huawei mate 2 review 01 hero2We’ve seen the Huawei Ascend Mate 2 when it was first announced during CES 2014. It was a great event, and the phone was well received by the audience since it is a device with a humongous battery capacity, along with a clear intent from Huawei to tackle power management very seriously, and to build a phone that solves real-world use cases. Basically, Huawei said “no gimmicks here”, and by large the phone seems to deliver on paper. Add to that a $299 “no contract” price point, and this should get some attention from many who are looking for a quality large display phone without breaking the bank. Is the Huawei Mate 2 as good as it sounds? Let’s find out.

Technical highlights

During this review, I will compare the Huawei Mate 2 with two well-known phones that you may consider, and that you probably know somewhat. The Galaxy Note 3 is the king of large smartphones and the direct descendant of the Note which create this whole category. The Nexus 5 provides an excellent value for the price, but features a smaller screen. The Mate 2 addresses large display and affordability, so in some sense, it could be seen as a mix of the Note 3 and the Nexus 5 qualities.

Galaxy Note 3 Nexus 5 Ascend Mate2 4G
Brand Samsung LG Huawei
Product Size 5.94 x 3.11 x 0.31″ 5.39 x 2.72 x 0.31″ 6.34 x 3.31 x 0.35″
Product Weight 5.93 Oz 4.59 Oz 7.13 Oz
Price (Street) $540 $349 $299.99
Display Type Super AMOLED, touchscreen IPS, touchscreen IPS, touchscreen
Resolution 1920×1080 1920×1080 1280×720
Pixel Density 386 PPI 445 PPI 241 PPI
Diagonal 5.7″ 4.95″ 6.1″
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 800
4-core
2.3 MHz
Qualcomm MSM8974 Snapdragon 800
4-core
2.3 MHz
Qualcomm MSM8928 Snapdragon 400
4-core
1.6 MHz
OS Android 4.4.2 Android 4.4.4 Android 4.3
Memory Card Type MicroSD (64 GB max) None (64 GB max)
Internal Storage 16,32,64 GB 32 GB 16 GB
RAM 3 GB 2 GB 2 GB
Megapixels 13 MP 8 MP 13 MP
Image Stabilization Yes (Digital Stabilization)
Megapixel 2 MP 1.3 MP 5 MP
Battery Capacity (mAh) 3200 mAh 2300 mAh 4050 mAh

As you can see, the Mate 2 features a lower resolution display, and a slower main processor. On the other hand, its screen and battery capacity are the largest.

Context

Let me tell you how I use my phones: most of the time, I use them for email communications and social network apps (mostly Facebook and G+). I take a lot of photos with my smartphone, probably at least once a day. I almost never play games, although I don’t mind looking at one when there’s something that looks new. I watch web movies in bed, and I may rent and download a movie if I take a flight, although a laptop or tablet would most likely be a better option in that particular case.

Industrial design

huawei mate 2 review 07 back 640x426

The Huawei Mate 2 has been designed to compete in two segments: “extremely large-display phone” and “value for the price”. This is very important to keep in mind during the reading of this review because this is very much how I looked at it, and how I think prospect buyers will look at it.

When the Mate 2 was first shown to us at CES 2014, Huawei’s CEO of the Consumer Business Group (Richard Yu), made it clear that the Mate 2 was a pragmatic phone designed to address real issues such as battery life, display comfort and affordability."ALTHOUGH IT IS CLEANLY DESIGNED, THE MATE 2 HAS A GALAXY NOTE 1 FEEL TO IT"  

The front of the phone is clean and all glass since there’s no physical “home” button. Huawei has done a great job of getting a nice screen to body ratio (79% according to Huawei), which is absolutely necessary for a smartphone this size (6.1”).

The right side hosts the Power and Volume controls, the top has the 3.5mm audio jack connector and the bottom hosts the micro-USB port. The back of the phone is protected by a black plastic cover which has a little bit of “texture” to it, to avoid accidental slippage. The cover catches fingerprint to a point, but never feels “greasy”.

Upon removing the back-cover, you will have access to the micro-SM card and the micro SD slot. Although you can clearly see where the battery is, keep in mind that it is not user-removable. The good news is that it seems fairly easy to take out, so battery replacement should be easy and cheap.

huawei mate 2 review 14 with nexus5 640x426

Left: Huawei Mate 2, Right: Nexus 5

I’m no stranger to large display phones. In fact, Ubergizmo was the first outlet to preview Samsung’s Galaxy Mega 6.3, which we reviewed last year. The Huawei Mate 2 feels a little smaller because the width/height is slightly less. But it is also a little thicker, which probably brings the internal volume to a comparable place. In any case, trading depth for width/height is not a bad idea as LG proved it with the LG G3.

