Huawei Ascend Mate2 review: An imperfect, but capable and cheap, phablet

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Credit: Mike Homnick

The line between smartphone and phablet has blurred, with a handful of flagship smartphones reaching almost-tablet sizes, like the 5.5-inch LG G3 and Samsung's insanely large, 7-inch Galaxy W. Huawei is also looking to win your heart over with a phablet of it’s own, the 6.1-inch Ascend Mate2.

In smartphone years, the Ascend Mate2 is a bit old, as it was announced earlier this year at CES. Still, that doesn't make it a bad phone in any way, especially when you look at its $300 off-contract price tag. 

Hardware that fits the bill

ascendmate2 2 Mike Homnick

The Ascend Mate2 ships with capable hardware, despite it not being a step behind its more expensive competition. The 1.6GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 is snappy and there was never a time that it seemed like the Mate2 was lagging behind with regular use.

The Mate2 ships with a 6.1-inch 720p display, 2GB RAM, 16GB internal storage, 13 megapixel camera, 5 megapixel front-facing camera, Cat 4 LTE support, Micro SD card slot, and massive 3,900 mAh battery. There are definitely more powerful phones on the market, but Huawei’s Mate2 can easily hold its own against similarly-priced competitors.

The obvious selling point of the Ascend Mate2 is its large, 6.1-inch display. The PPI (pixels per inch) is rather low, coming in at only 240, but colors are represented well and HD video looks nice and crisp. Due to its large display, the Mate2 feels massive in the hands, even with the somewhat small bezel around the screen. 

ascendmate2 5 Mike Homnick

Above the large display is where the earpiece, 5 megapixel front-facing camera, and sensors for proximity and ambient light are found. The left side is bare, with the right edge housing the volume rocker and the power button in the center. The headphone jack is found on the top, which may have some users wishing it was at the bottom, next to the micro USB port.

The back of the Mate2 continues with the subtle design language found on the front. Here you’ll only find the 13 megapixel camera with single LED flash, loudspeaker, and Huawei logo. The slightly textured battery cover is removable, giving access to the Micro SIM and Micro SD card slot.

Huawei lets the user to take advantage of the large battery on the Mate2 in more than one way, as it can charge other devices with a specific, one-way Micro USB cable that will be available at launch.

Passable software with a few tricks

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The software on the Ascend Mate2 is nothing to write home about, and looks like it was designed in 2011, complete with clunky widgets you'll likely never use. Aesthetics aside, Huawei’s Emotion UI is still robust, with features to get you where you need to go. If you're not a huge fan of the Emotion UI on the Mate2, home screen replacements can help. Nova launcher looks particularly nice sprawled across the large display.

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Window Over Window mode lets you run multiple mini applications over one another.

W.O.W. (Window Over Window) allows you to run mini apps on top of what your current screen. Helpful for jotting down a quick note and getting to your calculator or calendar. Other nifty software features on the Mate2 include one-handed mode, glove mode, and Simple UI, Huawei’s simplified home screen experience.

Ok camera with ok features.

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Huawei didn’t pack the Mate2 to the brim with camera features, but you’ll still get a few modes found on most cameras today, including HDR, Panorama, and a few more like Beauty and Sound & shot. The slimmed down set of features will be appreciated by those looking for a simple approach to taking photos.

The Ascend Mate2’s camera can produce some crisp shots, but colors to seem to run on the oversaturated side. As is the case with many phones, the camera suffers in low-light situations, but I've seen much worse before.

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In good lighting conditions, the Mate2's photos are bright but oversaturated.

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A battery to behold

ascendmate2 6 Mike Homnick

As expected, the 3,900 mAh battery on the Mate2 doesn't disappoint. In our battery test, it managed to squeeze out almost 20 hours of straight HD video playback. If you were concerned that it didn't have a removable battery, you shouldn't be. With regular usage, you could easily go two days, if not more, on a single charge. 

Is the Ascend Mate2 the right phablet at the right price?

ascendmate2 Mike Homnick

The Huawei Ascend Mate2 has a lot going for it, but it’s a smartphone that is faced with some challenges. The only way you’ll be able to easily get your hands on this Huawei phablet is through GetHuawei.com, the company’s new site for buying its products in the U.S. Plus, it supports T-Mobile and AT&T only, giving Huawei no advantages.

For only $50 more, someone can buy a Nexus 5, which needs no introduction. Still, with an out-of-this-world battery and a larger display, Huawei's offering might suit you well.

If you’re looking for a new phablet, Huawei’s Mate2 might be the cheapest option you can get off-contract without many sacrifices, and that's an impressive feat.

 

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