Huawei Ascend Mate 7 review: A huge metal phone with the battery life to match
The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 packs an enormous 6-inch screen, powerful octa-core processor and beefy battery into a slim metal body.
With Apple's launch of its 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, it's clear that big phones are here to stay. This isn't news to Huawei, however, which already has a range of palm-stretching mobiles to tempt you with.
The latest addition is called the Mate 7. It's not the seventh generation, nor does it have a 7-inch display, so I'm baffled as to the name. It actually has a 6-inch display with a full HD resolution, an octa-core processor, 4G LTE, a fingerprint scanner and a 13-megapixel camera.
Design and display
Let's not beat around the bush here, the Mate 7 is huge. It has a 6-inch screen which has required the body to balloon out to 157mm (6.2 inches) long and 81mm (3.2 inches) wide. It's nigh on impossible to use with only one hand, unless you have palms the size of planets. One of the big ones. Jupiter, maybe.
It could be worse, though. By using an extremely narrow bezel around the display, the all-metal body, while big, is all being put to use -- there's no wasted space by simply having chunky bezels around the screen. Indeed, Huawei boasts that 83 percent of the face of the phone is screen.
As well as silver, the phone will be available in a dark grey colour as well as a light gold -- three colours I'm sure Huawei chose by complete accident, forgetting the iPhone 5S launched in exactly the same hues. iPhone aside, it's actually rather reminiscent of the HTC One Max , thanks partly to its size, but also the matte metal, the curved back, the lines crossing the back at the top and bottom, the camera and flash placement and of course the fingerprint scanner sitting directly below the camera. So not that similar really.
It feels pretty good to hold -- certainly much nicer than Huawei's slew of plasticky budget phones -- and the metal and narrow bezel help it look like a reasonably high end device. It's not the most interesting of designs though. You'll find a microSD card slot on the side (you'll need a SIM removal tool to access it) which you'll want to use to expand the 16GB of built-in storage.
The fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone is positioned precisely where your index finger will naturally rest when you pick the phone up. It's certainly comfortable to use, although it does mean you need to pick your phone up to unlock it, rather than jab at the screen when it's lying on your desk.
The sensor is very accurate, however, and can recognise your finger when placed in any direction. It rarely failed to recognise my own finger -- something I certainly can't say about the Galaxy S5 's scanner, which I found to fail more often than not, rendering it a little useless.
Holding your finger over the sensor will wake your phone from standby, too; you can use it to authenticate PayPal payments and you can even use it to take photos -- the position makes it very helpful for taking selfies.
When Huawei initially told me about the phone ahead of its official unveiling, I was told that the phone would have a 2,560x1,600-pixel resolution, which would match the LG G3 's higher-than-full HD display. Huawei's had a change of heart since then, however, as the Mate 7 you'll find in the shops will have a lesser 1,920x1,080-pixel display.
That's a bit of a shame, as a screen that size would potentially benefit from the extra pixels in a way the G3 doesn't -- I couldn't see much benefit in its high resolution on a 5.5-inch screen. Still, the Mate has a pixel density of 367 pixels per inch, which is higher than that of the iPhone 6 and it does seem very crisp indeed. Icons have well-defined edges, high-resolution images look good and text is easy to read. I definitely don't think it's lacking in definition, but I'd like to see how a higher-definition panel looks on this phone, even just for curiosity's sake.
It's bright, almost painfully so at times and it has strong, vibrant colours that stop just short of looking unnatural. Viewing angles are excellent, too. Its overall high quality, coupled with its vast size makes it a great choice for the Netflix addicts among you.
Android software and Huawei additions
The Mate 7 arrives with Android 4.4.2 KitKat onboard, which is disappointing as that's a couple of versions out of date (version 4.4.4 is the most up to date version of Android around). I'm happy to forgive older software on budget mobiles, but on pricier, higher-end kit, it's far less excusable.
Huawei has changed the Android interface so much, however, that you probably won't immediately notice that you're on old software. It's visually very different from regular Android, mainly due to the fact that there's no app tray. Instead, all your apps and widgets are held across the multiple home screens.
I'm not keen on this personally as it's extremely difficult to keep any kind of order -- particularly if you enjoy using a lot of widgets, which will leave you having to swipe through many screens before finding that one app you need. Apple's iOS also doesn't have an app tray though so if you're moving over from an iPhone it might be more to your taste.
