Oh how times have changed. When Huawei showed off its flagship smartphone at CES last year, it did so in a smallish conference room with some chairs in the middle and crudites and demo phones flanking the sides. This time, Huawei nabbed itself a ballroom and bisected it with a stage and a giant screen to highlight its latest and greatest giant smartphone, the Ascend Mate 2.
Maybe the company can take some of their CES budget and use it to come up with some better names.
I’m being flippant, but it’s not hard to see that this year’s Huawei is far more confident and aggressive. Sadly, that change in posture doesn’t really show in the Ascend Mate 2 hardware. Externally you’re left with a largely nondescript device: plenty of glossy plastic and shiny highlights, hardly a far cry from the unit Huawei trotted out last year. The spec sheet is ultimately what’s going to raise a few eyebrows, but even that is going to depend a bit on your geography — a U.S. spec model will sport one of Qualcomm’s quad-core Snapdragon 400 chipsets clocked at up to 1.6GHz while the China-bound version will instead pack one of Huawei’s own HiSense chips.
Now, testing performance in the field is always a bit of a crapshoot, but the my brief moments with the device were nothing but solid; even the slightly overwrought Emotion UI that Huawei is so fond of runs remarkably smoothly. It’s worth pointing out that there’s quite a bit at play in terms of software here — neat UI flourishes, the ability to open and position multiple app windows, and an awfully cool Phone Manager app all round out the experience nicely.
Granted, this isn’t final hardware so we’ll hold off on judging too harshly until we get our hands on some retail models. Sadly though all the devices on hand lacked SIM cards so I couldn’t attempt to take the thing for a ride on Vegas’s LTE airwaves — a shame considering the Mate 2 supports LTE Cat 4, which could potentially make for data speeds up to 150 mbps.
Even considering all the functionality that the Ascend Mate 2 brings to the table, the phone just doesn’t seem made to click with everyone. The 6.1-inch 720p EHD display, while rather pretty and viewable from even the most oblique angles, is going to be too hefty for most people. That smartphone manufacturers are slowly blurring the line between phones and tablets isn’t a surprise, but that push for ever-larger phone screens always seems more like blatant one-upmanship than innovation for consumers’ sakes.
And perhaps my favorite not-so-little thing: the ability to connect the Mate 2 to another smartphone via a USB cable, at which point Huawei’s phone will act as a battery and charge its competitors. It sounds like a recipe for disaster until you remember that the Ascend Mate 2 sports a massive 4,050mAh battery which should apparently see it through 2 full days before needing a charge.
As I’ve said before, I’m going to hold off on any further judgment, but Huawei has itself a solid contender on its hands here. Is it going to set the U.S. market on fire? I doubt it, but the progress and performance may just be enough to keep Huawei on people’s minds and that’s the real endgame here.