Jul 23 AT 9:00 AM Dima Aryeh 9 Comments

Review: Huawei Ascend Mate2 4G LTE

Huawei Ascend Mate2 4G

The Huawei Ascend Mate2 4G LTE is the newest device to be released by Huawei, and the first to be directly released in the US market. And with this device, Huawei went big… literally. Did you think that devices like the Galaxy Note 3 are pushing the limit at 5.7-inches? The Ascend Mate2 goes much further with a massive 6.1-inch display.

Huawei also claims amazing battery life thanks to the 3,900 mAh battery pack, something we know many of us want. But can it really provide a satisfactory experience, especially with a $300 price tag?

Hardware

Huawei Ascend Mate2 01

The Huawei Ascend Mate2 4G LTE is obviously a huge phone. But with thin bezels and a lack of physical buttons, it manages to be smaller than expected. The front is a simple slab of glass with black edges, featuring a 79 to 21 screen-to-bezel ratio, with just a neat cutout for the speaker, a front facing camera, and a Huawei logo.

The top of the phone has the 3.5mm audio jack, as expected, and a microphone used for noise cancelling and video recording.

Huawei Ascend Mate2 04

The bottom features the micro USB port and microphone, offset to the left.

Huawei Ascend Mate2 05

The right side of the phone is the busiest, with a volume rocker and a power button in the middle. This is done so the power button is easily reachable, but you’ll often be pressing a volume button accidentally. With my Moto X having the opposite configuration, it got a little confusing at times.

Huawei Ascend Mate2 03

The back is a textured plastic panel akin to what Samsung used on the Galaxy Nexus. All there is to it is a speaker grille, camera, flash, and a Huawei logo. It’s minimalistic, but fits the device well.

Specs and performance

Huawei Ascend Mate2 10

  • 6.1-inch 1280×720 UPS display
  • 1.6GHz quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB storage with microSD slot
  • 13MP BSI camera
  • 5MP front facing wide angle camera
  • 3,900 mAh LiPo battery
  • Dual mics
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
  • Dimensions: 161mm x 84.7mm x 9.5mm
  • Weight: 202g

You may look at the Ascend Mate2 and scoff. The specs really aren’t impressive by any means. But we can assure you that the phone is greater than the sum of its parts. However, the drawbacks of the low price are obvious. With a 720p display at such a large size, pixels are fairly easily seen. The device doesn’t perform quite as fast as many high end phones. And of course, the camera could be better.

The display really is quite beautiful, ignoring the resolution. It’s bright, vibrant, easily seen outdoors and just produces a very pleasing image. And with it a considerable distance from your face due to the large display, the resolution isn’t bad at all. You won’t be seeing pixels in normal use unless you have “special eyes” like a certain fine-haired individual. Look closely, and you’ll easily see pixels. The display is by no means amazing, but it’s definitely usable and even good looking for those who aren’t very nitpicky.

The device includes Category 4 4G LTE support, with LTE working for both AT&T and T-Mobile. This is a very important spec for a budget device, as far too many budget devices do not come with LTE at all. Having LTE is extremely important to a lot of us, especially here in the US, so we’re very happy Huawei didn’t make this omission. This was a fantastic thing to add.

In terms of performance, it definitely outclasses most midrange devices. You might not even know there is a Snapdragon 400 under the hood. With Huawei’s seemingly light skin, at least bloat-wise, the phone flies in most cases and lag isn’t common. It’s considerably faster than many Snapdragon 600 devices. Put it up against a Snapdragon 800 device, even a bloated Samsung device, and you’ll see a difference. However, daily use has been enjoyable and without significant delays.

It plays games just fine, being a Qualcomm processor. While it’s no powerhouse, it easily gets the job done. And with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of memory, it’s by no means skimping. It may not be amazing to a tech enthusiast, but we think it’ll surprise people.

The Android version is pretty disappointing. The device ships with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. Though it doesn’t make much of a difference, KitKat would have improved performance and battery life, something that would be perfect for this device. Huawei has said that a KitKat update is in the works, but there is no ETA and we don’t know if it’ll be coming anytime soon.

Build quality

Huawei Ascend Mate2 11

Holding the device in your hand, you’ll be pretty impressed by the build quality. Though it’s made entirely of plastic, and the back is removable (much like Samsung devices, it has a thin plastic back that snaps in place), the device is very solid. The bigger the device, the harder it is to get rid of creaks, but Huawei managed to do it pretty well.

The entirety of the plastic has no strong give to it, and just feels solid in the hand. It wasn’t carelessly designed, and fakes a lot better than other devices in its price range.

We’d give it a good rating for build quality, but there is a glaring problem we’ve experienced that drops the rating down to average. The front is made entirely out of Gorilla glass, but pushing on the glass triggers discoloration and artifacts, like poking an unprotected LCD monitor. That give in the glass isn’t encouraging and makes us feel like prolonged pressure will damage the screen.

Software

Huawei Ascend Mate2 06

The Ascend Mate2 features Android 4.3 Jelly Bean with Huawei’s Emotion UI 2.0 Lite on top. While the skin is seemingly heavy, with its own launcher, replacement apps, and significant change in user interface design, it’s surprisingly light on performance. However, the software itself isn’t particularly great.

The phone has on-screen software buttons, something we usually like. But the back button is nigh unreachable with one hand use, even with my large hands. Swapping the back and multitask key would have been a perfect solution, but no dice. Still, on screen buttons is a plus in our book.

Huawei Ascend Mate2 12

The notification shade has quick toggles that can be moved around, much like Samsung’s implementation. The multitasking menu has a big clear button on the bottom to help keep the phone running efficiently, though knowing the false effectiveness of task killers, we’re unsure how well this actually works. It also causes the animation of the app shrinking to bug out a bit, but it’s a very minor problem.

