What is the Huawei Ascend Mate 7?
The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 is a very large phone, one whose display is close to tablet-like proportions. Gamers and those who like to watch videos on the way to work should have an instant interest in such a phone.
And, contrary to what the name suggests, it’s definitely phone-sized: the screen is six inches across, not seven.
As is so often the case with Huawei phones, you need to fiddle with the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 to iron out a few weird tweaks that have been applied. But with a little effort, this is one of the best large-screen phones money can buy. At £400, it’s a good lower-cost alternative to the Samsung Galaxy Note 4.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7: Design
Huawei is not a master of design. Often its inspirations are all-too apparent, and the original motifs it devises tend to be a little wonky. But it’s getting better, and the Mate 7 is certainly one of the best Huawei phones yet.
The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 has a look very similar to the HTC One Max. It’s imposing, mostly metal and has a fingerprint scanner on the back. A paragon of simplicity it is not.
However, aside from a slight lack of originality the design is remarkably good. Here’s the important bit – for a 6-inch screen phone, it’s very easy to use.
A handful of clever choices ensure this, and while not exactly a surprise, it is a relief after the Huawei Ascend P7, which seemed to value being thin over being enjoyable to use day-to-day. That phone missed the point. This one gets it, or at least seems to.
The first important bit is that the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 is clearly as much all-screen as the company could manage. Bezels are super-thin and there’s very little expanse above or below the display.
For empirical evidence – the Mate 7 is just 0.5mm wider than the 5.5-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 2. Granted, you’ll find much greater differences compared to phones of 2014 such as the LG G3, but clear effort has been put into making the phone as manageable as possible.
It’s not just the width, but the height too. This phone is thinner, shorter and less wide than its predecessor the Ascend Mate 2.
To make this possible, the soft keys are built into the software, and despite the current trend for front speakers, the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 keeps its one on the rear to ensure it doesn’t add more bulk. The result is a phone that's 7.5mm less tall than the HTC One Max, a phone we found to be flat-out too big at the time.
The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 is big, but not too big. Now that phones are that bit thinner, bezels that bit smaller, we’re at last finding 6-inch phones that we don’t wish we could shrink down.
Huawei has also put the soft keys towards the centre of the screen to make them easier to reach, and it works. Obviously, the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 remains a handful, but this is among the most accessible 6-inch phones to date.
It also feels good. About 85 per cent of the back is anodised aluminium, with just a couple of plastic bungs on the end to house the antennas, which would have trouble transmitting through metal. Build quality isn’t quite Apple-grade on closer inspection – in our sample the ‘volume up’ key lost its clickiness after a few days of use, but we assume this is an unfortunate fault with our sample (it is labelled an Engineering Sample, so this seems likely).
Much like the soft keys, the power button is placed within reach of your digit (right thumb in this case), and the phone’s super-slim 7.9mm body adds to how breezy this phone feels to use. Yes, we’ve complained about Huawei’s obsession with slimness in the past, but in a 6-inch phone, cuts to every dimension are appreciated.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7: Fingerprint scanner
After first noticing the similarities with the HTC One Max, we were worried about the Huawei Ascend Mate 7’s fingerprint scanner. The HTC’s was so particular it became a nightmare to use.
In another unexpected win for Huawei, the Mate 7’s fingerprint scanner is, as of October 2014, the best you’ll find in a phone outside of the Apple Touch ID sensor. It’s miles better than HTC’s fingerprint scanner and far better than the Samsung one used in phones like the Note 4 and Galaxy S5.
First, the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 does not make you move a finger over the scanner, just place it on there. And it scans your entire fingerprint when calibrating, rather than just the central part.
As such it’s able to be much more forgiving of fingerprints placed at an angle or non-centrally. I still experienced plenty of ‘non-recognised fingerprint’ messages, but it automatically rescans without any extra interaction required within a fraction of a second. It easily achieves the main fingerprint scanner goal of outpacing a typed-in passcode, which the HTC One Max and Samsung Galaxy S5 fail at, in our experience.
The scanner also sits in just about the perfect position for your forefinger, and is recessed by a full millimetre or so, making blind operation a doddle. It works without getting near the power button too. Huawei rarely shows the big players of Android how things are done, but it certainly has with the Ascend Mate 7’s fingerprint scanner.
Other less interesting aspects of the phone still worth noting include that it uses dual pop-out trays for microSIM and microSD cards on the left edge. You get a reasonable 16GB of storage in the phone, but a memory card slot boosts up its media cred several notches.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7: Screen
The lead attraction of the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 is its screen. More specifically, its screen size.
