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Huawei Ascend Mate2 first impressions: big screen, low price, solid construction

I was not prepared to be impressed by the Huawei Ascend Mate2, especially at a price of just $299.99. I am rather shocked after just a couple of days of use.
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1 of 17 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

HTC One (M8), Lumia 1520, Ascend Mate2, and Galaxy S5

Huawei does well with its phones in China, as shown in that has them in 3rd behind Samsung and Apple, but we haven't seen them officially launch in the US until now. I had rather low expectations for the Ascend Mate2, but am pleased to say that the device impressed me from the moment I opened the box.

I have been using the Ascend Mate2 for a few days and after more use I will write up my full review. In the meantime, here are a few of my initial thoughts, images of the device, and a few screenshots showing their unique UI.

Hardware

The Ascend Mate2 has a 6.1 inch display and when I heard that I expected the device to be massive. Huawei has done a fantastic job minimizing the bezel around the display, in all four directions. We have seen LG push the limits on minimizing bezels, but it looks like Huawei may even beat them with a 79 percent screen to body ratio. As you can see in my following images, the Mate2 is smaller than the Lumia 1520 with a 6 inch display and barely larger than the HTC One (M8) with a 5 inch display.

The display has a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels, which is lower than the latest flagships. Then again, the Ascend Mate2 is priced at half of the flagships and beats the mid-range Android line. The display actually looks great though and I would not pass this device up because it has a 720p screen.

The hardware feels great in the hand with nice curves, rock solid construction, and professional appearance. The back comes off to reveal the SIM card and microSD card slot. The battery is not removable, however it has a massive 3,900 mAh capacity. Yes, you read that right, the battery is huge and I am seeing it easily last a couple of days with heavy usage. No other phone I have tested or purchased can match the battery life of the Huawei Ascend Mate2 and if you need to be away from the plug for an extended period of time then I highly recommend you check this phone out.

I have only taken a couple of photos with the 13 megapixel camera and need to spend more time with it over the July 4th weekend. It also has a unique 5 megapixel front facing camera with Groufies, selfie shots with groups of people, being promoted because it captures three images to create a panoramic front facing image.

Software

The Ascend Mate2 currently runs the Android 4.3 version of Jelly Bean and is sure to be updated to KitKat at some point. Huawei selected quite a unique UI, called Emotion UI, that offers an iPhone-like experience with the addition of real widgets. There is no app drawer so all apps installed appear on one of the seven home screen panels. You can organize these apps into folders too.

It took me a bit to get used to not having an Android app drawer/launcher, but I have to say I am really starting to like this approach. On my other Android devices I create folders of apps on home screen panels and then create folders in the app drawer to continue to organize my apps. This is a bit tedious since the folders in the app drawers don't always carry over to the home screen.

iPhone users may feel quite comfortable with the Mate2 UI and enjoy the additional ability to have active widgets loaded on the home screen panels. You can always load up a 3rd party launcher too if you want a different user experience.

Huawei included some great utilities and functions within the Mate2 and I show a few in my screenshots.

Summary of initial thoughts

The Huawei Ascend Mate2 is a well designed and solidly constructed device that looks and feels more expensive than the low $299.99 no-contract price. Like my iPad, it seems to last forever and charging it up is not something you really have to think much about. The UI is a bit unique and actually quite efficient and appealing.

Even though the display is 6.1 inches, the device is not as large as you might imagine. Huawei did a rather amazing job with the Ascend Mate2 and I am seriously considering one for myself, just after a few days of use. Welcome to the USA Huawei, I look forward to seeing more from you.

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2 of 17 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Back of the HTC One (M8), Lumia 1520, Ascend Mate2, and Galaxy S5

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Opening up the Ascend Mate2 package

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Non-removable 3,900 mAh battery

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Slick lock screen with quick access shortcuts

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Typical home screen panel with widgets

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Change UI modes if you like

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Typical home screen panel with WOW button

The WOW (Windows on Windows) button can be moved around the display and gives you quick access to different functions.

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9 of 17 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

WOW in action with a couple windows on the display

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You can have nine home screen panels

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Battery lasts forever

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The Phone Manager utility is quite helpful

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Do not disturb is integrated into the UI

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Settings are laid out well with some special ones for the Ascend Mate2

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Backyard shot of my pomeranian

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Sunrise in Puyallup

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Downtown Seattle

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