Facing off against the giants of Apple and Samsung in the smartphone arena is no easy task. Huawei’s usual tactics in this fight has been to make its products a lot more affordable, while still competitive on a technical level. Not so with the Mate S. While it’s indeed moderately cheaper than the iPhone 6S or the Galaxy S6 , it’s not cheap enough. And it’s not the only problem Huawei needs to address.
Even buying the phone is difficult to do, with Huawei’s own UK website directing you to a Chinese-language online shop. The phone itself has some highlights to boast about, including an attractive metal body and a good camera, but Huawei’s custom Android skin makes the phone awkward and sometimes sluggish to use. It’s the exact same issue I found on Huawei’s P8 , launched earlier this year. Huawei talked up the pressure-sensitive screen at launch. It’s the same idea as the 3D Touch on the iPhone 6S, that allows you to press hard into the screen. On the iPhone it works well, but Huawei has done precious little to take advantage of this new technology.
At £420 (around $642, AU$898), the Mate S’s SIM-free price tag is still far above other excellent flagship offerings, including the brilliant LG G4 and the luscious HTC One M9, and it just doesn’t do enough to justify that cost. Particularly since Huawei still lacks the brand appeal to tempt people to choose its handsets over more recognised and trusted manufacturers. And that’s not the only problem Huawei needs to address.
If you can get it
Right now, you can only buy the Mate S in the UK, and even here it’s tough to find. Although you can pick it up on Amazon — amongst a raft of other imported Chinese handsets — the only place you can find it from a high street retailer is via Carphone Warehouse. Worse still, when you go to Huawei’s homepage and click “browse smartphones”, you’re directed to a Chinese-language store called VMall. When I eventually found the landing page for the Mate S, there is no option to buy the phone, nor any links to retailers. Huawei has an online store in the US, but the Mate S isn’t yet available to buy there.
Not only does this make it difficult for consumers to actually get their hands on the phones, this poor quality service doesn’t do anything to instil confidence in the brand in general. If Huawei is to sell this phone at a top-end price, it will need to do everything it can to gain that confidence.
150 x 75.3 x 7.2mm (5.9 x 2.96 x 0.28 inches)
156g (5.5 ounces)
Rear-mounted fingerprint scanner
The all-metal body helps the Mate S feel like a premium piece of kit when you hold it in your hand. It resembles the previous Mate 7 , but Huawei has made various changes to bring the Mate S up to date. It’s thinner, for one, with just a 7.2mm profile. The glass screen is rounded at the edge to meet the screen, and there’s a gentle curve to the back of the phone that makes it comfortable to hold.
The edges of the phone have been given a chamfered finish too, which adds just an extra touch of luxury to the look and feel of it. It’s well built, with no unpleasant gaps in the body, and no flex in the metal chassis — even when I tried really rather hard to flex it.
It measures 150m long and 75.3mm wide, making it quite a large phone, although its size is expected given the large 5.5-inch display. Having said that, the narrow bezel around the edge of the screen limits the amount of unneeded real estate. To give some perspective, though the Mate S’s screen is the same size as the iPhone 6S Plus, the Mate S is 8.4mm shorter and 2.6mm narrower, making it slightly easier to use in one hand.
You’ll find the volume and power buttons on the right hand side, the 3.5mm headphone jack sits on the top of the phone, and the Micro-USB port is on the bottom. The bottom edge is also home to the speakers, behind two sets of drilled grilles. They pump out a big enough sound for Netflix watching while cooking, but you’ll want a proper set of speakers or headphones if you want to feel properly immersed in the soundtrack to your movie.
The phone comes with 32GB of storage as standard, but you’ll be able to pop in a microSD card up to 128GB in size, using the combined nano-SIM and SD card tray on the left hand side.
The Mate S’s fingerprint scanner is on the rear of the phone, just beneath the camera. It’s in the same location as it was on the Mate 7 before it, and it’s a position that works well for me. It’s exactly where my index finger naturally sits when I hold the phone, making it easy to unlock without having to make any extra effort or jiggle it around. I have pretty average-sized hands, although if yours are quite small, then your finger may not come to rest in quite the same place.
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