Huawei may not be a household name here in the United States, yet, but the Chinese company has released some impressive low-cost Android devices. It’s latest device, the Ascend Mate 2, puts Huawei into the phablet market with other devices like the genre-defining Samsung Galaxy Note and LG’s G3 or HTC’s One Maxx.
I’ve spent the last few weeks with the Huawei Ascend Mate 2, and walk away somewhat impressed, but more hopeful that the US market will continue to see devices from Huawei that continue to offer great alternatives for Android buyers.
At first glance there’s nothing original about the look of the Ascend Mate 2, save for perhaps the huge screen. The phone’s screen is huge at 6.1-inches, and frankly too large for most consumers. At less than one inch from the size of the Nexus 7, the Ascend Mate 2 is rather difficult to place comfortably in any pocket. Huawei has squeezed a lot of screen real estate into the device by reducing the bezel significantly; Android navigation buttons are moved onscreen rather than being soft keys below the device.
But if a giant phone is your fancy, Huawei does impress with the display itself. Huawei uses a LCD display with HD resolution on the Ascend Mate 2, and the use of LCD makes this phone perform better under bright light than Super AMOLED displays like those found in Samsung’s Galaxy devices.
On the right side of the device you’ll find the volume rocker and power button, which is a godsend if you’re a southpaw like myself. The bottom of the device features a Micro USB charging/sync port off-center to the left, and the top includes a standard headphone jack. On the rear side of the device is a camera with flash near the top, and a mono speaker at the bottom. The placement of the speaker is disappointing since setting the phone down face up during speakerphone calls or while listening to music essentially renders the rear speaker useless.
Perhaps my biggest disappointment, and yet my biggest expectation, with the Ascend Mate 2, is the heavy use of plastics. The device unfortunately feels cheap, and the smooth rear plastic side makes it even more unwieldy. Smooth plastics may keep costs down, but they also mean potentially more costs to users who, without a case, will likely have their device slip out of their hands and fall to an early death.
Where Huawei skimmed some with the use of plastics, the Ascend Mate 2 makes up for it on performance. This phone is quick and powerful, and can handle just about any task you throw at it. Battery life is exceptionally good for such a large phone. Huawei utilizes a 3,900 mAh battery that’s rated for about 60 hours of use, and in our tests the Ascend Mate 2 was able to power through a heavy day of usage with no recharge needed, and during lighter usage periods could last easily two full working days before needing a recharge. Unfortunately, the battery is non-removable.
For all you spec junkies out there, below is a full rundown of the tech specs for the Ascend Mate 2:
- CPU: Quad-core Cortex A7 @ 1.6 Ghz
- Internal Memory: 2 GB RAM, 16 GB ROM
- External Memory: MicroSD card slot up to 32 GB
- Wi-Fi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac with Wi-Fi Direct
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.0 LE/EDR
- Wireless: GSM (UMTS, HSPA, HPSA+, LTE)
Megapixels doesn’t mean better photos, and unfortunately the Ascend Mate 2 proves this statement. Despite have a Sony 13 megapixel rear-facing camera, and 5 megapixel front-facing camera, I was left wanting so much more from the camera. This rang true especially in low-light situations. While certainly the Ascend Mate 2 isn’t the only smartphone with poor low-light capabilities, with such attention to detail on the performance end and utilizing Sony parts, I expected more. However, I was left instead with photos that seemed to have trouble with lighting and color in low-light shots.
Perhaps the biggest upside to the camera feature set on the Ascend Mate 2 is the impressive front-facing camera. Besides ratcheting up the megapixels, the front-facing camera includes a very generous 88-degree viewing angle from the front, meaning no more crowding together uncomfortably for group selfies.
Huawei has set its own custom UI over the Android 4.3 OS, which is completely unfortunate. I found myself confused more than delighted by Huawei’s changes. The whole UI felt unrefined and clunky. While Google’s services are easily accessible, Huawei has made the unfortunate move to make their own browser the default (although it can be changed to Chrome).
Overall there’s not much to say about Android 4.3 that hasn’t been written. Perhaps my biggest discontent with the device is the Huawei UI, and I would definitely recommend downloading and installing the Google Launcher from the Play Store on this device.
It’s also somewhat disappointing that Huawei didn’t include Android 4.4 KitKat with the Ascend Mate 2.
Network / Call Quality
One of the biggest beauties of owning an Ascend Mate 2 is that the device is unlocked, which means it will work with any GSM carrier. In the United States this means that T-Mobile and AT&T are supported, as well as their LTE bands. I tested the Huawei Ascend Mate 2 on AT&T’s network in my area, so note the following is based on AT&T’s network performance and depending on your area, your experience could vary.
The Huawei Ascend Mate 2 worked like a charm on AT&T’s LTE network, and I consistently saw high-speed connections. After simply installing the SIM card into the device, it automatically detected AT&T’s network and I was connected within minutes.
Call quality on the Huawei Ascend Mate 2 was better than average, approaching great. Calls were clear and loud, and the device was able to drown out background noise well using the active noise canceling microphone. Overall, the Huawei Ascend Mate 2 can compete on AT&T’s network with the best – and more expensive – of the bunch.
Enough can’t be said about the good value Huawei offers for an unlocked device. At $299, it’s cheaper than the Nexus 5 with a larger screen and similar performance. Owning an unlocked device gives more than just carrier freedom with service, it means that updates aren’t controlled by your carrier as well. Ask any Nexus owner who regularly gets updates weeks, if not months, ahead of other Android users due to carrier constraints, testing, and slow rollouts. If you’re an Android user on a budget who doesn’t want to sacrifice too much, the Huawei Ascend Mate 2 is a worthwhile choice.