Huawei Ascend Mate2 review: No-contract, low price phone that lasts forever

Summary:Huawei launched their first phone selling directly in the US with the Ascend Mate2 and it is quite compelling at a low $299.99 unlocked, no-contract price.

Huawei Ascend Mate2 review: No-contract, low price phone that lasts forever

Huawei recently brought their first phone to the US in the form of the Ascend Mate2 and after using it for about 10 days I believe it is definitely a phone to consider if you want an affordable, no-contract, SIM-unlocked phone with a very large display and battery that just goes and goes.

I posted some first impressions last week and also included the Ascend Mate2 in my Six clicks article yesterday . I've had a T-Mobile SIM in it for all this time and wanted to share more of my experiences.

Hardware

The Huawei Ascend Mate2 is a big device and that is what it is designed to be. They did a better job than most manufacturers in reducing the side bezels around the display and there is not much room used above and below it either. The display is a 720p variant, but it still looks great with solid viewing angles and good color.

Above the display you will find the 5 megapixel front facing camera that has the ability to capture panoramic selfies so you can capture yourself and your friends. A proximity sensor is located next to the front facing camera.

There are back, home, and multi-tasking capacitive software buttons at the bottom of the display.

The power button and volume button are along the right side. The power button is positioned near the middle so it is easy to press when you hold the large phone in one hand.

There is nothing on the left side. The microUSB charging port is on the bottom with a mic close by. The 3.5mm headset jack and another mic are on the top.

The back is removable so you can acces the microSD and SIM card slots. It uses a microSIM so I had to use an adapter with my nanoSIM card. The battery is not removable. The camera is centered near the top of the back with a flash positioned below the camera lens. The Huawei name and logo are below the flash. A mono speaker is centered near the bottom of the back. It is not going to blow you away, but is acceptable for alarms.

The back plastic is smooth with a textured pattern under the high gloss finish. It is a real fingerprint magnet and like the front it seems to take a lot of rubbing to get face grease and fingerprints off the material. I've seen this before on lower cost Nokia devices and it is the one readily apparent aspect of the Mate2 that indicates it is an inexpensive device.

The camera does fine, but can't compare to my Lumia 1520 or the Galaxy S5. I would put it at about the same as the Moto X where you can capture decent photos for sharing to social networks. The front facing camera does pretty well and I like that you can capture others in the shot. HTC does the best with their wide angle front facing cameras, but the Mate2 is a close second in this type of shot.

The Ascend Mate2 has a whopping 3,900 mAh battery and it easily went for a day of heavy usage and multiple days with lighter usage. I have not seen a phone last this long and I can't tell you what a breath of fresh air it was to not have to worry about finding a charger at the end of my busy day. The long battery life alone almost has me thinking about this as a secondary Android device.

Software

When I first fired up the Mate2, I couldn't figure out how to get to the app drawer. After installing some apps from the Google Play Store I realized that there is no app drawer in their Emotion UI. App shortcuts appear on home screen panels. You can then organize them in folders and they function just like iOS or in the app drawer on most other Android devices.

You can have up to nine home screen panels so there is plenty of room for apps. There are also plenty of widgets you can put on the home screen panels, by tapping and holding on an open spot and selecting what you want.

There are quick controls in the top of the notification area and you can customize the order and shortcuts that are included here. There is even a gloves mode option for the display.

One feature of their UI is the WOW (windows-on-window) button that is pretty slick. You can move around this opaque circle to wherever you like it best on the display. Tapping it reveals options to go back, go home, open a small secondary window (lets you pop up the calendar, text message, note, or calculator), lock the device, and initiate storage cleaner.

The storage cleaner utility cleans the cache out, cleans up residual files, and performs other type of functions to optimize the device performance. It is great to see this kind of control being exposed to the user on an Android phone and I appreciated knowing this kind of information.

The Phone Manager utility is quite useful with functions that include cleaning storage, power saving toggle, do not disturb toggle, notification manager access, and more.

There are various themes to choose from that will change the wallpaper and lock screen shortcuts. I loved the colorful theme (loaded by default) and found the quick access to the camera, phone, text message, and unlock to be very useful. You can even customize a selected theme too so there is a lot you can do to personalize the device.

Usage and experiences

I was very impressed with the hardware, battery life, and performance of the Ascend Mate2. If I didn't already own a Galaxy S5, I would likely have already purchased a Mate2 as my large screen Android device. The UI is pretty slick and I like some of the software utilities they provide.

While the display is a 720p display, I still found it to be quite good with clear fonts and true colors. Huawei did a great job at minimizing the bezels around the display too so even though the display is 6.1 inches it doesn't feel that big in the hand.

The fingerprints and face grease buildup bothers me a bit and I had to wipe the display and back down quite a bit to keep it looking good. I tested out the white model and understand there is also a black model available.

Pros and cons

To summarize my experiences with the Huawei Ascend Mate2, here are my pros and cons.

Pros Cons
Super long battery life Lower resolution display
High quality construction Display smudges easily and take a lot to clean off
Very low price for the size Average camera performance
Handy and simple user interace  
No contract and support for US LTE networks  

Pricing and availability

The Huawei Ascend Mate2 is available now from the Huawei US website for $299.99. You get 20GB of free online storage for the lifetime of your phone from Bitcasa and can use the Rescue App to get tech support help directly on the Mate2.

The competition

There are other large display devices, including the Galaxy Note 3, Nokia Lumia 1520, Sony Xperia Ultra, LG G Flex, and HTC One Max. However, I am not sure there really is much competition to the Ascend Mate2 when you consider it is priced about half of what all these other phones cost.

There are some other large screen phones such as the HTC One (M8), Galaxy S5, OnePlus One, Nexus 5, and others, but these all have quite a bit smaller form factors.

Specifications

  • Processor: Quad-core 1.6 GHz processor
  • Display: 6.1 inch 1280x720 Gorilla Glass 3 display
  • OS: Android 4.3 with Emotion UI
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Internal storage: 16 GB
  • External storage: microSD card
  • Cameras: 13 megapixel rear and 5 megapixel front facing
  • Battery capacity: Non-removable 3,900 mAh
  • Dimensions: 160 mm x 83.8 mm x 9.4 mm at 202 grams

Conclusion

I did not expect much from the Ascend Mate2 due to the low price with reasonably high-end specifications. The construction is quite impressive though and the battery life is stunning. I have come to like the Emotion UI that combines widgets from Android with application shortcuts on the home screen from iOS.

If you want a large screen device at a low price with support for US GSM carriers, then the Huawei Ascend Mate2 is definitely a device to consider. It excels in battery life while the rest of the experience is quite satisfying, and that's about everything you could ask for at the $300 price point.

Contributor's rating: 8.5 out of 10

Topics: Mobility, Android, Reviews, Smartphones

About

Matthew Miller started using a mobile devices in 1997 and has been writing news, reviews, and opinion pieces ever since. He is a co-host with GigaOM's Kevin Tofel on the MobileTechRoundup podcast and an author of three Wiley Companion series books. Matthew started using mobile devices with a US Robotics Pilot 1000 and has owned over 200 d... Full Bio

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