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Huawei Ascend Mate 2 4G Review: one of China's biggest players has come to do business in America


Review by Andrew Kameka on Monday June 16, 2014.

huawei ascend mate 2 · android reviews · smartphone reviews · huawei news · android news · smartphone news · andrew kameka

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Huawei Ascend Mate 2
Huawei Ascend Mate 2

Software & Apps

Once Huawei gets users to correctly pronounce its name, the company will also need a few minutes to acclimate them to its own brand of Android. As is customary for many of the phone makers mostly popular in Asia, the home screen launcher on the Ascend Mate 2 has no app drawer. New apps install and appear on whatever screen is open, so there's an infinite horizontal swipe that shows the apps and widgets that users prefer. It's a simple adjustment that should be more familiar to iOS users, but people looking to tap a launcher button and then get a shortcut will be momentarily confused. The home screen is otherwise identical thanks to widgets, icons, and folders that can group apps. There's also a "Simple Home" that offers large icons for the most common tasks and apps that makes your desired app more noticeable thanks to the giant icons. Either format is easy to embrace.

Standard home screen on left, Simple on the right
Standard home screen on left, Simple on the right

The full suite of Google Mobile apps is present on the Ascend Mate 2, but there are Huawei built apps meant to plug the holes that Google leaves open. A File Manager makes it easy to explore the internal storage or the SD card, and a number of utilities are present for using the flashlight, listening to FM radio, or recording audio notes. There's even a Profiles app that makes system-wide changes for different settings. The drawback to Profiles is there's no trigger-based automation, but it gets the job done for simple one-tap adjustments for a group of settings like volume, brightness, or Bluetooth.

Simplicity is a big part of what makes Huawei's Emotion UI tick. There's a lot going on behind the curtain, but the software is designed to give the impression that everything's as easy as you want it to be. Huawei delivers different themes that change the icons, colors, wallpapers, and modules of the way the home screen and other apps behave. One theme may let users select which icons appear on the lock screen and another might only show the camera and unlock options. The themes can really shake up the appearance of the Ascend Mate 2, so frequent changers may like the diversity offered. Others will just as easily gravitate to the WOW Button, a floating quick launcher for several features and apps. Selecting the WOW Button can provide a link to mini windows for the calendar, messaging, or calculator app.

Multitasking and WOW Button
Multitasking and WOW Button

Though the Ascend Mate 2 features Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, Huawei recently told me that they are committed to updating the device to future versions of Android. Using its direct approach, it also won't have to wait for carrier approval, something that typically adds several weeks (if not months) to the amount of time Americans wait to receive new updates. It's in Huawei's best interest to keep that promise and standout against rivals, so I'd bet on the software arriving as promised.

Standard lock screen, music app
Standard lock screen, music app

Camera

Forget selfies; Huawei wants people to take "Groufies" because that's a more accurate description of how often people take photos with their friends. Though Huawei chose a terrible name for the photo style and even took the time to trademark it, the company's wise to include a 5-megapixel camera on the front of the device. There's a panoramic-like three-step process to taking the ideal group photo, and the Ascend Mate 2 includes on-screen guides when taking one. The rear 13-megapixel camera has a few more tricks, including live filter effects, panorama images, HDR, voice or smile-activated photos, and tap to focus on certain areas.

The user interface for the camera helps balance the need to be simple by showing only the critical elements, but users can manually adjust ISO and white balance if they venture further down the settings list. As for the quality of the images, they're soft up close and average when zoomed out. I was surprised to get some decent shots of objects in motion with the rear camera, even though I don't rate this as one of the best cameras around. The Ascend Mate 2 uses a Sony sensor with lesser processing that's not as sharp as some rivals. Still, the photos aren't anything to scoff at, as you can see from the samples below.

Data & Communication

The Ascend Mate 2 4G has a "4G" in its name, and it's of the Cat 4 LTE variety that can theoretically reach 150 Mbps. In practical terms, I got 9 to 15 Mbps on AT&T in northern New Jersey, which is on par with other smartphones. Users in non LTE areas can also connect through HSPA+/GSM/UMTS. The phone is sold directly to consumers unlocked, so you'll be able to use AT&T or T-Mobile SIM cards in the US (or any MVNO operating on those networks).

Battery

Huawei makes its biggest impression with the 3,900 mAh battery. It's hands down the longest-lasting smartphone I've used. I've gone multiple days without needing to recharge, managing to watch video and browse the web without once seeing that nagging battery reminder. You can further push limits by switching to a Smart or Endurance battery profile that lowers the CPU speed to reduce power consumption. With the Smart power setting, I can have 44 percent of the battery and still get almost 9 hours of usage.

Huawei Ascend Mate 2
Huawei Ascend Mate 2

The battery is so strong that you can actually use the Ascend Mate 2 as an external battery. With a special microUSB cord, you can connect the device to another smartphone and recharge it. I was unable to test this feature because the standard cable that comes with the phone is not two-way; however, Huawei says it will soon be able to charge another device if the Ascend Mate is powered on.

Conclusion

I'm not sure how Huawei will find its place in the western market. The company has several years of experience manufacturing popular consumer products, but those phones all had the names of carriers on them. Huawei now wants its name to be the only branding on the phone and it is focused on the smartphone market exclusively. The trouble isn't making a good phone; the Ascend Mate 2 already fits that description. The trouble is getting people to know about and want that phone. That's why Huawei is launching GetHuawei.com. Bypassing the carriers will make it easier for consumers to spend money to get a phone that they want and can afford.

Huawei Ascend Mate 2
Huawei Ascend Mate 2

At least that's the theory. Without some form of marketing and smart promotion in the US, few people will ever know enough about Huawei's phones. The Ascend Mate 2 4G at least does its part by justifying the attention those marketing efforts might generate. The $299 price tag positions it as a phone with half the cost of the average high-end device but possessing specs that are close enough to not frustrate users. In a head-to-head competition with a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 or an LG G3, Huawei's not going to win in any category except price. That might be an advantage for people choosing to pay full price for their handset. The Ascend Mate 2 4G has what's necessary to have a reasonably sound experience if you're not looking for the bleeding edge, and it's better than most phones in its price range. If you want to go big but not spend big, the Ascend Mate 2 4G is a sensible purchase.

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About the author

Andrew Kameka
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.

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