The Good Huawei Mate S takes crisp photos, it has enough power for daily tasks, its metallic design looks and feels great.
The Bad It’s too expensive, the custom Android Huawei is messy to use, and the pressure-sensitive display is a meaningless addition that adds nothing to the overall experience.
The Bottom Line Although the flagship Huawei Mate S has a sophisticated look and a great camera, in other places you can find top notch phones for less.
Meeting the giants of Apple and Samsung in the smartphone arena is not an easy task. Huawei’s usual tactic in this struggle was to make its products much more affordable, while still being technically competitive. Not so with Mate S. Although it is actually moderately cheaper than iPhone 6S or the Galaxy S6 , it’s not cheap enough. And this is not the only problem that Huawei needs to address.
Even buying a phone is difficult, as your own Huawei website in the UK directs you to an online store in Chinese. The phone itself has some important things to boast, including its attractive metal body and good camera, but the special Android Huawei leather makes the phone uncomfortable and sometimes sluggish to use. That’s the kind of question I found Huawei’s P8 , launched earlier this year. Huawei spoke to a pressure-sensitive screen at startup. It’s the same idea as the 3D Touch on the iPhone 6S, which lets you tap the screen hard. This works fine on the iPhone, but Huawei did little to take advantage of this new technology.
Priced at £ 420 (about US $ 642, US $ 898), the price without the Mate S SIM is still well above other great flagships, including brilliant LG G4 and the lush HTC One M9, and it’s just not enough to justify that cost. Moreover, Huawei still lacks the brand’s appeal to entice people to choose handsets from more recognized and trusted manufacturers. And that’s not the only problem Huawei needs to address.
If you can get it
You can now buy Mate S only in the UK, and even here it is hard to find. Although you can pick it up on Amazon – among other imported Chinese phones – the only place you can find it from a high street sales rep is Carphone Warehouse. Even worse, when you go to Huawei’s homepage and hit “browse smartphones”, you head to a Chinese language store called VMall. When I finally found the landing page for the Mate S, there was no way to buy the phone or any links to sellers. Huawei has an online store in the US, but the Mate S is not yet available for purchase.
Not only is it difficult for consumers to really get to phones, this substandard service does nothing to inspire confidence in the brand as a whole. If Huawei has to sell this phone at the highest price, it will need to do its best to win that confidence.
- 150 x 75.3 x 7.2 mm (5.9 x 2.96 x 0.28 inches)
- 156g (5.5 ounces)
- All-metal body
- Rear fingerprint scanner
The all-metal body helps the Mate S feel like a first-class kit when you hold it. He reminds previous Mate 7 , but Huawei made various changes to upgrade the Mate S. It’s thinner, for one, only 7.2mm profile. The glass screen is rounded on the edge to fit the screen, and there is a gentle curve on the back of the phone to keep it comfortable.
The edges of the phone also received a chamfer, which adds a style of luxury. It is well built, with no unpleasant gaps in the body and does not have a bend in the metal chassis – even when I tried very hard to bend it.
It measures 150 m long and 75.3 mm wide, making it a fairly large phone, though its size is expected given the large 5.5-inch display. Having said that, the narrow frame around the edge of the screen limits the amount of unnecessary real estate. To give some perspective, although the Mate S screen is the same size as the iPhone 6S Plus, the Mate S is 8.4mm shorter and 2.6mm narrower, making it easy to use in one hand.
You’ll find the volume and power buttons on the right, the 3.5mm headphone jack located at the top of the phone, and the Micro-USB port at the bottom. The bottom edge also houses the speakers, with two sets of drilled bars. They pump up a great enough sound to watch Netflix while cooking, but you need the right set of speakers or headphones if you want to feel properly immersed in the soundtrack of your movie.
The phone comes with 32GB of storage, but you can insert a microSD card up to 128GB using the combined nano-SIM and SD card tray on the left.
The Mate S fingerprint scanner is on the back of the phone, just below the camera. It is in the same place that was on the Mate 7 to it, and this is a position that works well for me. This is exactly where my index finger sits when I hold the phone, which makes it easy to unlock without unnecessarily pushing or moving it. I have fairly medium sized hands, although if you are quite small, your finger may not rest in exactly the same place.
It’s also a good scanner that reads my fingerprint accurately and unlocks the phone instantly. (Putting your finger on the scanner simultaneously flips the phone and gives you access). You can also use the scanner to perform other functions; touch it when a photo is taken in the camera app (this makes it a bit more convenient to take selfie at a distance), tap and hold it to answer a call, swipe to view photos, or tap and hold to stop an alarm.
A scanner is no easier than using a screen to do these actions, but it’s nice to have a choice, I think, and at least it helps the Mate S stand out a bit – these scanner-specific features aren’t typically found on phones with scanners installed behind them, even Huawei Nexus 6P .
