February 29, 2024

Inside the Production Line Behind the World’s Sickest Foldable Phone

Here’s a bit of a mobile industry insider secret: of all the Chinese sub-brands out there, Honor was the only one that behaved as if it were an independent company, and even had a competitive streak in against its parent company at the time. , Huawei. I remember an Honor marketing person asking me years ago not to mention Huawei in an article, which I found so strange because Huawei was writing their checks at the time (I declined the request, by the way).

Other Chinese sub-brands, whether it’s Xiaomi’s Poco or Oppo’s Realme, don’t have such rebellious attitudes against their parent companies. The point I’m making is that even years ago before Honor became an independent company, it was already very aggressive in claiming superiority over all phone brands, including its parent company.

Now that Honor is truly an independent company, it’s even more aggressive in taking out the competition, and it’s succeeding. Last week, Honor launched the Magic V2 in China, the world’s thinnest and lightest foldable phone, dethroning the previous champion, a foldable phone from Huawei. And because Honor doesn’t suffer from the same sanctions imposed in the US, its phones can run unrestricted software with full Google support, making the Honor Magic V2 a much more attractive device than Huawei’s Mate X3.

Here’s the thing: the Huawei Mate X3 was already an amazing feat of hardware engineering, because it’s much lighter and thinner than the newest foldable items from Google and Samsung. So this means that the Honor Magic V2’s gap over those two is even wider. In fact, it’s almost unbelievable how much thinner and lighter Honor’s foldable is compared to Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Google’s Pixel Fold, considering that Samsung and Google are much more established companies with (probably) more resources on available to them. The Honor Magic V2 is over 50g lighter than Google’s Pixel Fold and almost 50% thinner than Samsung’s Z Fold 4. Just look at the photo below, they look almost like products from different generations, like putting iPhone 7 compared to iPhone 5.

The key to Honor’s magic (pun intended) is its factory, named “Smart Manufacturing Industrial Park.” It opened in November 2021, and is the company’s first self-financed manufacturing plant.

Located in Shenzhen, the Honor Intelligent Manufacturing Industrial Park is a sprawling multi-story building that handles the company’s R&D and manufacturing of its flagship products. As the name suggests, the factory’s production lines are 80% automated, and 100% digital, meaning every single machine inside is IoT enabled.

I visited the plant last week and saw for myself the construction of the Honor Magic V2, as well as the company’s flagship flagship, the Magic 5 Pro. While the production of the Magic 5 Pro was quick and efficient, it was the construction of the foldable that impressed me.

Making a foldable phone is a complex process: there are many more moving parts than a traditional phone, the foldable display panels are much more fragile, and there are just more things to do. I knew all this before I went into the factory, because a folding phone with two screens would usually require more work. What I didn’t know is that companies need to invest in brand new machines to make production lines to build folding machines.

According to Honor’s chief technology officer, Samuel Deng, Honor spent “thousands [Chinese] yuan” on these machines capable of manufacturing and testing Honor foldable phones.

“The precision of the screen assembly has a smaller margin of error, if the assembly process goes wrong, the panel is lost, it can’t be remounted like a normal slab phone,” said Deng. In other words, it costs more money and time to make a foldable, and it also has a higher failure rate.

It helps that Honor has invested millions in R&D. The company built a “Display Module Laboratory” inside the factory and its sole business is to experiment with the best ways to laminate a display. It is also in this same laboratory where Honor developed its ultra-thin titanium hinge, which is a leader in the foldable space and is a big reason why the Magic V2 is able to be so thin.

To build the hinge, Honor had to use all custom parts, including short custom screws because the traditional screws were too long for the ultra-thin component.

To build the display, Honor used self-developed six-axis robot arms with high-precision cameras with machine algorithms to reduce error.

Basically, Honor had to build most of the parts that go into the Magic V2 from scratch. Honor CEO George Zhao puts it another way: “We had to build the Magic V2 from a component level.”

During my visit I saw the machines at work, staffed at various check points to ensure the process is going smoothly. I also saw the rigorous durability test of the Magic V2. Honor claims that the phone has been tested to withstand at least 400,000 hours, which is double the number promised by Samsung. Although I couldn’t wait and watch each of the 400,000 folds, I saw a machine fold at least a few hundred times in a row.

Another very impressive feat of hardware engineering is the ultra-thin batteries inside the Magic V2. Honor has developed a silicon-carbon battery technology that significantly increases density, which means that more battery power can be stored in a smaller form factor.

One concern for the new battery form factor factory is safety, as phone batteries have been known to burn, especially the ones in the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones back in 2018. Honor’s R&D head promises that it has done its due diligence the company and that he did all the safety. possible measures, including passing third-party testing and obtaining the necessary certifications. Of course, only time will tell if these ultra-thin batteries hold up. But Honor’s hardware track record up to this point has been impeccable.

What I learned from visiting the Honor Smart Manufacturing Industrial Park is that it takes a lot more work to make a foldable phone than a slab phone. And to make progress in making foldable phones thinner, all new machines, components and parts have to be built. You can’t expect a company to make a foldable device thinner than the possibility.

Whatever the case, Honor’s Magic V2 is shaping up to be the most impressive piece of mobile hardware this year.

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