Huawei (pronounced Wah-Way) isn’t the most well known name, at least in the U.S., but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming one of the largest smartphone manufacturers in the world. They might not be in the same ballpark as Samsung and Apple, but they do sit in the 3rd spot with just under 5% of the global market share. Now Huawei has set their sights on Samsung. That is lofty to say the least, but one thing is for sure, you can’t be number one without a presence in the U.S. So Huawei has made the Ascend Mate2 4G available for purchase now. Unfortunately, it’s not available at a carrier store, which is where most consumers feel comfortable buying a phone. However, if you’re willing to order it online, you can grab it unlocked and contract free for only $299. It’s GSM and LTE based, so it will work on either AT&T or T-Mobile. Should your next smartphone be a Huawei? Well hit the break to get started.
Note: You can also check out our hands on video of the Ascend Mate2 from CES 2014.
Since Huawei phones weren’t available in the U.S. before today, I never spent much time with them other than their press events. The Ascend Mate2’s claim to fame is its size. The display is 6.1-inches, which makes it bigger than the Galaxy Note 3, and probably bigger than the upcoming Galaxy Note 4. Phones of this size are definitely a niche market since they generally can’t be used with one hand. If there is one advantage to this phone though, it’s that the body isn’t overly big like the HTC One Max was. In fact, the Ascend Mate2 has one of the highest screen-to-body ratios in the business at 79% and fairly thin at 9.5mm. Still, it is a big phone and it isn’t for everyone.
One of the areas I’m most impressed with the Mate2 is the design. It’s not because it screams unbelievable quality. It’s more that it’s simple and done right. The biggest highlight is the back cover, which is removable. The back cover has a soft touch to it eliminating any slipperiness. If you have read any of my past reviews, you know that this is my biggest pet peeve since I am not a “covers” guy. So many phones are slippery, and when you get to this size, it’s even more important. I still think the Ascend Mate2 is too big for me, but it does feel great in the hand. At least, it doesn’t feel like it’s about to hit the pavement down below.
Now there are a couple of things that annoyed me and that is the placement of the power button and USB port. The power button is placed on the right side below the volume rocker. Most manufacturers place it above the volume rocker. It’s more annoying to me since I use so many phones, but the average person won’t have an issue with it as they would probably get used to it after a few weeks. The USB port is at the bottom, but all the way to the left (should be centered). This is a lot less annoying than the power button, and again, certainly not a reason to shy away from this phone. The top of the device has a microphone jack, which certainly isn’t an issue. The back cover is removable, and underneath it, you will find slots for the SIM card and microSD card. The battery is non-removable, but based on the fact that it’s 3,900mAh, it shouldn’t matter. There are no hard or capacitive navigation buttons at the front of the device, it is all done on screen just like it’s supposed to be.
The Ascend Mate2 isn’t going to blow you away in terms of build quality, but for a larger and inexpensive phone, you will have a hard time finding anything that feels better.
The Ascend Mate 2 features a 6.1-inch 720p (1280 x 720) IPS display (240ppi), a 1.6 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, an Adreno 305 GPU, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, microSD slot for up to an additional 64GB of storage, 13MP rear camera BSI with 2.0 aperture (1080p video capture), 5MP front-facing camera, 3,900mAh battery, LTE, GSM, UMTS, HTPA+, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and Gorilla Glass 3.
The Ascend Mate2 doesn’t sport the best of specs, so you can’t expect it to top the benchmarks. However, who cares about benchmarks? Inside we have a 1.6GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400, which is the same processor that is inside the Moto G. This is a big step down from the likes of flagship phones like the Galaxy S 5, HTC One (M8), and LG G3 that feature the Snapdragon 801. However don’t fool yourself into thinking that it’s going to be noticeable. The average consumer isn’t going to know the difference. Those higher-end processors are needed for intense applications like HTC’s Duo Camera feature. The Ascend Mate2 doesn’t have any intense cpu-hungry applications pre-installed that would require that kind of performance. You should have no problem running most apps and games available in the Play Store.
At 6.1-inches, 720p seems to be a little low for the resolution, but this phone isn’t marketed at the display connoisseur. Those of you that can nitpick at every pixel on the display probably will look at another phone, but the average consumer will have no issues with it. The colors look vibrant and it has very good viewing angles.
The Ascend Mate2 sports one of the biggest batteries in the business. At 3,900mAh, you will have a hard time finding another phone that can match that. So I am sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that battery performance is top notch. For starters, I ran my usual video rundown test in which I loop continuous video while the phone is connected to 4G LTE, and WiFi (not connected), Bluetooth (not connected), and the GPS are turned on. I leave the display at about 67% brightness. I was able to get a whopping 12 hours and 46 minutes out of it, which is pretty darn good. Now I know your usual day doesn’t consist of watching video all day so you can expect to get a lot longer. With moderate to heavy use, you should have no problem getting through from morning to bedtime with a lot of spare change. In fact, you could easily go well into the next day without charging it.
