Next to the P8 Huawei found room for another flagship. This time in the form of a phablet that listens to the name Mate S.
Huawei has a 5.5-inch display with its own 2.2 GHz Kirin 935 octa-core processor packaged in a slim metal unibody unit. Furthermore, the Mate S has a 13 megapixel camera at the back and 8 megapixel camera at the front. As an extra, there is also a fingerprint scanner placed at the back.
Huawei seems to focus its arrows on the iPhone 6s Plus and the larger Samsung's by producing a device of the same size for a slightly lower price. However, there are more hijackers on the coast. Even with an even friendlier price tag. Like the Motorola Moto X Style and Play. And of course the Nexus 6P also made by Huawei.
What's with the device?
Just like the P8, the Mate S comes in a sleek black cassette. This time the device is just horizontally in it. The necessary accessories are displayed under the plastic container for the phone. First of all, the headset stands out. It is again in a separate casing and is made of white plastic with metal accents in the color of the phone. It looks beautiful but the earplugs are a bit large. Of course there is also a microUSB cable with an adapter for the socket. When looking for the pin for the SIM card drawer, we also find a gold-coloured smartcover. This fits nicely around the device but feels rather cheap. We are not really enthusiastic about the colour either. It must have something to do with taste
The front of the Mate S is covered by a sturdy fourth generation Gorilla Glass plate that bends slightly towards the edges. Between the glass and the metal of the body there is still a very thin plastic edge. After activating the screen, it appears to be framed by a thin black border. Above and below the screen the device is white. Above the screen there is a self-image flash, slot for the ear loudspeaker, front facing camera and a sensor. In the left corner there is also an invisible notification light.
All sides of the unit form one metal healed with the back. The edges on the front and back are sharpened so that the unit looks slightly thinner. The left side of the device is in front of the SIM card tray, which also holds a second SIM card instead of a microSD card. On the right we have the power and volume buttons where the latter are very high for easy operation. On top of the device you can find the connection for the headset. At the bottom there are two grids on either side of the USB port. Only behind the right one is a speaker.
The all-metal backside is very similar to the HTC One-series, because of the two plastic antenna bands at the top and bottom. It also has a slight bulge. Both the camera and the fingerprint scanner are framed by a chrome border. The camera protrudes a little while the scanner lies slightly recessed in the body.
The Mate S is a beautifully designed and very solidly built aircraft that fits comfortably in the hand. Our test model was executed in 'Mystic Champagne' and therefore had a bit of a golden yellow complexion. Despite its size it doesn't look bulky and the weight is also easy to handle. Still, his size may turn out to be a bit too much in use. For example, in a trouser pocket. Touching the top left corner of the screen with the right thumb is no sinecure either.
Due to its slender silhouette, the battery of the Mate S does not exceed 2,700 mAh. This seems a bit lean in combination with the 5.5 inch display and we were curious if it would last a full day. On a full battery charge we achieved a screen-to-screen time of over five hours. In addition, the aircraft lasted just under 30 hours of average use. With us, this use mainly consists of synchronising two e-mail accounts via push, news and social media checks and moderate use of Whatsapp. So it will be a bit of a stretch whether the Mate S will be able to fill the 24 hours even under heavier circumstances. Nevertheless, we think this is a very reasonable score. The Mate S supports the Quick Charge function but such a charger is not included.
In the settings menu there is a section for battery and one for energy saving. In the latter, the so-called battery monitoring can be carried out. This seems to be a handy and user-friendly function, but we think that Huawei is overshooting the mark. The device is scanned for possible 'problems' and saving options. However, the problems that are detected are quite basic functions of the device and the proposed optimizations therefore have a great influence on the operation of the device. It is also possible to set the power plan. This regulates the CPU and network utilization to match performance and power consumption. We chose the performance setting because the difference in estimated extra standby time with the smart setting is minimal. With the ultra setting the endurance can be stretched considerably but only the call and message apps with the contact list are available.
We also find the maniacal monitoring of power-intensive apps somewhat exaggerated. In the power saving settings, the 'power-intensive prompt' can be turned off. If you don't do this, the device will notify you every once in a while if an energy-intensive app is detected. This energy consumption is normally not that bad and Android will also take care of shutting down apps if necessary. From Android 6.0 Marshmallow this will be even better controlled.
In addition to the contact list, Huawei's phone application is also merged with the messages app. The tab for the number dialler shows the log with a numeric keypad underneath with which the desired contact can be found via smart dial. Call settings include pocket mode for more volume and vibration intensity and virtual HD call for better clarity. Oddly enough, the latter is not turned on by default.
