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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  • tim851 - Friday, June 13, 2014 - link

    "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."

    I agree. The problem is that most reviews don't really criticize material or industrial design, but aesthetic design and whether or not a device is made from plastics or metal. As if metal has any advantage over metal besides it's perceived quality.
    The abundant disses of Samsung's devices on the use of glossy plastics (or lately the faux materials) are totally unnecessary. Any customer can judge a phone's looks by themselves, they don't need a reviewer to help them out.
    Reply
  • Euphonious - Saturday, June 14, 2014 - link

    This review honestly tells me practically nothing about how pleasant or enjoyable the device actually is to use. You've discussed the luminance and white balance of the display in exhaustive detail whilst glossing over the software and the actual experience of using the device in three fairly short paragraphs.

    How much difference does it make to the real-world desirability of a phone if its saturation accuracy is 3.6063 rather than 3.8685? Nobody is going to notice that, but they will notice a shoddy UI or an unergonomic design. Reducing everything to numbers really misses the pleasure and pain points which make a good or a bad phone.
    Reply
  • nrfitchett4 - Friday, March 20, 2015 - link

    I bought this about 3 months ago and don't regret it at all. Sold my LG G2 to amazon for 145 and got this for 290. It is a little unwieldy at times due to size, but its easy to use, runs really well and I haven't had any software problems. I don't use many apps these days, and only play a couple of games so 16gb of storage with a 32gb micro sd card works fine for me. I unlocked mine using code from Huawei (all you have to do is ask) and rooted it. Its running JB, but I'm scared of what lollipop would do to an already great software experience. I wasn't a fan of the UI at first, but decided against 3rd party launchers when I saw how much battery they were eating. Reply
  • torimish - Sunday, June 15, 2014 - link

    I really think Huawei deserves some more brand recognition. I'm in Australia, and I recently purchased the Huawei Mediapad Honor X1 - basically a 7" phablet, a great convergence device. I've done away with my ultrabook, and use this while travelling with a BT keyboard, and while it's pretty big for pocket use, it's easy to stash in my hand-bag.

    The quality of these phones - and the price point they are currently sitting at - make for excellent value. I took a gamble (was advised build quality wasn't up to some of the other devices), but I have been very pleasantly surprised. This Ascend looks good, too.

    I'd seriously recommend anyone try these Huawei devices. Build quality and finish is up there with the likes of Samsung and Sony and Apple. I'd really like to see Anand do a review of the Mediapad X1. You can't argue with fully unlocked, broad gamut of 4G/LTE bands, 1920x1200 resolution etc for less than $400 USD . . . and all day or two battery life.
    Reply
  • MarkWebb - Tuesday, June 17, 2014 - link

    Ordered! Reply
  • mikkej2k - Thursday, July 10, 2014 - link

    OK phone.
    Gethuawei.com website is broken. Call in customer service is also awful - be careful.
    Reply
  • zlinghaha - Wednesday, August 06, 2014 - link

    Avoid this crap. I just got the phone but found it cannot connect to a mobile network when I turn off Wi-Fi after it stays on Wi-Fi for some time. It cannot connect to a mobile network even after I re-start the device. This is over-hyped crap. Reply
  • FarWestNow - Tuesday, December 23, 2014 - link

    A good phone with a great camera (13mp). It's big, but I got used to it pretty quickly. I drop phones constantly, so I bought a Trident case, which so far seems to be fine. (looked for an Otter Box but they don't make one for the AM2.) Only real downside is that it gobbles up data like a fiend and my model came stuffed w/Google apps, and I've had to shut off the mobile network data manually when I'm off Wi-Fi to make sure I stay under my data cap. Four out of five stars.... Reply
  • nrfitchett4 - Friday, March 20, 2015 - link

    turn off auto-sync. I haven't noticed any extra data used. You can turn off mobile data as well, leaving only wifi, phone and sms on. Reply

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