- 5.5 “diagonal screen size
- Resolution 1 920×180 pixels
- Impact of sensitive pressure
The 5.5-inch display has full resolution (1,920×1,080-pixels), which is the minimum I would expect to see on a phone of this size and with a high price tag. If Huawei really wanted the Mate S to compete with other top-end handsets, it had to provide it with a high-definition display, as we saw on the LG G4 and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge, both of which have 2,560×1, 440 pixel resolution.
In fact, its full HD resolution is enough to make the icons and text perfectly readable, though they lack the crisp clarity you get with the extra pixel help. However, it is an AMOLED display, which at least provides a saturated level of contrast with a deep black level. The colors are bright and the screen is bright enough to withstand the main office light and the outside light of gray, autumn London.
However, the display has a little trick to its sleeve. Meanwhile, with Apple’s debut, its pressure-sensitive screen, dubbed the 3D Touch on Apple Watch and by launching it on the iPhone 6S, Huawei has advanced with its own 3D Touch version of the Mate S. In addition to tapping and swiping the screen, you can press and hold to execute various commands. The iPhone 3D Touch works similarly to a right-click on a desktop PC; persistently click the app icon on the iPhone and it will display the quick commands associated with that app without actually downloading it.
While I like this feature on the iPhone, it’s nowhere near as useful on a Huawei phone. It just takes a little bit more effort than pressing the Mate S screen, but the problem is that it doesn’t really do anything. One of the few uses I found for pressure sensitivity was the replacement of on-screen navigation keys. When turned on, the navigation keys were invisible – meaning they didn’t clutter the display – but pressing hard on the areas they would make them reappear. And when you click hard on a photo in the photo gallery, you get an enlarged image, and the magnification increases, the more you click.
While Apple works closely with developers to integrate 3D Touch apps on their phones, the long presses of the Mate S do not even work with Huawei’s own suite of applications. It seems to me that Huawei just wants to beat Apple by hitting the technology on the phone, but have little thought about how it will actually work or whether it is even a benefit to the user. Which is not true. So, it really doesn’t offer anything extra here and certainly shouldn’t be an excuse to buy this phone. We hope Huawei will resolve this shortcoming soon.
- Android 5.1 Lollipop
- Huawei special interface
Mate S comes from Android 5.1 Lollipop on board, this is last year’s update to Google’s mobile software. Huawei launches Mate S just before the latest Android – codenamed Marshmallow – was available so I will not knock the phone in the absence of Android 6.0 on board. As for when he can get Marshmallow, I wouldn’t have hoped for your expectations – Huawei is usually in no hurry to bring new software to its existing phones.
One of the reasons Huawei is likely to take longer is that it highly tweaks Android using its interface, which it calls Emotion UI. I’m not interested in the Emotion UI because it makes too many changes to Android. The biggest of these is that it removes the application tray, so all the applications you download are stored on home screens, among your widgets, like an iPhone. I think it hits very fast, so you want to make sure you keep it neat and tidy if you are hoping to find something.
You can customize themes over the phone, though there are only six themes to choose from and I can’t find a way to download more. Huawei also smiled at a bunch of additional apps, including two apps called “SIM Toolkit” and one called “Screen Lock” that just locks the screen – I can’t think of any reason why you should never use this. There is also an NFC program called “Fun Scale” and various backup and update tools, all of which make the phone unnoticeable and complex and fresh.
Processor and cellular performance
- Octa-core processor
- 3GB RAM
Instead of spending money to buy processors from Qualcomm, Huawei uses its Kirin 935 chip, made by its subsidiary HiSilicon. This is an octa-core chip consisting of a quad-core processor clocked at 2.2 GHz for high-intensity tasks and a quad-core 1.5 GHz chip for daily processes. This is a backup of 3GB of RAM. It is a powerful engine that has produced decent results in our benchmark tests, scoring 2.951 for the Geekbench 3 multi-core test, placing it alongside the LG G4 (2.981), though below the S6 Edge (4.608) and even more affordable Motorola Moto X Style (3.528) .
It was less successful on the 3DMark Ice Storm: Unlimited Graphic Test, reaching 10,946 points – well below the 20778 S6 Edge and 18,611 LG G4. In general, I thought the phone was fast enough, with only a random delay when navigating through the home screen panels or opening applications – I also am tempted to blame any sluggishness on the swollen Android settings, rather than insufficient power from the processor.
It handled the game well, with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Angry Birds 2 and Crossy Road playing smoothly, and the high-definition video came out of Netflix with no problems. On paper, this phone does not have the strength of its competitors like Moto X Style/Play or the LG G4, but it is capable of handling your everyday things.
Phone calls through the Vodafone network in London were clear and did not contain any noise or static character. Voice quality was at least on par with other top-end phones. Call quality is very much influenced by network, location, and time of day, so your own results may vary.
