All-metal handsets are not too common but last year, Huawei announced its Ascend Mate 7 and delivered its first all-metal device. This year, Huawei revealed the Honor 7, which brings an updated all-metal build and an experience that’s definitely been inspired by the Mate 7. What difference does a year make and how do these two handsets compare? Let’s find out.
The biggest similarity between these two devices is the all-metal aluminium build on the Honor 7 that’s been inspired by the Mate 7, which was Huawei’s first premium metal-clad smartphone. Building the Mate 7 last year has definitely helped Huawei learn more about metal smartphones and the Honor 7 comes with an all-new improved build in a smaller body.
A key change between the finish on each handset is that the Honor 7 has a matte rear that’s been blasted with ceramic particles to provide more grip. As part of its testing, Huawei blasted the rear of the Honor 7 with ceramic particles at several different blasting pressures and the finish is certainly premium in every sense of the word. A problem I’ve faced with the Ascend Mate 7 is that it scratches quite easily but hopefully the change in finish on the Mate 7 will fix this.
Making smartphones is always a challenge and OEMs regularly have to compromise between putting a large display while still making a handset usable. The Ascend Mate 7 is definitely a large smartphone – thanks to its supersized display – and the smaller Honor 7 is a lot more manageable. At 8.5mm thick, the Honor 7 is 0.6cm thicker than the Ascend Mate 7 but 28 grams lighter and this difference in the build results in a handset that feels sturdy and reliable in the hand.
On the back, both handsets look very similar to one another but there are considerable differences, not least in the camera and the square sensor beneath it. The Mate 7 was Huawei’s first smartphone to come with a fingerprint sensor on the rear and stood out as you can unlock your phone by tapping the sensor, even with the display switched off.
While they look identical, the fingerprint sensor on the Honor 7 has been updated and doesn’t come with a metallic ring on the sensor, which is a world first for smartphones. On the Mate 7, the fingerprint sensor is limited to just unlocking the phone but on the Honor 7, it has gained a few extra (and useful) features.
Thanks to gesture support, you can now return to the homescreen by pressing and holding the sensor, access notifications with a swipe down, pull up the recent apps menu with a swipe up and replicate the back key by tapping the sensor.
Both handsets feature the power and volume keys on the right with the SIM card tray on the left but in making the Honor 7, Huawei have made some welcome improvements. The Honor 7 also comes with a new smart key, that lets you launch favourite applications or toggle certain features. As an example, I have it set up so a single press launches Twitter, a double press takes a screenshot and a long press and hold pulls up Google Now.
A change in Huawei’s design strategy over the past twelve months has meant the company has moved away from a rear speaker to a bottom-mounted one. The Mate 7 speaker is located on the rear and while it is certainly not bad, the monospeaker on the bottom of the Honor 7 is definitely more pleasing. The bottom of the Honor 7 also comes with new machine grilled holes that house the speaker but are also designed to make the experience more premium.
The Ascend Mate 7 is definitely one of the larger devices on the market and in making the Honor 7, Huawei reduced the screen size significantly while keeping the same resolution. The Mate 7 has a 6.0-inch Full HD display while the Honor 7 screen is reduced to a much more manageable 5.2-inches.
Thanks to the same resolution but a smaller display, the density on the Honor 7 display is much higher at 424 pixels per inch and this definitely shows, with the Honor 7 display appearing sharper to the eye.
Despite the smaller display, the Honor 7 has a lower screen to body ratio, with Huawei making the display frameless on the Ascend Mate 7 but having to add small bezels to the sides of the Honor 7 screen. I have quite large hands but even I’ve struggled to use the Mate 7 in one hand and happily, the Honor 7 is a lot easier to use in one hand.
There’s no denying that the Honor 7 was heavily inspired by the Mate 7 but in making its latest handset, the Chinese company has certainly made some welcome improvements under the hood.
Both handsets come with octa-core processors and Huawei’s own HiSilicon Kirin chipset but a key difference is in the chipset being used. The Mate 7 sports a Kirin 925 SoC, while the Honor 7 features a Kirin 935 SoC and other than the P8 Max, it is the first Huawei smartphone to use this newer chipset.
Both handsets use Cortex processors in a big.LITTLE formation but the Mate 7 uses older Cortex A-15 and A-7 processors with four cores clocked at 1.8GHz and four more clocked at 1.3GHz. In comparison, the Honor 7 uses eight Cortex-A53 processors, with four cores clocked at 2.2GHz and four more clocked at 1.5GHz.
The Mate 7 is available with either 16GB internal storage and 2GB RAM or 32GB storage and 3GB RAM while the Honor 7 comes with 3GB RAM as standard and either 16GB or 64GB storage. It’s worth noting that the 64GB variant of the Honor 7 is only sold in China and Huawei is yet to reveal whether this will be made available elsewhere.
Both the Mate 7 and the Honor 7 come with expandable storage but on the Honor 7, the microSD card slot doubles up as the dual SIM card slot. A feature much lauded in the Mate 7 is dual SIM support but this was only present in certain variants of the headset and not the one launched in Europe. In comparison, the Honor 7 will support dual SIMs in every market with one SIM available for LTE use and the other limited to just calls or SMS.
A feature that particularly stands out on the Mate 7 is the enormous 4100mAh non-removable battery, which is definitely on the larger side of the market. The Mate 7 has a larger battery than most of its rivals and this translated to excellent battery life. In testing I’ve found the Mate 7 battery lasted a couple of days with moderate to high usage. While the Honor 7 has a smaller 3100mAh battery, Huawei claim it can still last 1.2days with heavy usage and over 2.5 days with moderate use.