Another thing to point out is that this phone can act as a power pack and charge another phone. You will need the proper cable from Huawei, and assuming you do, just plug in another phone via the USB slot and it will literally charge it. Now this is very cool, and the only phone that I know of that can do it, but I am not sure how useful it really is. It’s a nice feature to have, but I never feel like giving up precious battery life for another device. However, if your friend is in a bind with no charger in site, you can certainly help them out. But of course, you have to have that special cable on you.
Huawei has their own UI that they place on top of Android called Emotion. This is the first time I have ever spent a decent amount of time with it. It’s pretty basic, which is a good thing, but I found one thing to be seriously lacking and that is the fact that there is no app drawer. All your installed apps must reside on the home screens. Now you can add up to 9 home screens, so if you want to keep them off to the side you can do that, but it isn’t efficient. I can only assume that Huawei is trying to make their UI seem more simpler as in something like iOS. That is fine, but when every Android phone has an app drawer, it just doesn’t make sense. I know that you can install a third-party launcher, but the average consumer won’t do that.
You can still add widgets just like you would on most Android phones, by long pressing on any empty spot on the home screen. In fact, most of everything else works very much like stock Android. They do offer their own version of quick settings, which is a slider at the top of your notification shade. The good news is that you really won’t find too many proprietary add ons like you find on other devices from Samsung, LG, HTC.
One such app is their own battery saving software that will tell you if an application is drawing more power than other apps. You will then be given the opportunity to close it. You can also set your Power Plan as Smart, Endurance, or Normal. The software always tells you how much time you have left based on each mode. Finally the Power Monitoring feature lets you see any ongoing issues. For example, you might find out that a few apps are still running after the screen turns off. You can view these apps and close them if you wish. There is also a quick toggle to immediately save more power, and it will tell you how many minutes you will gain just by tapping on it.
There is also a Phone Manager that will scan the phone for unnecessary files or apps, and the Phone Accelerator will tell you what is slowing down your phone. You can also clean your cache quite easily from the Storage Cleaner option. The Phone Manager also includes a Harassment Filter that lets you block phone calls and/or messages from a preset blacklist that you create from your contacts. You will also find a Do Not Disturb setting in the main settings that will only allow calls from those contacts that you whitelist. You can simply enable Do Not Disturb at anytime or schedule it for a daily time range.
Overall the Emotion UI feels fairly straightforward and not as confusing as other skins like TouchWiz, but the lack of an app drawer is a downer.
The last thing I have to mention is that the phone is running Android 4.3, so it’s not current. I have to be honest in that there is a very good chance that 4.4 never makes it to this phone, and if it does, it will probably be the only update.
The Ascend Mate2 features a 13MP Sony BSI lens with 2.0 aperture. I found it to be pretty good when there was sufficient light and action shots, but not so great in low light. In low light situations and when not utilizing flash, you are asked to hold the camera steady for an additional 2 to 3 seconds to sharpen the image. If the results were good, I wouldn’t have minded. Unfortunately they weren’t, so I found it to be a nuisance.
The interface is really simple, which is a good thing. If you like to tweak a lot of settings, you will be disappointed, but there are a few modes to play with. For photos, you can choose from Normal, Smart, Beauty, HDR, Panorama, Sound & Shot, or add a predefined effect. Sound & Shot is similar to Samsung’s offering letting you record audio with your image.
Here are a variety of shots in various situations….
Outdoors – Closeup
Extreme Low Light
Huawei is marketing this phone as being great for selfies or grouphies since it sports a 5MP front lens. You can take a regular selfie photo, but if you have a lot of people, you can put it in panorama mode, which will stitch 3 shots together. A great concept, but it doesn’t always work so well. There is also a beauty bar that you can adjust to change the look of your selfie. You can set it from 0 to 10, but I didn’t notice a difference when using it. Overall, the selfie performance was disappointing. I was recently at a small party and they wanted to take a selfie (grouphie) to text to someone that wasn’t there. We weren’t in the greatest of lighting and the quality was pretty bad. I got shown up pretty good when someone else whipped out their iPhone 5S, and with one shot, it was 10 times better.
The Ascend Mate2 won’t blow you away with specs, but it’s a pretty solid phone for $299. The larger phones are very popular, but it’s still a niche, and there aren’t that many options for 6-inches or above at this price unlocked and contract free. The fact that it isn’t on a carrier is a downer for many, but the price, 2 year warranty, and phone support more than make up for that. Huawei might not be all that well known here in the U.S., but they are a strong company that will be around for years to come. The Mate2 has a nice build, fantastic battery life, and solid performance. If a large and in charge phone is something you covet, and you’re on a limited budget, this is the phone for you.
You can order the Ascend Mate2 and/or accessories at GetHuawei.com