While the screens of ‘standard’ high-end phones have teetered over the 5-inch mark, the Huawei Ascend Mate 7’s 6-inch model still seems huge.
This is also the first Mate-series phone to really impress with its screen quality as well as size. Previous Mate models used 720p resolution displays, but the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 has a Full HD one.
While this resolution has been surpassed by a small handful of phones including the LG G3, the 368ppi pixel density this affords the Huawei Ascend Mate is easily enough to appear very sharp indeed.
The IPS LCD screen type used here gives a fairly similar screen character to LG’s best too. You get pretty decent colour accuracy, enough to convince the eye if not a professional colour calibration tool. There’s some control over the colour too. You can choose how warm or cool it looks using an easy slider in the Settings menu, giving the display a yellower (warm) or bluer (cool) character.
Viewing angles are great as well, with more-than-acceptable brightness loss from an off-angle perspective. There’s a bit of backlight bleed in the top millimetre of the screen, which may be a result of cutting down the area above the screen, but it’s minor and not too distracting.
The potential elephant in the room here is the Galaxy Note 4. Its display offers better blacks and far greater pixel density thanks to its QHD-resolution panel. We also expect it to bring slightly better colour accuracy in the right mode. But with an RRP £230 higher, these comparisons breeze past the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 without denting our opinion of it.
It is a fantastic canvas for games and video, better than 5-inch phones by virtue of its size. An extra inch may not sound like a lot on paper, but it’s a big difference in person.
We can’t give this praise without emphasising that we’re happy to dole it out because the phone hardware isn’t a pain in the backside to use, unlike so many earlier giant-screen phones. Finally, 6-inch phones are starting to make sense.
Huawei supplies the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 with a plastic screen protector attached, one that’s guaranteed to be bubble-free unlike the one you might try to apply yourself. It’s rather good as it doesn’t have the mottling effect so many screen protectors can burden your phone with. But it’s arguably a bit unnecessary.
The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 uses Gorilla Glass 3, the same scratch-resistant layer used in many (or even most) high-end phones. It’s less likely to get scratched than the phone’s aluminium back.
As the protector appears to cause zero image quality compromise, you might as well leave it on until it starts looking tatty. We’d given it a few little nicks within a week, mind.
Add fairly good outdoors visibility to the Huawei Ascend Mate 7’s good image quality and you have a great little media phone. One of the best at the price.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7: Speaker
Speaker quality is also surprisingly decent given the phone only has a single mono speaker outlet on the back. It tries much more than most to provide a bit of mid-range body, avoiding the quite reedy sound that often comes out of single-speaker phones.
We put the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 up against the Samsung Galaxy S5, which has a similar single, rear-mounted speaker and found Huawei’s phone to be beefier-sounding, less tinny and better-equipped to deal with ambient noise.
A good deal of this seems to be down to Digital Sound Processing (DSP). There’s clear evidence of compression in quieter bits of audio – to be clear we’re talking about a ‘studio’ compression effect, not the kind of compression that turns a CD into a 64kbps MP3. It’s can be used to alter the perception of loudness of audio to good effect, especially when dealing with cruddy speaker drivers, as it is here.
It’s loud enough, but the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 falls down a bit when you switch it to silent mode. The vibrate function is unusually weak, meaning you’ll need to manually check your phone to ensure you don’t miss anything if you turn the volume down.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7 – Software and apps
If you’ve read the earlier parts of this Huawei Ascend Mate 7 review, it’ll sound like we’re onto a winner. However, that’s not the impression you get when first booting up the phone.
Its default interface is dreadful, possibly the worst we’ve seen from a ‘known’ phone maker. Its incredibly tacky-looking, decked out in gold ‘bling’ icons and wallpapers. Software is frequently the worst element of Huawei’s phones, and at least to begin with it is here.
The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 uses Emotion UI, the custom Android interface seen in most other Huawei phones. It’s one of our least-favourite custom takes on Android because it alters a lot in 'normal' Android, but generally doesn’t demonstrate good taste in doing so.
The default UI is a prime example.
However, finally Huawei has got off its backside and properly implemented its themes system for a Western audience. Emotion UI has supported themes for years, but in the phones we’ve seen you’ve only had direct access to a few inbuilt ones, needing to scout out others from an obscure Chinese (and Chinese-language) web portal.
In the Huawei Ascend Mate 7, the ability to download new ones has finally been properly integrated. You have access to loads, and the majority are better than that which the phone uses by default. Wonders never cease etc.
