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Review: Huawei Ascend Mate 2

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Jul 11, 2014, 3:50 PM   by Eric M. Zeman

The Ascend Mate 2 from Huawei represents an interesting choice. This big-screened Android smartphone isn't being sold by US carriers, but it is available unlocked and on the cheap from Huawei itself. Here is Phone Scoop's full report.


Is It Your Type

The Ascend Mate 2 costs just $300 and is being sold directly by Huawei unlocked. If you're looking for an out-of-the-way bargain that's perfect for no-contract situations and is big on performance to boot, the Ascend Mate 2 should be on your short list.


The Ascend Mate 2 is a big, big phone. It's about the same size as the Samsung Galaxy Mega, which is probably also its closest competition in terms of specs and price. With a six-inch screen, the Mate 2 borders on tablet-esque dimensions. It is large, heavy, and often requires two hands.

Visually, the Mate 2 is a fairly non-descript phone; a black slab with little personality. The front and back surfaces are solid black. Only a band around the edge, which is dark chrome, breaks up what would otherwise be a solid chunk of inky blackness. The Mate 2 is bereft of design flourishes and is conservative almost to a fault. Since it has almost no individuality, it will fit in just about anywhere. Only individuals stand out, and the Mate 2 is part of the crowd.


Large phones are often cumbersome to use, and the Mate 2 is no different. It's more than six inches tall, more than 3 inches wide, and nearly a full centimeter thick. It is weighty in both your hand and your pocket, if it fits at all. I found it barely squeezed into some of my jeans pockets, though my cargo shorts offered plenty of room. A lot of people like to go with the biggest device they can afford, but there are practical limits to this ideology. Phones as big as the Mate 2 push those limits. Though it offers some software tricks to help, one-handed use is nearly impossible. I often had to hold the phone in one hand and poke at the screen with the other. Those with small hands will almost always need to use two hands.

The materials are acceptable, but certainly not high quality. The glass on the front feels good under the thumb, as do the slippery side edges. I'm not the biggest fan of the rear cover, which has a microscopic pattern to it. Your skin can't really feel it, but if you slide a fingernail across it you'll feel the texture. It has a dull look to it thanks to the matte finish.

The bulk of the front surface is of course the display. The side bezels are nice and thin, though there are black bars - about 1 cm thick each - above and below the screen. The Mate 2 makes use of on-screen buttons, so there are no dedicated controls on the front of the hardware itself. There's a notch carved into the top of the glass for the earpiece grill. There is the slightest rim around the screen to protect it when placed face down on flat surfaces. It didn't irritate me as some do.

Buttons and controls are really kept to a minimum. Both the screen lock and volume toggle are on the right edge of the phone. The screen lock button is placed about in the middle and has a good profile and good travel and feedback. The volume toggle is closer to the top, and also has a good profile and travel/feedback. Huawei did a great job with the buttons. The stereo headphone jack is on top and the microUSB port is on the bottom. The left edge is an unbroken, smooth surface. There is no camera button.

The rear cover is a cinch to remove. It peels right off thanks to a notch for your thumb. I'd call it a bit flimsy, though. Worse, despite the fact that the rear cover comes off, the battery is not accessible at all. The SIM and memory card slots are both easily accessible once the cover is removed.

There's nothing offensive about the Mate 2, but there's nothing really special about it, either. It is functional, no doubt.



The Mate 2's screen measures 6.1 inches across the diagonal, which is about the biggest available on a modern smartphone. (For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy Mega is 6 inches, the HTC One max is 5.9 inches.) Disappointingly, the Mate 2's display offers only 1280 x 720 pixels instead of full HD. The combined resolution and size make for somewhat lower pixel density than I prefer. That said, it's not horrible. Pixels aren't visible unless you hold the Mate 2 right up close to your eyes. Brightness is decent and viewing angles are actually quite good. (There's no color shift or brightness drop-off when the phone is tilted side-to-side.) As long as you can avoid glare, the Mate 2's screen is bright enough for use outdoors.

The screen is sensitive enough so it can be used with gloves. This extra sensitivity is turned off by default; you have to switch it on come winter.


