Mobile Geeks reviewed the Huawei Ascend Mate 7, a 6 inch Android phablet that targets the high-end segment with an array of impressive specifications and an aggressive 500 Euro price tag. Can it really stand tall against devices such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4?
Here at Mobile Geeks, we have been fortunate enough to get hold of the new flagship phablet from Huawei, receiving an early engineering sample at the launch event in Berlin last week. The launch event itself was a testament to the scale of the company’s ambition – hiring the Velodrome stadium in Berlin, filling it with journalists, showing them the new Ascend Mate 7 and then putting one in their hands as they walked out the door. Who does that anymore?
The Huawei event also highlighted the larger ambitions of the Mainland Chinese company who have set their sights on penetrating European markets; the Ascend mate 7 and the more affordable Ascend G are key weapons in their armory. Today, we review the Ascend Mate 7 in some depth to asses whether or not the device can stand tall and compete with other high-end phablets like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the iPhone 6 Plus.
Don’t forget to watch this head to head comparison video of the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4; a real battle of the Phablets:
Huawei Ascend Mate 7: Hardware Overview
The overall design of the Ascend 7 actually reminds me quite a bit of the HTC One M7, being dominated by a solid feeling aluminum uni-body design. I was a huge fan of the One M7 and M8, and once again I am totally impressed with an approach that reeks quality and durability. In terms of size, arguably the HTC One Max would be a more accurate comparison, however, the Mate 7 does much better in terms of screen to body ratio. The Mate 7 is actually 83% screen, if Huawei is to be believed, so despite having a 6 inch display, the device feels less unwieldy than you would expect.
The Ascend Mate 7 is a big device however. The 6 inch display is larger than Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus at 5.5 inches and the Samsung Note 4 at 5.7 inches. To underline again how well Huawei are doing with this screen, compare the lengths of the handsets. The Huawei is 157mm long, the Galaxy Note 4 is 153.5mm and get this, the iPhone 6 Plus is 158mm in length. In terms of screen size, the 5.9 inch One Max is closest to the Mate 7, but comes in at over 164mm long. Night and day.
I know I am in danger of repeating myself here, but let’s really grasp this. The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 simply is has the most efficient use of space ever on a Phablet. It is a big phone, but it’s mostly pure screen, having a better screen to body ratio than any competing device out there.
The screen in question is a 6 inch 1080p IPS LCD from JDI. Other key specs include Huawei’s in-house developed processor, the Kirin 925 from subsidiary HiSicon. There’s a 13MP camera on the rear and 5MP on the front, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, plus support for a micro SD card. Full specification sheet is presented below.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7: Full Specifications
• 6 inch IPS LCD from JDI
• 1920 x 1080 (Corning Gorilla Glass)
• HiSilicon Kirin 925 (Octa-core at 1.8GHz/1.3GHz)
• 2GB RAM
• 16GB Storage
• microSD card support
• 13MP Rear cam with Autofocus/LED Flash
• 5MP Front Camera
• Global LTE Cat 6, HSDPA support
• WiFi b/g/n
• Bluetooth 4.0 / GPRS
• Fingerprint reader
• 157mm x 81mm x 7.9mm
• 185 grams
• Dual Micro SIM
• 4,100mAH Battery (non-removable)
• Silver, Black, Gold (Special Edition – 3GB RAM/64GB)
These specifications are definitely giving you the feeling that the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 is a solid high-end offering, although we would still need to confirm if the HiSilicon processor can keep pace with Qualcomm’s top tier chips, and of course the camera will need assessing as ever. On the surface however, the Mate 7 seems to have plenty in its locker with feature highlights that include a fingerprint reader, Dual micro SIM support and a whopping great 4,100mAh battery.
Design and Build Quality
As I touched on earlier, the Ascend Mate 7 starts life as a rectangular chunk of aluminum, which is then tooled and honed to become the uni-body chassis upon which the LCD panel is mounted. HTC perfected a very similar build on the One M7 and M8, and I was a huge fan. My enthusiasm for this kind of design has not waned, indeed I am stoked that finally we are seeing another company implement a similar design ethos. The Ascend Mate 7 would be closer to the M7 than the more curved and convex M8. There is a gentle contoured roundness to the device which makes it feel very comfortable in the hand.
