Huawei attempts to create its own phablet (June 1st, 2013)
Product Manufacturer: Huawei
Price: £330 ($500)
- Battery life
- Great audio from speaker
- Large screen
- Adequate display resolution
- Small storage capacity
- Plastic construction
- Occasional slowness
- Screen size can be impractical
The Huawei Ascend Mate is a phone that fits the screen-size gap between the 4 to 5-inch smartphone and the seven-inch or more tablet, with a screen that could easily be described as being right in the middle of the two. Since it has to effectively perform the tasks of two mobile devices in one single unit, did anything major get compromised when the Ascend Mate was being designed?
Design and construction
The physical size of the Ascend Mate is certainly intimidating, and for the most part needs to be used with two hands. One handed use is a bit of a stretch but possible for someone with larger hands, and those with smaller hands will most likely give up on single-handed use and just use both instead. Holding it in landscape is not an issue, with its 6.1-inch display being slightly easier to reach across than the average tablet. While the size is useful for someone wanting to use the phone for apps and screen-based tasks, it just feels that it could be little too big to hold when making phone calls, for the average user at least.
Aside from the glass on the front, the main construction of the Ascend Mate is plastic, but it is likely for a good reason. The extra weight that comes with using a larger display, and the accompanying battery, would make it feel a bit too heavy for use as a phone if it were encased in aluminum or some other metal. While some manufacturers try to either hide the plastic with clever coatings or changing the texture of the surfaces, it doesn't appear to be the case here, and it is noticeable to the touch, especially around the edges.
Using plastic does help keeps the weight of the Ascend Mate down to 197 grams, which is relatively acceptable for a normal smartphone, let alone one of this size. In comparison, a nearby Samsung Galaxy S III weighs 135 grams, while the Google Nexus 7 is 328 grams. Though saving weight is certainly helping the Ascend Mate's cause, it would be unlikely for anyone to begrudge Huawei a few grams if it led to a better tactile experience.
The back panel is slightly convex, with an extra raised section for the camera lens. The curvature is a good way of hiding the extra millimeters of thickness needed for the screen and extra battery, while also allowing the single rear speaker to be raised from the table's surface. It also seems to help when gripping the phone one-handed, though not as much as it could have.
The IPS+ LCD screen, protected by Gorilla glass, certainly seems bright enough to use in most situations, and while it appears to be slightly warm in terms of color temperature, this is easily rectified in the menus. Horizontal viewing angles appear to be in line with the other two mobile devices it is being compared to, but changing the vertical viewing angle does give a significant dip in brightness.
The larger display compared to the average smartphone would in theory permit Huawei the opportunity to add in a 1080p display or similar, but sadly not. The Ascend Mate has a resolution of 1280x720, which is a disappointment considering the size of the display. Even though the pixel density dips down to 241ppi, it likely isn't too much of a problem for the average user.
The rear camera uses an 8-megapixel AF sensor, which you could safely say does the job. A Smart mode provides a typical automatic shooting mode, but these automated extras can be overridden to allow for the setting of ISO and other options. Those looking for high-quality shots may want to switch to the Normal mode as fast as possible, as Smart mode has a tendency to get the exposure setting ever so slightly wrong.
The camera also allows for face morphing shots, the usual Instagram-esque filters, and a roster of shooting modes that include group shots, low-light, a "beauty" mode, smile detection, burst fire, a panorama, and also HDR. Panorama seemed to work well, providing fairly decent results, but it appeared to struggle for the HDR shots. Though this may worry those wanting to take higher-quality images, for most other users, it is acceptable.
The front-facing 1-megapixel camera is certainly usable for video calling, but that's about the most you should use it for.
The Ascend Mate is powered by Huawei's quad-core Hi-Silicon K3V2 clocked at 1.5GHz and supported by 2GB of RAM. In theory, this is a good setup for a smartphone, and the Ascend Mate does live up to this, for the most part. There are occasional periods when it stutters, but these are few and far between. Video playback seemed unaffected, and once apps have loaded, they are seemingly fine too, but the actual loading of apps seems a bit slow, though this itself is not a deal breaker.
When tested against software benchmarks, the results were a little disappointing. Geekbench 2 reports a score of 1704, putting it in the same ballpark as the Galaxy S III's 1764, which could be seen as a good result. When run against both the Galaxy S III and the Nexus 7 in Futuremark's 3DMark benchmark under the "Ice Storm Extreme" test, the Ascend Mate scored a slightly disappointing 1637. For reference, the Nexus 7 attained 1842, and the Galaxy S III won with 2077.
Audio-wise, the Ascend Mate is pretty good. Calls were clear when used as a phone, but it excelled when music was played through its external speaker. The curved back lifts the speaker output off the table surface, preventing it from being muffled, and the added Dolby Digital Plus audio processing gives it a bit more punch.
Its non-removable 4,050mAh battery is probably almost as impressive as the size of the screen. Streaming albums and watching video over the course of the day left it with more than enough charge to continue for most of the night too. Someone with more average usage requirements will find that the battery will last them for two entire days with some excess, or with more sparing usage, enough for three days.
Huawei's Emotion UI overlay is a nice change from the skins used by Samsung and HTC, and sticks pretty closely to the stock Android experience. The lock screen gives the option of going into the messaging app, the camera, or the call menu, as well as unlocking the handset. Once inside, the only real issue is the absent app drawer, something which forces the user to organize everything on the home screens. This can be worked around through the use of folders, and won't likely impact anyone that typically keeps shortcuts for all their apps on the home screen anyway.
The settings menu is neatly divided between the more popular items in the General tab, and a full listing under All. Hidden away are options for a Gloves mode and one-handed operations. Huawei's workaround for one-handed use is pretty neat, namely allowing the choice of having a smaller version of keyboards and keypads that bear to the left or right of the screen, with a large switching button on the opposite side to change hands. This works relatively well, and is not the only one-handed extra. A moveable dot that can snap to each side of the screen can bring up a larger circle with extra apps, like the calculator, gallery, and a floating note pad, and while this could be useful, it does duplicate other shortcuts that reside on the home screen anyway.
Its pre-installed applications seem pretty normal for what you would find on an Android device. The Google apps folder contains any Google tools you could possibly want to use, a sound recorder and flashlight are also present, and the DLNA app seems straightforward. Installing new apps will be an issue, as it has only 8GB of internal storage, and less than half of it is free to the user. Adding a microSD card to expand it is not an issue, but considering that some apps absolutely refuse to install anywhere but the central storage, this will need a fair amount of storage management.
The Huawei Ascend Mate tries hard to be a tablet and a phone at the same time, and for the most part, it manages to do so. It's certainly big enough to be usable as a tablet, and though it is slightly unwieldy to use as a phone due to its size, its light weight helps it stay manageable. It could be argued that the resolution of the device could be more suited to a smaller screen size, that Huawei could have increased the pixel density when it initially designed the phablet, but it ultimately doesn't really matter for the most part.
The rest of the phone, namely its audio performance, generally acceptable performance and serviceable camera, is more than adequate for a mid-range smartphone. The unexpectedly absent app tray and tiny amount of free storage space, while they are big down sides to the device, can easily be worked around by the more resourceful or determined user. If a frugal person is looking towards saving money by buying a phablet instead of a separate phone and tablet, they will care about the screen, and anything else that happens to be decent is a nice bonus on top.
Is the Huawei Ascend Mate suitable for this frugal person? If they're willing to put in a bit of effort, are fine with a few rough software edges, and don't mind the plastic, then the answer is yes. You can use this as a tablet and a phone. It would be better to buy two devices, but this comes close to being a suitable substitute.