You can apply various themes to the phone, which change everything from the colour scheme and background images to the app icons themselves. It's nice being able to put your own stamp on things, but there's only six themes installed -- none of which I particularly like -- and for the life of me, I couldn't find an official Huawei store where you can find more themes to download. After googling, I found some forums where people had posted some, but installing software from unknown sources like this is potentially very risky and I really wouldn't recommend it.
Some of the tweaks are quite welcome, though. You can customise the order of the navigation buttons at the bottom of the phone as well as add a shortcut button that pulls down the notification bar for you -- something that can be tricky to with one hand on such a massive phone. The Phone Manager tool lets you quickly clear out unwanted files, kill background processes and even set up a "Harassment Filter", which can block calls from set numbers or from unknown callers -- a tool I'm quite keen on.
The phone is also let down by a vast amount of pre-installed software. You'll find games like Bubble Bash Mania, Dragon Mania and Real Football 2015 already on the phone, as well as software like Todoist and Bitcasa. Finding so much stuff onboard the first time you even turn it on is far from ideal. It makes the interface seem immediately cluttered and messy and makes it more difficult for new users to understand. "What's this? Do I need this?" are questions you should expect to hear if a non-techy relative gets a Mate 7.
Processor and battery performance
The Mate 7 has an octa-core processor, made up of two quad-core units. One, slightly less powerful, is used for basic tasks, while the phone switches to the more potent side of the silicon when it needs more power for stuff like gaming or image processing. The switchover is seamless -- you won't be alerted when it goes into the high-powered mode.
It's a very powerful processor. It scored 4,468 on the Geekbench benchmark test, putting it above the extremely capable Samsung Galaxy Alpha (4,350). On the Quadrant test, however, the Mate 7 only managed a score of 11,401 -- less than half the score the Samsung Galaxy S5 achieved (23,707). Benchmarks aren't always a reliable measure of performance though, and the vast difference between those tests shows that something else is at play here.
In general use, I found the phone's performance was decent. Gaming was handled well -- Dead Trigger 2, Asphalt 8 and N.O.V.A 3 all played smoothly -- while photo editing in Snapseed and Adobe Photoshop Express was a breeze. High-definition video playback and streaming was great and the interface is generally responsive, with apps and the camera quick to open.
That massive body has made room for a capacious 4,000mAh battery, which performed extremely well on my tests. From a full charge, it lasted 17 hours on our video looping test, making it one of the best performers we've seen. By comparison, the iPhone 6 lasted just over 10 hours on the same test, while the Galaxy S5 achieved 15 hours.
Your own times will vary considerably, of course. If you keep that bright screen on throughout most of the day, then you'll see the power ebb away fairly quickly. It holds its charge extremely well in standby -- I left it in standby for nearly a fortnight and found it still had power remaining -- so if you're careful about what you do, you could probably get a couple of days use out of it.
The Mate 7 has a 13-megapixel camera stuck to its back that's capable of taking some great shots.
My first shot of this scooter in Berlin looks great, with good colours, an even exposure and plenty of detail at full screen.
The colours are lovely too on this shot of sweet chestnuts hanging from a tree. Again, there's loads of detail at full screen.
Colours are far less impressive on this landscape scene; in fact I'd go so far as to say it's very drab. On the upside, it has a very even exposure, which isn't easy when there's such a bright sky to compensate for.
The focus on this close-up flower has led to a pin-sharp shot, with rich tones on the petals.
There's an HDR mode as well, which has helped bring up some of the shadows on this building, as well as tone down some of the brightness in the sky. It's dulled some of the colours however, particularly in the blue sky, so I'd want to give this shot a saturation boost in Snapseed before posting it online.
The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 has much to brag about. Its vast screen is sharp, bright and bold, making it brilliant for movies on the go, while its octa-core processor provides oodles of power. The real cherry on top, however, is the capacious battery, which will easily last a day, if not quite a bit longer.
Its size certainly won't appeal to everyone though, and Huawei's software is still mostly a confusing mess that needs to be removed. Even so, the Mate 7 has plenty going for it and if it ends up with a reasonable price tag attached too, it'll definitely be worth a look.