These themes alter the wallpaper, the icon style and the Huawei Ascend Mate 7’s lock screen, changing its personality quite radically at times. There’s plenty of fiddling to do if you fancy. Within a few minutes we found a nice and simple one.
However, all of them get rid of the separate apps menu you normally see in Android. Everything app and game you download has to be arranged on your homescreens, demanding a bit more active curation than most other phones.
We’ve complained about this style many times in the past, and it remains contentious. However, it’s not as bad in a 6-inch phone like the Huawei Ascend Mate 7.
25 icons fit comfortably on each homescreen, meaning everyone should be able to fit their daily-use apps within a homescreen or two. The phone also supports folders, further cutting down how much you have to juggle homescreens.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7 – Performance
The biggest point to note, though, is that the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 does not suffer from the frequent performance glitches we see in the Huawei Ascend P7.
It really is quite nippy, something we’ve not been able to say about recent Huawei flagships.
We hope that part of this is down to improved optimisation in the often-faulty Emotion UI, but the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 also has a seriously fast processor. It’s a HiSilicon chip, produced by a Huawei subsidiary.
The HiSilicon chips we’ve seen to date have routinely underperformed next to Qualcomm Snapdragon rivals, but the Kirin 925 chip here is arguably competing with the Snapdragon 805 – which we’re yet to experience in a phone, as of October 2014.
The Hisilicon Kirin 925 has four Cortex-A15 performance cores clocked at 1.8GHz and four Cortex-A7 cores at 1.3GHz. In true Hisilicon fashion, this is not a particularly up-to-date setup. The Exynos version of the Galaxy Note 4 uses a similar setup but with the newer A53/57 64-bit cores.
In six months, the Hisilicon Kirin 925 is going to be looking quite musty, but for the moment it offers very compelling performance. For example, in the Geekbench benchmark the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 scores 3285. That compares favourably with the Snapdragon 805 and Snapdragon 801 scores we’ve seen – the Snapdragon 801 Galaxy S5 scored 2843 when tested concurrently.
It has loads of power, especially when you consider it’s significantly cheaper than the smaller-screen flagships from the biggest names. It's roughly on-par with what we expect to see from upcoming Snapdragon 805 phones.
If there is going to be a 64-bit Android app revolution, the Ascend Mate 7 won’t really be part of it (it's a 32-bit CPU), but to be honest it probably won’t kick in until this phone is starting to look very old anyway.
Native 64-bit support is only coming to Android with Android L. The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 uses Android 4.4.2 at present.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7 – Apps and Games
The GPU used by the phone is the Mali T-628 MP6, the same GPU used in the Exynos version of the Galaxy Note 3. AnTuTu reported the GPU as a much weaker Mali T-624, but results suggest this is a mis-reporting. Despite the high benchmark scores, the Mali T-628 is actually a bit less powerful than the Adreno 330 used in the Snapdragon equivalents.
Just as important as raw power is the extra ultra low power chip that monitors the phone's sensors while the screen is off. It's this chip that means you can use the fingerprint scanner without turning on the phone, without causing serious battery drain. Of couse, lots of power comes in handy when gaming too.
We’ve been gaming even more than usual with this phone – that screen positively wills you to – and have found that the Ascend Mate 7 has enough power to tackle top-end 3D games. Ramping Dead Trigger 3 up to it highest graphical setting still brings good performance (the game now offers a user-selected graphics setting).
The real big-hitting benefit for gaming, though, is the screen. A good 6-inch display is much more involving for the sorts of games that can feel a little cramped on a 4.5-inch display. It also gives your thumbs much more room to move without cramping the screen in games that use virtual sticks.
In a slightly old-fashioned move, Huawei has teamed-up with Gameloft and pre-installed five of its games on the Huawei Ascend Mate 7. However, you’re not really getting something for nothing – they are either demos or free games anyway, often requiring extra assets to be downloaded.
A few essential apps come pre-loaded too, things like Facebook and Twitter. However, aside from a bunch of little utilities apps there’s not much bloat.
You get things like an FM radio, a ‘mirror’ app and a magnifier, which uses the rear camera set to close-up focus in order to work as a sort of digital magnifying glass. The quirkier bits are automatically filed away into a Tools folder, though.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7 – Camera
The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 has a 13-megapixel camera main camera with a chunky LED flash.
It’s a pretty good setup that’ll do the job for day-to-day photography out on the street. You get pretty good levels of detail in sunlight and even in darker conditions – despite lacking HDR, the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 manages to hold onto detail fairly well in lower-light conditions.
While there’s clear processing/sharpening going on at pixel level and the edges of the frame get a bit scrappy-looking, you can get great levels of fine detail in the right conditions.