Button placement involves having both power and volume rocker on the upper right side edge, with both buttons also made of aluminum. They feel very solid, responsive and durable. The USB 2.0 port is located in the center of the lower edge, while the dual SIM cards and micro SD card slots are accessed by using a pin (included in the retail package).
The rear of the device has the 13MP sensor slap bang in the upper middle of the device. There are two separate sections at the top and bottom of the rear, each of which Huawei tells us, contain antennae. The camera sensor seems to be joined to the upper antenna section by a short, pronounced line – this we are told is NFC antenna. To the left of the camera symmetry is abandoned as we have the LCD flash module. Quite a substantial square fingerprint reader is located just below the camera lens. There is a small and discreet Huawei logo on the lower rear, with certification details beneath and a small speaker hole to the right.
The finish is simply aluminum. It feels smooth, doesn’t attract fingerprints and is also pretty difficult to tarnish. In general the feeling in the hand is exceptional. It feels as solid and durable as either of the HTC One devices, even if the finish is a little more metallic. The build quality of the Mate 7 is great, and easily favorable to any Samsung device, competing very well with Sony, HTC and other flagship devices. It simply oozes quality.
If you want to see the retail package of the Huawei Ascend Mate 7, check out our unboxing video which we shot in Berlin a few days ago:
As I mentioned earlier, the first thing that you will find with the display of the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 is that the display does not really feel to be so much bigger than the 5.7 inch Samsung Note 3 or Note 4. Huawei have done a great job keeping the device as small as possible (remember, the iPhone 6 Plus is actually longer), but you are getting a lot of display for your money as it completely dominates the front of the device.
The 6 inch IPS LCD panel has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 with a pixel-per-inch ratio of 368 PPI protected by good old fashioned Gorilla Glass 3. Do I wish that it had a 1440p resolution? To be fair, the issues that our buddy Nicole Scott has encountered with the LG G3 and its QHD display lead me to think that perhaps Huawei have made the correct call on this device. 1080p looks great on the Mate 7. It would be interesting to compare the same device with a 2560 x 1440 resolution panel, but I am 100% convinced that the heat, power and graphics performance issues raised by QHD screens is really a better option.
In terms of brightness, the display on the Mate 7 will win no contests going head to head with the Samsung Galaxy series. Samsung currently have the best and brightest panels in the world, so perhaps it’s a little unfair to criticize Huawei or Japan Display Inc who manufactured it. JDI also produced the displays for both the OnePlus One and the Xiaomu Mi4, both considered some of the best IPS offerings we have seen. The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 is of a similar caliber. The colors look great, the blacks are very dark, the viewing angles are awesome. I just wish I could squeeze a touch more brightness out of it at times.
In terms of mobile processors, the vast majority of smartphone vendors purchase 3rd party components from companies like Qualcomm, MediaTek, RockChip, Intel, Nvidia or Samsung – I think that list probably covers 99% of the world’s smartphones. Only Apple and Samsung are in the position to take advantage of their own silicon with the in-house developed A-Series and Exynos System-on-Chip offerings. Let’s not forget that Samsung are still one of Qualcomm’s biggest customers, using the processors like the Snapdragon 801 and 805 in their own flagship offerings.
All of which makes Huawei a pretty unique entity, integrating the HiSilicon Kirin 925 mobile chip in the Ascend mate 7. The HiSilicon is a fully owned subsidiary of Huawei, a fabless semiconductor manufacturer specializing in ARM based mobile processors.
Huawei have several ARM licenses, but the Kirin 925 is actually an Octa-core chip based on the big.LITTLE architecture from ARM which in this cases places four Cortex A7 cores clocked at a maximum of 1.3GHz alongside four more powerful Cortex A15 cores that can reach up to 1.8GHz. The idea of course is that the smaller, low power consuming A7s are used during less demanding tasks like phone calls, messaging etc, and the beefier A15s coming in to play when you are gaming, enjoying HD media or adding filters to your photos. The key to it all is optimizing the cores to dynamically switch between idle and operational states as quickly as possible, cranking up the core clocks only when needed. The graphics processor on the Kirin 925 is the Mali T628 from ARM.
