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GEAR REVIEW: HUAWEI MATE S

The much overdue super long term review

April 18th, 2017 | by Z. Gonzales

style-shot-1It’s 2017 and the newest batch of smartphones have either been already released or will be coming our way in the next few months. If you’re on a budget but would want a capable phone, the most practical route to go would be to purchase a flagship handset from last year.

So, yes, this is where this review comes in. Last year, I bought the Huawei Mate S after being fed up with the lag I had experienced from the entry-level and midrange devices I’ve owned in the past. As the Mate S was considered a premium phone at that time, I had to shell out some big bucks in order to get it. However, 13 months later, the Mate S has gotten a considerable price drop making it affordable for those looking for a new phone.

Does this phone still have what it takes to remain relevant in today’s hyper-competitive smartphone market?

 

WHAT’S IN THE BOX

 

As the Mate S belongs to Huawei’s top-tier range, the packaging of this handset is designed accordingly. From the moment you rip open the box cover, everything inside the box screams premium. Unboxing the Mate S is quite a pleasurable experience filled with textured plastic cradles and paper boxes.

left side profile

The retail package for the Mate S comes with the phone, a standard micro-USB sync/charge cable, a wall charger, a set of earphones, the usual paperwork (warranty card & quick start guide) and even a folio case that seems to made from leather and high-quality plastic.

 

DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION

 

As I’ve mentioned before, the Mate S being part of Huawei’s top-of-the-line series sports the matching premium design that goes with the Mate moniker. The phone is built from a single piece of metal with chamfered edges at the front and back. The back also has a slight curve which makes holding the phone a lot comfortable compared to other smartphones.

Bottom 2

The front of the device is protected by 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass 4 which tapers slightly at the edges giving the Mate S the appearance of having an “almost” bezel-less display. The phone has the same set of buttons and ports you’d expect from a smartphone in 2015. These include a headphone jack at the top, an unlock button and a volume rocker on the side and a micro-USB port at the bottom.

Just like other Huawei models of late, the Mate S utilizes a dual grille design at the bottom, with one side sporting the loudspeaker while the other has the microphone. Moreover, it also uses the same hybrid SIM card tray found in most phones from China which allows users to put either 2 SIM cards or use a micro SD card with one SIM card.

Top part

At the back of the device, you’ll find the capacitive fingerprint sensor which sits just below the 13MP camera covered by a layer of sapphire crystal. This layer of premium protection is quite handy since the camera module protrudes slightly from the body of the device.

Finally, looking at the front, you’ll see a number of things mostly at the top. These include the front-facing camera, the LED notification light, the phone’s earpiece and proximity sensor.

 

AUDIO, VISUALS, AND OPTICS

 

When it comes to audio, video, and optics, I must say that the Huawei Mate S generally exceeds expectations in performance.

Camera

The Mate S is rocking a 5.5-inch display with Full HD resolution which is a far cry from the much higher resolution displays found in a lot of today’s flagship models but I think is more than enough for most people’s needs. The display is an AMOLED type which means it’s energy efficient and produces very vibrant images.

Meanwhile, audio performance is only average. The lone speaker at the bottom of the device isn’t really bad, but it’s not that good either. If you plan on listening to tunes, I advise getting your own pair of headphones or headset as the one included in the package is just so-so.

headphone jack

The optics, on the other hand, is where the Mate S really shines. Both the front-facing camera and the rear camera has features that somehow justifies the phone’s price tag. The rear camera produces really crisp images and is quite easy to use in auto mode. For the more adept photographer, the rear camera also comes with a professional mode so you can tweak stuff like ISO, shutter speed, white balance, etc.

 

 

 

The 8MP front-facing camera is no slouch either. I really like some it features that make taking a selfie such an easy affair. For instance, the phone asks you to look into a small window at the top right portion of the screen when taking a selfie so you don’t look awkward when your photo is taken. There’s also a perfect selfie feature which asks you to first record the features of your face and then adjust your selfies to remove blemishes, make yourself thinner or make your skin tone lighter.

 

SOFTWARE AND UI

 

Being a Huawei device, the Mate S, of course, comes with the company’s skinned version of Android – EMUI.

Screenshot 1

When I first got the device, it ran on Android 5.1 Lollipop with EMUI 3.1 on top. The Mate S has since then received an upgrade to Android 6.0 Marshmallow with EMUI 4.0.1. The upgraded version of EMUI offers some cool features including the ability to skin the look of the device using a variety of downloadable themes.

EMUI also has a feature that allows the user to utilize the fingerprint sensor at the back in different apps. For instance, touching the sensor while using the front-facing camera is equivalent to touching the shutter button. Meanwhile, swiping on it while on the gallery app will flick through your images.

screenshot 2

There’s also a Phone Manager app which allows you to take control of certain functions of the phone including setting the power management profile of your phone (users can throttle the amount of CPU power used based on their needs), traffic management (for controlling data usage) and an app lock feature that allows you to put a passcode on certain apps for improved privacy and security.

 

PERFORMANCE

 

Performance is a hit and miss department for the Mate S. The device comes by with 3GB of RAM partnered with the company’s home-brewed HiSilicon Kirin 935 chipset.

In my experience, this configuration is already sufficient for ordinary tasks like web surfing, watching YouTube videos or browsing Facebook. The 3GB of RAM is more than enough to do basic multi-tasking and there were no instances of lag.

Screenshot 3

I’ve also tried playing more resource-heavy games like Asphalt 8 and for the most part, dropped frames were kept to a minimum and the Mate S was able to handle it without many issues. This is especially true when you opt for the performance mode through the phone manager app to remove the limiter in the CPU.

As for the battery life, the 2700mAh battery inside the phone is enough to give you around a day worth of juice on moderate use.

 

FINAL WORDS / VERDICT

 

When all things are considered, the Huawei Mate S could pass for a great phone that’s worth your time. I really like the very premium design, the impressive cameras and the beefed-up RAM that prevents the lag I hated from previous phones I’ve used. And even with the not so powerful Kirin 935 chipset I still like the Mate S.

To be honest, after owning this phone for over a year, I can clearly say that it has fulfilled a lot of my needs that I am less frequent to less tempted to go for an upgrade. However, the biggest issue with this phone is the price. Even after a year, the Mate S is still priced over PHP 25,000. With the same amount, you can get a better spec’d handset either from other manufacturers or even from Huawei’s own line such as the P9.

With that in mind, is quite hard to recommend the Mate S to other people and it will probably be owned by a small niche.

 

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