Huawei Mate S Review
Display and Multimedia
At 5.5 inches, the Mate S is in line with the likes of the LG G4, Xperia Z5 Premium and the Zenfone 2. That’s currently the display size that’s in the borderline of being labeled a phablet and is also the most preferred display size among consumers.
Compared to the Mate 7, the Mate S is much comfortable to hold and you are able to compose text messages with one hand. While the Mate S looks like it has very thin bezels just like the Mate 7, the screen-to-body ratio is significantly lower at just 74% (the Mate 7 has 83% screen-to-body ratio). This is due to the reduced display size that affected the area percentage. However, it’s still a really good ratio that beats even the LG G4 at 72.5%.
The Mate S uses an AMOLED display with a full HD 1080p resolution. That gives it a generous pixel density of 401ppi. The screen is bright and crisp, with excellent contrast. The blacks are deep but the white is a bit yellowish or greenish at times.
There’s Gorilla Glass 4 that protects the screen with the sides slightly curved or beveled along the edges (thanks to Corning’s 2.5D Gorilla Glass 4) though not as pronounced as the one on the iPhone 6. There’s also a small linear cut in the glass along the top end to make way for the front-facing speakers.
Unfortunately, the model that Huawei will release in the Philippines is the 64GB variant which does not come with the Force Touch technology (present only in the 128GB variant). It’s no biggie though since Force Touch does not have that much use in the current versions of Android.
Although there are two designed grills placed at the bottom of the device, only the right section houses the actual speakers while the left side is only added for symmetry. Sound quality is good and the stereo speakers offer decent range. Using the Sound Meter app, we recorded an audio level of up to 82dB when the volume is cranked up to 100%.
OS, Apps and UI
The Mate S comes with Android 5.1 Lollipop right out of the box and Huawei polished it with their own Emotion UI 3.1.
The device has no physical Home button but the fingerprint scanner at the back side actually acts as one. You can use it to turn on the screen from sleep mode and also automatically unlocks it if you’re using the security features.
Aside from locking the screen, the Fingerprint sensor at the back also adds more security to apps and users. Apps that contain sensitive data can be locked and opened using the fingerprint sensor or by authorized users in Visitor Mode.
The EMUI was designed to be plain and simple — no app drawers, just screen upon screen of apps, folders and widgets. You get a maximum of 9 home screens until you’ll be forced to place the icons in a folder. If you download hundreds of apps, the folders can get a bit cluttered at times unless you’re a really organized person.
EMUI also has an option to switch to a Simple two home screen layout where you get a large tiled layout (like WP8) with one tile as shortcut to the rest of the apps (serves as an app drawer).
The virtual keyboard and keypad for SMS and calls are simple and easy to use. If you feel that the display is a bit large for your hands, there’s an option to flush the keys to the right for one-handed operation. Of course, that also means the individual keys become smaller and cramped as well.
The display also supports split screen but it is limited to supported native apps like the browser and email client (Chrome and SMS app are not supported). The Knock code is also present which has been improved further from what we’ve seen in the Mate 7 and the P8.
The 13-megapixel rear camera has a similar optics as the Huawei P8 so we expected the same performance as the latter. The lens on the rear camera is protected by a much tougher sapphire glass which should be able to protect it from the usual bumps and scratches.
The front-facing camera has a wide-angle 8MP sensor that is paired with a single soft light as a flash. This makes selfies more natural and not flooded or over-exposed.
The Mate S comes with a Pro camera mode that allows you to manually adjust the ISO, shutter speed and exposure before taking the shot. This function will prove useful in a number of scenarios like catching a fast-moving subject or taking longer exposures in low-light environments. This is similar to the Pro Camera app on certain Lumia devices and close to the manual feature of the LG G4 (we will do a manual mode comparison of these two in a separate article).
The handset also features Ultra Snapshot that allows you to take photos in a snap even if it’s from the sleep state by merely double-tapping the volume down control. In several tests, the ultra snapshot can shoot as fast as 1.2 seconds from the sleep state. The Galaxy S6 and its siblings have a slightly similar feature with the double tap of the home button but that one requires an extra tap to actually take the shot.
Here are sample photos taken with the rear camera:
Here are sample clips taken in full HD:
Video quality is really good with just the right saturation, contrast and detail. The camera has a bit of a hard time when shooting in hard sunlight but still manages to do good in high dynamic range scenarios. Low light quality is fairly good with little noticeable noise.
The Mate S also offers a manual mode feature that allows you to set the camera settings like ISO of 100-1600 and shutter speed from 1/4000 secs to 8 seconds. In this mode, you will need really steady hands or a tripod especially if you’re attempting long-exposure shots.
We get mixed results like this one shot at 2.5s at ISO100 and f/2.0. The Mate S wants to compete with the manual feature of the LG G4 so we’re planning on pitting them against each other in our next article.