Huawei sent us an unlocked Mate 2 that's compatible with the networks of both AT&T and T-Mobile. I used it on both and found it worked well on their HSPA/LTE networks. Data speeds over AT&T's LTE network in my area averaged about 15 Mbps, while T-Mobile's averaged 25 Mbps. The Mate 2 was more consistent at connecting calls on AT&T's network than it was T-Mobile's, but it held calls on both networks even under the weakest signal conditions. Data speeds remained quick under weak coverage, but T-Mobile's more limited LTE footprint meant the Mate 2 dropped all the way down to EDGE data a couple of times as I tested it around northern New Jersey. At the end of the day, though, the Mate performed really well on both AT&T and T-Mobile and didn't give me any trouble.


Phone calls are a bit of an issue. The quality is fine. Calls were crystal clear on both AT&T and T-Mobile's networks. The Mate 2 didn't experience any interference or background noise at all. The problem is volume. Both the earpiece and speakerphone are far too quiet. I had real trouble hearing calls in my quiet house, let alone anywhere noisy like a coffee shop or city street. I tested the Mate 2 on the busy sidewalks of New York City and couldn't hear a darned thing, even with the volume set all the way up. The speakerphone is even worse. I had a hard time hearing calls in my quiet office. I dug around the Mate 2's settings and there are no buried controls that raise the volume. The Mate 2 may offer clear calls, but you can hardly hear them. Those with whom I spoke through the Mate 2 said I sounded far away. Alerts and ringtones were barely loud enough to get my attention. The vibrate alert is good, though.


Thanks to its huge footprint, Huawei was able to stuff a massive 3,900 mAh battery into the Mate 2. This translates into killer battery life. The Mate 2 is one of those phones that presents a challenge in draining the battery. I streamed "The Walking Dead" via the Play Movies app for hours and the battery level barely budged. Calling, social networking, music listening, emailing, messaging... none of it had a noticeable impact on the battery. Not only can it go at least a day and a half between charges, I sometimes got two days from a single charge. That's something I haven't seen from an LTE smartphone in some time.

The Mate 2 also includes several power-saving features. It runs in three different modes: Smart, Endurance, and Normal. The phone will tell you how much usage you have left with each of the three modes. Smart mode is activated by default and provides a good mix of performance and efficiency. You can choose to protect select apps from being turned off when the battery reaches critical levels.



The Mate 2 runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean with Huawei's user interface skin dropped on top. Aside from the different shapes and colors found throughout the UI, there are only a couple of significant features worth mentioning.

The lock screen is animated and offers only three shortcuts (phone, camera, messages.) These shortcuts can be changed if you want. The lock screen can be turned off completely, or protected with several different options (face, pattern, PIN, password.)

Lock Screen  

The notification shade functions as expected, though it has a unique look thanks to Huawei's UI skin. Users can edit which toggles appear along the top of the screen, but the shade leaves plenty of room for notifications.

The home screen panels behave more or less as you'd expect for an Android device. There are several active out of the box with a number of Huawei-made widgets running. Users can rearrange and edit the home screen panels however they wish, but there's one major limitation: Huawei has done away completely with the app drawer. There's no secondary screen containing all the apps on the Mate 2. Instead, they are splayed out on the home screen panels, as well as jammed into several pre-existing folders. The upside to this means there is one less set of screens to worry about. The downside is it means you have to work a little harder to control clutter on the home screens. Personally, I like to minimize what's on the home screens, which means I had to create lots of folders to get unwanted apps out of my sight.

Home Screens  

The settings menu has been adjusted just a little bit. First, Huawei decided to hide some of the less-used settings options. For example, the wireless controls are bunched near the top. Rather than see all the options, you only see the first few (airplane mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Mobile Networks). Under the last, there's an option called More. Select that to see all the connections tools. Repeat this same setup down the entire length of the settings menu, and Huawei has cleared away a lot of the clutter. Huawei took it a step further. It provides an alternate settings screen that has just the most important basics (radios, wallpapers, volume/ringtones, etc.). The phone has several different themes, which change the colors, wallpapers, and fonts.


The Mate 2 offers an Easy Mode. This dumps the traditional Android home screen setup for a much simpler and blockier one. Easy Mode is for first-time smartphone owners who might be overwhelmed by the otherwise busy home screen panels. It reduces clutter and makes selecting important apps much easier.