For the times when it is running low, the Honor 7 also has you covered as it is the first Huawei smartphone to come with quick charging built in. Compatible with the British and European standards, the quick charging means you can charge for 5 minutes to make up to an hours’ worth of calls and charge to 50 percent battery in just 30 minutes.
Given the price, it’s unsurprising that the quick charger doesn’t come included in the box but it shouldn’t be too expensive to acquire as an after-market accessory. The Honor 7 also comes with reversible charging (with the cable again not included in the box) allowing you to use it to charge another phone but given the battery size, it’s unlikely you’ll use the feature.
Both phones also come with dual antennae and Signal+ technology, which promises to ensure that the metal build never interferes with the signal strength. Using the dual antennae design, the handset can intelligently switch between antenna in a micro second depending on which is providing the best signal strength.
Alongside this, the Honor 7 also sports Wi-Fi+ technology, which improves battery life by automatically disabling Wi-Fi and re-enabling it when it recognises you are near a known Wi-Fi network. While the Wi-Fi+ technology has its benefits, it does rely on your location, which means you may find that any battery savings are negated by the need to scan your location.
Both the Ascend Mate 7 and the Honor 7 come other hardware specs you would probably expect from a modern smartphone. These include Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy to connect to wearable devices and LTE Cat 6, offering download speeds of up to 300Mbps and upload speeds up to 50Mbps.
The Honor 7 also comes with Wi-Fi ac promising better Wi-Fi performance and an infrared port which lets you control your smart appliances from your phone. However, the Honor 7 doesn’t come with NFC built-in which may be disappointing for some users but is a trend also adopted by the OnePlus 2.
Another key change in the Honor 7 compared to the Mate 7 is in the camera. The 13MP camera on the Mate 7 isn’t the best on the market but has been improved massively, with the Honor 7 now sporting a Sony IMX230 module, which delivers 20MP resolution and all-importantly; phase detection auto focus.
Huawei claim the phase detection can focus on a subject in under 0.1 seconds, making it the fastest in the world on a smartphone and this is something that definitely shows. The camera housing has also been protected with sapphire crystal, which ensures the protruding camera doesn’t scratch and is difficult to damage.
The Honor 7 comes with a range of software-based features that initially launched on the Huawei P8 earlier this year and these include the Good Food, timelapse and light painting modes. Huawei has also added a couple of new features to the Honor 7 camera including:
- Demist filter to remove fog or smog from photos
- Star tracking mode to capture the night sky
- Two additions to the light painting mode in the form of silky water and taillight tracking.
Up front, the Mate 7 has a 5MP selfie camera but the Honor 7 tops this with an 8MP camera and two crucial new features. First, the presence of a soft light lets you capture selfies in varying lighting conditions and second, a new Perfect Selfie mode lets you replace your face in group shots with a pre-programmed selfie, which ensures you always look good when you take a group selfie.
Honor 7 camera samples
There’s no denying that on paper, the Honor 7 camera is certainly impressive especially when you consider it is an affordable smartphone and while it’s certainly not perfect, it delivers much better photos than the Ascend Mate 7.
One concern that many people have with Huawei smartphones is the Emotion UI software, which is very similar to Marmite in that you either like it or you don’t. An issue raised by many Android enthusiasts is regarding software updates and this is an issue that definitely impacts on Huawei devices, especially the flagship Ascend Mate 7.
Almost a year after it launched on Android 4.4.2 KitKat, the Mate 7 still runs on the older software version but this is not necessarily a bad thing. As we covered in the Huawei P8 review, Huawei’s latest Emotion UI v3.1 comes with some rather strange UI tweaks (such as a navigation menu where notifications are difficult to read) that feel broken and the older EMUI on the Mate 7 doesn’t suffer from these.
Sadly, these elements make their way to the Honor 7 but while Huawei hasn’t fixed all of these quirky elements, it has added a few interesting new features:
- The knuckle screenshot – which was absolutely atrocious on the P8 – has been improved so you can now double tap with your knuckle to take a screenshot or completely disable the feature in the settings.
- EMUI also now comes with a Fast Shot setting that lets you double press the volume down button to launch the camera and take a picture. Coupled with phase detection autofocus, it should hopefully mean you won’t miss many shots and Huawei is so proud of the Honor 7 focusing speeds, that it even highlights how long it took to focus on a subject.
- There’s also a hidden apps drawer, which lets you get rid of some of the icons on the homescreen by putting them in a hidden menu that can be accessed by pinching out. A good use case for this would be if you wanted to separate your work apps from your personal apps as you could hide the work apps and not need to see them once you leave the office.
Sadly, Emotion UI still doesn’t come with an app drawer which most users will find quite jarring and while we’ve asked Huawei to introduce the feature via an option in the settings, it’s unlikely we’ll see it anytime soon.
The beauty of Android is that you can change the launcher very easily and this should make the experience more enjoyable if you don’t like EMUI. Having tested Nova Launcher with the Honor 7, I can happily say that it works quite well and is a great alternative if Huawei’s EMUI isn’t for you.
The Ascend Mate 7 is without a doubt one of the most premium smartphones Huawei has ever released and the Honor 7 aims to continue this, with a new improved build, additional features and a much better camera in a smaller, more manageable body. Yes, the software is arguably more complete on the Mate 7 but while it’s not perfect, it is certainly more than manageable on the Honor 7.
Given the choice, I know which phone I'd rather have...
Given the choice between these two handsets, I’d definitely pick the Honor 7 but what about you? What do you think of the Honor 7 and the changes made by Huawei since last year’s Ascend Mate 7? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and don’t forget to check out our full Honor 7 review!