Huawei Mate S data rate (unlocked in Vodafone UK)
|4G LTE download rate||4.82Mbps|
|4G LTE upload rate||3.30Mbps|
|CNET mobile site load||3.5 seconds|
|CNET desktop site load||6 seconds|
|Temple Run 2 app download (44.68MB)||1 minute 30 seconds|
Cameras and image quality
- 13MP rear camera
- The variety of scene modes
- Creative effects of slow shutter
- 8MP front camera with flash
The back of the Mate S has a 13-megapixel camera, which is too few megapixels for a high-end Android phone. Sony Xperia Z5 23 megapixel packages are much more affordable Motorola Moto X Play . However, the megapixels certainly do not give a better look to the photos, and in fact the Mate S is capable of taking some spectacular shots.
My first shot of these gorgeous colors is incredibly bright, with intense tones that really pop up on screen. The exposure is great and there are many details on the full screen.
This park scene has also been captured, and the bright sky is kept under control, but still retains enough detail in the shady areas of the trees.
Some of the shadows in the original channel image (top) became a little too dark, but HDR (bottom edge) improved these areas and also slightly regained some bright sky.
This shot over West London has great natural colors and good overall exposure. When you zoom in on details – especially on homes on the right – the image is noticeably fuzzy. While 13 megapixels is enough to give Facebook a crisp look, it doesn’t give much extra detail to jump on stage.
In low light, the Mate S camera is about average. This shot is quite bright, though the colors have lost a lot of their brightness. Attempts at the camera to reduce image noise also mean that many details in the image have been lost.
In addition to HDR, panorama and shooting modes, you’ll find a few other neat tricks in the camera’s interface. This slow shutter mode lets you capture neat light from car headlights, while Pro mode lets you control the manual shutter speed, ISO and white balance. The interface is simple enough to use: the basic shooting modes are clearly indicated near the shutter button, other settings are hidden from the menu in the upper left corner of the display.
On the front of the phone is an 8-megapixel camera that makes smart selfies. This shot, which I look particularly good at, suffers from a rather large image noise in the upper left corner, while small details on my face are lost when viewed closely.
There is a beauty mode you can use when taking selfies that applies digital effects to your face, including skin whitening and smoothing, brightening and enlarging eyes, and enhancing your face. Of course, I turned it into maximum beauty and I think the results speak for themselves. The front-mounted LED flash doesn’t provide the funniest light on the face, but it’s powerful enough and will surely ignite selfies in dingy, underground bars, or low-light music concerts.
It only shoots full quality video (1,920×1,080 pixels) – there is no 4K video option like you would find on an S6 or LG G4. Exposure is reasonable, though bright moments can sometimes be blurred, colors are good, and frames are played smoothly. Image noise can be a problem in low light, but shooting your dog in the park is great.
- 2,700mAh battery
Power Supply – 2700mAh battery. It is a good sized cell and you can easily get a day out of it with moderate use. After playing music in the workplace, sending and receiving texts and emails throughout the day, and even games on the way home, you still have enough power to carry you through the evening. Of course, it still depends on how much you require.
In standby mode, it holds the charge very well, meaning if you try to send multiple messages during the day without leaving the screen for another time, you will get a longer time. This bright screen is the most power-intensive, so if you tend to leave it for a long time, checking texts or playing games for ages, you can expect that power will be wiped out pretty quickly.
The battery is sealed in the phone, so you cannot replace it with a new one when it is discharged. If you are a big user, you may want to consider storing a portable battery pack in your bag, just in case you are unable to connect to the plug quickly enough.
Huawei clearly puts the attention and attention to the design of the Mate S. It looks great, and its metal chassis with beveled edges makes it feel like a high-end soothing device. However, there are problems that prevent my phone from glowing through the review.
I’m still not interested in the custom Huawei Android skin, which is messy to use and doesn’t make it possible to knock down my phone processor more than I need. Of course, it does have a great pressure-sensitive screen that can be seen on the iPhone 6S, but on the Mate S it feels like just a marketing tactic to show that it is at the same level as an Apple phone. In fact, Huawei has little thought about how he wants to deploy the technology, and how such a touch is of no value to the Mate S.
Huawei typically offers its phones as more affordable alternatives to other phones, but the high price of the Mate S means it’s much less than a bargain than other Huawei devices. It’s a great all-rounder, but it’s not worth asking for the highest price. If this phone was reduced by about 25 percent, I would say it would be worth a look. As it is, your money is better spent elsewhere.
One good phone to look at is this Nexus 6P . Although Huawei’s made, this phone creates a lot of problems that I have with the Mate S. It’s easy to buy directly from the Google Play Store, it runs on the Android Marshmallow platform, and it supports metal design and a fingerprint scanner. It’s not cheap though.
If you are passionate about metal design but want to save some money, then the One M9 HTC should be on your street. It’s beautiful, with a full-screen display and high power. Alternatively, the skin is back on LG G4 it feels great and its ultra high definition display is crisp. Both phones have more standard Android interfaces (which I prefer) and can be taken for less than the Mate S.