- Strong performance
- Sharp Full HD screen
- Neat UI tweaks
- Decent battery life
- Niche audience
- Battery takes ages to charge
- Photos sometimes over-saturated
- Cluttered desktops
We review Huawei’s Ascend Mate 7, a massive, well-specced premium phablet packing a fingerprint scanner and a very unique interface.
After churning out plastic fantastic mobiles for yonks, Huawei has finally decided to up its game and produce a gorgeous metallic masterpiece, the Ascend Mate 7. This 6-inch beast isn’t just premium on the outside, with a solid metal body and edge-to-edge Full HD screen, but it’s also packing some seriously sexy innards including an octa-core processor and 13-megapixel camera.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7: Design
I’ve fondled a lot of massive phones in recent times (lucky me), but the Ascend Mate 7 is one of the biggest in a while, fast approaching tablet territory. At 6-inches, it isn’t quite as gargantuan as the frankly ridiculous Xperia Z Ultra, but it’s getting there.
Yet somehow, the Ascend Mate 7 gets away with it. Don’t get me wrong, this is still purely a phone for those who love massive screens, and preferably who also have hands like Andre the Giant. But the phone’s impressively thin bezels help to slim down the handset, so it’s actually not uncomfortable to clutch even if you don’t have mitts the size of a baseball glove.
It’s a crafty design decision that worked wonders on the 5.5-inch LG G3 and it definitely works again for Huawei.
From the front, the Ascend Mate 7 matches most other premium smartphones, with an all-glass front and nicely rounded corners. Flip it over and you’ll find a grey metal back that’s strangely reminiscent of the HTC One Max, complete with etched lines and even a fingerprint scanner housed beneath the camera lens.
That metallic design stretches around the Ascend Mate 7’s edges and gives the phone a consistent and solid look and feel. The SIM card slot and micro SD memory card slots are Apple-style drawers which you need to poke open with a pin.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7: Screen and media
Packing a huge 6-inch Full HD screen, the Ascend Mate 7 seems to be designed entirely for media and gaming. The 1080p resolution gives 368 pixels-per-inch, which is more than enough to enjoy high-def movies and photos in all their resplendent glory. We tried squinting hard and practically pressed out noses up to the glass, and could only occasionally make out individual pixels.
Contrast levels are strong, with particularly deep blacks, although the whites aren’t quite as crisp and natural as on the iPhone 6 Plus, with a slight tint even on cool mode. Viewing angles are almost as strong as Apple’s phablet, however, so you can definitely relax and watch a movie with a mate on the spacious screen.
Colours are vibrant without being overly rich, again comparable to the iPhone 6 Plus.
The Ascend Mate 7 (left) versus the Apple iPhone 6 Plus (right)
A single rear-facing speaker can be used to blast your tunes in public, but it’s smothered by your palm if you’re clutching the phone normally. We definitely prefer the front-facing BoomSound speakers of the LG G3.
Thankfully you have a micro SD memory card slot so you can carry a huge collection of movies and music around, great news as the Ascend Mate 7 only comes packing 16GB of storage space.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7: Interface
Huawei has mutated Android 4.4 KitKat into its own completely unique form, catchily named EMUI 3.0. Some bits of it we really like, and some bits can frankly crawl into a corner and die.
Android’s overall look has changed significantly, even if the general layout hasn’t. We approve of the new notifications bar, which shows the exact time that messages and other bits popped up, while the shortcut menu is packed with all of the main features that you’ll need.
We also like how quickly and easily you can download new themes for the Mate 7, with an impressive variety on offer. Just check out this cartoonish monstrosity below. We also rocked a Link theme and there are several more elegant offerings, all free to nab.
Huawei has also built plenty of cool and handy features into the UI, including a nifty User Block tool that allows you to quickly and easily keep unwanted people from contacting you. You get a fair few apps too, including a file manager, a diagnostics tool and a pretty good dictaphone app.
However, the app situation is one of our few bugbears with Huawei’s interface. Namely, there’s no way to stow away apps that you don’t use very often, a problem that also plagues Apple’s iOS. That means that every single app you own has to sit somewhere on your desktops, unless you delete them completely. Considering Android has a hidden app folder already built in, we’ve got no idea why Huawei’s got rid of it.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7: Bonus Features
We’ve seen a few handsets rocking fingerprint scanners ever since Apple chucked the Touch ID sensor on the iPhone 5s, and Huawei has aped the HTC One Max by sticking a scanner on the back of the Ascend Mate 7.