I was carrying the Huawei Mate 2 in my pants (Levis 501, 33/32) pockets and there were no particular issues. It didn’t poke me when seating/driving, but it’s not always easy to take it out of the pocket when seating. The phone is relatively heavy (7.13 Oz), which is not completely abnormal for a device that size (5.39 x 2.72 x 0.31″). The weight makes one handed use a bit perilous, so I recommend a two-hand use whenever possible.

Finally, the build quality is quite good, and feels solid (the weight contributes to this perception). That said, the Huawei Mate 2 won’t win design awards. Although it is cleanly designed, the Mate 2 has a Galaxy Note 1 feel to it, and isn’t as edgy as high-end handsets like the Galaxy Note 3 or the LG G3. I also find the Galaxy Mega 6.3 to be better looking, but this is a personal preference. But at the same time, it is also comfortable to use, and quite efficient in general. It’s a design that works.

Display (720p, great colors)

huawei mate 2 review 16 movieshot 640x390With such a display size, it was important that the image quality be good. Fortunately, that’s the case, and let me dissociate two things in order to describe the display experience. First, the display pixel density (expressed in PPI, or pixels per inch) is relatively low at (241 PPI) with a resolution of 1280×720. A denser display will yield sharper graphic details. This is particularly visible in text and photo content.

I’ve already made it clear in the Mega 6.3 review that a 720p resolution on a 6.3 screen worked quite well. Obviously, I wouldn’t complain if this was 1080p or even 2K, but the sharpness was never a problem while using the Mate 2. Since this is a phone designed for maximum value, I see where the decision came from, and that was the right call. The bottom-line is: if 720p was good enough for 15” laptops, it certainly is good enough for a 6.1” phone."IF 720P WAS GOOD ENOUGH FOR 15” LAPTOPS, IT CERTAINLY IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR A 6.1-INCH PHONE"  

The color rendering, brightness and overall image quality are very good. I knew that from the initial hands-on at CES, but using the Huawei Mate 2 in the real-world confirmed my first impression: this is a quality display that can reproduce beautiful colors, and watching movies, or playing games, is great.

The technology behind the display is LTPS, or Low Temperature Poly-Silicon. It allows building displays that consume less power while still getting great image properties. Companies like Sony and Toshiba have written white papers on the subject if you are curious (PDK links here and here).

At the same time, Huawei uses CABC, or Content Adaptive Brightness Control, to further save power. The idea is that it is possible to analyze the screen content in real time and slightly dim or increase the back light for maximum comfort and readability. This should be associated with data from an ambient light sensor, and it’s something that should just work well. I was curious to know if the user would perceive the dimming changes, but I wasn’t able to tell if it was going on or not, so I expect this to be transparent to the user.

By using these various technologies, Huawei tackles the power-consumption of the display, which is often the single most power-hungry component of the phone and preserve the color quality at the same time.

Software (innovative, old-looking)

huawei mate 2 android ui 640x379

The Huawei Mate 2 comes loaded with Android 4.3, which is not the latest version. Additionally, it features Huawei’s own user interface “skin”, which is a proprietary design. I’ve added some screenshots and you can form your own opinion of the graphic design, but I personally don’t think that they look as modern as Google’s Android UI. LG, Samsung also have arguably better looking user-interfaces.

One of the main differences with other Android devices is that apps can only be found on the home screens. There is no specific “App” section to choose them from. I’ve seen that on smartphones from Chinese companies, and in some ways, this is similar to how iOS works.

Since everything works smoothly, this is largely a matter of personal preferences. I was fairly surprised that the Mate 2 was consistently fast and responsive, despite using a mid-range processor. Huawei’s software team did a great job with the general interface implementation. Appearance aside, I liked using it.

The phone is not pre-loaded with a lot of bloatware, which is always appreciable. Additionally, Huawei also give you some control over which app can use background data. It is also possible to restrict background data usage in general. Again, this is not only great if you have a tight data plan, but this will also save precious battery since the 4G radio does consume quite a bit of power.