However, it’s not perfect. We did notice that in tricky higher-light conditions, the Huawei Ascend Mate 7’s photos can end up looking quite desaturated – almost monochrome in the worst cases.
While things like this are common in phone cameras, we’ve come to rely on HDR modes a bit to patch them up. The Huawei Ascend Mate 7’s is far from the most effective we’ve seen, though. It’s not the go-to fix-all it is in the best examples.
This phone is a middleweight contender in the phone camera world, but when the Huawei Ascend Mate 7’s camera is far from its star feature, that’s not a bad result.
Huawei has kept the modes on offer fairly simple too. You get Panorama, Beauty mode (which de-wrinkles your crows’ feet), HDR, burst mode and Watermark. There aren’t too many crazy processing filters, as you get in Sony’s phones.
It has a go at the post-focus modes attempted by other phones at present too, and this gets a spot as one of the main camera modes – right on the front page. However, as is generally the case with this kind of shooting, you’re much better off just taking normal photos in the vast majority of cases.
On the front is a much better-than-average 5-megapixel camera. With good light you'll get loads of detail in your selfies. However, for low-light indoors shots, that the camera uses a pretty tiny sensor is very evident – the noise is much clearer than in a high-grade 2-megapixel selfie cam.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7 – Battery Life
The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 has a gigantic 4,100mAh battery. For some extra context, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 ‘only’ has a 3,220mAh unit.
As you’d hope from a unit of this size, the Huawei Ascend Mate 7’s stamina is very good. You don’t need to be terribly careful to get two days’ use out of the phone, and for a spot of purely anecdotal evidence, the battery was at around 50 per cent at 11:30pm on one night, which got me through to about 5:30pm the next day before needing a charge – with some web browsing in-between too.
It does seem as though Huawei has taken a rather ‘brute force’ approach to the Huawei Ascend Mate 7’s battery efficiency, probably because the HiSilicon Kirin 925 isn’t all that power-efficient by itself compared to the best from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon range.
For example, you actually have to specify apps that can run when the screen’s turned off. Everything else will be blocked. This may become a problem for those not intending to take a diploma course in how to use the phone’s settings menu, as it’ll limit what apps will be able to ping you push notifications.
Our standard video test supports this too. You'll get 12 hours of 720p MP4 video playback off a charge, with the backlight set to mid-level.
That's a great result, but not the sort of earth-shattering one you might expect of a phone with such a giant battery. We got more out of the Sony Xperia Z2, for example.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7 – Call Quality and Connectivity
The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 HiSilicon Kirin 925 processor may need some concessions to bring great battery life, but the phone's core hardware otherwise covers most of the connectivity basics we expect from a £400 phone.
You get 4G, with wide-spanning support for the UK’s networks. In the OnePlus One (also Chinese), band 800 support was missing, but it is here, ensuring you can get 4G from all the main networks. It’s Cat 6-compliant too, meaning it can handle speeds of 300Mbps.
NFC is here too, along with the standards of Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and Wi-Fi Direct. There are a couple of missing bits, though. Wi-Fi support only goes up to N standard, not AC, and there’s no IR transmitter.
What is NFC, and why is it in your phone?
This means those who rely on ac to get Wi-FI coverage in the further reaches of their lofty mansions (or those with poor quality routers), may notice patchy Wi-Fi, and you can’t use the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 as a universal remote.
Should I buy the Huawei Ascend Mate 7?
The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 is one of the first phones we’ve tested that justifies having a giant 6-inch screen. It’s not that the software offers extra functionality to make those extra inches work – it’s not Galaxy Note 4-grade in that regard.
Rather, the screen is high-quality enough to seem better all-round than the 5-inch screens of more expensive phones, and the body isn’t so big and awkward it feels like wielding a chopping board as a phone.
You still need to consider whether you’ll appreciate the larger screen size over a smaller body, though. Things like games and films look fantastic on the Huawei Ascend Mate 7, while offering the phone-style convenience that you don’t get with something like the Nexus 7. But pulling the phone out for a quick snap really doesn’t feel as nimble as it would with a smaller phone.
It’s all about where your priorities sit. Screen size needs to be near the top. But if it is, this is one of the best-value options. There are no serious compromises in the hardware by current standards, and while there are plenty of Huawei quirks to raise an eyebrow at, many can be patched up. And when the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 costs more than £200 less than the Galaxy Note 4, that’s not a bad compromise.
The Huawei Ascend Mate 7 is one of the first 6-inch phones that avoids being a royal pain to use. The software is quirkier than a French art house film, but good performance elsewhere makes up for it.