Huawei launches new $2 600 foldable 5G phone to rival Samsung

Huawei Technologies announced a smartphone that unfolds into a small tablet computer, potentially rendering the need to carry two separate devices obsolete.

The Mate X supports next-generation 5G networks and will cost $2 606 (about R36 400) when released in the US summer. It’s the second folding phone announced by a major manufacturer within a week. Samsung revealed the Galaxy Fold on Wednesday.

“We’ve been working on this folding screen hinge for three years,” Huawei Consumer Group Chief Executive Officer Richard Yu said on stage at MWC Barcelona Sunday. “It’s very expensive, but there’s lots of new technology here.”

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.

But they come at a cost. Huawei’s $2 600  price tag is only slightly steeper than Samsung’s Galaxy Fold. With premium mobile phones already costing well over $1 000 a piece, customers have been turning to cheaper alternatives, often made by lesser-known companies.

Huawei has been battling global scrutiny over its telecom equipment, but often overlooked is the company’s rapid growth as a smartphone manufacturer. Last year it surpassed Apple to become the world’s second-largest maker of smartphones, according to data from market research firm IDC.

When folded, the Mate X has a 6.6-inch display, which is just slightly larger than Apple’s iPhone XS Max. But when opened out, Huawei’s device becomes an 8-inch tablet computer. It runs on Alphabet-owned Google’s Android operating system.

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.

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