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Huawei Mate S Review: Mastering Metal

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We review Huawei’s Mate S

This time last year Huawei managed to pull off a coup of sorts with their Mate 7 phablet. Up until that time the company was perfectly content in making flagships clothed in plastic and glass. Their Mate 7 phablet made the world sit up and notice, and they’ve been producing beautiful, full metal phones ever since. The Mate S follows in the footsteps of the Mate 7 and serves as proof to how far the company has come.

Huawei Mate S specs

  • 2.2GHz Kirin 935 octa-core processor
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 5.5-inch full HD display with Gorilla Glass 4 protection, Force touch display, 1920 x 1080 resolution
  • 32GB/64GB of storage, expandable via microSD
  • 13-megapixel rear camera, OIS, dual LED flash
  • 8-megapixel front camera
  • Dual-SIM
  • 3G, LTE
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, A-GPS
  • Android 5.1 Lollipop, EMUI 3.1
  • 2700mAh battery

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A full metal build that rivals the offerings of other companies

When we say Huawei knows how to make full metal devices, we mean it – starting from the Mate 7, the company has managed to impress us with each successive phone released under the P, G and Mate series. The Mate S is no exception – while it does retain design cues from the Mate 7, Huawei has updated the design to be easier to hold. The back features a gentle curve to make it easier to grasp the phone while you’re using it. Normally this design choice would lead to a thicker phone, but Huawei’s managed to implement that while keeping the overall profile of the device at just 7.2mm.

Huawei Mate S 08

The volume and power buttons are on the right side, and are easy to push when you’re holding the phone one-handed. The SIM tray is on the left, while the 3.5mm jack and the power button are on the bottom and top, respectively. The speaker grille is on the bottom of the phone as well, and flanks the USB port of the device.

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Once you turn over the phone you’ll see the 13-megapixel rear camera that’s slightly raised above the body, as well as the numerous antenna bands on the top and bottom of the phone. Huawei’s now trademark fingerprint scanner is located directly at the bottom of the camera.

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The scanner is quick and easy to use, and is probably the fastest fingerprint reader we’ve ever seen yet in a phone. Just like the G8, the fingerprint scanner on the Mate S doesn’t just unlock your phone – you can also use it to pull down notifications and dismiss them, use it as a shutter button when you’re taking selfies, and swipe through image galleries without touching the display.

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Speaking of displays, the Mate S uses a 5.5-inch AMOLED display with a full HD resolution. While QHD is certainly the driving feature of many flagships today, full HD is more than enough for a phone that has a 5.5-inch panel. Since the display uses AMOLED technology, you can expect deep blacks, excellent contrast ratio, vivid colors and excellent viewing angles. Outside legibility is pretty good as welll.

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Kirin 935 is a beast

Just like Huawei’s other flagship phones, the Mate S uses their own Kirin 935 processor, running four Cortex-A53 processors running at 2.2GHz and four slower processors running at 1.5GHz. That’s paired with a Mali-T628 GPU and 3GB of RAM plus 64GB of storage. Huawei has been steadily improving the speed and power of their home-grown silicon (technically Made by HiSilicon, which is fully owned by Huawei) and the 935 is no exception. The processor, along with the 3GB of RAM inside the phone and the 64GB of storage makes the phone a great platform for playing games and watching movies. The Mate S can run almost any app or game you want at high settings without too much trouble.

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Just like their other phones, Huawei’s EMUI is layered on top of Android 5.1. If you haven’t used EMUI before, it essentially strips the app drawer from your phone lays them all out in the open. EMUI adds a little bit of additional functionality to the fore like gesture controls, theme customization and flip to mute.

As far as call performance goes, the Mate S does well and has loud, clear sounding calls to and from the device. Sound quality is also pretty good.

We haven’t talked about Force Touch, which is weird considering it’s one of the headline features of the Mate S. Well there’s a reason for that – the Philippines will only be getting the 64GB version of the Mate S, and only the top-of-the-line 128GB version gets the enhanced Force Touch display. Sorry folks.

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Shot with natural light

Camera has a slew of manual modes and produces good photos

The Mate S sports a 13-megapixel rear camera that has a lot of goodies inside it: 4-color RGBW imaging sensor, OIS and a camera housing that’s encased in tough, scratch proof sapphire glass. Just like the P8, the Mate S is capable of shooting in full manual mode for people who like to tinker, and has the same light painting mode that made the P8 stand out.

As far as the actual photos go, the Mate S does a pretty decent job of producing great photos. Images taken with the Mate S are excellent, with a large amount of detail and saturated colors. Even low-light shots are detailed, an area where most cameras suffer. All in all, we’re very impressed by the image quality of the camera in the Mate S.

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Battery that’s good enough for a day’s use

Because the Mate S is smaller than the Mate 7, it has a smaller battery compared to its bigger brother. A 2700mAh battery doesn’t sound a lot, especially when 4000mAh and even 5000mAh equipped phones are becoming more and more common. But battery capacity is just one part of the equation – the efficiency of the display, processor and all the other components of a phone also come into play when you’re talking about battery life.

In that regard, the Mate S manages to deliver decent battery life considering the small size of the battery inside of it. Our PCMark battery benchmark pegs the battery life of the Mate S at a respectable 7 and 41 minutes. Actual use got us around a day’s worth of battery on a single charge, with moderate use.

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Verdict: Another awesome flagship from Huawei, though pricing will be challenging

All in all Huawei’s Mate S is another solid flagship offering from the international brand though there is one thing that’ll keep it from getting adopted by a lot of people: price. In the Philippines, Huawei is pricing the Mate S at Php 31,995 which is considerably more than the bigger Mate 7. To be fair, they are throwing a couple of premium items in the package, which includes a spiffy Harman Kardon designer headphones. That may not be enough to entice consumers  but for those who do decide to take the plunge, they’ll be pleasantly surprised with the Mate S.

John Nieves

John is a veteran technology and gadget journalist with more than 10 years of experience both in print and online. When not writing about technology, he frequently gets lost in the boonies playing soldier.

7 Comments

  1. “The volume and POWER BUTTONS are on the right side, and are easy to push when you’re holding the phone one-handed. The SIM tray is on the left, while the 3.5mm jack and the POWER BUTTON are on the top and BOTTOM , respectively.”

    Surely needs some editing there. Would be weird if the power button is at at the bottom,… right?

      1. Thanks… but as I got from the GSMArena review, the power button is on the right side (as you also mentioned earlier) and the 3.5mm jack is on top. What’s at the bottom are the micro USB port and the grills for the actual speaker and noise cancelling mics…. I love this phone, but it seems won’t be able to afford this beast, so thanks. Best regard!

  2. I’m seeing Antipolo Church in there. Haha I have a better shot using my alcatel flash 2. Nice metal build though. The overall design is sooo sleeek.

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