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A big deal: Huawei’s Ascend Mate 7 reviewed

By Leigh D. Stark | 9:04 am 12/12/2014

Fancy a big phone with a huge price? Huawei may have the handset for you, and it may even have a leg up on quite a few of its colossal competitors.

Features

Huawei’s latest handsets is the Mate 7, a big phone that joins Huawei’s “Ascend” range of phones, and aims to deliver a phone for people who value the word “value,” and who demand quality but don’t necessarily want to fork out the high prices many smartphones ask for.

As such, the Ascend Mate 7 relies on home-grown technology that can deliver similar specs to the big phones, with a Huawei oct-core chip made from two quad-core bits of silicon, pushing out processor speeds of 1.3 and 1.8GHz, similar to what Samsung does with its chips in Galaxy Tab products like the Galaxy Tab S.

This is paired with 3GB RAM and 32GB storage, though microSD can expand this thanks to a very unusual microSD slot that you might be able to take advantage of, but we’ll get to that shortly.

Google’s Android 4.4 “KitKat” arrives on the Ascend Mate 7 out of the box, decked out with Huawei’s Emotion UI version 3.0, an Android overlay designed to look like it’s had a sprinkling of Apple’s iOS applied to it.

Connections for the Ascend Mate 7 arrive in the form of 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 with support for A2DP and LE (Low Energy), as well as GPS, Near-Field communication, and 4G LTE working over Category 6 technology making download speeds as high as 300Mbps with the technology also compatible with Category 4’s 150Mbps technology, too.

Cameras look to be fairly reasonable, too, with a 13 megapixel rear camera found on the Mate 7, while a 5 megapixel front-facing camera is there for selfies. For video capabilities, you’ll find that both the front and rear cameras can handle 1080p Full HD.

Huawei has also done something interesting with the SIM card slot, or rather “slots” as we should say, providing access for two SIM cards with the Mate 7 using either a microSIM tray and/or a nanoSIM tray that sits inside of the microSD tray.

Because of this dual-card tray, you’ll find you can have a rather unusual set of combinations, with a microSIM and microSD working in the phone, a microSIM and a nanoSIM, or just a nanoSIM and no microSD, making it a handset with a rather unique set of connection options, and one that may affect how you upgrade the memory of the handset.

It also arrives with a fingerprint scanner on the rear side of the handset for unlocking the smartphone.

All of this sits under a 6 inch In-Plane Switching (IPS) screen sporting the Full HD resolution of 1920×1080, and relying on a pixel clarity of 367 pixels per inch, a little over 40 higher than what the iPhone 5S and iPhone 6 display.

The chassis for the body is also mostly metal, as Huawei relies on aluminium for 95 percent of the phone, the rest generally being the glass covering the screen, with Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3 protecting that display.

Finally, there’s the battery which sits at a large 4100mAh and is not removable.

Huawei also includes some rather interesting inclusions in the box, such as an already-applied screen protector, a flip case with an NFC-enabled window cover, and a microUSB to microUSB converter for charging other devices from the phone itself.

Performance

Phablets or “tablet-sized phones” aren’t liked by everyone, but if you love the idea of a big phone, you know what you’re looking at. In this part of the market, Samsung reigns supreme, practically creating the section with its Galaxy Note devices, and joined later on by Sony with its Xperia Z Ultra, HTC with the One Max, and even Apple with the iPhone 6 Plus.

But before most of those players joined Samsung, there was Huawei.

Chinese manufacturer Huawei actually entered the phablet space before many of the others with a product called the Ascend Mate, which Australia has seen one of the two versions released. Back when these were released (Mate and Mate 2 smartphones), the Mate was more of a mid-range option to Samsung’s flagship entry, providing a big screen to people who wanted that, but not necessarily the pen or the high specs Samsung was providing.

This year, though, the Ascend Mate is a different beast: it’s actually premium.

Forget the plastic, because Huawei is thinking metal. Don’t think slow with 3G, think fast with 4G. And then add a bunch of other things you wouldn’t necessarily expect a not-quite-Galaxy Note to have, such as a fingerprint scanner, Category 6 internet, two SIMs, a 13 megapixel camera on the back and a 5 megapixel camera up front, and a whole load of customisation options for making Huawei’s operating system yours.

There’s even a case with window in the box, and a converter to make the microUSB charge and data port into something you can plug standard USB drives into.

The features are packed into the Ascend Mate 7, they really are. Now, is it any good?