Users get more battery-life control

I really like how Huawei puts the user in control of what app can use background data, and how it provides power usage reports that are easily actionable for most people. For example, you can decide which apps should not have data access in the background or while the phone is in stand-by mode. This is particularly important if you like to install a bunch of apps, but don’t use them often.

huawei mate 2 power optimizer 640x379

The phone also provides a report that shows which app has been draining more battery life while in the background and proposes to turn it off to prevent further problems. This helps a lot of apps that can go rogue and start doing stuff that you don’t want it to. In my case, the Mate 2 noticed that the Gallery app was using battery for no apparent reason (I had not been using it for a while), so it asked me if I wanted to close it.

This kind of control is quite innovative, and while Google often says that we should let Android take care of the battery problems, real-world experience has proven time and time again that the OS doesn’t always do what it is supposed to, because it doesn’t know if the activity is desired or not. The Mate 2 software doesn’t either, but it compiles more actionable reports than the native Android report (which is by the way infinitely better than the “nothing” we get in other Operating Systems.

Entertainment / Multimedia

With a very colorful 6.1” display, it’s obvious that watching movies is a great experience. The same thing is true for gaming. On the other hand, photos and web pages could have used a higher resolution display. Nature photos would have been seen as much more detailed and tiny text could have been readable – but all of that would have come at a much higher price.

Actually, Gaming is typically even faster on 720p displays because there are much less pixels to process when compared to a 1080p or 2K display. As a result, a game like Riptide GP runs mostly at 60FPS, with some dips at 30FPS, which means that it is completely playable.

huawei mate 2 review 08 speaker 640x426The loud speaker quality is quite high and the sound is very good, which was a good surprise, since I didn’t know what to expect from this phone. Even high-end phones can be a hit or miss, but I’m guessing that the internal volume of the phone allows the speaker system to easily push air to produce sound. It works very well.

Camera / Imaging (good)

There is no question that good Photography capabilities is one of the most critical feature, regardless who is using the device. It’s the second or third most popular activity on any handset, and it’s fair to say that the expectations are always high in this department.

mate 2 photo sample group 640x480

The Huawei Mate 2 covers the basic functions relatively well, and the photos can be compared to a phone like the Nexus 5, which sells in the same price range. During a sunny day, the photos look very good, and most people will be very happy with them, especially if that’s for web sharing.

I took it out on a cloudy day because it’s a bit more challenging for the white balance. At times, the phone produced slightly blue/cold photos, but overall, the colors were pretty realistic, and well balanced. I tried using the HDR mode to improve the image quality, but it induces quite a bit of wait as it snaps several pictures – enough that I wouldn’t use it in the real world.

I thought that the Mate 2  performed quite well and could be compared to the Nexus 5, but it is no match for the G3 or the Galaxy S5.

mate2 vs nexus5 vs g3

Difficult shot on a cloudy day – this is an auto white balance challenge

The user interface is basic – basically a point and shoot, but I don’t think that this is a problem, at least to me. I tend to grab my phone and shoot. Sure, it’s nice to have extra “pro” options, but realistically, the overwhelming share of photos is taken with whatever settings come out of the box.

On the user-interface side, I would like to see some improvement. For one, the auto-focus (AF) and metering speed is a little slow, so capturing a photo can feel laggy. Huawei should use continuous AF and metering so that the camera is ready when the user activates the shutter. I know that this consumes extra battery, but when I snap a photo I want it to be nice, so if it uses more power, so be it.

The video performance a bit disappointing because the auto-focus didn’t perform so well. While the colors and frame rate were OK, it’s easy to get slightly blurry videos because the AF. This is something that should be improved, and hopefully that can be done via software. Here’s an example, and I have two more in Flickr.

Just as a reference, I also compared it with a high-end phone like the LG G3, which did not have any problem overtaking the Mate 2 in terms of speed and quality. That was to be expected since the G3 costs more than twice the price of the Mate 3, but it’s nice to see what kind of gap there is in-between those two. Also, the G3’s HDR is so fast that it feels like snapping a non-HDR photo.

As usual, you can see full-size photos on our Flickr page (Mate 2, Nexus 5 and G3).

