Huawei launches a very expensive foldy phone with no Google Play support

As is the fashion this week, Huawei converted its MWC press conference into a ‘virtual’ one and unveiled a phone that it’s hard to imagine anyone buying.

The Huawei Mate Xs is an evolution of the Mate X, the launch of which last year was muted to the point of being apologetic. Like its predecessor it’s a foldy phone that, somewhat counterintuitively, has its screen on the outside of the hinge. It’s also slightly asymmetrical, with a 6.6-inch main screen and a 6.38-inch secondary one that combine to form an 8-inch screen thanks to the magic of trigonometry.

As you would expect Huawei is ascribing all manner of bells and whistles to its new shiny thing. They include its most advanced chip, the octa-core Kirin 990 5G, a super-duper camera and even a specially designed cooling system called Flying Fish that has microscopic crevices and everything.

There’s just one problem, well two actually. The biggest problem is that it runs on Huawei’s in-house operating system: EMUI 10, which is derived from the Android kernel, but isn’t full-fat Android and isn’t supported by Google. That means it doesn’t run proper Google apps, including the play store itself, which is where you get all the others.

EMUI may well be a fine OS in its own right but, to paraphrase Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, it’s deficient in the Play Store division to the tune of one. Even if the apps Huawei has encouraged its own ecosystem to develop are comparable to Google ones, why would anyone choose to take such a leap into the unknown when there are plenty of other vendors that can offer excellent phones with the full Android experience?

There is a small market for simple phones with stripped-down Oss in some developing economies, but this phone is very much at the other end of that spectrum. In fact Huawei wants us to shell out no less than £2,299 for this substandard app experience. Even if the Mate Xs folded into an origami swan, that price would be hard to justify.

Apparently in anticipation of this launch Google published an Android support document entitled Answering your questions on Huawei devices and Google services. “Due to government restrictions, Google’s apps and services are not available for preload or sideload on new Huawei devices,” it explains, warning users away from trying other means of getting Google apps on their Huawei phones. The usual security reasons are given.

This feels like a symbolic launch. Huawei can’t be expecting more than a handful of people to drop over 2k on a compromised phone, so this seems to be a statement of defiance. Huawei is saying it’s business as usual and it’s not going to let its persecution at the hands of the US government cramp its style. We respect Huawei’s spirit in that respect, while at the same time calling into question its judgment in doing so in such an expensive and futile way.

Huawei launches its foldy phone in China

At a smartphone launch event in China Huawei announced the imminent commercial availability of its Mate X foldy phone.

There doesn’t seem to have been much in the way of formal announcements and none in English that we can see. So we’re reliant on Huawei’s Weibo announcement and its Chinese consumer site, via the magic of Google Translate, as well as some reports, for confirmation that the Mate X will soon be seen in the wild.

Apparently it will go on sale on 15 November for 16,999 yuan, which is not far short of a couple of grand. Ten years ago that would have been a ridiculous proposition, but China has evolved so rapidly since then that it’s easy to imagine a few people dropping that kind of cash, if only for the status symbol value.

Since the foldy form factor is still very novel and untested, it makes sense for Huawei to only launch it in China, where it can presumably contain any damage from teething troubles more easily than anywhere else in the world. Samsung had to delay the launch of its foldy phone earlier this year after it broke in the hands of early reviewers.

Incidentally Huawei has also seen fit to send a press release announcing it has shipped 200 million smartphones already, two months earlier than last year. They didn’t really say anything else other than to conclude it must be because their phones are so great. The unspoken sub-text, however, is defiance towards the US and its allies but demonstrating Huawei is doing better than ever. Let’s see how things look this time next year.