Both the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Huawei Ascend Mate have grabbed a lot of attention reecently. Samsung's new flagship handset takes last year's exceptionally popular Galaxy S3, tweaks its appearance slightly, and adds oodles of hands-free features. Meanwhile, Huawei has come up with a massive phone – or a teeny tablet – in the Ascend Mate. Business users might look at it and think it can combine the best of the phone and tablet worlds.
The Galaxy S4 and Ascend Mate are rather differently priced. As I write, the latter comes in at around £350, while the former retails in the region of an eye-watering £550. If you are shopping on price alone, then, you have a clear winner. But how do all the other features stack up?
Huawei initially made its name producing lower cost handsets for network operators. Since striking out on its own, it has started to cover all levels of the spectrum and the Ascend Mate is an entrant in a small but growing category of device which some call 'phablets.'
There's nothing about the Ascend Mate that will lock you into it for ever. It runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean – not quite at the cutting edge but close enough not to cause bother. Android is not too heavily mucked around with, but where there are alterations, they tend to be for the good. The massive 6.1in screen benefits from a 'one handed navigation' system that lets you push certain aspects closer to one long edge. You can squish the portrait view keyboard to one side, for example, allowing for easy thumb tapping. Most of us would struggle one handed if this were not the case.
Huawei also delights with a range of pop-up apps that might appeal to business users. There's a calculator and note-taker, for example, which could be handy several times in any day.
By contrast, Samsung ships the Galaxy S4 with Android 4.2, making it bang up to date. Samsung has a tradition of providing its own features, brought together under the heading TouchWiz, to its devices. In its present incarnation, TouchWiz is not so much about altering the look and feel of Android significantly as it is about layering an array of extras on top of it that might simply overwhelm some people.
There are plenty of fancy features, from using the front camera to stop video playback if you look away from the screen, to allowing for two apps to run at the same time. The number of apps that can run simultaneously is small but the 5in screen means it could be useful at times. You can view a web page and make notes about it at the same time, for example. This is one feature that might appeal to the professional user.
It's not unusual to see besuited types using smartphones these days and the Samsung Galaxy S4 is no exception. If you are prepared to sign up for a Samsung account, you can access remote ring, remote wipe and remote lock functions, and can locate your handset on a map too. But the handset has launched without Samsung's Knox features activated. That's a pity for higher-end business users, as Knox is effectively a 'sandbox' which allows separation of work and personal data and lets companies access handsets remotely.
By way of contrast, the Huawei Ascend Mate is unashamedly free of high-end corporate security features. It complies with all the standard Android security features, such as PIN-based login, and it also supports Microsoft Exchange policies like remote wipe and PIN lock enforcement. But because Huawei is not specifically targeting the business sector, you won't find heavy duty support in this area.
There's little to distinguish the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Huawei Ascend Mate in terms of the connectivity features - except of course for the headline fact that the Galaxy S4 is a 4G LTE handset and the Ascend Mate isn't.
Beyond that, the Ascend Mate features Wi-Fi 802.11 a / b / g / n, DLNA, Wi-Fi Direct, and the ability to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot, plus Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS. The Samsung Galaxy S4 has a bit more going on, offering 802.11 a / b / g / n / ac, DLNA, Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and MHL 2.0. Samsung also throws in Near Field Communications support and its own S Beam app that uses NFC and Wi-Fi Direct to share data between two supporting Samsung devices.
Design and build quality
The Huawei Ascend Mate is tough and solid. It feels as though it should survive a few tumbles down concrete stairs and the tussle of life in a rucksack. By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S4 has been noted as having a somewhat flimsy backplate, and while both have plastic chassis designs, the S4 feels the more flimsy in the hands. Of course, both feature Gorilla Glass screens, giving them added protection against the likes of keys and pens, which might scratch a handset screen.
Price, availability and opinion
Both handsets are available now SIM-free, though at rather different prices. As noted at the start of this article, SIM-free the Huawei Ascend Mate is around £350 while the Galaxy S4 sells for around £550.
The Galaxy S4's 5in, 1920 x 1080 pixel screen is large, but appears tiny compared to the Ascend Mate's 6.1in, 1280 x 720 pixel offering - take note that the smaller screen actually packs a higher resolution. There is an obvious price to pay in terms of portability for the Mate, and while you can hold it to your ear to take voice calls, trust us when we say it does feel a bit peculiar to do so.
If you currently deploy both tablets and smartphones in your business, you might want to consider whether the Huawei Ascend Mate can provide the best of both worlds – and the answer to that will rather depend on what it is you currently do with your tablets in terms of screen usage. A smaller screen might be good enough and if it is you could save a packet going with the Ascend Mate.
It is also worth noting that the Samsung Galaxy S4 crams in a huge number of features, many of which will be of no interest whatsoever to a business user – indeed, for the consumer market, too, this handset has been accused by some of being unnecessarily bloated. However, if you really do need high level handset security, Samsung's forthcoming Knox programme might tempt you.