Saturday, August 30, 2014

Huawei Ascend Mate2: A Full Review


There are some phones out there that you can't find by walking into your favorite carrier store. These phones are a great advantage to those of you who don't wish to dedicate 2 years at a time to a single cellular carrier, by signing a contract. Most of those type phones, however, are rather low end, or don't have the pep of a great top tier device from a manufacturer you recognize by name. But I want to help you understand that the game of contract free wireless is changing. Almost all mobile manufacturers are releasing budget friendly smartphones with mid to higher end specifications. Some of which could compete with those names you know by heart, even though they are built to do so.

One specific company that is trying their best to break into the West mobile market with low priced smartphones is doing so with one of the largest phones I've ever touched. I'm speaking of the Huawei Ascend Mate2. The company's name is pronounced "wah" (like the first syllable in 'water') and then "way", Wah-way. You've might have seen their logo on phones you would typically buy at a contract-free wireless store such as StraightTalk or Cricket Wireless. But because they are trying to make a bigger name for themselves they are now selling direct from their website with more competitive specifications. This is a mid-range phone with a large screen and a small price. If you like contract free and big devices, I think you should really pay attention. Let me tell you why.



The Hardware

I'm not going to lie to ya, or even beat around the bush; this phone is big! It is 6.3 inches tall and 3.3 inches wide. However, for its size, Huawei still managed to keep it relatively thin at only 1/3 of an inch thick. It has a 6.1 inch screen, with an IPS display of 1280x720 resolution. IPS displays are arguably better than LCD or LED if you were referring to something more graphic intense such as a computer monitor or laptop, although that point is still debatable for smartphones. It mostly has to do with faster refresh rates, but with a cost of being more power hungry. Don't let 720p vs. 1080p scary you away from this phone. Even at 6.1 inches, you won't miss a thing because the IPS quality is crystal clear. Huawei has done an excellent job of designing this phone so that there is very little unused space, also known as the bezel, around the edges of the screen. In fact, what little space is left is still used adequately for the earpiece speaker and a front facing camera.

LG G3 on the left (5.5 inch screen) Huawei Ascend Mate2 on the right (6.1 inch screen)
Making our way around the edges of the phone, you will find that the left side is void of any buttons, trays, or microphone holes. Along the right side you will find the volume buttons and then beneath that, the power button. The top edge is where you will find the headphone jack and a noise cancelling microphone. And the bottom edge incorporates the micro-USB charging port and the true microphone for phone calls.

The back of the phone is covered with a  single piece of flexible plastic which dons the Huawei logo in the center. It is small, silver, and of reasonable size. The white version I reviewed has a shimmer effect which shines as the light waves bounce off of it. You will find the speaker along the bottom center of the back and lastly, a 13 megapixel camera and LED flash accompanying it along the top quarter of the back panel.



I can only assume it was a matter of price, but the processor is not one of the latest and greatest. It has a Quad Core Qualcomm SnapDragon 400. To bring that into perspective, the SnapDragon 400 was first unveiled in February 2013. Since then, Qualcomm has announced and released the 600 and 800 series. Despite all that, I never ran into issues where the phone couldn't keep up with me as a user. That could also be attributed to the fact that this phone has 2 GB of RAM to assist. When the SnapDragon 400 was most popular, those phones typically only had 1 GB of RAM paired with it. Out of the box it is running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean but Huawei assures me that a 4.4 Kit Kat upgrade is on its way. In the pic just below, you will see that it rates pretty low on the AnTuTu benchmark scales. AnTuTu being a rather highly respected benchmark software in the mobile industry.

AnTuTu Benchmark: MT2L03 is the Mate2

The Ascend Mate2 is available in black or white. Both only have 16GB of memory for applications and pictures. But it does support a micro SD card for up to an extra 32GB of storage. The cellular radios installed on the Ascend Mate2 allow you to connect this phone to any GSM carrier of your choice such as AT&T or T-Mobile, or one of the many contract free wireless carriers. It does also support higher speeds on HSPA+ and/or 4G LTE. All that pretty much means Verizon and Sprint customers are out of luck.

The Ascend Mate2 does have a removable back plate, which is where you'll find the SIM and micro SD card slots. However, the 3,900 mAh battery is non-removable. They advertise it as lasting 2.5 days (or 60 hours) on a single charge. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to execute a satisfactory battery test. Because this phone works on GSM networks, and I only have a Verizon account (CDMA network), I wasn't able to make phone calls, send text, or browse the web unless I was connected to wifi. The mobile services really eat away at the battery life. You actually save battery life by connecting your phone to wifi whenever possible. With that in mind, this battery performs like a beast. The 3,900 mAh gave me just over 24 hours of usage while gaming, watching movies, and using it instead of my 7" tablet. I guess you can say I used it as if it were a tablet. After all, it's screen is pretty close to that already.


Along with the phone, the box will include a wall charger, a 2 foot micro USB data/charging cable, a few warranty and user manuals, and lastly, a screen protector, pre-installed. Nice touch!


