The commoditization of the smartphone segment has been predicted for more than a while now. It's almost obvious in a way though, especially when one looks at the progression of the PC industry. It was once effectively impossible to buy a good PC that cost less than a thousand dollars. Similarly, it was once effectively impossible to buy a good smartphone that cost less than 500 dollars. While Google, Motorola, and small Chinese OEMs have been bringing high-end specs to a price point around 350-450 dollars, the relative marketshare compared to OEMs like Samsung and Apple has been miniscule.

While there's some level of choice for high-spec, high-value smartphones at the ~5" display size segment, the same is far from true for phablets. The Galaxy Note line is generally considered to be the only phablet worth looking at, and there really isn't such thing as a "midrange phablet". The closest thing to a midrange phablet is the Galaxy Mega. The one experience I had with a Galaxy Mega 6.3 was anything but positive, especially when it was priced at around 400 dollars off contract or more. The value simply wasn't there.

Huawei seems to have noticed this, and in response to the unfulfilled niche, introduced the Ascend Mate 2. In the US, this phone is renamed to the Ascend Mate2 4G to indicate the different SoC and LTE modem, but the experience is largely the same. Huawei hopes to use this launch as its way to break into the unlocked device market in the US, and also as a way to build brand recognition in the US. Branding is definitely a big challenge for Huawei, especially because in the US they've effectively been relegated to ODM status. The only Huawei devices that I can name off the top of my head are the MyTouch phones sold by T-Mobile, and those aren't advertised as Huawei phones at all.

From Left to Right: Huawei Ascend Mate 2, Nexus 5, iPhone 5c

Hardware

The real question now is whether the Ascend Mate2 is any good. The first place to start is industrial and material design. While many people like to suggest that any weight given to ID or MD is effectively evaluating fashion for the sake of evaluating fashion, design is critical to a phone's utility. A phone or a tablet is something that people will be constantly feeling and looking at, thus a phone that's unergonomic or finished poorly will dramatically affect the rest of the experience.

With that in mind, the Ascend Mate2 is surprisingly good. The black model that we were sampled has a relatively small amount of bezel around the display, with very little visual clutter. On the front, the only three visible elements other than the display are the front facing camera, an OEM logo, and the earpiece. On the sides, a glossy plastic band wraps around the phone, with a small lip that is slightly above the display. This makes it possible to place the phone face-down on a flat surface without risk of scratching the glass, which helps with durability. On the back, the battery cover has a hatched surface to increase grip and it feels like some sort of soft-touch coating has been applied to increase grip and improve in-hand feel as well. Overall, it feels great in the hand, and reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy S2 in design. The speaker, camera, and LED flash are on the back as well, along with another Huawei logo. The power button and volume rocker are all placed on the right side of the phone, and the 3.5mm jack is on the top right. Strangely, the USB port is on the bottom left of the phablet, something that suggests the phone should be rotated to the right to use the phone in landscape while charging. While the design is nothing like the One (M8), it's certainly well designed and minimalistic. If anything, it's nice to see a plastic phone that doesn't pretend to be another material that it isn't. Huawei also avoided the poor feel that comes with glossy finishes that are easily covered with fingerprints and feel grimy within minutes of use.

Outside of ID/MD, the Mate2 has a removable back cover, which allows for easy access to the microSD and microSIM slots. The battery isn't removable, but judging by the design it's trivial to replace the battery if you can use a screwdriver. Overall, the phone is very solid in the hand, with no perceivable flex or creaks. For a first impression, the Ascend Mate2 does quite well. Of course, a phone is more than just a dummy model to hold in the hand, so the specs matter as well. In this respect, the Mate2 is appropriate for its price point, although there are a few surprises. 

I've listed the specs in the table below for easy reading.

  Huawei Ascend Mate2 4G
SoC MSM8928 1.6 GHz Snapdragon 400
RAM/NAND 2 GB LPDDR2, 16GB NAND + microSD
Display 6.1” 720p IPS LCD
Network 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Qualcomm MDM9x25 UE Category 4 LTE)
Dimensions 161 x 84.7 x 9.5mm, ~202 grams
Camera 13MP rear camera, 1.12 µm pixels, 1/3.06" CMOS size, F/2.0. 5MP F/2.8 FFC
Battery 3900 mAh (14.82 Whr)
OS Android 4.3 with Emotion UI 2.0 Lite
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.0, USB2.0, GPS/GNSS, MHL, DLNA, NFC
SIM Size MicroSIM

As you can see, the SoC is the higher binned version of the MSM8926 seen in phones like the Moto G LTE and the One mini 2. The surprises are effectively the addition of 802.11ac, 2GB of RAM, and the absolutely massive battery. The only possible issue at this point is that this phone runs Android 4.3. Huawei stated that it will be upgradeable to Android 4.4, but there's no official timeline of when to expect the update. It's important to examine the phone beyond the spec sheet, which means testing to validate whether the phone is any good.

Battery Life
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  • amicic - Thursday, June 12, 2014 - link

    We need more phones with this battery life (if that means 720p, i'm ok) in 5-5.2" sizes. Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Thursday, June 12, 2014 - link

    I totally agree. If this was a <5" phone, I would buy it on a heartbeat, but 6" is just way too big for my taste. Reply
  • nathanddrews - Thursday, June 12, 2014 - link

    1080p and stock KK4.4 on this phablet would be perfect. Reply
  • ColinByers - Monday, September 29, 2014 - link

    True. But why get the Huawei Ascend Mate 2 when there are other really good Android phones out there? /Colin from http://www.consumertop.com/best-phone-guide/ Reply
  • bstowe9 - Friday, June 13, 2014 - link

    That's what she said... Reply
  • SeleniumGlow - Monday, June 16, 2014 - link

    Here, I'd like to mention the Lenovo P780 and its massive 4000 mAh battery. I got one for my Dad last week, and whilst he doesn't use Mobile data, he was able to get a nice 5 days of voice call usage and SMS out of it. Other specs are a 5" 720p display, dual sim, and 8 MP rear camera.

    The only drawback would probably be that it is on Jelly bean (4.2.2) and might never be upgraded.
    Reply
  • Fergy - Thursday, June 12, 2014 - link

    Why is this phablet being compared to phones? I know a 6 inch phablet has a bigger battery than a 5 inch phone. I know that 6 inch phablet has an easier time cooling the fast chips. What I don't know is how this phablet compares to other phablets. Reply
  • wimbet - Thursday, June 12, 2014 - link

    It's big, but it's still a phone that fits in your pocket. Reply
  • vortmax2 - Thursday, June 12, 2014 - link

    Agreed, I don't see the Note 3 on many of the comparison charts... Reply
  • extide - Thursday, June 12, 2014 - link

    The note 3 is a top tier device, this is a midrange device. They don;t really compete much because of that. I mean yeah they are both phablets, but the price sets them apart. Maybe it would be good to compare to the Note 2, if that phone happens to still be available at low prices. Reply

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