Exclusive: The foldable Huawei Mate X will have the new Kirin 990 chipset

Huawei Mate X
(Image credit: Future)

The Huawei Mate X will indeed pack the Kirin 990 chip, TechRadar learned at a Huawei briefing in New York City.

Yanmin Wang, president of CEE, Nordic and Canadian Regions of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group, confirmed to TechRadar that the company’s Kirin 990 chip would be coming in the next foldable, the Huawei Mate X. 

“Yes," said Wang, "it’s coming very soon.” TechRadar previously learned that the Mate X won't launch in September, with its release date pushed back to November. Even with this news, some of Huawei's official language still mentions September.

Back at MWC, when the phone was first announced, Huawei said it was coming with the Kirin 980 chipset that first debuted in the Huawei Mate 20 in October 2018.

In other words, it makes sense that the company’s cutting-edge foldable would pack the most powerful processor it can. Given Huawei’s precedent of release cadence, we expect the Huawei Mate 30 to launch with the Kirin 990 as well, and the same is likely to be the case with the yet-to-be-confirmed Huawei P40.

Huawei originally told TechRadar that the Mate X might come out as early as June 2019, then the release date was pushed back to September, and now we've been told to expect it in November.

Reasons for this vary: we learned that the hinge was slightly refined in versions following the model shown off at MWC 2019 in March, but given how little 5G networks have been built out, Huawei has not felt rushed to put out the phone.

That’s because, unsurprisingly, the Kirin 990 is 5G-compatible, with a 5G modem integrated on the chip, Wang told TechRadar. That’s unlike the Snapdragon 855 and Snapdragon 850 modem combo.

Kirin 990 and 5G

A HuaweiCentral report asserted that Huawei will introduce two Kirin 990 processors at IFA 2019: a main processor and its 5G-compatible variant. But TechRadar has only heard about a single 5G-compatible chipset.

The Kirin 990 will be 7nm with a lower power consumption than the Kirin 980 and support for all of the “mainstream” 5G formats, Wang said. But he wouldn’t clarify whether that included both high-frequency 30GHz to 300GHz millimeter wave (making up most of the 5G carrier networks in the US) and lower-frequency formats like sub-6, which typically don’t deliver as fast of speeds but have more coverage area. 

China has spent $180 billion in the last five years installing around 350,000 5G-operable base stations, according to an April 2019 IEEE Report, heavily favoring lower-frequency 3- and 4-GHz bands - in other words, sub-6. It’s unclear how much of this infrastructure Huawei built, though Huawei claimed in a statement to have up to a 50% share of the country’s 5G equipment market per the South China Morning Post

Ergo, we don’t yet know if the “mainstream” 5G bands the Mate X will support will work with both mmWave and sub-6 – though it will at least work with the latter given its dominance of the Chinese smartphone market (38% in Q2 2019, per Reuters). 

In addition to the Mate X, the Kirin 990 will come to Huawei’s high-end phones in 2020, Wang said. Whether that includes the next generation of Honor phones, which have traditionally gotten the latest Kirin chips – and ergo, whether they will be 5G-compatible – Wang said: “Maybe. Anything can happen.”

David Lumb

David is now a mobile reporter at Cnet. Formerly Mobile Editor, US for TechRadar, he covered phones, tablets, and wearables. He still thinks the iPhone 4 is the best-looking smartphone ever made. He's most interested in technology, gaming and culture – and where they overlap and change our lives. His current beat explores how our on-the-go existence is affected by new gadgets, carrier coverage expansions, and corporate strategy shifts.