Huawei Ascend Mate review

Pros

  • Superb battery life
  • Some neat usability features
  • Has Android 4.1 on board

Cons

  • It's just too large
  • Short on storage
  • No apps area

Okay, I’m going to say this just the once. The Huawei Ascend Mate is a phablet. It’s not a term I particularly like, and not one I intend to use again in this review. But it is the word that’s often used to describe devices of the Ascend Mate’s size.

What we have here, you see, is an Android toting, voice call capable smartphone that is absolutely ginormous by phone standards. Yet it is smaller than even the smallest of fully fledged tablets. Its 6.1in screen is smaller than the 7.9in iPad mini’s, and the 7in Nexus 7.

The Huawei Ascend Mate is going to set you back around £330, which makes it seem like an attractive proposition – at least if you aren’t sure whether you are going to like the form factor of this device, you’re not going to have spent an arm and a leg to find out. But naturally the price has to be measured against the specs to see if it really represents value for money.

Certainly when it comes to looks the Huawei Ascend Mate does the business. The front is almost all screen. The side bezels are pretty much non-existent, and the top and bottom bezels measure 12mm and 13mm respectively. That means when the Mate is switched on you really do feel like you aren’t holding any extraneous casing.

That’s important because the 6.1in screen means the chassis is enormous. The Huawei Ascend Mate measures a hand-stretching 163.5mm x 85.7mm – you aren’t going to want to hold it to your ear to take and make calls very often. Despite this it is thin – just 9.9mm, and its weight of 198 grams doesn’t put it way over the odds as a device to carry around daily.

The plastic chassis is solid under the fingers. There’s a sliver strip all around the edges and the backplate is slightly rubberised which helps with grip. The backplate itself is not removable, so there’s no way to get to the 4050mAh battery that sits inside it. Yes, you read that right – 4050mAh.

By smartphone standards that’s a giant. It has a lot of work to do keeping the big screen going, of course, but despite that it did perform well. If you dial down the screen brightness and are careful about usage you might even eke two days out of it. I often complain about having to find mains power mid-afternoon, but here that wasn’t an issue.

Due to the fact that the backplate isn’t removable, your microSIM and microSD card live in covered slots on the chassis. The latter goes on the left edge, the former on top. The headset slot is on the top, and the main power switch is on the right side along with a volume rocker. The microUSB port is on the bottom. It’s all very ergonomic.

Did I mention that the screen measures 6.1in? Oh, I did. It isn’t 1080p, in fact the resolution is 1,280 x 720 pixels – but that wasn’t an issue for me. It is sharp, bright and clear, and viewing angles are great, and I had no problems with the display. It is a fantastic size for activities such as video viewing and web browsing. Also, you’ve got a range of font sizes at your disposal, and if you’re in a business environment you could just about write or edit serious documents. On the other hand, if I’m looking for negatives, with so much screen space available it’s a wonder Huawei didn’t bother to make a separate number row on the keyboard.

That’s doubly annoying because Huawei has clearly thought about how the screen size affects usability. It has built in a ‘one-handed navigation’ option which lets you push some things close to one side of the screen for easier access. One such thing is the keyboard. Use this option and you can thumb away at the keys much more easily – though I did find the Ascend Mate became a bit top heavy when used in this way, and I was constantly worried I’d drop it.

Another usability feature is the suspend button. Activate this and there’s a little button that hovers on screen – this provides shortcuts to pop up the note app, calculator, messenger and gallery apps. I’d have liked the ability to customise this, though.

There’s a much bigger negative here, however. Huawei has skinned Android 4.1 and in general it is fine. But why, oh why, has Huawei disabled the apps area? When you install apps their shortcuts are put onto one of the five home screens. You can group them in folders, of course, and Huawei does this to a large extent for you out of the box. But I can’t see the logic of removing the apps area. You might make a folder containing everything to get over that problem, creating a de facto apps area. Or you could install a third-party launcher.

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There’s 2GB of RAM behind the quad-core 1.5GHz Hi-Silicon K3V2 processor. This combination delivers perfectly strong performance. On the storage front there’s 8GB installed but there was only 4.7GB free out of the box on my review sample. It is a pity this side of things is compromised, although microSD based memory is relatively inexpensive to add.

One specification you can do nothing about is the camera. While it headlines at 8-megapixels for stills and 1080p for video it is some way off the best I’ve seen. High light contrasts confuse it, though as is often the case shots do generally look okay when reviewed on the Ascend Mate itself.

Verdict

I have to admire the chutzpah Huawei has shown in bringing the Ascend Mate to market. It’s big, it’s bold, and it’s brassy – and it’s also attractively priced. However, I don’t think it is a long-term, serous substitute for a 10in tablet, and it is way too big to be sensible as a phone. So, while it is a smart enough device in itself, without the benefits of pen-based input such as that found on the 5.5in Samsung Galaxy Note 2, the Huawei Mate is neither chalk nor cheese, I’m afraid.

Specification

Manufacturer and Model

Huawei Ascend Mate

Network

GSM 850/900/1700/1800/1900/2100; HSPA 850/900/1800/1900

Processor

1.5GHz quad-core

Ram

2GB

Memory

8GB

Memory expansion

MicroSD

Display

6.1in, 1,280 x 720 pixels

Main camera

8-megapixel

Front camera

1-megapixel

Wi-Fi

Yes

GPS

Yes

FM radio

Yes

Battery

4050mAh

Size

163.5 x 85.7 x 9.9mm

Weight

198g

OS

Android 4.1