10 days with the Huawei Mate XS: over a week with the latest foldable phone

Day three: I dropped a £2,000 phone

For the first few days with the Huawei Mate XS, I’ve been coddling it. The foldable has lived in a microfiber sleeve. Nothing too firm or protective, but I haven’t been putting it on any surfaces without something soft cushioning it. Do this, and the phone will look great - my Mate XS on day three is totally scratch-free.

That said, by the afternoon, I wanted to test it out with no sleeve so I'd get an idea of how scratch-proof it really is. As much as it pained me, I started putting it directly on surfaces, and straight into jean and jacket pockets. By the evening, I was using the foldable like an actual phone, sliding it into my pocket, pulling it out, opening and closing at will - it was a dream, until…

Picture the scene - I’m in a kitchen (with tiled flooring). I pull the Mate XS from my pocket, open it up - and the doorbell rings. Lowering the phone to my waist, I walk over to answer it, but I don't realize there's a terrified cat about to fly between my legs - he hates strangers, and in turn, doorbells.

I stumbled, almost fell, steadied myself on a chair with the hand holding the foldable - it dropped from about half a meter. The flattened screen hit a wall, which seemed to have spread the impact as it bounced off and onto a tiled floor.

My heart fell through my chest. It was only day three, and I’d broken the most expensive, exclusive phone I’ve ever used! Wait; no, no, I haven't?

Turning the Mate XS over, the screen works fine. It folds, there aren’t any dents on the display, or on the metal frame. I’m not entirely sure how, but it looks as good as new…

Day four: party tricks

Dinner time, and four days in, I’m comfortable with what the Mate XS can and can’t do. It can take fantastic pictures; the 40MP main camera is lifted from the Huawei Mate 30 Pro and P30 Pro, so that’s little wonder.

Combined with its 16MP ultra-wide lens and 8MP telephoto one, it makes for a very good camera phone, as the example images below show.

It’s also a beautiful thing reading magazines on the unfolded Huawei Mate XS. The Kindle app, for example, works great, and my Prime membership includes titles like Time magazine - which has never looked better on a phone.

Video is also a real treat on the foldable. While Netflix isn’t officially supported, I found an APK floating around, which works well - albeit with no support for downloads. Amazon Prime Video is fully functional, though, as is BBC iPlayer.

Then there’s what happens when you pull it out in public - no one flinches. As a phone, it’s so incredibly phone-like, people don't think anything of it. Only when I opened it up when showing a friend a picture across the dinner table did people gasp, and curse.

Then there’s the picture-taking experience beyond the camera itself being decent: Huawei’s camera app has been augmented to take advantage of the folding screen, so when you take a picture of friends, they can see themselves and pose.

Even without Google, the Mate XS is a serious people-pleaser.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Day five: battery-tastic 

There are two batteries keeping the Mate XS alive, one in either of its folding halves. They combine to make a total of 4,500mAh, which for a phone or a small tablet, is a decent capacity.

Better yet, the two batteries make 55W charging speeds possible. This means you can power it up by 80% in around half an hour.

A phone that lasts all day, turns into a tablet, and charges very quickly - where’s the catch? Well, from a battery point of view, there isn’t really a catch as such. Sure, there’s no wireless charging here, but I’d take 55W wired speeds over the 25W speeds of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus and lose the wireless charging, personally.

Day six: masterful multitasking

Something I’ve seldom done is use split-screen multitasking in the real world.

The only phone I’ve ever fired up the native Android split-screen feature on when out and about, was the extra-long Sony Xperia 1. The two halves end up being weirdly usable, given the phone's height. That was until I started using the Huawei Mate XS.

Unfold the Mate XS, drag in from the left or right side, and a shortcut bar appears. You can populate this with apps, after which you can drag the ones you need into the frame - one to the left side of the screen, one to the right.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Each half of the phone is the size of a full smartphone in portrait orientation, and being able to drag a floating window across either is just the icing on the cake. WhatsApp in one half, Google Maps in another - topped off with a floating calculator - ideal for planning an upcoming road trip across Ireland with a WhatsApp group in my case.

The floating apps also work in phone mode, which can come in handy for example if you want to fire up Spotify as a quick pop-up window while your workout app is ticking along in the background.

Huawei gets hardware and software, and that’s never been more evident than on the Huawei Mate XS - not once did the phone bug out.

Day seven: worth suffering through any woes?

There’s no doubt about it, the Huawei Mate XS is held back by the lack of Google. That said, I’d still rather have one than a Samsung Galaxy Fold, which does have unadulterated access to Google Mobile Services.

Why? The Galaxy Fold isn’t a good smartphone - in my opinion, its front screen is too small. Meanwhile, the Mate XS is a larger tablet than the fold - 8 inches versus 7.3-inches, a larger phone - 6.6-inches versus 4.6 inches, and a thinner closed device - 11mm versus 15.5mm.

As for the clamshell foldables, the Galaxy Z Flip and Motorola RAZR, they’re compact, sure, but they don’t do much that traditional smartphones can't, so just don’t feel worth the hefty price premium.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

That's why Huawei really does need to be applauded for the Mate XS’s hardware. That said, it isn’t without its faults. The hinge elements look like a stylus on either side - people will try to pull them out.

The ever-exposed screen of the XS does scratch more easily than glass too, it's worth noting. Five days of using it without a case, and there’s a slightly frayed horizontal strip from hinge to hinge. This is along the back part of the screen in contact with a surface when the Mate XS is face up.

When the screen’s on, you can’t make it out, but if the light catches it in just the right (or wrong) way when the screen’s off, it looks like a series of micro scratches. Alarming? That depends - personally, I'm impressed it isn't worse.

I expected the phone to fare poorly when faced with real pockets, tables, and that painful drop I put it through. The Huawei Mate XS is definitely more fragile than traditional smartphones, but it’s also much more impressive.

Day ten: finally, I have Google

Ten days in with the Huawei Mate XS, (an eye on XDA Developers forum the whole while), and finally, a new Google Mobile Services hack surfaces for the Mate 30 Pro that I can try.

Google has been blocking every hack that’s cropped up in recent months, so the fact other users had success with this new hack gave me hope.

I tried it, and you know what? It actually worked. Well, it worked with a caveat. Every time I reboot the phone, I lose Google access and need to wipe the phone and start from scratch.

On any other phone, this would have been a deal-breaker. For me, specifically faced with the prospect of using the Mate XS, this is just a powerful incentive to never switch it off.

And so I go, folding away with full Google Mobile Services, sideloaded onto what I believe to be the most advanced smartphone money can buy - with a power bank to hand, just in case.

Final word

Huawei’s mobile business has been rocked, hard. It had to contend with an unprecedented software challenge in 2019, shortly after establishing itself as the global number two smartphone seller in 2018, knocking Apple down a spot on the podium. That’s a fall from grace.

But the Huawei Mate XS lives in a bit of a bubble - the bubble of unfolding phones that turn into small folding tablets. The mere fact that it’s the best phone in that bubble is a testament to why you should still be paying attention to Huawei, even with all the drama.

Basil Kronfli

Basil Kronfli is the Head of content at Make Honey and freelance technology journalist. He is an experienced writer and producer and is skilled in video production, and runs the technology YouTube channel TechEdit.