Easy Mode  

As far as performance goes, I didn't see any problems. The Mate 2 is powered by a quad-core 1.6GHz Snapdragon 400 processor from Qualcomm. This is Qualcomm's budget processor and I've found it to provide ample power to every phone it's in. Apps on the Mate 2 opened quickly, screen transitions were smooth, and the Mate 2 didn't stutter once.

Calls and Contacts

The phone app is pretty simple. The basic screen shows the dialpad and the most recent couple of calls stacked above it. There are no tabs running across the top. Instead, there are three buttons below the screen to access your contacts and the phone's settings. The basic tools let you add a line, send to Bluetooth/speaker, or mute. The Mate 2 doesn't include fancy stuff like noise cancellation options.


The contact application is a re-rendering of the stock contact app. It looks slightly different thanks to Huawei's treatment, but the underlying functionality is unchanged. Contacts can be sorted into groups and favorites. A quick press of any contact brings up their info card. A long press brings up a dialog box that allows you to call, message, or email them. The contact cards hold tons of data, including multiple phone numbers, email addresses, street addresses, and other details.



The Mate 2 offers only the basics when it comes to messaging tools. It includes an SMS app, email, Gmail, Hangouts, Facebook, and Twitter. The SMS app and email app have been reskinned a little bit, but function just as they do on other Android phones. The rest of the apps are unaltered. The SMS app is set as the messaging app by default, but you can choose to use Hangouts for both SMS and IM if you want. The Google-made apps all work well.

Huawei did try to make it easier to use the Mate 2 one-handed and most of those efforts can be found in the communications tools. To start, one-handed mode reduces the size of the dial pad and keyboard, and places them in the lower-right or lower-left corner depending on your preference. The smaller size means your thumb can actually reach to dial phone numbers or type messages. The one bummer is that one-handed mode can be either on or off, and it isn't smart enough to know when you're using one hand versus two. The feature can only be turned on/off in the settings menu.




Since Huawei is selling the Mate 2 directly to consumers unlocked and without a contract, there is no carrier bloatware on board. That's most apparent when checking the media options on board. All the Google-made apps are present and accounted for, including the Play Store, Play Music, Games, Movies, Newsstand, and Books. The Mate 2 also has the stock YouTube application and an FM radio (headphones required.)

The one surprise from Huawei is a separate app called Music. It's an MP3 player for sideloaded music that's actually quite good. It has a pleasant user interface, offers lots of ways to sort through your library, and can even create playlists on its own based on the mood of your music.


The Mate 2 doesn't have a separate app for video playback, nor does it have any nifty extras such as a remote control for your TV. Content can be shared via DLNA with other compatible devices.


The Mate 2's camera is fairly basic, but it still manages to include some useful tools. Since there is no dedicated camera button, the lock screen shortcut is the fastest way to open the app. The app opens quickly when prompted.

The viewfinder is enormous and fills about 80% of the screen. The controls are placed in vertical bars on either side. The left bar includes shortcuts to the user-facing camera, flash, and full settings.

The Mate 2 offers several shooting modes, including normal, smart, beauty, HDR, panorama, effect, and sound & shot. The tool for selecting the modes is easy to use, but it would be helpful (at least to beginners) if the phone explained each mode. It doesn't. You're on your own to figure out what each does. Beauty mode is for portraits (though it assumes you want to take a selfie and launches the user-facing camera); effects mode applies filters (B&W, sepia, etc.) before you shoot; and Sound & Shot lets you record several seconds of sound with an image. I like that the shutter button tells you what mode you're using.

The full settings are rather slim in scope. The Mate 2 lets you select several capture modes, including object tracking, smiles, and voice-activated. Resolution maxes out at 13 megapixels, and all options are locked in the 4:3 aspect ratio. The camera offers a timer and a toggle for GPS data, as well.

I can't say the camera treads any new ground, but I'm happy enough with the tools on board.



The Mate 2 takes very good pictures. On average it managed to get focus, exposure, and white balance correct. You can see sharp focus in several of the shots below, though I think the Legos are a bit underexposed. Shooting darker subjects outdoors really required the use of HDR to balance things out. The yellows and reds of the flowers below did manage to blow out the sensor a bit, but I've seen much worse. In sum, I'd say the Mate 2 will do well enough for vacation photos for most people. Serious photographers will want dedicated imaging gear.