Performance and Benchmarks (not impressed)

Performance-wise, the Huawei Mate 2 is not going to impress much. By selecting a Snapdragon 400 platform, Huawei has clearly chosen the route of competing on value, and not on “absolute” performance. As a result, the synthetic benchmarks are clear and the numbers show that higher priced competitors can churn numbers faster:

huawei mate 2 benchmarks gfx manhattan 640x303 huawei mate 2 benchmarks gfx trex 640x303 huawei mate 2 benchmarks 3dmark unlimited ice 640x303 huawei mate 2 benchmarks geekbench3 multi 640x303 huawei mate 2 benchmarks geekbench3 single 640x303

Whether we run CPU or Graphics performance numbers, there is a wide margin between the Mate 2 and its potential competitors. While the CPU numbers are what they are, I would point out that the 720p resolution of the Mate 2 does allow most games to run between 30FPS and 60FPS.

Perceived performance

I mentioned it earlier, but the perceived performance of this phone is excellent. In nearly all situations, the user-interface responds quickly and everything remains smooth at all times. Unless you try to do something that heavily relies on the CPU (like… physics?), the phone behaves well and is frustration-free.

Value for the price (mixed)

Since the Mate 2 was designed to offer more value, I wanted to check some key value metric to see what customers get for each dollar spent both in terms of synthetic performance and battery life. For the purposes of these graphs, we have used the following street prices: Mate 2 ($299), Note 3 ($540), G Pro 2 ($580), Moto X ($310), Nexus 5 ($349).

huawei mate 2 benchmarks gfx trex dollar 640x303 huawei mate 2 benchmarks geekbench3 single dollar 640x303

As you can see, the “performance per dollar” spent isn’t exceptional at all, and won’t match the leader in this genre, namely the Nexus 5 and the Moto X (the Moto G would rank high as well). "AT NEARLY 14 MAH PER DOLLAR, IT CRUSHES EVERYONE ELSE IN BATTERY VALUE"  

However, the Mate 2 does have the highest battery capacity per dollar spent. At nearly 14 mAh per dollar, it crushes everyone else in the graph, and this is a great visual representation of where the value is. If you want the best battery for the price this is it – by far.

huawei mate 2 battery capacity per dollar 640x303

Obviously, there are other things that aren’t easily measured, such as the clean design, overall smoothness of the user interface and simplicity of the phone. They also contribute very much to the value of the phone.

Battery life (excellent+)

This is where the Huawei Mate 2 undeniably shines. With its 3900 mAh battery, this smartphone can stay up longer than any other phones we’ve tested before*. For example, watching a 60mn local MP4 1080p movie only took out only 7% of the battery, which yields a theoretical 14.3 hrs of movie playback. "THIS IS WHERE THE HUAWEI MATE 2 UNDENIABLY SHINES"  

Equally impressive, the Mate 2 was able to play Riptide GP 2 (demo loop mode) at a rate of 14% of battery life per hour, which means 7.1 hours of heavy Gaming.

Both tests show two different ends of a spectrum, with the Movie Playback test mimicking low-intensity phone usage, while the Gaming test pushes both main processor and graphics processor towards their high limits. In the real world, heavy downloads would also tend to deplete the battery life, but few people go around downloading stuff all day.

*all battery tests were done at 150 LUX display brightness, WiFi ON, Bluetooth OFF, NFC OFF, Sound OFF.

huawei mate 2 battery capacity 640x289

Conclusion (excellent value)

huawei mate 2 review 04 top 640x426"THIS HANDSET PROVIDES AN EXCELLENT VALUE-PROPOSITION TO BATTERY-LOVERS"   The Huawei Mate 2 has been designed to provide a clear-cut solution to everyday problems in a cost-efficient way. Namely, it brings a good display, a no-nonsense smooth user experience and a battery capacity that is “out of this world”. Overall, this handset provides an excellent value-proposition to battery-lovers.

It is best for users who like very big screens and its body-to-screen ratio allows it to be carried in pants pockets (and small purses) without problems. Those who want a phone that performs in synthetic benchmarks, or those who want the latest camera features will be better off spending twice as much to get a high-end phone.

But users who want a very good “out of contract”, large-phone, experience can now get it for $299 with the Huawei Mate 2. This is a phone with a clear purpose, and you should be able to quickly decide if it is for you or not.

The Huawei Mate 2 could use some improvements. For one, the graphic design could be improved. It would make the day to day use nicer and this won’t cost much to revamp. The camera speed would bring a good boost in terms of usability. Again, this is most likely a software thing, so improvements should not affect the cost.

Overall product rating: 8/10
Filed in Cellphones >Reviews . Tags: Huawei.
User Comments