Huawei Ascend Mate2 07

The stock launcher is very much like an iPhone, or MIUI if you were modding your Android device back in the day. It has no app drawer, opting to throw all of your apps on the home screens. We dislike this design decision, as many people do. The settings app is pretty well organized with a tab for all settings and one for the most commonly used settings. It works pretty well. The SMS app, dialer, camera, and all replacement apps are generally decent. There’s nothing wrong with them, but the design aesthetic could be better.

Luckily, the apps we didn’t much like can be replaced with Nova Launcher and Hangouts. The dialer app is pretty nice and the camera app works pretty well. And of course, you’re left with a speedy phone with the original apps not bogging it down constantly.

Emotion UI has some interesting features. A One Hand UI feature lets you use the stock keyboard and dialer with one hand by pushing it to the side, though this feature is extremely limited. There is a simple UI for older people, which is particularly useful on a budget off contract device. And W.O.W. features floating apps. Though these apps can be useful occasionally, they’re incredibly limited in function and show a permanent notification that W.O.W. is on. We weren’t big fans.

Having Android 4.3, the software version is by no means old. So you’ll understand my surprise when I plugged the device into my computer and noticed the ancient USB mounting option. Yeah, it’ll mount the storage to the computer and make it unusable on the device, bringing back bittersweet memories of Gingerbread devices. Not a big deal, but very strange.

Lastly, there is a built in theme engine with some themes. They don’t do all that much, but they do change the icons, the built in widget style, the lockscreen design, and the general color scheme of the device. Definitely a nice feature to have.

Overall, the software is by no means bad. In fact, with a few downloaded apps from the Play Store, it’s a nice experience due to the nice settings menu and the lack of serious bloat. We’re sure it’ll be even nicer whenever KitKat launches, though it might be quite a ways away.

Camera

And of course, there’s the camera. It’s a 13MP BSI sensor with no optical image stabilization. It’s surprisingly a pretty decent camera. Daylight shots come out looking pretty good. Colors are often off, but the photos end up pretty sharp and don’t display overuse of post processing, like some companies do with other devices.

When light levels go down, so does quality. In dimmer light, blur rears its ugly head. In low light, the camera is nigh on unusable. Compared to the Galaxy Note 3, a device not known for its excellent low light abilities, it produces some poor images. However, almost all devices suffer this fate and few manage to escape it.

Huawei includes a few modes, one being a smart mode like many manufacturers offer. It automates every possible setting, and often produces good images. It’s a rare case when we needed to switch modes, unless it was for HDR. The camera app itself loads very fast and is easily accessible from the lockscreen.

The front facing camera is something Huawei is pretty proud of. It’s a 5MP sensor, even beating out many flagships out on the market today. This high res camera, paired with some nice software, takes pretty dang good photos even in low light. Since most front facing cameras suck, this was a pleasant surprise. There’s a “Groufie” mode, which is a panorama stitching mode to get more people into your group selfie shot. And yes, feel free to chuckle at the name.

Overall, the camera is pretty acceptable even for a device higher in price. However, it won’t stand up to the current flagships in most cases. We think it’s plenty acceptable for most people, and pretty good for a $300 off contract device.

Battery

Here is where the phone absolutely shines. With a 3,900 mAh battery, a display that isn’t too power hungry, and some clever software, the battery life blows everything we’ve ever used away. We thought the Galaxy Note 3 had good battery life, but not anymore. Most of the time, I used the Ascend Mate2 as heavily as I could. Tons of music streaming, a lot of photo taking, constant screen on time browsing Reddit or some car forums, and much more. And surprisingly, I made it two days every single time.

Yes, this is a device with which I could go two full days without charging (not just two work days, but 48 hours) with over 8 hours of screen on time and a lot of data use. And I’m sure if you were more conservative with your usage than I was (and I was doing a LOT on it), you could make it three days. That’s why Huawei calls it the “weekend battery.”

It also charges quite fast. Though it’s USB 2.0, the device estimates around 4 hours to fully charge that large battery. Huawei is so confident about the battery life, the company included backcharging functionality. Using a special cable, you’ll be able to charge other smartphones using the huge Ascend Mate2 battery. Cocky, but I like it!

Unfortunately, the battery is not removable and can’t be hot swapped. But seriously, if you’re looking for a road warrior smartphone, this is it.

Huawei Ascend Mate2 4G LTE7 / 10

The Huawei Ascend Mate2 4G LTE is a very solid device, especially for the $300 price tag. With a nice display lacking in resolution, good performance, a decent camera, and some incredibly battery life, this device will definitely suit a lot of people. Hell, it suited me for the time I used it aside from the camera quality (something I’m pretty anal about).

The device launches on the new Get Huawei site, Huawei’s newest distribution method for the US. It offers unlocked devices, premium and local customer support, and a community forum for discussion. Future Huawei devices should also launch on this site. Definitely check it out if you’re interested, as this is Huawei’s full blown venture into the US market.

You can get the device off contract and unlocked for any GSM carrier, LTE and all, for only $300 right now. It’s a pretty sweet deal on a pretty solid device, though hardcore tech enthusiasts probably shouldn’t get this as their only device. Still, we surprisingly enjoyed our time with the Ascend Mate2. The specs put us off at first, but the experience definitely exceeds expectations.

Interested in buying? Click here.

Dima Aryeh is a Russian obsessed with all things tech. He does photography, is an avid phone modder (who uses an AT&T Galaxy Note II), a heavy gamer (both PC and 360), and an aspiring home mechanic. He is also an avid fan of music, especially power metal.

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