Huawei Mate S review

Huawei Mate S
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
420
inc VAT (SIM-free)

A beautifully made but ultimately average handset, the Mate S is once again dragged down by Huawei's fussy interface

Specifications

Processor: Octa-core 2.2GHz Kirin 935, Screen Size: 5.5in, Screen resolution: 1,920x1,080, Rear camera: 13 megapixels, Storage (free): 32GB (24.6GB), Wireless data: 3G, 4G, Size: 150x75x7.2mm, Weight: 156g, Operating system: Android 5.1.1

The Huawei Mate S might have beaten the iPhone 6S to the punch with its pressure-sensitive force touch technology, but it still has some way to go before it's as useful as Apple's 3D Touch. Yes, you can weigh an orange on the Mate S or anything else up to 400g, but being able to zoom in on photos or magnify images in your gallery preview is hardly as practical, or indeed as exciting, as being able to peek and pop through your emails or access additional app shortcuts from your home screen.

Still, it's probably for the best, as Huawei's force touch technology is only available on the Luxury 128GB edition of the Mate S, which will no doubt cost a lot more than the Standard £420 version reviewed here when it eventually launches in the UK. The Standard and Premium models, on the other hand, have just a regular touchscreen. It's not a huge problem, though, as you're really not missing out on much.

Huawei Mate S rear camera and fingerprint sensor

Design

Besides, force touch is probably the least interesting thing about the Mate S. Instead, Huawei strikes again with its top notch design, this time opting for an all metal unibody chassis with dual diamond cut edges. It's a seriously good-looking handset, and its curved back sits very comfortably in the hand.

Likewise, with chamfered edges measuring just 2.65mm at their thinnest point, it gives you plenty of grip to counter its smooth metal rear. Huawei's also said that its new nano-coating technology should give it better protection against rain and sweat, too, giving it an extra layer of durability in addition to its sturdy metal frame.

Huawei Mate S Micro USB port

Fingerprint sensor and KnuckleSense

The Mate S also takes several design cues from the Honor 7, which is also made by Huawei, such as its rear fingerprint sensor. It's extremely quick and can unlock your phone from sleep in little more than a second. However, the sensor isn't just for unlocking your phone. Like the Honor 7, it can also be used to answer calls, stop alarms, swipe through your picture gallery, pull down your notification menu and take photos without having to reach for the onscreen camera button, making it particularly handy for selfie shots. Admittedly, the swiping actions can be a bit fiddly, as it didn't always work first time round, but in most cases, each action worked perfectly fine and it made the phone easier to use single-handedly.

Less useful is Huawei's KnuckleSense technology. I've seen this on previous Huawei and Honor devices, but have never found it to be particularly useful. With KnuckleSense, you can use your knuckles to interact with the screen to take screenshots, cut out shapes to send to your friends, or launch up to four apps by drawing specific letters on the screen (W, E, M and C). You can launch any app of your choice with these letters, but in the time it takes to actually draw them out correctly, you might as well have hit the home button and launching them from your homescreen instead.

Display

With a 5.5in, 1,920x1,080 AMOLED display, the Mate S is quite sizeable, but it's still pretty compact compared to other handsets of this size. Measuring 150x75mm, its overall footprint is almost identical to the LG G4, which is one of the smallest 5.5in handsets currently available. It's a shame Huawei hasn't opted for a 2,560x1,440 resolution to match its LG rival, but the Mate S's AMOLED panel is arguably much more attractive than the G4's IPS display.

With a full 100% coverage of the sRGB colour gamut and perfect 0.00cd/m2 blacks, the Mate S delivers bright, punchy colours that are arguably cleaner and more natural than those on Huawei's Nexus 6P. Likewise, with a contrast ratio of infinity:1 according to our colour calibrator, the Mate S is capable of showing a very high level of detail in even the darkest areas onscreen. The only downside is that it's not very bright, as I measured a peak brightness of just 256.69cd/m2. This is below average for an AMOLED display, so you'll need to keep it on max brightness if you're planning to use it outside.

Performance

Still, Huawei's octa-core, 2.2GHz Kirin 935 processor and 3GB of RAM certainly give the Mate S plenty of raw processing power, and its GeekBench 3 scores put it more or less on par with its Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 rivals. With a single core result of 946 and a multicore score of 3,958, the Mate S performs better than the HTC One M9, LG G4 and even the Sony Xperia Z5, although the latter pulls back in the single core test. It's still not quite enough to catch the coattails of the Samsung Galaxy S6 family, but the Mate S ran Android 5.1.1 beautifully and apps loaded in no time at all.

It's just a shame that, once again, Huawei has skinned the Mate S with the latest version of its Emotion UI rather than stick with plain Android like the Nexus 6P. I'm not a big fan of Huawei's EMUI, as the lack of app tray, poorly designed app icons and distinct settings and notification tabs lacks the simplicity of stock Android and make it a bit of a chore to use every day.

Huawei Mate S side

Likewise, the Kirin 935 may have great CPU performance, but its GPU is decidedly poor compared to its Qualcomm-based rivals. With a GFX Bench GL offscreen Manhattan score of just 328 frames (around 5.3fps), the Mate S just isn't built for demanding 3D games. It handled simple games like Threes! and Alphabear perfectly fine, but others such as Hearthstone often struggled to maintain a smooth frame rate during battle animations and dialogue sequences.

Thankfully, its Peacekeeper score of 1,297 meant that web browsing was much smoother, as it was able to handle complex web pages with multiple images, adverts and comments without too much trouble. It stuttered occasionally when scrolling down articles on the Guardian, but nothing too major.

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