Review by Andrew Kameka on Monday June 16, 2014.
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Huawei's problem in the smartphone industry doesn't have much to do with the quality of its phone. The problem is people typically can't spell or say the name (it's pronounced wah-way), and the networking side of its business has been dogged by accusations that it's somehow tied to the Chinese government. So despite frequent protests of innocence and a strong business in Asia, Huawei hasn't been able to crack the western markets. The Huawei Ascend Mate 2 might change that.
Rather than wait for opinions to change and navigate the slow-moving carrier system, Huawei is giving the direct-to-consumer approach a try. It's launching a new website that will sell the Ascend Mate 2 for only $299 and, if things go according to plan, finally make Huawei a household name in North America. Branding and politics aside, it needs to first make a good phone for that to happen.
Hardware and Design
Extra-large phones have become so common that big is the new normal. The Ascend Mate 2 is less normal at 161mm tall, 84.7mm wide, and 9.5mm thick. To put that in perspective, the Ascend Mate 2 is both taller and wider than even a Galaxy Note 3. Huawei wanted to make a big splash into the US market, so perhaps that's why it's doing that in a literal sense as well. Put away any thoughts of using this device with one hand unless you have massive mitts. You can comfortably grip the phone in one hand thanks to the way the back has a subtle bend, but navigating to items at the top, bottom, or far edges requires a second set of fingers. (There are one-handed UI tweaks but they are limited.) This is par for the course of super-sized Android devices, and very much an intentional desire to appease people seeking out bigger than average smartphones.
The shape of the Ascend Mate 2 is that of a large rectangle with thick, smooth plastic edges and protruding buttons for volume or power on the same side. The back of the device has an inoffensive soft-touch texture, and the back plate is removable to get to the microSD and microSIM slots. At the bottom is a speaker with average volume and quality. I didn't hear any harsh sounds when on the phone and the music I play sounds clear though lacking the higher quality heard in some other handsets.
The large 6.1-inch display has only a 1280x720 resolution. That's clearly a letdown in an era where companies are going overkill with Quad HD (2560x1440) displays, twice as many pixels for a smaller screen. Huawei chose to go with a lower-res IPS display that tops out at 240ppi. Users don't really notice any difference when handling the basic tasks of looking at home screen icons or browsing Google+, but the difference is apparent when looking at HD local video or browsing the web and occasionally noticing that items are larger than normal. Perhaps my opinion is colored by using high-res devices almost exclusively for nearly a year, but people with a current high-end device are likely to notice things aren't as good as they could be. Others will be able to skate by with the lower display.
Performance & Key Specs
Huawei uses a 1.6 GHz quad-core processor with 2GB RAM, which is good considering the price range. Among sub-$300 phones, not many handsets perform as well. This is by no means a workhorse that will turn in jaw-dropping benchmark results, but it has switched between apps and met my gaming needs without incident. The Ascend Mate 2 is average and uses a processor found on flagships last year (Snapdragon 600). It's a few steps behind the latest crop of Android leaders but good enough to use with a level of comfort. There's a noticeable lag when using the gesture text input, causing the ghosts of the tracing finger to still appear on screen for a split second longer than it should. Despite its midrange pricing, the pacing of the device is reasonable.
- 6.1-inch IPS display with 1280x720 resolution
- 1.6 GHz quad-core processor (Qualcomm Snapdragon 600), Adreno 305 GPU
- 2GB RAM, 16GB ROM, 32GB microSD slot
- 13-megapixel camera with BSI and 2.0 aperture
- 5-megapixel front camera
- 161 x 84.7 x 9.5mm (6.34 x 3.33 x 0.37in)
- Weight 202g (7.12oz)
- 3,900 mAh battery
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.