Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Huawei Ascend Mate Android phone
The Huawei Ascend Mate has a huge display but suffers from poor performance
- Huge 6.1in display
- Good battery life
- Competitive price
- Sluggish performance
- Ugly user interface
- No 4G
The Huawei Ascend Mate has a huge display, good battery life and a competitive price tag but is let down by very sluggish performance and an ugly user interface.
Price$ 429.00 (AUD)
Chinese giant Huawei remains a very little known brand in the Australian smartphone market, but there's nothing little about its latest Android device. Boasting a huge 6.1in screen, the Huawei Ascend Mate is currently the biggest smartphone on the market. The huge display, good battery life and competitive price tag are real positives, but the Mate is let down by very sluggish performance and an ugly user interface.
A big, BIG Mate
Let's get one thing out of the way immediately: the Huawei Ascend Mate is a ridiculously huge smartphone. At almost 164mm tall and nearly 86mm wide, the size of the Ascend Mate simply can't be understated.
The Huawei Ascend Mate is a ridiculously huge smartphone.
We couldn't manage to stretch our thumb more than halfway up the screen when holding the device with one hand, and were barely able to touch the edge of the opposite side of the screen. This is a smartphone you'll mostly be holding and using with both hands, despite Huawei's insistence that the phone has been designed for one-handed use.
All that extra size naturally comes with some tradeoffs. The Ascend Mate weighs almost 200g (198g to be exact), making it one of the heaviest smartphones on the market. It also barely squeezes into a regular jeans pocket and can become uncomfortable to carry around. Although Huawei quotes a thickness of 6.5mm thin at its narrowest part, the Ascend Mate is actually 9.9mm thick. Its lithium-ion battery isn't removable.
The plastic edging around the phone has an attractive, metallic-looking finish.
It's not all bad news though. The Ascend Mate has a very slim bezel surrounding the display so almost the entire front of the device is taken up by that huge screen. The fit and finish is also a positive. The plastic edging around the phone has an attractive, metallic-looking finish and the back is finished in a matte black plastic that feels soft and smooth to touch. This surface makes the phone comfortable to grip and we much prefer it over the glossy, slippery back on Samsung's Galaxy Note II, for example.
The Ascend Mate feels well constructed and there's no sign of any rattles or creaks, even when we applied force to the case. The ports and buttons are in all the right places. There's a power/lock screen button and a volume rocker on the right, a headphone port and SIM card slot on the top, a micro-USB port for charging on the bottom and a microSD card slot on the left, covered by a plastic flap. Our only complaint is the position of the power and volume buttons, which could have been situated slightly lower to avoid stretching your thumb to reach them.
The key feature of the Huawei Ascend Mate is obviously the 6.1in display. It's larger than the oversized Samsung Galaxy Note and Galaxy Note II and only dwarfed by the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3, a phone that hasn't been released in Australia.
Viewing angles are excellent and colour reproduction is accurate.
The screen uses an IPS+ LCD panel, which is similar display technology to the one used by Apple on its iPhone 5. Viewing angles are excellent and colour reproduction is accurate, though we found sunlight legibility rather poor and the auto brightness setting a little erratic. The 1280x720 resolution means that text isn't as crisp or clear as rival devices that full HD resolution screens, such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Sony Xperia Z and the HTC One.
Like the Nokia Lumia 920, the Ascend Mate's screen can be touched even when wearing gloves. It's a nice feature to have, though not as relevant in Australia's warmer climate.
An Emotion UI rollercoaster
All apps sit either on the home screens or the dock.
The Huawei Ascend Mate runs the Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) operating system but is skinned with Huawei's Emotion UI. The biggest change is the lack of Android's traditional app drawer, so all apps sit either on the home screens or the dock. If you're coming from an iPhone this may be more to your liking but it's ultimately a personal preference. It can result in a more cluttered home screen if you have a large amount of apps installed.
Huawei has included a few useful features. There's the ability to push the keyboard, unlock pattern and dialler to either the left of right side of the screen to aid one-handed use. We appreciated this feature in the dialler but the default Huawei keyboard is poor. It makes little use of the phone's larger screen and is missing key features like the ability to swipe through letters to draw a word.
There's also a set of pop-up apps that can sit over already open applications. Activated in the settings menu under "suspend button", this feature places a small, circular icons on the home screen which you then tap to expand an overlaid menu. The small apps accessible from this menu include a calculator and notes, while there's also shortcuts to the gallery and messaging apps. Annoyingly, you need to go back into the settings menu to switch off the suspend button, so you can't just throw it off the screen when you're done.
There's also the ability to change themes, customise specific sound profiles and choose from nine different home screen transitions when swiping between pages. A file manager, flashlight, FM radio and Huawei's Backup and Air Sharing apps come pre-loaded on the Ascend Mate, as does the Riptide GP game.
Sluggish performance, no 4G
There's two significant issues with the Huawei Ascend Mate that detract from its overall appeal. Firstly, the Emotion UI is ugly. Huawei has skinned almost every part of the OS and most of it is for the worse. We particularly dislike the skinned app icons, which place third-party app icons into a grey box. Even if you install a different launcher from the Google Play Store, the icons are a standard feature of the Ascend Mate.
The Ascend Mate is a sluggish smartphone and we experienced lag in even the most basic places.
A more significant issue is the performance of the Huawei Ascend Mate. Despite running a 1.5 GHz quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM, performance is questionable. The Ascend Mate is a sluggish smartphone and we experienced lag in even the most basic places, such as swiping through home screens and opening apps. A number of apps, even Google's default inclusions like Gmail and YouTube, crashed frequently with no warning and the overall experience was well below par. The Huawei Ascend Mate simply lacks the zippy speed of many of its rivals.
The phone also gets warm on the back, towards the top of the handset, when playing games. We experienced this heat when playing both Jetpack Joyride and Real Racing 3 on the Ascend Mate. We also noticed that the frame rate in graphically intense games isn't as smooth as we expected.
The Huawei Ascend Mate works on all Australian 3G networks, but it's not a 4G-capable device.
A big battery, average camera
Image noise was prevalent in most of our shots making them appear quite grainy.
The Huawei Ascend Mate includes an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera with a single LED flash and a 1-megapixel HD front-facing camera for video calls. Images we captured were of a reasonable quality but image noise was prevalent in most of our shots making them appear quite grainy. We also found the touch to focus feature a little erratic, especially when shooting close-up objects. The camera often takes a few seconds to focus the subject matter.
The camera app includes a number of settings headed by a HDR and panorama modes as well as a burst mode which captures 10 shots in a couple of seconds. There's also a range of effects to choose from including sepia, negative and mono. Photos can be stored on the Ascend Mate's 8GB of internal memory, or on an optional microSD card.
Any screen this large will use plenty of battery power, so Huawei has included a huge 4050mAh battery on the Ascend Mate. The end result is a phone that should definitely last most users a full day before requiring a recharge. Less frequent users may be able to go and day and a half without charging the device but overall, the battery life of the Ascend Mate is definitely one of its best features.
The Huawei Ascend Mate is available now through Harvey Norman stores for $429 outright. A Boost Mobile $40 prepaid starter kit is included with all sales.
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