Huawei’s continued attempts to break into Western markets has been slowly showing some results, helped along by the fact that the Chinese company has some fantastic devices on offer. Following a string of solid mid-range smartphones, Huawei unveiled its latest high-end offering back at IFA a few months ago, which has turned out to be a really great phone. In this in-depth review, we take a closer look at the Huawei Ascend Mate 7!
Huawei has had some success in design in the past, and continues to do so this time with the larger offering of the Ascend Mate 7. It’s hard to ignore the large 6-inch screen, but looking around the device, you’ll find a very well constructed metallic frame, with a nice industrial look and feel. The power button is placed below the volume rocker on the side to compensate for the larger size of the phone.
There are no capacitive keys below the display on the Ascend Mate 7, making for a very nice screen to panel ratio, and there’s a decided lack of elements used solely for decoration. On the back is where you’ll find the main addition to an otherwise minimalistic body, the fingerprint scanner. This is a press type scanner rather than swipe, and rests squarely below the camera optics. While the device is quite thin, the camera optics do stick out a little bit, which is something to watch out for.
Overall, this is a very attractive device, and Huawei has once again proved they have a good grasp on design language. There’s no denying that it is a huge phone though, and it is simply unwieldy when using it with one hand. Even with large hands, getting around to the top elements of the phone is going to be very difficult. Thankfully, there are some software features that help alleviate this.
We’ve already mentioned the 6-inch screen and its implications on handling, but this 1080p display, with a pixel density of 368 ppi, allows for a pretty awesome experience. Larger screens often get a bad rap because of the size, but then are equally heralded for bringing a nice media experience, and that’s exactly what happens here.
Contrast is where it should be, while the brightness keeps everything quite visible in any condition. You can change what the color temperature of the display is, but the default setting is already good enough and you probably won’t need to tamper with it.
Huawei tends to make performance their own responsibility with in-house packages, and that’s what we get in the Ascend Mate 7 as well. A HiSilicon Kirin 925, as it is called, brings a 1.8GHz quad-core Cortex A15 together with another quad-core Cortex A7 clocked in at 1.3GHz, both working in conjunction, allowing for a very optimized performance, similar to what you’d expect from any high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.
Getting through the various elements of the Emotion UI is a breeze, as are all application experiences, including gaming. There have rarely been any instances of lag when doing general multi-tasking, with the only hiccup being in the Recent Apps screen, which has to load screen previews before presenting the grid, which slows things down a bit.
Even though the Ascend Mate 7 is available primarily outside of North America, this unit was still able to connect to LTE networks on T-Mobile and AT&T. It does struggle with maintaining the connection from time to time, but the mobile network experience has been reliable for the most part. Call quality is also good, with calls coming in quite clear at both ends of the line.
MicroSD expansion does bolster the included 16 GB or 32 GB of internal storage, which also determines the RAM you get, with 2 GB of 3 GB of RAM available depending on which option you choose. Including all of the usual smartphone goodies like Bluetooth and NFC, you get a standard high-end hardware package under the hood. Battery life proved to be worthy of the big phone stereotype, with the large 4,100 mAh unit of the Ascend Mate 7 surviving two days before clocking out with above moderate usage. Even if the screen-on time was doubled, a solid day and a half of very heavy usage would still be possible.
Nestled right on the body at the back is probably Huawei’s biggest claim to fame with their largest flagship, and that is the fingerprint reader. Similar to the version found on the HTC One Max,, the Ascend Mate 7 requires a touch input rather than swipes, and its setup does look familiar to that of iOS.
What makes the fingerprint reader on this device so nice is the fact that once set up, you can use it at any time to unlock the phone. Even from the prone standby position, just holding a finger to the area for a second will wake and unlock the device, making access that much easier. Security aside, if it takes much longer to use my finger to unlock my phone, I’m probably not going to use it, which has happened with other devices, but is absolutely not the case with the Ascend Mate 7. Just about everyone can stand to learn a thing or two from Huawei’s great implementation.
A 13 megapixel shooter adorns the rear, while another 5 megapixel iteration graces the front of the Ascend Mate 7, with a few different modes available for either camera.
All-focus is another take on the depth of field snapping that takes a few pictures at different focus levels. A great panorama mode stitches together an entire scene quite well and yields some large files. HDR is available, but in my shooting, I found it to do absolutely nothing to enhance most photos. And finally, there is a feature where you can quickly double tap the volume down button in order to get a really quick shot off. It’s definitely more about speed than quality in this instance, so focus will almost always be off and you can only hope you framed your shot correctly. So while an intriguing feature, what the phone will go out of its way to tell you was a 1.2 second capture time, will probably turn into four times that when you then get the right focus and take the proper shot. On the front, the usual beauty mode found on the current crop of “selfie” camera apps returns, bringing real time blemish hiding. For a better looking self portrait, a small box appears on the top left to help you actually look in the lens’ direction.
As far as quality goes, I found the Ascend Mate 7 to have a more than decent shooter. Details are well captured and noise levels, even in night settings, don’t destroy most images. The interface is pretty simple to navigate, and in most cases just picking up the phone and shooting yielded a nice capture. Even the front-facing camera proved to be a good shooter, though I’m still wary of the beauty modes. Nonetheless, having a higher megapixel count for self portraits seems to be the trend now, and the Ascend Mate 7 doesn’t disappoint in this regard.
Before diving into the nuances of the software experience, one thing worth mentioning right away is that there isn’t an application drawer. That said, given how much the Emotion UI has matured compared to previous iterations, you won’t find yourself missing it as much. The Emotion UI has kept its flat, simple interface, and as such, you’ll be making use of folders a lot, but getting underneath the homescreens is where you’ll find a plethora of small, yet useful, additions.
For starters, using a phone of this size is helped a bit by a one hand interface that can be moved around by holding a finger down on the screen and tilting the phone left or right. It’s not a perfect implementation, but has come in handy in a one-handed pinch. A button made just for bringing down the notification shade became an immediate and lasting addition.
A number of tools are preloaded to help in various situations, like a mirror for checking yourself, or a magnifier that will use the rear camera to make small text easier to view. There were a lot of small details that stood out, like in the Gallery where you can drag down to open a quick camera interface, or in the notification dropdown, which has a nice way of presenting, chronologically, your received notifications.
In a lot of ways, elements of the Emotion UI look like what we will find in the Android 5.0 Lollipop release, and the forward thinking on Huawei’s part makes this KitKat powered Android one of the nicest iterations, even if it doesn’t have the app drawer. All of this is theme-able through a built-in application, though only a limited number of themes are available at the moment. Of all the Asian iterations of the Android interface, Emotion might be one of the best we’ve used. With a few key features included that actually prove useful, its snappy minimalism is undeniable.
With no option of subsidized rates available, the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 features an expected price tag of around $700, when imported from markets that the device is currently available in. North American users will have to wait for their official release, but Huawei has expressed a strong desire to move into more Western markets.
Given the direction the smartphone flagship market has been going, we’re not surprised Huawei put everything into their latest and greatest. And their success is exactly why we give it the Editor’s Choice award, for making it crystal clear that Huawei is a real threat to our current smartphone kings.