Huawei has entered the 'folding phone fray' in an attempt to show that Samsung hasn't cornered the market on innovation, at least when it comes to the gadget de jour.
At first glance the 5G Mate X smartphone is a super-sized Android smartphone with a 6.6-inch display, which is just slightly bigger than Apple’s iPhone XS Max but noticeably larger than the 4.6 inches of Samsung's Galaxy Fold.
But when opened out, the Mate X becomes an 8-inch tablet – a trait which the Chinese communications conglomerate hopes will render obsolete the need to carry two separate devices.
“We’ve been working on this folding screen hinge for three years,” Huawei Consumer Group Chief Executive Officer Richard Yu said when launching the device at Barcelona's annual Mobile World Congress. “It’s very expensive, but there’s lots of new technology here.”
'Very expensive' is an honest observation: the Mate X, which also works with next-generation 5G networks, will cost €2,299 (A$3,660) when released mid-year.
The market for smartphones is slowing, and manufacturers are scrambling to find new ways to convince consumers they should upgrade their devices. Next-generation high-speed networks are still a far away from mainstream availability, so device makers are looking at new device form factors to conjure up excitement.
While Huawei has been battling global scrutiny over its telecom equipment, the company's rapid growth as a smartphone manufacturer is often overlooked. Last year it surpassed Apple to become the world’s second-largest maker of smartphones, according to data from market research firm IDC.
Thomas Husson, an analyst at Forrester, said the Mate X “shows Huawei is a leader in tech innovation.” But it will be “a few years” before a significant mass of customers get their hands on 5G functionalities and foldable screens, he said.