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Huawei Mate S review: Slender and metal, but not a great buy

Cameras and image quality

  • 13-megapixel rear camera
  • Variety of scene modes
  • Creative slow-shutter effects
  • 8-megapixel front camera, with flash

The back of the Mate S is home to a 13-megapixel camera, which is a touch too few megapixels for a high-end Android phone. Sony's Xperia Z5 packs in 23 megapixels, as does the much more affordable Motorola Moto X Play . However, megapixels certainly don't result in better-looking photos, and in fact the Mate S is capable of taking some impressive shots.

Huawei Mate S camera test (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

My first shot of these lovely flowers is incredibly vibrant, with rich tones that really pop off the screen. Exposure is great and there's plenty of detail at full screen.

Huawei Mate S camera test (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This park scene has been captured well also, with the bright sky being kept under control, yet still maintaining sufficient detail in the shadowy areas in the trees.

Huawei Mate S camera test, without HDR (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Huawei Mate S camera test, with HDR (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Some shadows in the original canal shot (top) have become a bit too dark, but the HDR mode (botttom) has brightened up those areas, while also slightly dialling back some of the bright highlights in the sky.

Huawei Mate S camera test (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

This shot over West London has lovely natural colours and good overall exposure. When you zoom into the details -- particularly on the houses on the right -- the image is noticeable quite fuzzy. While 13-megapixels is sufficient for getting a crisp-looking Facebook snap, it doesn't provide much additional detail to allow you to crop into a scene.

Huawei Mate S camera test (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

In low-light, the Mate S's camera is about average. This shot is reasonably bright, although the colours have lost a lot of their vibrancy. The camera's attempts to reduce image noise has also meant that a lot of detail in the image has been lost.

Huawei Mate S camera test (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

As well as HDR modes, panorama and burst modes, you'll find a few other neat tricks in the camera interface. This slow shutter mode lets you capture neat light trails from car headlights, while the Pro mode allows you to take manual control over shutter speed, ISO and white balance. The interface is fairly easy to use, with main shooting modes clearly labelled near the shutter button, with other settings hidden behind a menu in the top left of the display.

Huawei Mate S front-facing camera test (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

On the front of the phone is an 8-megapixel camera, which takes reasonable selfies. This shot of me looking particularly wonderful suffers from quite a lot of image noise in the top left, while fine details on my face are lost when viewed up close.

Huawei Mate S front-facing camera test, with 'Beauty' mode (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

There's a beauty mode you can use when taking a selfie, which applies digital effects to your face, including whitening and smoothing your skin, brightening and enlarging your eyes and making your face look thinner. I naturally turned it to maximum beauty and I think the results speak for themselves. The front-facing LED flash doesn't provide the most flattering light for a face, but it's pretty powerful and will certainly light up those selfies in dingey, underground bars or during low-light music gigs.

It shoots video at full HD (1,920x1,080 pixels) quality only -- there's no 4K video option as you'll find on the S6 or LG G4. Exposure is reasonable, although highlights can sometimes be a touch blown out, colours are good and the footage plays back smoothly. Image noise can be an issue in lower-light situations, but for capturing clips of your dog in the park, it's perfectly fine.


  • 2,700mAh battery
  • Non-removable

Providing the power is a 2700mAh battery. It's a good size cell and with moderate use you'll easily be able to get a day out of it. After playing music on your commute to work, sending and receiving texts and emails throughout the day and even a spot of gaming on the way home, you should still have enough power to get you through an evening out. Of course, is still depends on how demanding you are of it.

It hold its charge very well in standby mode, meaning if you tend to send a few messages throughout the day, leaving the screen off the rest of the time, you'll get a longer time from it. That bright screen is the biggest drain on the power so if you tend to leave it on for long periods, checking for texts or playing games for ages, you can expect the power to ebb away pretty quickly.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The battery is sealed into the phone, meaning you can't replace it for a fresh one when it runs out. If you're a heavy user then you might want to consider keeping a portable battery pack in your bag, just in case you can't dash to a plug quickly enough.


Huawei has clearly put care and attention into the design of the Mate S. It looks great, and its metal chassis with chamfered edges makes it feel like a reassuringly high-end device. Even so there are issues that are holding me back from giving this phone a glowing review.

I'm still not keen on Huawei's custom Android skin, which is messy to use and bogs down the phone's processor more than necessary. Sure, it has the fancy pressure-sensitive screen seen on the iPhone 6S, but on the Mate S, it feels to be there only as a marketing tactic to show that it's on the same level as Apple's phone. In reality, Huawei has put little thought into how it wants to deploy the technology and as such the pressure-touch does nothing of any value on the Mate S.

Huawei typically pitches its handsets as more affordable alternatives to other phones out there, but the high price of the Mate S means it's much less of a bargain than other Huawei devices. It's a fine all-rounder, but it's not worth its top-end asking price. If this phone were reduced by around 25 percent, I'd say it would be worth a look. As it is though, your money is better spent elsewhere.

One phone that's well worth a look is the Nexus 6P . Although made by Huawei as well, this phone makes up for a lot of the problems I have with the Mate S. It's easy to buy directly from Google's Play store, it runs stock Android Marshmallow and it maintains the metal design and fingerprint scanner on the back. It doesn't come cheap, though.

If you're keen on the all-metal design but want to save some cash, then HTC's One M9 should be up your street. It's beautifully-made, with a full HD display and plenty of power. Alternatively, the leather back on the LG G4 feels great to hold and its ultra high definition display is pin-sharp. Both phones have more standard Android interfaces (which I much prefer) and can be picked up for less money than the Mate S.

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