I remember a scene in the movie “Zoolander” where the main character played by Ben Stiller, a vain spoiled male model, gets a call on his cellphone. He answers the call and starts talking into this insanely little phone that he holds to his ear, a nearly invisible device pinched between his thumb and index finger. The scene is funny because it deals with the popular trend in the phone industry of the late 90’s to make devices smaller and smaller.
The device I’m reviewing today is clearly not an offspring of that trend. The Huawei Ascend Mate is probably one of the largest cellphones on the market today. At a whopping 6.1 inch, it is even larger than the already bulky Galaxy Note 2 that is currently my ‘communication device’ of choice. Before we dive into the distinctions between a “phone” and a “communicator” … lets just take a closer look at the Ascend Mate.
The screen of the Ascend Mate covers almost the entire surface of the 6.1 inch phone device. With a resolution of 1280 by 720 (at 241 pixels per inch) it is amazingly bright and has a realistic colour spectrum. What I found appealing is its visibility in bright sunlight. Unlike the note 2 (Whose screen is also quite bright but is terrible to use in bright sunlight) the Mate manages to give you a “good look” at whatever is on your screen, no matter if the twin suns of Tantooine are setting right behind your back. But the one thing that does stand out is the fact that the colours are very “natural” and that is surely a bonus.
The Mate comes with a front and rear facing camera with a respective resolution of 8 and 1 Megapixel. Both camera’s deliver good pictures (we tested them both outside and inside) and the flash LED’s are bright enough signal the Rusky’s on the international space station.
Battery life on the Mate is quite good considered the sheer size of the screen. The downside is that the battery is not replaceable (You can’t even remove the back cover of the Mate, Sim and memory slots are on the side). We managed a day of extensive use and still had a couple of jolts left at sunset.
The Ascend Mate comes with an adapted version of Android 4.1 (not 4.2) where Huawei decided to pre-populate your phone with most of the apps you need. All the apps are nicely organised in folders (For example : There is a GOOGLE folder with most of not ALL google apps in the Market place) and this is surely a bonus. Every phone manufacturer needs to give their software experience an added value. Some build skins, but Huawei decided to be your personal shopper in the Marketplace and pre-load your phone with all the “standard” apps that you might need. I like this, because then you are no longer dependant on the manufacturer to upload their ‘in-house’ apps, you just depend on the core developers. The interface of the Mate is sliiiiightly different to “stock” Android, but this is hardly noticeable. This lean and mean approach gives the Mate the speedy swifty feel it needs and surely adds to the pleasure of its user. The culprit to blame here would be its 1.5 Gigaherz processor and its 2 gigs of ram.
This is no phone for Tinkerbell
Like the previous Huawei phone we tested, the Mate feels like a well finished product.. One downside we have are the plastic ‘latches’ that cover the phone’s sim and SD card slots : They might break off in the long run. When we first took the phone in our hands we expected it to be bulky and hard to handle. Guess what : Its NOT . The Mate’s size is well proportioned and its internal weight distribution is well balanced. Using the phone in both portrait and landscape mode is a breeze. We compared it to using the Galaxy Note 2 and the latter does not win that Phablet prizefight. Although larger, the Mate is surprisingly more easy to hold and handle then the slightly smaller Note2. However, single handed operation is not an option and two hands are required to type and hold the phone at the same time. So this brings us to the question : Is this a phone at all ?
The Huawei Mate is the Nokia Communicator of the modern Phablets.
We hate the word “Phablets”. It hints toward a mutational subset of mutant devices that are too small to be a tablet and to large to be a phone. At 6.1 inch across the Note2 is surely a “Phablet”. Slightly to large for a phone, slightly to small for a tablet. With the addition of just a measly 0.6 inch (compared to the Note 2) the Huawei Mate slides into the Sub-Tablet category and does it brilliantly. Well balanced in weight distribution, having a crisp screen, a nice interface and decent battery life the Huawei Mate is the perfect companion for those who want both a phone and a tablet but do not have the cash to buy both. Yes : It looks dorky when you get a phone call … but so what ? How many phone calls to the younger generation still make every day ? Its all Texting, Twitter, Facebook and the likes these days. A real time ‘audio only’ conversation is something that is becoming scarce for Teens anyway.
So Geeks : Should you get one ?
Well : If you want to live on the socially-acceptable cutting edge and carry around a ‘communicator’ instead of a phone : Get one ! At around 300 euros the price is way below the ‘premium priced’ products of both Apple and Samsung and it still gets you a very cool device. The one thing you need to ‘click’ in your brain is the concept of ‘ a phone ‘. Just like the Nokia Communicator, the Mate is a “communications device” that enables you to connect to to your digital lifestyle and not to an Party Chat conference call from the 80’s. Forget concepts like “sliding it into your back pocket” or “making a quick phone call” The Mate is the lovechild between your Smartphone and your iPad making both pretty much obsolete once you have the Mate. Its not light, It does not fit in your back pocket, it does not have a 6 day battery life .. but neither does your tablet. This is not a phone, its an advanced digital communication device that provides you with connectivity, content, computational power and entertainment… and you can also use it to call your nan.
