you think that this device is expensive

      And Apple will then claim to have invented it.

      1. Gio Ciampa

        Re: If you think that this device is expensive

        Depends... who has got all the patents that extend "on a mobile device" to "on a foldable mobile device"?

        Better nip over to East Texas, just in case...

        1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

          Re: If you think that this device is expensive

          Apple is shutting up shop in East Texas in order to avoid such in the future.

      2. LDS Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: If you think that this device is expensive

        Especially if the hinge is round.

        1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Apple...

          Liked round corners so much, they added an extra 4 to the iPhone X.

        2. Adam 1 Silver badge

          Re: If you think that this device is expensive

          Just don't fold it wrong.

      3. curious orange

        Re: If you think that this device is expensive

        Apple apparently patented foldable phones way back in 2012 (if memory serves me correctly).

    2. teknopaul Bronze badge

      Re: If you think that this device is expensive

      Re "solution waiting for a question" How many people have a phone and a tablet? Potentially thats your market?

  8. Def Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    I like the look of that.

    Specifically, I like the fact it's quite obviously weighted more on one side. The spread of weight across current tablets and phones makes them a pain (literally) to use unsupported for an extended period of time. Having more weight on one end (or side) should make them easier to hold in my humble opinion.

  9. 0laf Silver badge

    At least they are honest enough to say that this really isn't for everyone right now - "In two or three years the price will come down dramatically. In five years it should be mainstream."

    1. juice Bronze badge

      > At least they are honest enough to say that this really isn't for everyone right now

      To be honest, I don't think either of these foldable handsets is for *anyone* - it's more about getting first-to-market (and possibly picking up a few patents along the way) so that these companies can score points against each other.

      The Great Space Race between the USA and USSR is probably the most classic example, but there's plenty more in pretty much any industry you want to think of, especially when national or personal pride is at stake.

      Still, there's usually at least some trickle-down benefits in the long run!

  10. Chris Miller

    I suppose it's intended as a replacement for both a tablet and a phone. But £2k will pay for a pretty high-end phone plus a tablet and leave change, and the argument that you've only got one device to keep updated doesn't really hold now that everything is in the cloud.

  11. Korev Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Finally innovation

    This looks like a big advance in mobile phones that will benefit people instead of the more RAM/Cores/megapixels that we've seen in decent years. I'm not saying I'd pay 2k+ for one; but I'd be more likely to spend a good chunk of cash on one than any of the current "flagships". Obviously, the tech has to work too :)

  12. GX5000
    Facepalm

    Seriously

    "Then again, only occasionally will two screens be on at once."

    Hum, no I think the whole point of buying one will be that both screens are on while

    they watch their movies, TV shows and Pr0n.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Seriously

      Too bad all the content is 16:9 and these screens are basically square...

  13. Daniel Hall
    FAIL

    What is it with...

    ...all these tech websites saying "dont buy this one" "best avoid version 1.0" "Wait till next years release"

    You know, if no one buys Gen 1, then there will likely not be a Gen 2!

    Put your money where your mouth is, I will be, and support Gen 1!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What is it with...

      Put your money where your mouth is, I will be, and support Gen 1!

      That's traditionally left to clueless people who just buy it so they can show they're up to date with tech (people who spend way too much time golfing, for instance). Unless it's on expenses or bought by the business, tech people indeed tend to wait for the v2 - basically, the clueless are used as beta testers. It's a bit like earlier new version of Windows where you'd wait for the first service pack before you'd even think to put it in production.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: What is it with...

      It is that first gen things break a bunch. Sometimes, that's a negative. I want plenty of things, but that doesn't mean I'll certainly buy anything that comes along in that space.

      One hardware device that I'd like is a touchscreen that uses haptic technology to simulate physical keys, which would help me type faster. You could also get other benefits from that. If you build such a screen, but it costs ten grand and lasts a week before I need to replace it, I won't buy. I don't buy things because I must support the developers of that thing. I buy things because a) I want them at the stated price and feature set or b) I trust that they can improve the feature set so my purchase now will gain the features I need.

      It is not my responsibility to support someone else's product just because I might want one somewhat like it later.

      1. Black Betty

        Re: Haptic keyboard

        I'd settle for cursor keys and proper editing controls.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just give me a front and a back display..

    Front: standard screen, back e-ink so it can stay on without taking too much energy. Even just a smaller display on the back would be fine (so it could still fit in a protective case). That would actually have some practical use. The folding stuff, not so much IMHO.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Re: Just give me a front and a back display..

      Always on (misnamed?) OLEDs kinda already do this to some degree. I think that's where they are going here.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Just give me a front and a back display..

        OLEDs use little energy for a little bit of lit screen, would probably use more energy than eInk in direct sunlight. EInk might use energy in the dark if it needs to be backlit.

        Probably best using the space an eInk display takes up by just fitting a bigger battery instead, unless the user really likes reading books on the move yet doesn't consider the bigger screen of a specialist ereader worth the bulk.

    2. Phil Kingston Silver badge

      Re: Just give me a front and a back display..

      Was tried with the Yotaphone. I'd have had one if the other specs had been OK.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Er, and the OS and UI ?

    Sorry, but I think the hardware is outpacing the software here. I really can't see Android in any incarnation being able to deal with this new shift.

    Also, the UI will need some serious work which I suspect hasn't been done ... except for ad-slinging and user tracking, that is.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Er, and the OS and UI ?

      https://android-developers.googleblog.com/2018/11/get-your-app-ready-for-foldable-phones.html?m=1

  16. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Ford Galaxy

    Galaxy Fold - can't help reading those two words as "Ford Galaxy"

  17. Rainer

    Interesting concept, indeed

    But as others have noted, there will very likely be almost no decent software taking advantage of this form-factor.

    Especially now, that the usual Android fragmentation on the OS side has fully spilled over to the hardware side.

    Who in his right mind is going to adapt his code for two niche-models?

    Especially as there will likely be more vendors going down a similar-but-not-quite-the-same route and doing things ever-so-slightly different.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Interesting concept, indeed

      Don't Android apps work on phone screens and on tablets? I would have though they would query the screen size and configure the layout to fit.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Don't Android apps work on phone screens and on tablets?

        They might do. But this thing is neither. And if you're going to slap a phone/tablet OS and apps on it, what was the point ?

  18. livin' thing
    Thumb Up

    Apple's already done this...

    With their iPhone 6 Plus. Unfortunately whilst they got the folding bit sorted, the unfolding part proved problematic.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Apple's already done this...

      Seems Tim Cook reads the Reg! Nice you've got past the Jagwire incident.

  19. DerekCurrie Bronze badge
    Thumb Down

    Bendable = Imminently and eminently breakable

    Specifically because these 'bendable' displays are multi-layered materials, they're going to be damaged and break over a fairly short period of time. I'm going to sit and watch this happen without surprise. The multiple layers have to endure sliding back and forth against one another as well as being crushed or stretched, depending upon where they are within the layer structure.

    This is seriously bleeding technology with a high buy-in cost.

    There will be superior tech. I'm betting on foldable devices that don't bend the screen, but instead flawlessly match up two screens to create one double-sized screen for large sized work. That's an innovation in itself.

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