We ran our usual benchmarks including Quadrant, AnTuTu, Vellamo, 3DMark, GeekBench 3 and GFX Bench to evaluate performance of the Mate 7. Check the scores below, presented alongside scores for three top tier flagship smartphones that use the Snapdragon 801 from Qualcomm.
Hislicon Kirin 925 vs Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
|Huawei Ascend Mate 7 (Kirin 925)||Sony Xperia Z2||Samsung Galaxy S5||HTC One M8|
|GFX Bench Manhattan||8fps||11.7fps||11.5fps||11.1fps|
|GFX Bench T-Rex||Failed||26.9fps||27.1fps||28.2fps|
|3DMark - Ice Storm||13505||18753||18373||20594|
Overall the Kirin 925 performs well enough to give Qualcomm a run for their money. It is interesting to see that in Quadrant, the Mate 7 is quite off the pace, but in AnTuTu we see a clear lead. The story gets clearer if we look at Geek Bench, where we again see the Kirin lag behind the Snapdragon in single threaded scoring, but taking a considerable lead in the multi-tasking score. This is not so surprising as we have seen Octa-core platforms take the lead in multi-threaded benchmarks before. However, if we look at 3DMark and GFX Bench scoring, the Kirin is way behind, which tells us that the graphics processing of the Qualcom chip and its Adreno 330 GPU is considerably stronger.
We found that the Kirin 925 tended to demand plenty of system memory, especially during 3D gaming tasks. In fact the GFX Bench T-Rex 1080p test continually failed due to memory demands. However, the Mate 7 sample we have is in fact an engineering sample, so perhaps the memory footprint issues during GPU tasking can be tweaked and improved on the final retail model.
The Mate 7 also offers solid gaming on its 1080p screen, despite the Mali T628 trailing Adreno 330 in the benchmarks. How well it would fare on a QHD screen however, is debatable.
In general, the performance of the Android 4.4.2 OS is slick and very smooth. Multi-tasking was also solid without getting overly warm in the hand, even during game-play. The Kirin 925 is in reality a very solid option for a high-end smartphone like the Huawei Ascend Mate 7.
Audio playback using the speakers of the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 is reasonably loud, in fact at times, once cranked up at full volume the device itself almost seems to vibrate as one. There is just a little distortion at full volume, but in general the audio experience is clearer and fuller than most smartphones. It’s almost as if the chassis itself lends to a more balanced, fuller sound.
The device’s single speaker, however, is located on the lower rear of the device, placed on the left, which means it can easily be obscured by your fingers, especially when holding it in a horizontal position – this results in much lower volume output as you would expect. It is a common complaint, and one that is raised again here. The minimal length of the device would doubtless be altered considerably if the device integrated speakers similar to what we see on the HTC One series – trade offs abound as always. The audio playback however is certainly better than the majority of devices we have tested.
The 13MP sensor on the Huawei is described as a 4th generation 13MP Sony Exmor BSI sensor. The photos that we have taken while reviewing the phone certainly prove that the Mate 7 is capable of taking some really good pics., but like many smartphone cameras, the device does very well in well lit outdoor scenarios, but things get a bit more difficult in lower light. The overall feeling is that the 13MP lens is good, but not great. Samsung and Sony have nothing to fear, as the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2/3 are still currently the best around. Nothing about the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 has made me change my mind on this point.
The software is fairly simple to use and the auto-focus is actually exceptionally fast, which I like. It is very easy to apply filters in real time, switch to the gallery and also switch between front and back sensors and settings which include the full gamut of options for white balance, GPS tagging, save location, timer control, button controls and more. The app is well implemented and thought through.
One neat feature that we like is the All-focus feature which when engaged allows for focus and re-focus adjustment in post processing. It doesn’t quite work as well as the HTC One M8 which has additional sensors, but as with the Galaxy S5 and others, it actually works reasonably well if you get your distances right.