Just like the Huawei P8, the Mate S also has Link+ at its disposal. Part of that is Signal+. This should, among other things, improve the call quality by receiving signals better. Its operation is difficult to test because it is turned on by default and you can not change any settings. It is therefore rather confusing that after using the device you get a message about this which makes you think that something still needs to be activated.
Even though the screen measures 5.5 inches diagonally, Huawei refuses to make the jump to a Quad HD resolution, i.e. 1440 x 2560 pixels. Instead, the Mate S has an AMOLED display with Full HD resolution (1080 x 1920 pixels). You don't have to be mourning the lack of a Quad HD resolution. Detail display is more than sufficient on the Mate S screen. It is possible to adjust the colour temperature of the screen. Sometimes with AMOLED screens this is not an unnecessary luxury, but in this case we did not feel the urge to do so. Colours are vivid but not exaggerated. White is beautiful white and not yellowish. The automatic screen brightness also worked properly.
The Mate S runs on Android 5.1.1 and therefore has the, at the time of writing, a very recent version of the operating system. Unfortunately, you won't notice much of this because Huawei chooses to thoroughly rebuild Android by putting its own EMUI interface over it. As a result, there is no longer an application menu, but all apps are on a home screen. In order to have enough space for this, you can enable a maximum of nine start screens. Moreover, the number of beautiful and/or useful widgets is rather limited. Furthermore, all icons have the same shape and size. To maintain this, icons from other apps are also pressed into this fit. This sometimes results in downright ugly results. For the home screens, grid size, screen rotation, alignment and notification badges for app icons can be set. EMUI uses themes and this makes it very easy to change the look and feel of the interface dramatically. In addition to the six standard themes, numerous variants can be downloaded. Especially being able to choose another icon package is a welcome option.
The notification window behind the status bar has been taken care of. Notifications are nicely arranged on a kind of timeline and can still be swiped out of view. If there are no notifications, when dragging down the status bar, the tab with shortcut keys for settings immediately appears. It is not immediately clear but it can be scrolled through to make more shortcuts visible.
The settings menu has been expanded with a smart assistance section. To keep the overview a little bit, a tab for general settings has been added. Compared to standard Android, the on-screen control buttons are very close together. This takes some getting used to in the beginning and sometimes causes you to press wrong. Furthermore, the order of the buttons can be changed and it is possible to add a button for the notification panel.
One of the great features of Android is that you can already see an overview of your notifications on the lock screen and quickly see if it's worth opening them. Unfortunately, on the Mate S, that doesn't really work. Fingerprint unlocking bypasses the lock screen anyway, but even if you only turn on the screen, there is nothing to see. When we turned the fingerprint lock and pin lock off, we got a notification from Facebook on the lock screen once, but Whatsapp wasn't shown, for example.
In split screen, the Mate S can display two apps at the same time. This function has to be enabled in the settings first. Then it can be activated in supported apps by swiping up with two fingers or holding down the recent apps key. Oddly enough, the hint you get and part of the interface is in Russian.
The contact list shows groups at the top, like your favorite contacts. Furthermore, the phonebook works like we are used to from Android. It's automatically replenished with the contacts from accounts you set up on the device. Then it's handy to show only contacts with phone numbers and merge duplicate contacts. There are also a number of other display and sorting options. Available information and options for a contact are displayed in the form of nice pop-ups.
The messaging app is not spectacular in terms of functionality but does sort your messages on a nice timeline. This is not the case in the email application, but this app is also neat and tidy. Renewing is easy by dragging the top of the message list downwards. Strangely enough, it is not possible to zoom in on a message by double tapping it. To add an account you can choose from Exchange, Gmail, Hotmail and others. Setting up an Outlook account automatically went smoothly. Zooming in a message can only be done by pinching and not by double tapping the screen.
Huawei uses the Swype keyboard to enter text. This has been a favorite of ours for quite some time now and since Android 5.0 we have exchanged it for the standard Android keyboard. That does not alter the fact that Swype still works very nicely. Entering text by dragging and dropping from letter to letter is very easy and the appearance and behavior of the keyboard can be easily adjusted. It is possible to enable two input languages at the same time, but also switching between languages is easy by holding down the space bar.
The Mate S can connect via WiFi, Bluetooth, 4G and NFC. Besides Signal+, the Mate S also has WiFi+. This function can be switched on or off and evaluates your WiFi connection to switch between WiFi and mobile networks. It also enables WiFi when you approach a known location. As far as we're concerned, this is a nice feature, but sometimes the device switched from WiFi to mobile data while we were at home for reasons that are unclear. This can cause an unexpectedly high data consumption. We are also very surprised that the Huawei Mate S cannot handle WiFi networks on 5 GHz. These are usually much faster. For a flagship, this is actually not possible.