You need to set up a PIN code to access the fingerprint settings, for dual security, while all of your print data is encrypted to keep it nice and safe. Like Apple’s Touch ID devices, you can register up to five separate prints, so you can allow multiple users to access the phone if needed. Pressing a registered finger against the pad then automatically wakes the Mate 7 from hibernation and throws up the desktop, something that even the iPhone can’t do.
You can also use the fingerprint scanner to secure specific apps, a great feature if you share your phone around your family. So you could leave the Mate 7 unlocked without any security, but prompt the user to scan their print to access the mail app, for instance.
The scanner works well most times, often recognising your print on the first poke, even if you’re holding the phone at a weird angle. It’s not perfect of course, just like Apple’s Touch ID, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the HTC One Max’s effort.
Huawei also trumps Apple with its Cat 6 LTE support, meaning you’ll enjoy speeds up to 300Mbps when the latest super-nippy 4G networking rolls out across the UK (EE reckons it’ll happen early 2015).
Rounding up the features, you also get NFC for connecting to supported peripherals.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7: Performance and battery life
The Ascend Mate 7 is apparently the first ever phone to be powered by the eight-core Kirin chipset, designed for multi-tasking, gaming and media.
We tested the Ascend Mate 7 with some of the latest games, including Assassin’s Creed Pirates and Interstellar, and didn’t notice even a single solitary stutter. Likewise, general performance is smooth as you’d expect from a premium handset.
Huawei has crammed a bloody massive 4100mAh battery inside the Mate 7’s hulking shell, so it’s no surprise that the phone goes and goes despite that energy-sapping 6-inch screen. We easily squeezed a day and a bit of life from the Mate 7, even with regular use, while streaming video non-stop gave around 6.5 hours of playback. That’s a fine result for a phablet.
If you do find yourself struggling for whatever reason, there’s also an Ultra Power Saving mode which gives you a number of quick options to prolong battery life. You can also individually select which apps are allowed to run when the phone’s screen is switched off - so you may want to keep Mail running, to inform you as soon as a new message comes in, but deactivate the likes of the browser.
Unfortunately, the Ascend Mate 7 also takes a while to charge up. For us it took around five hours to charge up fully from dead each time, even with almost zero use during charge. You’ll definitely want to plug it in before hitting the hay, to avoid having it stuck in a socket all day long.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7: Cameras
One of Sony’s 4th generation sensors has been used for the Ascend Play 7’s 13-megapixel camera, which juts ever so slightly out of the back of the phone. Sadly our photos don’t quite match those taken on the Sony Xperia Z3, but they’re pretty good on the whole.
Detail levels are great, with plenty packed into every frame whether you’re shooting macro photos or landscape shots. The lens does struggle a little when it comes to colours, however.
Bright colours are often over-saturated, while tricky lighting conditions often result in murky or excessively bright images. The only solution is to switch to HDR mode, which sometimes corrects the problem.
We love the stripped-down camera interface Huawei has used, which devotes most of the screen space to the image view and limits on-screen buttons to the basics. It’s not quite as streamlined as LG’s or Motorola’s, but it’s close.
You can quickly flick between photo, video and ‘all focus’ modes with a flick of your finger, and there’s dedicated buttons for switching cameras, fiddling with the flash and changing to another mode, such as HDR, panorama and the watermark mode (which adds a date and rather pointless weather stamp to the corner of your photo).
Around the front, you get a 5-megapixel selfie cam that is also perfectly fine for video chats. There’s a Beauty Mode to remove those saggy bags under your eyes and clean up your pores, so you don’t even have to bother photoshopping your ugly mug before posting it online.
Huawei Ascend Mate 7: Verdict
The Ascend Mate 7 is one of Huawei's finest premium devices to date, but of course that 6-inch hulking beast isn't for everyone. If your priority is rocking a massive Full HD screen, the Mate 7 should satisfy. The camera isn't top of its league but it's respectable and we like the funky customisable interface, despite its cluttered desktops.