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Huawei Mate S review

Huawei has just announced its latest flagship smartphone, the Mate S, at its IFA press conference in Berlin. Available later this month with prices starting from 649 Euros for the standard 32GB version (or 699 Euros for the 64GB Premium version), the Mate S is setting its sights high as it prepares to compete alongside this year’s top flagships.

With an all metal unibody with dual diamond cut edges, the Mate S is one seriously good-looking handset. The phone’s design has supposedly been Huawei’s top priority this time round, and it’s plain to see as soon as you pick up the handset. The curved back sits very comfortably in the hand, and its thinnest point of just 2.65mm makes it feel incredible slim and easy to hold. It’s also water resistant, and its new nano-coating technology should give it better protection from rain and sweat.

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Huawei’s attention to detail doesn’t stop there either, as it’s even made the antenna on the back of the phone match the colour of the handset, so its tiny 1.5mm band is less noticeable compared to the competition.

With a 5.5in display, the Mate S is quite sizeable, but Huawei was keen to emphasise that its overall footprint of 150x75mm makes it much shorter than theiPhone 6 Plus. This isn’t a huge challenge considering the iPhone 6 Plus is one of the largest 5.5in handsets currently available, but it’s actually not that far off the LG G4, which measures 149x75mm, so it is indeed one of the most compact 5.5in handsets currnetly available.

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^ The Mate S’s 2.5D glass slopes off at the corners, giving the edge a nice rounded texture to contrast with the chamfered metal beneath

Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed that it only has a Full HD display rather than a 2,560×1,440 resolution, but there’s no denying that its curved 2.5D Super AMOLED panel looks stunning. It uses fourth generation Gorilla Glass for extra protection and its smooth texture is great for swiping. Likewise, with a pixel density of 401ppi, the screen is still perfectly sharp and Huawei claims it will have a claimed 1.8 million:1 contrast ratio and 105% colour saturation. However, I’ll have to wait and see whether these figures hold up in our Expert Reviews calibration tests when I get back to the office.

Elsewhere, the Mate S takes several cues from the Honor 7, which is also made by Huawei. This includes a rear fingerprint sensor which you can use to swipe through your picture gallery, activate your notification menu or take selfies with as well as unlock the phone from sleep mode. The Mate S also borrows the Honor 7’s KnuckleSense 2.0 technology, which lets you use your knuckles to interact with the screen to take screenshots and cut out shapes to send to your friends. You can also draw letters with your knuckle (W, E, M and C) to automatically launch any app of your choice.

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^ The Mate S’s new Pro camera mode gives you plenty of control over your photos

As for the camera, this has been practically lifted wholesale from the Huawei P8, as it has the same 13-megapixel sensor and four-colour RGBW imaging module. It also has 1.2 degree optical image stabilisation and a sapphire glass lens cover for added durability.

The hardware may be the same, then, but this time Huawei’s included a new Pro camera mode which lets you customise the ISO, exposure compensation, exposure time and white balance on a handy onscreen slider wheel. It also has real time black and white filter for more creative shots, as well as the ability to auto-align rectangular objects you shoot from side on so you never have to put up with bad viewing angles.

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^ It’s great to see Force Touch being implemented on a smartphone, but at the moment it doesn’t really add anything to your overall user experience

One of the more surprising features of the Mate S is it comes with Force Touch technology. Just like the Macbook’s Force Touch, the display will recognise soft and light touches, allowing you to zoom in on photos in your gallery or magnify images in your gallery preview. The Mate S also has what Huawei’s calling ‘Magic Corners’ which, when pressed down hard enough, will automatically launch certain apps. You can even use it to guess the weight of light objects by placing them directly on the screen as long as it’s not more than 400g.

However, there’s a bit of a catch, as Force Touch will only be available on the Luxury 128GB edition of the Mate S, as the Standard and Premium versions don’t have it. Huawei also said that the Force Touch version won’t be launching at the same time as the regular Mate S models either, so it may end up bypassing the UK altogether.

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^ Got something under 400g you need to weigh? No problem! Just stick it on the Mate S’s screen and it will tell you how much it weighs

This wouldn’t be too much of a disaster, though, as Huawei hasn’t implemented it particularly well to make it a must-have feature. There’s no tactile feedback to let you know you’ve pressed down hard enough, for instance, and its limited number of uses make it seem like a pretty inconsequential addition, especially since we don’t know how much extra it will add on to the Mate S’s overall price.

Still, Force Touch aside, the Mate S has everything else you’d expect from a top-end smartphone. For instance, it supports fast-charging, with Huawei claiming you can get 2 hours of talktime from just 10 minutes of charging, and it comes with a dual-SIM card slot, which can double up as a microSD card slot for cards up to 128GB. Huawei’s also expecting its 2,620mAh battery to last over a day, but I’ll be putting this to the test in the Expert Reviews video playback test very shortly.

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^ At 5.5in, the Mate S is quite sizeable, but it’s still one of the smallest 5.5in handsets around

As for power, the Mate S comes with one of Huawei’s octa-core 2.2GHz Kirin 935 processors and 3GB of RAM. Ths is the same processor inside the Honor 7, and it certainly felt pretty snappy on the showfloor, so I’m expecting good things when I eventually put it through our suite of benchmark apps.

There’s still no word on UK pricing for the Mate S, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s certainly got lots of potential. As long as Huawei’s learned its lesson from the P8’s awful battery life, we could be on to a winner. Full review coming soon.

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