After the release of the Huawei Mate S, we have had the chance to use one of the devices as a phone over the last two days. Here are my first impressions, and some hands on testing with the phone.
To give you a quick summary of what to expect from the phone, it has some of the following distinguishing features:
- A ‘premium’ version will have force touch on it, i.e. it will detect how much force is in your touch, which can even be used to weigh things between 100g to 400g. Sadly our test model did not have that, but that is probably quite an exciting feature.
- A great camera, that features out of the box options to do light painting and time lapse photos, alongwith great night shots.
- A front camera which has a flash of sorts for those selfies!
- A finger print sensor on the back, which not only unlocks extremely quickly, but also allows you to swipe up and down to see your notifications, or swipe left and right to go through photos in your gallery.
- Knuckle, which sounds like a funny name to call it, but it allows you to open apps if you make ‘gestures’ on your screen with your knuckle. This differentiates between your finger’s touch and your knuckle’s touch.
- It runs on EMUI 3.1, which is Huawei’s OS skin on top of Android Lollipop.
- A very impressive speaker at the bottom of the phone, though it doesn’t seem to be stereo.
- 3 microphones to allow directional conference calls.
Look and feel
The phone is definitely built with premium design in mind. A soft metallic finish provides a frame to the phone, with a screen in front, and the proud Huawei logo at the bottom. The Android navigation keys, thus form part of the screen.
The screen features good sharp colours, and is visible in all sorts of light conditions, from the bright sunlight to low light.
There is also a very bright LED on the front with the front camera to act as a flash.
Featuring a very gentle curved back means that it fits really well in the hand.
The highlight of the phone is the fingerprint sensor at the back, which is located just below the camera. As you hold the phone in your hand, the fingerprint sensor almost becomes a natural resting place for your finger.
The camera includes a dual flash next to it, and comes well protected thanks to sapphire glass.
The left side has the dual SIM/microSD slot, while the right side has the power and volume keys.
The volume key can also act as a camera shutter button.
The bottom has the speaker grills. As far as I can test, only the right grill has a speaker behind it.
Finger print sensor
The moment you boot this up, the finger print sensor becomes the centre of attention. You set it up, and you set up a pin in case it doesn’t work.
The finger print sensor, version 2.0 from Huawei, is the fastest finger print sensor I have tried so far. There is a slight dip in the back so you know where to put your finger.
You place your finger at the back, and as soon as you touch it, it gets unlocked. I have done it over and over again, and it is instant every time. The dip does mean that every now and then you don’t get your finger placed over the sensor properly, but you are generally notified of that.
What it does mean is that you definitely need to lock your phone with a pin, as the fingerprint sensor doesn’t work otherwise. I think that is a shame, as I don’t normally like having a pin on my phones.
The fingerprint sensor though, and this is what makes this (and the Honor 7) different from all other phones that offer fingerprint sensors, does more than just unlock your phone and make payments.
You can actually swipe down or up to swipe your notification screen down or up respectively. In the gallery app, it allows you to swipe left and right from it too. It doesn’t go through the home screens though, and I have asked one of the Huawei team to try and add that too, as I think that would be quite useful.
The Knuckle feature allows you to draw gestures on your screen with your knuckle, and hence open apps without having to do anything. As of now, you are allowed m for music, c for camera, e for internet explorer, and you can go in and change the options on what app to open.
You can do this when the phone is locked or unlocked, though if it is locked, you will need to obviously enter your pin or use the fingerprint sensor. On locked screen, the same gestures work with your finger, while on an unlocked phone, the knuckle doesn’t get in the way of your finger tip, and only focuses on the gesture.
The camera is pretty decent on the Huawei Mate S. Here are a few photos from my Insta feed to see what this camera is capable of.
One of the cool features is time lapse:
2 Some standard photos:
Inside the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. #touchthemoment #IFA2015 #berlin #travel #technology #huawei #touch #huaTouchIn A photo posted by Smacula (@smacula1) on
3. It also seems to handle various light qualities in the same frame well.
Trying to create the Huawei logo! #touchthemoment #IFA2015 #berlin #travel #technology #huawei #touch #night #sparklers #glowsticks #mateS A photo posted by Smacula (@smacula1) on
5. Light painting
6. Black and white
About to bike across Berlin with the Huawei Fan Club. Conference bikes! #touchthemoment #IFA2015 #berlin #travel #technology #huawei #touch A photo posted by Smacula (@smacula1) on
Where it does seem to struggle a bit is night shots. They seem to be a bit noisy without the flash, and of course flash is not always an option. There is a super night mode, which needs a tripod. Holding it steady isn’t enough. Same goes for all the light painting shots.
The highlight though, and I am yet to test this properly, was the Pro Mode. I am glad that more and more phones are beginning to offer this as a feature.
The speaker is pretty impressive, despite being well hidden in the back ground. It is loud, it projects quite far, and it plays great quality music. Some songs sounded just a tad tinny, but overall, I am very impressed.
One interesting feature is that if you are playing music, and you get a notification, the phone doesn’t play the notification over your music, rather just lowers the volume for a second, makes a very subtle sound and pushes it back up. A very subtle way of letting you know that there is something waiting for you.
Great specs mean that the phone is very fast. The EMUI skin is heavily modded, and while it runs on Android 5.1 Lollipop, it is missing some features such as using NFC to transfer settings from one phone to the other. My first impression is that it is inspired by iOS, as it is curvy and cute, and doesn’t even have an app drawer.
However, once you get used to it, like any other phones, it is intuitive, simple and straight forward.
I have talked about EMUI in detail, and it comes with very interesting power saving features. This means that a lot of apps simply stop working after the screen turns off. So you may miss out on emails, etc. What is worse is that if you don’t allow apps to run, you may miss out on notifications. For example, I had to go and enable Basis Peak and Android Wear to get my smart watches to work. I wish it was the other way around, where I could block apps when I wished rather than other way around.
As opposed to the ‘rumours’ and ‘leaks’, it features a battery life of 2600mAh. However, it has been running all day for me despite being heavily tested. It should be okay for most people during the course of the day.
The Huawei Mate S is definitely worthy of being a flagship phone. While a proper review deserves more time, it has been fairly impressive. A €649 for the basic model, it sits on the more expensive side, which could go against it, but the premium look and feel more than makes up for it.
What would I change?
- Make the camera work better at night shots. It is so close to being amazing.
- Get the fingerprint sensor to swipe left or right on the home screen/app page.
- The power saving mode doesn’t block apps as default