Back in early 2012, Huawei started to show clear signs that its newly found goal was to shed its budget stigma and take a shot at the high-end smartphone markets in the west.
Unfortunately for the Chinese manufacturer, it failed to live up to expectations, despite the fact that the Ascend D Quad and the Ascend D Quad XL were true Android powerhouses. The main problem with Huawei’s products of last year was that they have failed to reach the market in a timely manner.
This year, Huawei is planning to take another stab at the high-end Western markets, with two new high-end devices announced at CES 2013: a smartphone called the Huawei Ascend D2 and a large phablet (if that’s even possible), called the Huawei Ascend Mate, both pegged to reach markets no later than March 2013.
In this article, we are going to analyze how well the Huawei Ascend Mate matches up against the most popular phablet ever, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2.
Is the current phablet king in any kind of real trouble or is the Huawei Ascend Mate just a desperate attempt from the Chinese manufacturer to experiment with the size of its devices? Join us as we find out!
To start of with the reigning champion, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 uses a 5.55 inch Super AMOLED display working at a pixel resolution of 720 by 1280. The Pixel Per Inch density rests at 267, decent even by 2013 standards, although it obviously does not describe the crispest display around (the HTC Droid DNA or the Sony Xperia Z with their 441 PPI displays are the current owners of the belt).
Overall, the display of the Galaxy Note 2 is of pretty good quality thanks to enhanced contrast and brightness, although color saturation and accuracy are two of the trademark problems for Samsung’s SAMOLED technology in its current state. Most of us find ways to cope with these small disadvantages, but there are plenty who don’t!
The Huawei Ascend Mate uses a gargantuan 6.1 inch IPS display running at the same resolution as the Galaxy Note 2 (720p) and showcases a 241 PPI density, a bit below what is currently considered to be the standard for display crispness on high-end devices. Other than that, the quality of the display on the Huawei Ascent Mate is decent, although far from top end.
Although the quality of the displays is comparable, the main problem for Huawei is that there is no way of knowing if people are going to consider the Ascend Mate to be a phablet or a small tablet, a device that has nothing to do with the concept of a smartphone.
Granted, viewing photos and videos on a 6.1 inch screen is definitely a superior experience, but is the general public willing to give up ease of use in favor of extra screen real estate ? This was the same issue many have raised back when the original Note was launched, but it does feel like Huawei has taken things a bit to the extreme.
One thing that the Huawei Ascend Mate has in its favor is the Magic Touch technology, one that allows you to use the smartphone with your gloves on.
Verdict: the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 has a display of better quality, but if you’re only interested in viewing photos and videos on your phablet, the extra 0.55 inches across the diagonal of the Huawei Ascend Mate might be exactly what you need
Design & Build Quality
The design of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is all too similar to that of the Samsung Galaxy S3: the same glossy plastic finish on the back, same curves and the same slim bezel. Thankfully though, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 seems to showcase a better build quality, a fact clearly revealed by our Darcy LaCouvee’s famous drop tests.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 measures 151.1 x 80.5 x 9.4 mm (5.95 x 3.17 x 0.37 in) and weighs in at 183 grams.
In the other corner, the Huawei Ascend Mate is very similar in design to a Samsung Galaxy S2, only a lot larger. This doesn’t count as a bad thing, but there’s really little other to say about the design of Huawei’s mega-phablet other than that it is rectangularly shaped with slightly rounded corners, and is covered in glossy black or white plastic.
The Huawei Ascend Mate measures 163.5 x 85.7 x 9.9 mm (6.5 x 3.4 x 0.4 in). After holding the device and playing around with it for a while, we can tell you that this giant amongst phablets is much closer to the Nexus 7 than the size of what you’d consider to be a smartphone.
Pocketability and ease of use are obviously two of the main issues here with both of these devices, but while most are able to find ways to deal with the size of the stylus-equipped Samsung Galaxy Note 2, only The Hulk might be able to comfortably use and pocket the Huawei Ascend Mate.
Verdict: Aspect is strictly a matter of personal preference, but be aware of the huge size of the Huawei Ascend Mate and the handling inconveniences.
CPU, GPU & RAM
The Galaxy Note 2 uses Samsung’s Exynos 4412 SoC, one that pairs together a quad-core Cortex A9 CPU running at a max of 1.6 GHz per core and a Mali 400MP GPU alongside 2 GB of RAM.
