Foldable phones are no doubt some of the biggest stars at the Mobile World Congress this year. But some seem to be more popular than the others.

Samsung is showing off the Galaxy Fold, which is slated to ship in late April. But the true scene-stealer appears to be Huawei’s bendable Mate X, which is dominating the headlines with plenty of positive press. Wired UK declared that the Mate X “has stolen the MWC crown right from under Samsung’s nose”. Tom’s Guide wrote: “Huawei Mate X shows Samsung how to fold a phone”.

MWC attendees jostling for a snap of the Huawei Mate X bendable phone. (Picture: Bloomberg)

It’s somewhat of a coup for Huawei, considering that Samsung was supposedly a pioneer in foldable phones: The South Korean giant first teased the idea of a flexible screen over 10 years ago. So how did Huawei manage to upstage Samsung?

SURPRISE, SURPRISE

We’ve been hearing about Samsung’s bendable phone concept for a decade. They even released a concept video in 2014.

On the other hand, not much was known about Huawei’s efforts until much later. The company only filed a patent for a smartphone with a flexible display in late 2017. A month later, Huawei’s smartphone chief Richard Yu confirmed that the company was working on a foldable phone. But he cautioned that the prototype wasn’t ready for the market yet.

While Huawei’s prototype was stuck behind closed doors, where industry insiders saw a “finished product”, Samsung went public. They revealed the Galaxy Fold on stage in November of 2018… well, kinda. The stage was darkened so little could be seen other than a big, bright foldable screen -- proving that Samsung’s phone was real.

But Huawei never offered the public a glimpse of its secretive phone until this week in Barcelona, when it finally took the wraps off the Mate X. But judging from the curious crowd at Huawei’s booth, it seems like the surprise factor worked. As Wired UK’s Sophie Charara writes, “The first thing everyone does with the Mate X? Take a selfie with it.”

A PROPER LOOK

Despite being seen first, Samsung’s Galaxy Fold is still shrouded in mystery -- even though it’s expected to ship in around two months.

Huawei’s staff held up the Mate X for MWC attendees to observe up-close and take pictures (some even managed to get a brief hands-on), but Samsung’s own foldable was fenced off and locked up in a glass case. An official video released on Monday is the clearest and most comprehensive look we’ve had at Samsung’s device so far.

If there’s a surefire way to generate excitement, letting people actually see your device being held by an actual human is way better than locking it up in a big glass case.

MAYBE IT’S JUST BETTER?

Many pundits simply think Huawei’s design is superior. The Verge notes that unlike Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, the Huawei Mate X has no gap in the middle of the bendable screen. It’s also thinner. Gizmodo likes that its flexible display opens outwards instead of inwards like Samsung’s, saving the Mate X an extra screen and two cameras.

“I think the main thing that impresses people about the Huawei design is that it's relatively thin. Or maybe another way of putting it is that people were a bit surprised at how thick the Samsung design was, thus making the Huawei design look much more svelte,” IDC’s Bryan Ma told us.

The Huawei Mate X as seen in MWC 2019. (Picture: Reuters)

But Ma also cautions against making any judgements too soon. Priced at US$1,980 and around US$2,610 respectively, the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X are pricier than most smartphones currently on the market. And people still have plenty of doubts: Are the devices durable enough to survive repeated folding? How do you protect a phone where both sides are screens? And perhaps more basically, how do software and apps work in this new form?

“It's way too early to declare Huawei the winner; these products aren't even shipping yet, and only over time will the industry learn which designs work better and what consumers use it for,” Ma said.