For surfing the internet the Mate S has besides Google's Chrome also another browser of Huawei on board. This is nicely arranged with clear control buttons but works purely as a stand-alone mobile browser. It is therefore not possible to synchronise with your desktop as Chrome does. Also in the browser it is not possible to zoom in by double tapping.
The Mate S is equipped with a 13 megapixel camera. It is of the same type as the one in the P8 and should therefore be able to capture colors better. The camera has optical image stabilization and starts up smoothly. As usual, the aspect ratio must first be adjusted to 4:3 in order to be able to use the full 13 megapixel.
The camera interface is reasonably clear and effective. It is quite unpacked with different recording functions. In addition to photo and video, the search screen can also be used to 'make beautiful', 'light painting' and time lapse. With beautification, the level of beauty can be improved by smoothing facial skin to the extreme. Light painting makes it possible to play with light and lighting. For this purpose the modes backlight tracks, light graffiti, 'silky water' and star track are available. Time lapse is a somewhat poor translation of 'time lapse'. Different colour filters can also be applied.
The settings menu allows you to select panorama, super night, HDR, pro camera, focus, best picture, watermark, audio annotation and document adjustment modes. Unfortunately, it is not possible to turn them all on permanently. You will have to select them again when starting up the camera. From this menu you can also access the other settings, which by the way does not automatically rotate when you hold the camera horizontally.
In photos taken in daylight, colours, focus and details look neat. In poor lighting conditions, colours can sometimes appear a little pale. The camera also has trouble with large differences between light and dark areas in the image. Recording video does the Mate S in up to 1080p. For this price we expected at least 4K.
The Mate S comes standard with the apps gallery, music, videos, phone management, notepad, themes, calendar, clock, director mode, files, Vmall, WPS Office, Facebook, Twitter, Todoist, weather, calculator, recorder, fm radio, mirror, magnifying glass, backup, HiCare, updater, downloads, magic tag and flashlight. Some of these are stored in the tools and top apps folders. Another folder contains Google, Chrome, Gmail, Maps, YouTube, Google Drive, Play music/films/books/kiosk/games, Hangouts, photos, Google+, Google settings and Street View.
Apart from director mode, none of these are really striking applications. but at the same time, Huawei doesn't push you much either. With director mode, you can make a video directly during filming by switching between the video footage of you and up to three other devices. Images from non-Huawei devices can also be used.
Just like the Honor 7 we tested earlier, the Mate S also has a fingerprint scanner on the back of the device. Despite the fact that the units are from the same manufacturer, the Mate S works a lot better. It is mainly about the speed and ease with which your fingerprint is recognized. The additional functionality is also a bit different. Besides unlocking the screen, the scanner can be used to answer a call, take a picture/video, stop the alarm, open and close the notification window and browse through pictures. You can store multiple fingerprints in the device. For example, a left and right index finger so you can unlock the device with both hands. The scanner activates and unlocks the screen at the same time.
Be careful not to accidentally unlock the device when you put it in your pocket or when you have your hand in your pocket. The device will only vibrate if the fingerprint could not be read and not if the screen is unlocked. If you want to use the fingerprint scanner to unlock the device, you also need to set an access code. This is to prevent the scanner from being easily bypassed. The code must be entered if the device is activated in any other way. Because the scanner is located at the back of the device, you cannot quickly unlock the device when it is on the table, for example.
Following the P8, Huawei is once again delivering with the Mate S a device that is very well cared for in terms of hardware. It is not the newest, fastest or most powerful of the moment but the total package is fairly complete and works well. At the same time this is strange because the Mate S is considered the big flagship of Huawei. Precisely of that you would expect top specifications such as Quad HD resolution, WiFi 5 GHz and 4K video. We can miss some of those, but others are worse.
Unfortunately, Huawei does not manage to run her software and interface properly. Errors remain and the user-friendliness leaves much to be desired. Huawei's interface works less intuitively than standard Android and still has some flaws. This time we even come across Russian in the interface while we really had the device language in Dutch.
The Mate S is for Huawei terms on the expensive side, but compared to the competition a reasonably priced phablet. Although it would certainly be more in proportion to the hardware if about 100 euros were to be deducted from the introductory price. Maybe Huawei will really succeed in taking some users off the competition but for us, the EMUI interface remains an absolute hit that Huawei urgently needs to put more time and effort into.