Grab it from the box and you’ll feel a phone that really feels like quality. It’s quite a surprise turn for Huawei, a company that predominantly uses plastic, but has dabbled with bits and bobs of aluminium in the past.

But the Ascend Mate 7 is all metal, or mostly anyway when you don’t include the screen, with a body comprising of around 95% metal. The use of that material gives the Ascend Mate 7 a true premium feel that other plastic competitors just don’t totally have, and it’s a real surprise to see that from Huawei, but we like it all the same.

The design is relatively simple, though, so not too much to get accustomed to: a screen with metal borders at the top and bottom, and some very small bezel framing the display altogether. Overall, it’s a clean look, and one we suspect most people will have no problems with.

Weight clocks in at 185 grams, so it’s not particularly light, though does manage to get in lighter than the HTC One Max from last year which competes with a similar screen size.

And yes, we know we need to talk about screen size, so let’s do that now.

We’ve already said that the Ascend Mate 7 is a phablet, but what does that mean exactly, or rather, what does a tablet-sized phone mean for the screen?

In the case of this phone, Huawei has equipped a 6 inch Full HD display, providing a little more in space than the other smartphones we see, as it’s 0.3 inches larger than the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 (5.7 inches) and 0.1 inches more than the HTC One Max (5.5 inches), though Huawei has provided only a Full HD display, a resolution that is smaller than what is inside the Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge products.

That said, it is larger, and while there’s no stylus for jotting ideas or notes down, it’s a big screen nonetheless, and that’s exactly what some people are after.

Matched with a Full HD resolution, Huawei’s Mate 7 screen isn’t going to blow your eyelids off with amazing pupil-busting clarity, but you’re also not going to notice any pixels either, with a pleasing level of detail found in the icons used within.

Huawei’s take on Android is an interesting one, and if you’ve come from Apple’s iOS in the past, you’ll appreciate what the company is doing, ditching the extra app menu and letting widgets and apps exist side by side in a rather iOS-inspired fashion.

As usual, Huawei has provided a clock and weather widget with music and photo albums, but for the most part, it’s an easy interface to get accustomed to, though experienced Android users may find the removal of a menu system a little strange.

Huawei has also made some changes to standard Android bits and bobs, such as the on-screen soft buttons which now resemble what Google will be rolling out in Android Lollipop when devices beyond the Nexus 6 get it, a photo gallery browser that can not only show images but also show the camera on top of the images, several lock screen unlock systems one of which can work with the built-in fingerprint scanner (more on that shortly), and a timeline for the notification dropdown.

As far as customisation options go, there are quite a few: grid sizes, transitions, if the home screens feed into each other in an infinite loop or stop at the end of the cycle. Lockscreen styles are also here thanks to the regular bits of security — password, PIN, and pattern — as well as the fingerprint scanner, but there are also themes, several of which are ready for you to go, but with others that can be found later on. These can let you change the font, and icons, and the list goes on.

Overall, it’s relatively clean and easy to use, though Huawei’s lighter colour scheme can conflict with other Android notifications, an issue we’ve seen pop up on the Huawei overlay in the past.

That’s something we expect a bug fix or two can deal with, but it’s still a solid effort all round and adds to a phone that shows that Huawei is thinking about the phone in more than just a “me-too” kind of way.

The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 in its complimentary case.

Over to the camera side, and while the modules here won’t win best in class, the 13 megapixel rear-shooter and 5 megapixel front-facing camera will make most happy, competing quite well with other phablets in the world.

Daylight will yield the best results, hardly a surprise, but you should find something to work with at night, too, and while the camera interface is easy to comprehend — very easy — even switching to landscape mode won’t change the orientation of the on-screen controls, sticking in portrait only.

Benchmarks for the phone aren’t top of the pops, but we found the performance was pretty solid across the board, with a hint of lag as you jumped from app to app, but not enough to put a sour face on others.

4G LTE also offered some solid download speeds, and while the phone supports Category 6’s 300Mbps speed, our test downloads on Telstra’s 4GX network only found speeds from between 20 and 60Mbps, though more is certainly possible.

At least the battery is stable across two days, and that’s what our testing revealed, providing two solid days of phone calls, listening to music, web surfing, messaging, emails, social networking, taking photos, and the odd bit of gaming.

That’s a better performance than some other phablets we’ve seen this year, and while the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 doesn’t quite have the same resolution screen as some of what it competes against, it still ends up with a top notch battery life.

Finally, there’s the value adds, and these are things that surprise us, though they are in the box, and surprise us majorly.