Overall, the camera on the Hauwei Ascend Mate 7 is solid but not exceptional. In good light you can take great shots, and even in poor light, it actually does quite well. The auto-focus is fast, the filters work in real-time and look good, plus you have a decent re-focus mode too. It’s not a game changer, but it is more than good enough.
Huawei has really spent some time getting the software experience as attractive as possible and the end result is one of the most visually attractive Android user experiences you will ever find. The device comes with six themes pre-installed and they all look and feel great. Each has its won icon scheme, tones, lock screen transitions and more with genuinely attractive designs that you can dip into. Take the screen lock image from here, add the icons you like from another to generally mix and match. Customization options abound.
Check out the pre-installed themes below:
Huawei has installed so many attractive photographs so that in the default ‘Magazine’ theme, the images move in a cycle so that almost every time you unlock the device you have a new image. The sheer number of attractive images is astounding.
The EMUI that Huawei offers here is a joy to use. It’s deeply customized and very far from a vanilla Android build. The overall design is actually very similar to what Xiaomi has done with their MIUI, which in fact borrows quite a bit from Apple. There is no app draw, all apps are found on the front desktops screens, although as with Xiaomi, you can create plenty of folders.
The apps that come pre-installed are good looking and well thought out. Again, I cannot help thinking about Xiaomi and the influence they have had in the development of Huawei’s EMUI. Pre-installed apps include Themes, Video Player, Notepad, File Manager, Phone Manager, Weather, FM radio, Mirror, Magnifier, Voice Dialer, Torch, Voice Recorder, Calender, Calculator and more. These are joined by pretty much all the Google Apps, plus Polaris Office for your productivity suite. There is very little bloatware and the overall package is comprehensive and the apps are well designed and simplistic.
Overall, the EMUI experience is fantastic. Kudos to Huawei.
The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 has one of the biggest batteries you will find, with a 4,100mAh Li-On battery that will last you at least 2 days of standard usage. Heavy users will find it lasting a full day without issue.
I am not sure what else to say really, except that the device also has three battery settings, that include Normal, Smart and Ultra. Smart will dynamically adjust CPU load and networking to optimize battery life (this is the default setting), while Ultra will limit you to basic call and messaging functions to really extend the battery life as much as possible. Ultra mode is set to kick in a 8% battery level.
Finger Print Reader
I was actually fairly critical in the review on the Samsung Galaxy S5 and its fingerprint reader, arguing that as a genuine security feature, it seemed pretty redundant if the phone could ultimately be opened with a password or swipe pattern. The Huawei Ascend mate 7 also integrates a fingerprint reader, and in essence the same criticism is leveled here. In fairness to Huawei, the actual implementation of the scanner seems better implemented on the Mate 7, rivaling Apple’s implementation of the iPhone 5S.
The reader itself is a fairly large square that sits just below the camera on the reverse of the device. It’s approximately 1cm square and works in either direction, which is good while also working with wet hands. You don’t need to swipe your finger across the sensor, simply touch it with the pad of your enrolled finger and the phone will unlock.
The sensor itself is arguably better than we have on the Galaxy S5. It’s larger and better shaped for finger sensing too. As somebody who is not a fan of such a feature, I have to admit that the Huawei implementation works very well and is fairly reliable. You can store up to five prints and can also lock certain files and folders with a specific print.
The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 sends a very strong message the industry as a whole, proving that they really can compete in the high-end smartphone segment. It is by definition a phablet, and as such its 6 inch frame will inevitably not appeal to all. But don’t be fooled, this is Huawei’s main weapon in the high-end space, having realized that the bleeding edge of Android smartphone design resides within the large screen arena.
The standard version of the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 will set you back 500 Euros. The 32GB/3GB version of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 currently retails for closer to 1,000 Euros. Is the Note 4 worth twice that of the Ascend Mate 7? Not a chance. The Mate 7 is a worthy contender, and a very realistic alternative to the Note 4.
Anybody who would consider the Galaxy Note 4 as their phone of choice, must also consider the Mate 7. It does not give you a 1440p display, an advanced stylus experience and probably a best-in-class camera, but for half the price, you are getting a truly great 6 inch Android device.