Links : Find out more about the Mate at Huawei’s official page.
The one thing more obscure than the Huawei brand name is probably the knowledge on how to pronounce it. From a western tongue twisting Hoo-Ya-Wey to a mandarin tinted ‘Waah-Weej’ it becomes clear that this Chinese technological behemoth still has some marketing to do in the western world. (If only to end the bickering on how to pronounce it). However : Huawei speaks not to us in fancy commercials on tv (or a pronunciation lesson on Youtube) Huawei speaks to us with their range of products. Where the company used to be but a shady side-brand that would manufacture for other brands and suppliers, they now step into the limelight and present themselves as one of the major runners up to give Apple, Sony, Nokia and Samsung something to worry about at night. Its not because Huawei is not on every billboard that they don’t make decent products : The Huawei W1 we had in our hands is the puddings proof.
The Ascend W1 is a “Windows Phone”. A four inch IPS display with a resolution of 480 by 800 and a Qualcomm dual core snapdragon 1.2 gigahertz processor. It comes with 4 gigabyte of onboard storage, the ability to pimp said storage with an SD card and it has 512 megabytes of ram. It has a 5 megapixel front facing camera and a rear facing camera with VGA resolution. There is of course wifi, Bluetooth, 3g (no lte) and you can even call other people on the phone with it. To give you a frame of reference : we compare the device against Nokias Lumia 620 which is a little more “abundant” in these regions.
1. Look and feel. The W1 is a rectangular black slate, just like every phone on the market today. But with that being said, what you do notice right of the bat, is that its fairly thin, light but well balanced, and offers an ‘edge’ over the Nokia Lumia when it comes to screen protection. With that I mean that the screen has a little “border” around it that keeps it from scratching when you place the phone upside down. (Where the Nokia comes with the “glass on top” design). The back of the W1 is slightly rubberized giving an awkward but nice sensation of having something ‘tough’ in your hand while being elegant at the same time. The “thinner” body of the W1 feels nicer to hold that the slightly more bulky 620 with its sharper edges. Design-wise the W1 is not going be in the Louvre anytime soon, but both in your pocket and your hand it feels nice
We put both the Nokia 620 and the W1 side by side and launched the browser, the phone application, the store and played with the tiles. The 620 is slightly smoother when it comes to scrolling through your tiles, but on opening applications .. the W1 wins. In all honesty its a top-gear style photo finish to see the difference but applications do pop up a fraction of a second faster on the W1 then on its Scandinavian counterpart.
Although the W1 comes with a nice 480 by 800 Ips display, the brightness and color resilience is not that awesome. With both devices on auto-brightness, the W1’s colors were slightly duller then the Nokias. These are things you notice ( and perhaps only notice) during comparisons but they are there nonetheless. Screen brightness and color depth help you use your phone outdoor and read emails comfortably instead of peering at your smartphone like a pensioner.
Well, we will let the results speak for themselves here. The W1 takes some more time to focus and shoot, so snapping that picture of “The Flash” changing his underwear might be problematic.
Because of the “longer” shape of the phone, Huawei managed to cram in a larger battery into the phone, resulting in a fairly good +1 day battery life.
If there is such a thing as “Stock Windows Phone” .. The W1 has it. No extra “Nokia Apps” , no added “ Samsung Store” Just plain Windows phone and the Windows phone store. This might be the one place where Huawei chooses a different strategy than its competitors, opting out of using “branded software” as a selling point. This is a tricky bargain as the Windows App ecosphere still needs to grow and gain maturity. But for those of you who know where to look for your apps, or can live without Nokia’s City lens and Gps software (which is in all honesty, excellent) the W1 is the perfect platform to start.
The Nokia Lumia 620 is sold at about 215 euro’s in stores, where the W1 eats only 179 one-euro coins out of your account. When we look at what you get for this price : its not bad, not bad at all. As an “entry phone” for the Windows Phone market this is a surprisingly good “bang for your buck” phone. Ok, its no iPhone 5, its no Nokia 920 .. but in the end it comes down to what you need. If the form factor is OK for you and you prefer a practical little smartphone to an over-pimped sub-tablet .. The W1 is perfect for you. The question that you want to ask yourself is : Do I want to spend the extra 35 euro’s on a Nokia ? Is the fact that Nokia offers up some stock apps like navigation and the “city lens” worth that extra money ? Or am I a geek who knows the ways of the force and kind find my own apps in the store ?
We like the W1. Its a decent entry model phone with a fairly good screen, a fairly fast processor, a fairly good camera and a very good price. This phone is either for the geek on a budget who knows where to find the right apps, or for my mum in law, who just needs to do some basic stock functions like email, Facebook, texting and calling. The W1 is not a cheap disappointing up-sell tool: It holds its value in the market being Huawei’s step up to bigger things .. both for the consumer as for the company.