One is a case with a window, allowing you to protect your phone from the get go, and still letting you take a peak into what the phone is doing, who’s calling, or what music you’re playing, which is something that companies would generally charge for.

The other is a small microUSB cable  included to let you charge other devices with that massive battery, or even take charge from other devices and recharge your Huawei.

It’s an interesting inclusion, that’s for sure, and one the company wasn’t required to bring over, so it’s nice to see something so generous inside the box.

There’s also the fingerprint reader, a premium feature that we’re not used to seeing from phones outside of Samsung and Apple, except for that one moment HTC included it in a design with the One Max.

Huawei’s fingerprint location can be good or bad depending on the size of your hand, but if you have big digits, you’ll probably be fine with its placement: directly beneath the camera on the back. Smaller fingers may struggle, though, thanks to this unusual position, and if this happens, we’d register the same fingerprint several times, otherwise you’ll find the reader rarely works. Big fingers seem to be fine for the most part, but those of you with smaller or daintier hands may run into problems.

Fortunately, you’re not required to use the fingerprint reader unless you want to.

And that’s pretty much what the Ascend Mate 7 feels like: a generous package driven by value, especially for people who fancy a big phone with a big heart and not too big a price, and it works well to deliver this, it really does.

We’ve already said we’re not huge fans of Huawei’s overlay, but thanks to Android being so modular, we could easily change this later on, switching to Google’s Now launcher or Aviate. If you don’t mind the iOS-inspired EMUI system, you don’t need to change it, and can fiddle with the settings until your heart is content.

Some things can’t be changed, though, with a couple of bugs here and there, such as with the lockscreen’s music player, which tends to default on the stock music player and not on what you’re actually listening to music with.

For instance, if you listen to music with Google Play Music, the lockscreen will show the album art for the music you’re listening to, and that’s great. But if you click the track skip button and go forward, Google Play will go away and the stock music app for the phone will load up, even if you don’t normally use it.

It’s a bug, and it’s an annoying one, practically telling you never to change tracks when you’re sitting on the lockscreen. Hopefully Huawei fixes this sooner rather than later.

Our last quibble is with the two slots on the Ascend Mate 7: microSIM and nanoSIM.

Now there’s nothing wrong with having either of these, and the inclusion of both is awesome not just because it delivers both 3G and 4G in a dual SIM phone, something that is very rare, but also because it means if you’re upgrading from a recent phone, you’ll be able to plug your SIM into one of these phones and just have everything work.

But the nanoSIM slot isn’t primarily a nanoSIM slot; rather, it’s a microSD slot that can take either a microSD memory card or a nanoSIM.

Unfortunately, however, Huawei’s microSIM slot doesn’t share the same design, and if you install a nanoSIM, you lose out on the microSD slot, dampening things a little.

Sure, there’s a good 32GB of storage in the phone, and that’s great, but it’s a little disheartening to know that nanoSIM owners — potentially former iPhone owners — switching to the Huawei will miss out on upgradeable storage just because of their SIM style.

Alternatively, we suspect people with these cards could use the microSIM slot provided they were using a nanoSIM to microSIM converter, freeing up their microSD tray once and for all.

Conclusion

Huawei’s first serious phablet is a hit as far as value goes, packing so much in it’s hard not to see the work the manufacturer has put into this product.

From the excellent build quality in a phone running two days of battery life, to the amount of extra features you’ll find inside the Ascend Mate 7, Huawei has provided a serious alternative to someone who wants a big phone but isn’t phased by high-price tag either the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 or Apple iPhone 6 Plus run with.

Constant travellers also have something to cheer for as this is the first dual-SIM smartphone you will actually want, utilising both 3G and 4G, instead of the regular 2G/3G split we’re so used to seeing on smartphones.

Indeed, there is much to like here, and if you fancy a big screen and a value, we’d check out the Ascend Mate 7, as it practically has your name on it.

Price (RRP)

$699

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Decent screen; Excellent build quality, relying on metal; Excellent battery life; High-speed 4G LTE, with support for Category 6 LTE in the box; Comes with a microUSB to USB converter in the box; Comes with a screen protector preinstalled; Includes a windowed case in the box; The first dual-SIM phone you’ll want, with 4G support; MicroSD slot also works as a nanoSIM slot;

Product Cons

Fingerprint reader can be hit and miss depending on hand size; Lockscreen should support other music players, but doesn’t seem to; If you use nanoSIM, you won’t have a microSD slot available to you; If you use two SIMs, you won’t have a microSD slot available to you;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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