Huawei Ascend Mate: Bigger isn’t always better (hands-on)

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The Huawei Ascend Mate may be built like a linebacker, but it’s the custom software interface floating on top of the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean device that can hope to salvage an otherwise blah phablet experience.

With its 6.1-inch screen, the Mate is currently the largest smartphone you can buy — thoughSamsung’s Galaxy Note refresh is rumored to match or surpass even this gargantuan display with its own 6- or even 6.3-inch version. The Mate’s screen is easy to read, yes, but it’s also lower-resolution than I’d expect for the size. Furthermore, it creates an unwieldy device that made typing and photography awkward — and you can just forget about carrying this hulk around in your pocket all day.

Its specs may have been on the higher end of the scale in January when Huawei first announced its Mate, but anyone looking for a supersize smartphone today should look elsewhere, or wait for future options.

Design and build
There are no two ways about it, this phone is a 6.4-inch-tall-by-3.4-inch-wide-by-0.4-inch-thick beast. Weighing in at a meaty 7 ounces, the Mate can feel like a sack of flour in a shoulder bag if you’re transitioning from a lighter phone.

Straight, matte-gray sides on the front mellow into a slightly curved back designed to cradle your palm. The black soft-touch finish certainly helps with the fit, but I found the spine edges too sharp and the span of the screen too wide for the phone to ever fit into my smaller-size mitts. For me, this Mate is just stupid-big.


If you’ve got small hands, the enormous Huawei Ascend Mate is all thumbs.

(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)


Readability is the obvious benefit to a phone with the Mate’s 6.1-inch Super IPS LCD screen, but then in that case, I’d expect Huawei to outfit its XXL device with at least the same 1080p screen resolution that today’s 5-inch superphones have. Instead, the 1,280×720-pixel resolution brings in a mere pixel density of 241 ppi.

That isn’t to say that the screen looks dull or blurry; it doesn’t. Colors are rich and vibrant, the display beams brightly in automatic mode, and I could read everything clearly.

However, screen savants may notice that gameplay or video playback might not seem quite as crisp or detailed, and the screen doesn’t have the pow or pop of some others. In terms of everyday usability, though, the Mate does just fine.

I’ll dive more into the onscreen controls in the following section, but I would like to point out that there are no capacitive buttons below the screen; instead, the Mate uses onscreen controls to go back, go home, show “recents,” and pull up Google Now.

There are still the usual buttons to push and a few ports to open. A slim volume rocker and a power/lock button reside on the right spine. Moving clockwise, the Micro-USB charger port lives on the bottom, the microSD card slot is on the left, and you’ll slip the micro-SIM card into a slot nearby the 3.5mm headset jack up top. A 1.3-megapixel camera peers at you from above the screen, and the 8-megapixel rear camera and flash stake out a spot on the back.

Emotion UI and navigation
The Mate was one phone to kick off Huawei’s completely refreshed Emotion UI for Android. In this case, Emotion customizes Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. It’s different enough to make you take notice, and has some nice visual and functional touches that are all Huawei’s own.

The first thing you see is a stylized block of information that attractively groups the weather, time, two favorite contacts, and a music player. Below that, Huawei has preloaded popular app shortcuts, wisely putting the camera front and center. Below this icon row are the static shortcuts for tools like your e-mail inbox and the browser.

Huawei Ascend Mate

I love Huawei’s Emotion UI themes.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

Conspicuously missing is an app tray icon. Huawei does away with this, instead adopting the iOS style in which you swipe to see your apps. Huawei helpfully groups a load of apps into folders like Tools, Management, and Google Apps. You can also create your own.

One thing that threw me, though, is that new app icons download on subsequent home pages, not necessarily on the first empty page you’ve got. That struck me as a sloppy oversight.

Much better planned out was Huawei’s work with themes and profiles. There’s nothing wrong with the default color scheme in my book, but with 20 options to choose from, I found a much more electric look that made me excited to pick up the phone. I also like Huawei’s visual work on easy-access profile settings for sleep, outdoors, and meetings.

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