I can officially say that the Huawei Ascend Mate is the biggest smartphone I’ve reviewed to date. When it first arrived at our offices I spent about ten minutes just staring at the box, wondering what kind of gargantuan device lay inside. Sure enough, when I unboxed the Huawei Ascend Mate I came face to face with what I had imagined. So does this behemoth device give any weight to the phrase ‘size does matter’? Does carrying around a 6-inch device provide you with any kind of satisfaction that you couldn’t possibly find in a smaller form factor? And more importantly, what do other people think when they see you using such an extraordinarily large phone?
Build quality & design
Before I dive into the phone itself, I have to spend a bit of time talking about its design. Huawei have certainly made the screen the dominating factor of this phone, and it stretches almost to the very edges of the device, save for a slightly thicker bezel at the top and bottom. The device is certainly thicker than say the likes of the Lenovo K900, which is also a rather large device measuring in at 5.5 inches, but still manages to keep a slim profile. The Huawei Ascend Mate has a slightly rubberized backing which makes it easier to grip; you certainly don’t want something this big to slip and crash onto the floor very often. The phone also has a slight curve to it, making it a bit more comfortable to hold in your hand, despite its large size. Going around the phone you have your usual power button and volume rocker down the right side, with the micro-USB port at the bottom for charging and data transfer. On the left you have a microSD card covered by a small flap, and finally the headphone jack and SIM card slot at the top, which is also covered by a thin plastic flap. Overall the design of the Huawei Ascend Mate isn’t terribly exciting, but at least it’s built to look and feel good. What’s odd is that even though the Huawei Ascend Mate wanders into the ‘phablet’ category of devices, there’s no bundled stylus like with the Galaxy Note II. Still you can always use a third-party stylus and it will work just fine.
Benchmarks and Performance
Given the large screen real estate, there are three major uses I see the Huawei Ascend Mate excelling at – web browsing, media consumption, and gaming. Almost every website loaded flawlessly in Google Chrome, and despite have multiple tabs open the phone didn’t seem to stutter at all. The large screen was certainly a blessing for web surfing, and meant that I didn’t have to scroll too often when reading pages. [gdpc_compare type=”phone” products=”1188,1189,1190″]
Watching videos on the Huawei Ascend Mate was also great – the 6.1” screen certainly makes for a more enjoyable experience compared to regular-sized smartphones. Utilizing the bundled DLNA app, I could easily browse my network storage drives to access several HD-quality clips. These played back flawlessly and looked stunning on the large screen. Where the Huawei Ascend Mate did start to stumble a bit was with games. Given that you’re carrying around a device with such a large display, you’d want to show off a few games on it every now and then. Simple games like Subway Surfer ran flawlessly and were certainly more fun on a larger screen, but other more complex games slowed the Huawei Ascend Mate down considerably. Games like Gun Bros 2, BattleBears, and Real Racing 3 all showed severe drops in framerates and stuttering from time to time, which is a real shame as they looked great on the large display. This presumably all boils down to the Ascend Mate’s processor just not being up to mark to power these games.
UI and Apps
The Huawei Ascend Mate comes with Huawei’s “EmotionUI” interface. There are a few tweaks around the system overall, but they’re mostly cosmetic. There’s a large “Me Widget” that takes up most of your home screen, which gives you shortcut to contacts, music, and photos. You can also cycle through the various themes that are available, which in turn alter the phone’s lock screen and icons. It’s a bit of a nuisance though when you change through the themes, because they end up re-skinning all your icons, so in some of the themes you’ll spend at least a couple of seconds trying to locate something that had a different icon before. One thing that really does annoy me about the UI is the fact that Huawei have done away with Android’s familiar app drawer – any app that you install is now automatically placed on your home screen, similar to how iOS behaves. It’s not a major gripe, but anyone who’s familiar with Android might find the exclusion of an app drawer a bit of a mystery. Huawei have also included a ‘one handed’ mode that you can activate, which lets you slide the dialpad and keyboard to either the left or right edge for one-handed typing. Overall the UI was responsive when cycling through apps, but at certain times it did take a few seconds to switch panes when there were a lot of apps running in the background. Luckily, there’s a “brush’ icon in the list of running apps that will close down all background apps and free up precious memory.
Screen and Camera
The Huawei Ascend Mate’s screen is certainly large, and delivers quite a remarkable performance despite it not being 1080p. The IPS+ LCD offers bright colors and sharp images, and a decent viewing angle for those who like crowding around smartphones watching the latest cat video on YouTube. It may not be as high-res as other smartphones on the market, but it’s a respectable contender that can hold its own.
With more people using their smartphones to take images on the go, the Huawei Ascend Mate’s 8 megapixel rear camera should be more than adequate for most shots. There are a range of filters available and even some special effects that let you warp an image into a number of bizarre ways for your amusement. There’s a panorama mode available as well, but rather than panning around to take several photos, the Huawei Ascend Mate takes three photos and stitches them together, often with some rather blurry and disappointing results. Low-light photography is also not impressive, with the photos featuring a fair amount of noise in them. For properly-lit preferably outdoor shots, you’ll be fine – anything else will have you fidgeting with the photos for hours in Photoshop.
Sound & Call Quality
Audio quality on the Huawei Ascend Mate was decent, provided by the lone speaker located at the lower right on the back of the phone. It’s provides an adequate sound and max volume, as long as your hand isn’t covering the speaker by accident. Call quality was quite good, with the phone having no issues at all both indoors and outdoors.
Heat levels & Battery Life
With regular use I didn’t notice the Huawei Ascend Mate getting warm; the only exception being when I was playing games for a prolonged period or streaming movies, the area at the back near the camera would get a bit warm. Battery life is surprisingly quite good, given the amount of juice needed to power such a massive screen. I was able to get through an entire day of usage and just have the battery down to 40% when I got home. This was with wi-fi and 3G always on and screen set to auto-brightness.
So how does the Huawei Ascend Mate stack up against the likes of other contenders like the Lenovo K900 or the Samsung Note II? Well for one thing the Huawei Ascend Mate does take the title of the largest smartphone I’ve ever used to date, but apart from that it’s really not that spectacular. It’s a great phone for web browsing and consuming media, but anything past that will be a lukewarm experience. The phone suffers because of its limiting processor, and this begins to show the more you push the limits of the phone. With the impending release of Samsung’s Galaxy Mega 6.3, the days of the Huawei Ascend Mate being the ‘giant’ among smartphones are numbered.