The Huawei Ascend Mate uses an upgraded version of the HiSilicon 1.5 GHz quad-core side chip manufactured by Huawei for the previously mentioned Ascend D Quad /XL and just 1 GB of RAM.
We’ll learn more when benchmark results start rolling, but during our time with the device, we found it to be quite snappy. However, it is very likely that the Galaxy Note 2 trumps the Ascend Mate under more intensive use.
Internal & Expandable Storage
The Huawei Ascend Mate has 16GB of internal storage and no microSD expansion slot, while the Samsung Galaxy S3 comes in 16 GB / 32GB / 64 GB variants, and allows for expandable storage via its microSD card slot.
When it comes to the connectivity standards that these devices can work with, they are almost evenly matched as both of them feature Wi-Fi, 4G LTE, HSPA+ as well as Bluetooth 4. The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 steals this sub-section thanks to its NFC chip, one that misses from the Huawei Ascend Mate spec sheet.
Both the Ascend Mate and the Galaxy Note 2 use 8 MP cameras as their primary shooter. The Galaxy Note 2 uses a 1.8 MP secondary sensor, while the Ascend Mate uses a 1.0 MP sensor.
On to the one aspect where the Huawei Ascend Mate is better than the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, the battery, it is nice to see Huawei making full use of the extra large footprint of the Ascend Mate by including an equally large battery.
The score is 4050 mAh over the 3100 mAh of the Galaxy Note 2, but it remains to be seen if these numbers also translate into a longer battery life, given that manufacturer customisations matter a lot when it comes to overall power usage.
Verdict: It is a close call, but the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 takes this round thanks to the Exynos 4 Quad SoC and microSD storage option
OS and Software features
At a first glance, an inexperienced eye might be fooled to believe that our two combatants are equally matched when it comes to the software side of the phablet experience.
Indeed, both the Huawei Ascend Mate and the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 use Android Jelly Bean 4.1, but the differences from here on are huge and highlight the main reason why Samsung is very tough to beat as a phone manufacturer.
Although the Eclipse UI used by Huawei is minimalist enough and Huawei did introduced a few software tweaks of its own, it all pales in comparison with what the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 can do thanks to its “Smart Functions” and unique set of software tweaks.
And then there’s one more aspect that Huawei did not even bother with, namely the S-Pen. Basically a glorified stylus on its own, I figured it’s better to talk about the S-Pen in the software section rather than in the hardware section since the thing would be nearly useless if it weren’t for all the S-Pen enabled apps that Samsung loves to brag about.
Verdict: The Galaxy Note 2 wins this round thanks to its unique set of software functions and decent variety of S-Pen compatible apps.
At the moment, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is the phablet, with Samsung really a couple of years ahead of everyone else in the segment when it comes to software tweaks and unique S-Pen enabled apps. It is not a perfect device, but at the moment only Samsung can manufacture a device that is actually better than the Galaxy Note 2.
In an Android ecosystem that is thriving as a whole but suffering economically at a per-manufacturer level, Huawei has made the bold decision of going beyond what you’d call your standard Samsung Galaxy Note copy, and aims to go where no other Android manufactured dared before. The Huawei Ascend Mate is the largest Android device addressed to the smartphone market.
It must be said that the Huawei Ascend Mate is a much better contender to the Note series than the LG Optimus Series, and there is chance that the Chinese manufacturer will strike a chord in a niche segment of the smartphone consumer market.
If all you want is a gargantuan display, the Ascend Mate is not a bad choice, but if you really want the best tablet around, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is it.
To finish off an idea started in this article’s introduction, Huawei does stand a chance in the western market, but only if it manages to avoid the mistakes it did last year. For the Ascend Mate to have a shot at selling a decent amount of units (for a niche device) in the western markets (where Huawei aims to become a powerful player), the device should become available as fast as possible.
This is where Huawei has failed in 2012: the Ascend D Quad XL, its top smartphone, has reached the market in September, more than seven months after it was officially announced back at MWC 2012 in late February. Although very interesting at the time of its announcement, the Ascend D Quad XL has faded into obscurity by the time people could actually buy one. Let’s hope history will not repeat itself this time.