The front camera on the Ascend Mate2 is pretty nice at 5 MP. And the rear facing camera comes in at 13 MP. Both of those round out fairly well in comparison to higher end phones from other manufactures. The picture taking experience is very clean. Settings are organized well and preset camera options are not overwhelming. Admittedly, not having cellular service and its size meant I didn't carry it around with me everywhere I went. This sample pics turned out nicely though and the macro shots aren't have bad either, such as the remote control or the markers.


The Software

Huawei sure does put their own little spin on things. The first and most noticeable software difference in their homescreen user interface, and they call it EmotionUI (EUI for short). If you are an Apple user, you'll already be used to the way EUI works. All app shortcuts appear on the homescreens because there isn't an app drawer, which is not common for Android. You still have the capability to group app shortcuts into folders, mostly used for grouping "like" apps: social apps, media apps, games, google apps, so on and so forth. This will help keep the homescreens looking clean and organized. But unlike Apple phones, this floaver of UI still has widgets. If you're an Apple fan, you might not know all about widgets. They are small windows that sit on the homescreen that allow you to use the parent app it was built for, without actually opening the app itself. Very useful. Back to EUI, you can add more screens, remove them, arrange them in different orders. Make the 1st screen your main screen or make the 3rd screen the main one. Lots of typical Android customization options.

Huawei W.O.W. (Windows on Windows)
There are a few homegrown applications for Huawei as well, such as W.O.W., or Windows on Windows. We've seen similar apps on Samsung and LG, and I'm not exactly sure who did it first, but this neat little app lets you open certain applications in small windows on top of any other app currently open. It is limited in which apps you can open in those small windows though, such as calendar, calculator, and text message. One major difference, however, from Samsung or LG is the implementation. Turning on the W.O.W. setting places a small translucent bubble on the screen. This bubble remains on top of any screen you open. When you touch it, 5 more small bubbles appear: home, back, w.o.w, lock, and memory cleaner (symbolized by the small broom.) The home, back, and lock bubble do exactly what you think they would, take you to those desired locations or locking your phone. The memory cleaner closes all open applications to clear the RAM memory. Presumably to speed up the phone, but that's a different argument for a different time. And then there is the W.O.W bubble. Pressing the W.O.W bubble removes the first five bubbles and shows 4 different bubbles, the ones mentioned before: notes, calendar, calculator, and text message. It would be useful to have more than just these few options. Including phone, contacts, or browser would be a nice addition in a future iteration.

A few other software tweaks that are notable are:
  • Simple Homescreen Style
    • A theme which enlarges the shortcuts for all the common built-in applications. You can add some of your own to the mix as well.
  • One Hand UI
    • On such a large screen, the ability to move the keyboard and the dialer to one side or the other and make it easier to reach, comes in very "handy". (Did you see what I did there?)
  • Gloves Mode
    • Exactly what it sounds like. Keep those gloves on in the snow and the cold. Turn on Gloves Mode so you can still answer that call without taking off the glove. Actually do any type of normal interaction with the Mate2 while still wearing gloves.

Huwawei Simple Homescreen Style
Source: http://cdn3.pcadvisor.co.uk/
Over All Impressions

The Huawei ascend Mate2 is a big phone. It's a true definition of the word "phablet". Being that the screen is 6.1 inches large with only a 720p resolution, I was doubtful. I can only compare it to the LG G Flex which has very similar screen specs, 6 inches and 720p. But the Mate2 is much clearer. There are no signs of screen burn in. It's bright. Great color contrasts with true black tones. The hardware is mid-range, but they did that on purpose, this is not a high end device. It is not trying to compete with other high end devices either such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

The design of the phone is great in my opinion. The Mate2 has very little bezel around the edges of the screen. This means the phone is as small as it can be with a screen this large. Aesthetically, it fits as good as could be expected in the hands. Come on, it's 6.1 inches and not going to be a solely one-handed device. I'm going to withhold judgement on how one may look holding a phone this large to their ear to make phone calls. But if you don't mind that some people may stare at you because of that, you probably aren't the kind of person to worry about what other people think about how you look holding a phone this big to your ear.

The speaker is loud. The ear piece speaker is clear. Battery life seems pretty amazing, but again, I wasn't able to test that fully. The software Emotion UI took some major getting used to, that app drawer is so useful. I don't prefer it though. I would probably end up downloading a launcher from the Google Play Store which would replace the Emotion UI homescreens. That way I could get the app drawer back and more custom options.

The camera quality is very nice. Both the front and the back take larger and high quality pictures. Being that it is restricted to GSM cellular carriers such as AT&T or T-Mobile will be a deal breaker for some of you. But you can't beat the price. It's a pretty decent phone for only $299 which is low considering some carriers may charge $299 for a similar device plus a 2 year contract. You can avoid that by buying it from Huawei directly though, through their website.

Have you ever owned or used a Huawei device? How does your experience differ from mine? Sound off in the comments. And as always, tell me what you did or did not agree with in this review.

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