Huawei Ascend Mate 2 hands-on; big screen, small price

June 12, 2014
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What if Android looked more like iOS? What if a 6-inch screen were somehow normal? In the world of Android, anything goes, including the Huawei Ascend Mate 2. Originally unveiled at CES, the device is an impressive, natural iteration from the Ascend Mate, but is it worth merit? More importantly, we attempt to find out if you should spend your hard-earned cash on this one as we go hands-on with the Ascend Mate 2.

Hardware

Out of the box, the Ascend Mate 2 is striking. with six full inches of screen, the newest from Huawei will capture your attention straight away. The rear cover is well designed, and the trim is well manicured, so there are no immediate issues.

In powering the device on, one thing becomes clear: this isn’t a flagship as you’re used to one. Such a large screen only produces a 720p image, which is less than other larger devices. The assumption made often with Android is that larger is better. That’s not always the case, though.

There are no surprises with fit or finish, here. The Ascend Mate 2 is just plain massive, and offers up nothing unique. The 13MP rear camera sits squarely on the back, and the power and volume are on the side. A 5MP camera up front is nice (and discussed ad nauseum at CES), though.

Software

Huawei’s Emotion UI simply can’t be overlooked, and that’s not because it’s on a giant screen. The icons all look like little rounded squares, much like we find with iOS. Huawei has forced the issue in some cases, overlaying icons with transparent backgrounds onto an icon shape, just like iOS does. Some will find that endearing; I think most Android fans will turn their noses up at it.
Another very iOS trait is the lack of an app tray. Your apps will be loaded onto the home screen, with no discernable way to tuck them away. You can create folders, or add screens, but no proper app drawer, here. The Ascend Mate 2 is a GAPPS device, though, so you’ll get all your favorites like Chrome or Search preloaded (and put in a folder for you, straight away.

Let’s note ahead of anything else that the Emotion UI is easy to grasp, and not unusable by any means. What it is, though, is dated. The UI follows no Android design guidelines, which makes it polarizing. It’s not necessarily ugly, but it is blocky and clumsy. You’d likely find it necessary to slap on a custom launcher, but studies show many are doing that anyway, so it might not be a huge issue.

Performance

Here again is where we remind ourselves that bigger doesn’t mean better. A Snapdragon 400 in 2014 is mildly annoying, and is only mildly useful due to the 2GB RAM. A 16GB Memory is expandable with a micro SD card, and the device is LTE capable. Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi make up for the notable specs here, save for one: the battery.

The Ascend Mate 2 houses a 3900mAh battery, which is beyond comprehension. A few battery modes will keep you running for days, and the Ascend Mate 2 can even be used to charge other device. Take that, iPhone!

We have been using the Ascend Mate for two days, and from a fully charged state, it’s only at 73% with normal use (checking emails, responding to messages all day, social media, etc.). A lesser-than screen and massive battery help with the battery life, which was a big notation at the CES announcement.

When considering the limited spec sheet of the Huawei Ascend Mate 2, it’s easy to dismiss it. A Snapdragon 400 is hardly the best they can do, and is barely serviceable now. The Ascend Mate 2 didn’t lag, but also didn’t impress. There were a few instances it struggled to keep pace, but we weren’t left pulling the battery to get up and running again. Then, we find out why it’s got such diminished specs: the price.

Conclusion

At $299 unlocked and off contract, the Ascend Mate 2 will have many suitors. If you’re in the market for a massive phone for a great price, this is it. If you think you’re getting one that can stand up to a Note 3 — look elsewhere. Though big and well built, the paltry spec sheet give off a distinctive middle-of-the-road vibe.

That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t recommend the Ascend Mate 2, we’ll simply caution that you might want to assess your needs a bit more carefully before snapping one up. If a long lasting battery is something you feel is paramount for your next smartphone, the Ascend Mate 2 is hard to beat. It’s not a flagship champion, but for the price, it’s hard to overlook.


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