The Mate S features a similar full metal body design to past Huawei high-end devices, but comes with an updated build including a curved rear and 2.5D Corning Gorilla Glass 4. Huawei says that the curvature has allowed it to thin the edges and yet keep an overall profile of just 7.2mm. The result is a handset which is great to look at and surprisingly easy to hold. Looking around the device, the volume rocker and the power button are found on the right side of the device. All the buttons are very responsive, easy to press, and offer a good amount of tactile feedback. Although the phone comes with a double-tap Knuckle gesture to switch the phone on, this becomes redundant once you have the fingerprint reader configured. Up top is the headphone jack and a microphone, and at the bottom is the micro USB port, flanked by two grills, giving the appearance of a dual speaker setup, even though it is actually only a single speaker on the right side. Above the display is a speaker grill, along with front-facing camera with a flash. On the back is the camera sensor, coupled with a dual-tone LED flash, and the fingerprint reader.
Display and Force Touch
The Huawei Mate S sports a full 1080p HD 5.5in display that looks crisp, clear and bright thanks to the 105 percent colour saturation and a high contrast ratio, and has a pixel density of around 401ppi. For those of you that are constantly breaking your phone screens, you’ll be happy to know that Corning’s 2.5D Gorilla Glass 4 protects the Mate S display, which Corning claims its 2x tougher than competing glass technologies when dropped. The 2.5D glass allows the edges of the display to be curved instead of straight, which allows for a smoother overall finish and feels great when swiping near the edge of the display. However, it’s not just the addition of Gorilla Glass 4 and a FHD display that make the Huawei Mate S fascinating – the 64GB variations features force touch technology, much like what’s used on the Apple Watch and the iPhone 6S. Force Touch offers similar services to the iPhone 6S’ better known 3D Touch. It lets the display detect how hard you press down and provides differing responses as a result. On the Huawei Mate S, Force Touch has three main functions, and they’re all gimmicky. First, you can press down harder on photos to zoom in, but this only works in Huawei’s stock Gallery app. Second, you can use it to replace the three navigation buttons with a hard press. Third, you can weigh stuff by putting it on the Mate S’ screen. zooming in and out of photos by differing the amount of pressure applied to the display works very well. It’s fast and accurate, but for Force Touch to succeed it needs to be supported by other apps.
The Huawei Mate S comes packing a Huawei-customised version of Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, which includes some interesting features not available on standard Android devices. The first is the notification centre, which is accessed by swiping down from the top of the screen – as well as being able to access various toggles, you can swipe right to access a timeline view of all your notifications over the last 24 hours. It also comes with a Power usage firewall that’ll highlight any power-intensive apps that are draining your battery. From the menu, you’re able to quickly disable the background processes completely, or tweak exactly what the app can do in the background. The Huawei Mate S also offers an interesting way to interact with your phone – by knocking on it. The smartphone includes knuckle touch control 2.0, which can be set up to wake up your phone whenever you tap on it with your knuckle, and you can also use your knuckle to crop photos and take screenshots anywhere in the OS. Interestingly, you can also use knuckle touch to crop videos – simply double tap to start the recording, and double tap to stop it. It’ll create a new video file with your shorter video instead of directly overwriting the original. You can also use your knuckle to draw gestures on-screen that act as shortcuts to various apps. For example, you can draw a C to open the camera or a B to open the internet browser, although these can be customised to open any app that you want.
The Mate S is powered by Huawei’s own 64-bit HiSilicon Kirin 935 octa-core processor, a Mali T628 MP4 GPU and 3GB RAM. The trio combines to great effect. If you’re worrying that it doesn’t have 4GB RAM, like the Galaxy Note 5 or OnePlus 2, then don’t. I’ve opened up 20 apps and hopping between didn’t create lag of any kind. It handles games easily, both intensive titles like Real Racing 3 and less power hungry ones like Monument Valley. Swiping around homescreens, browsing Chrome and working with emails is also all handled with ease. In Geekbench 3 it scores 722 for single-core performance and 2719 on the multi-core. The scores put it below the the Samsung Galaxy S5, Kindle Fire HDX and only marginally above the Nexus 5 from 2013. To put it further into perspective, the Galaxy Note 5 scores 5014 on the multi-core test and the LG G4 hits 3260. It scores an equally middling 4,4768 in AnTuTu Benchmark v5.7.1. Real life performance is far more important than what the benchmarks say, so I wouldn’t worry about the results. This is a fast phone that manages games and day-to-day use with ease. In terms of internal storage, you can choose between 32GB, 64GB and 128GB but it can be increased further thanks to the microSD card slot. If you don’t want to add expandable storage, this slot can also be used as a second sim tray.
The Huawei Mate S comes with a 13 MP rear camera that includes a 4-color RGBW imaging sensor and Optical Image Stabilization. Also, the camera housing is scratch proof thanks to sapphire protection. The camera app includes some nice features to enhance the shots you can take like super night mode, panorama, HDR, and time-lapse. slow motion, a food mode to make pictures of food look more appetizing, and more. There is also a light painting mode, for long exposure shots. The built-in filters include car light trails, for capturing the trails of lights made by moving cars at night; light graffiti, for capturing trails of light in a dark environment; silky water, for silky smooth effects from running water; and star track, to capture the trails of stars and galaxies in the night! Image quality is excellent and the camera is capable of taking some really good shots with a good amount of detail and saturated colors. As with most smartphone cameras, the best results comes from well-lit environments however, indoor and low-light shots from the Mate S are actually quite good. If there is one weakness it seems that the image processor reacts too strongly to bright red. The handset is capable of videoing Full HD in 16:9 from both the front and rear cameras, however, as you would expect, OIS is only available via the rear camera. The 8 MP front-facing camera is coupled with a flash, which is more like a dim flashlight, but can be good to get a little bit of light into the shot. The quality of shots possible with the front camera is also impressive, with nice colors and lots of detail, but as expected, some graininess is seen in poorly-lit environments. There is a whole set of beauty mode features, so the selfie lover will not be disappointed by what can be achieved with a little bit of digital magic.
If you’re looking for a phone that will offer more than a day of use, the Huawei Mate S isn’t for you. Huawei made a song and dance about the stepped battery design it’s implemented for the Mate S, allowing it to fit in more capacity. The Mate S packs a non-removable 2,700 mAh battery power pack. With a full HD display there will be less strain on the Mate S battery, and Huawei is promising more than a day of usage from a single charge.
The Mate S is a really good phone, with its beautiful display, good battery life, and great camera. The fingerprint scanner on the rear is impressive, the camera is stuffed full of features and it’s coming in cheaper than the core flagships on the market. Performance is smooth and snappy for the most part, and while EMUI isn’t like stock Android, the slew of shortcuts and gestures available enable a good experience.