The Mate 2 also records good video, though exposure was problematic when shooting outdoors. You can see how the sensor reacts wildly to the position of the sun in the sky as I pan the phone around shooting the below scene. Even so, the video looks sharp and white balance is spot on. With full HD capabilities, the Mate 2 can serve as your daily video creation tool.


Huawei made the photo gallery dead simple to use and I appreciate that. Images are sorted into four groups: albums, times, locations, people. Albums include the camera roll, your Facebook photos, and Google+/Picasa images if you have them. The Times view sorts images into groups based on when they were shot. The Locations view sorts images based on where they were taken. The People view sorts images based on the people you've tagged. It's pretty basic. These four groups are accessible all the time at the top of the screen.

The editing tools are borrowed from the stock Android gallery app. Photos can be treated with effects, including filters; can be straightened, cropped, rotated, or mirrored; can be adjusted for contrast, exposure, saturation, and color; and can be given frames a la Instagram. The sharing tools are a breeze and I had no trouble sending photos hither and thither.



The Mate 2's Bluetooth radio works perfectly. I was able to pair it with mono and stereo headsets, my car, and other phones/PCs. Phone calls sent to a Bluetooth headset were surprisingly good. The quality was good, and the volume was much improved over what the Mate 2's earpiece and speakerphone themselves can deliver. Music sounded decent when sent to my favorite Bluetooth speaker, but not as good as phones that support the aptX profile (which the Mate 2 does not).


The Mate 2 ships with the older Android browser and Chrome. You may know the story here. Both browsers are apt when it comes to rendering web sites. I couldn't discern any speed difference between the two browsers over Wi-Fi or LTE. Chrome has a few more tools available to those who might use Chrome as their desktop browser. Web pages look good on the Mate 2's giant screen.



You don't get much in the way of choice when it comes to the lock screen clock. All six of the themes use the same white digital clock, which is positioned close to the top of the screen. I wish it were bigger and bolder. It can be hard to see outdoors, but it's no problem to see when inside.


Google Maps is the default navigation app on the Mate 2, but it also comes with a free trial of the Route 66 nav app. You're best off sticking with Google Maps. It's a known entity, is free, and works well. The Mate 2's GPS radio was exceptionally quick and often located me within 15 seconds and to within 25 - 50 feet. Navigating from Point A to Point B presented no challenges to the Mate 2.



Since none of the U.S. carriers are selling the Huawei Ascend Mate 2, it's up to consumers to seek it out on their own. The Mate 2 is a great value and offers a lot of bang for the buck. It may be a bit boring, but it nails almost every feature.

The screen is really nice, data performance is incredible with both AT&T and T-Mobile, and battery life is a real knock-out. The camera does well, the home screens are flexible (and offer a different take on Android compared to Samsung, LG, HTC, and others,) and the ability to switch to one-handed mode or use the Mate 2 with gloves are bonuses in the usability department.

The one major flaw is the phone. The quality of calls is great, but the volume is simply not up to par. The good news is this can be partly ameliorated with a good Bluetooth headset.

If you're in the market for something different and want an inexpensive, unlocked, large-screen smartphone, the Mate 2 is certainly worth your consideration.

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About the author, Eric M. Zeman:

Eric has been covering the mobile telecommunications industry for 17 years at various print and online publications. He studied at Rutgers Newark and University of Kentucky, and has a degree in writing. He likes playing guitar, attending concerts, listening to music, and driving sports cars.

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Aug 4, 2014, 9:18 PM

Great device!

After giving up waiting for the OnePlus One, I started looking around. Here's a kicker...On the OnePlus users forum, several people were talking about the mate2. I saw the specs a few months ago, never gave it a thought. Snap400, 720p screen, JB4.3, really? After seeing several positive reviews, and the price on Amazon, what the heck! I've had it almost 3 weeks, not one bit of trouble! Screen is crystal clear & bright (and doesn't have the yellow stain that the OnePlus has at the bottom of the screen 😉 )
No lag, fast, loud speaker, great camera and a fantastic 2-3 day battery life with moderate to heavy use! All for $300 bucks? What's not to like? This replaced my GT-N7000 Galaxy Note that was still on 4.1.2 JB.
Oh, the in...

Jul 14, 2014, 4:45 PM

which ios is oin this

new ios 8? 😎 😎 😎 😕
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