Review | Huawei Ascend Mate 7 smartphone

By Charlemagne Losaria

Huawei’s latest flagship phone, the Ascend Mate 7, can cause a little confusion. At a glance, you might mistake it for a certain HTC model because of its design and built.

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Next, where did the number seven in the Mate 7 come from? It is not the seventh iteration of their flagship phone nor does it have a 7-inch display. I guess only Huawei knows the answer.

Having said that, the Ascend Mate 7 is one of the best-looking phones we have had laid our hands on, so far. For us phone users, the aesthetics can make you buy a device, but how it performs will determine if it’s a keeper. Will the Ascend Mate 7 be one of those phones?

Design and build

The Mate 7 is a huge phone, to put it simply. The Mate 7 has a 6-inch vibrant display and has a dimension of 157 x 81 x 7.9mm. It’s rather impossible to use this phone with one hand and that’s coming from someone who has big hands.

One of the good things going for the Mate 7 it is that it has very narrow bezels around the display. I don’t know about you, but I’m a huge fan of phones with very small bezels. Most flagship phones nowadays feature narrow bezels.

According to Huawei, 83 percent of the front part is the display panel. That is one — if not the smallest — display-to-bezel ratios out there. The narrow bezel also helps make the phone rather compact for a 6-inch device.

The front part is very simplistic yet elegant with minimal elements by design. The top bezel houses the earpiece, the 5-megapixel front camera, a small LED light notifications, and a proximity sensor. The bottom bezel only features the Huawei brand name.

The right side features the volume rocker and the unlock/power button. The buttons are protruding and also tactile, making it rather nice to push.

The left side, meanwhile, features two SIM trays. One tray allows you to put a mini-SIM which allows for 2G/3G/4G signals, while the other tray allows you to put a second micro SIM, which only allows for 2G signals. This tray also allows you to put a microSD if you wish to add to the 32GB internal memory of the phone.

Flip the phone over and you will find the 13-megapixel camera with a powerful single LED flash.

One unique feature of the Mate 7 is the placement of the fingerprint sensor at the back, located just below the rear camera (I will talk about the fingerprint sensor in more detail in a little while).

You’ll also find the speaker grille as well the Huawei logo at the lower back part. The speaker produces decent sound output given that it is a mono speaker.

The top part contains the 3.5mm headset jack and a noise-canceling microphone, while the bottom part contains the microUSB port and the main microphone.

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Build-wise, the phone is very solid and sports a unibody. Huawei used metal for the body of the phone, as should be the trend for flagship phones. It comes in three colors – dark grey, light gold, and silver.

Overall, with a combination of narrow bezel and metal construction, the Mate 7 looks very premium and it drew ooohs and aaahs from anyone who saw it.

Fingerprint sensor

While rival companies opted to place the fingerprint sensor up front, specifically on the bottom bezel, Huawei decided it is much better to place the fingerprint sensor at the back part. It is positioned perfectly where your index finger will naturally rest when you pick up the phone.

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The trend of placing the unlock buttons at the back was started by LG and was improved further by Huawei with the Mate 7. Once you get used to it, you can never live without it.

I found the sensor placement on the Mate 7 quite useful in some instances. For example, unlocking the phone as you get it out of the pocket or maybe unlocking the phone while it is lying face down on the table.

In some instances though, we wished they also placed a sensor on the front panel. Like whenever you place the phone on the table face up and would like to read a text or email, you’d have to unlock it via the unlock/power button on the side.

It’s a trade-off with the minimalist approach as they did not apparently want to place unnecessary clutter upfront. It’s a minor hassle, but we do hope on the next iteration of the device, they will add a way to unlock the phone without using the power button. Maybe integrate LG’s “Knock On” feature or something.

Huawei’s implementation of the finger sensor seems to be the best so far with the single-touch feature. To compare, Apple’s iPhone requires you to place your fingerprint as well as press the home button before unlocking the device. The Samsung Galaxy phones require a swipe over its home button.

With the Mate 7, all you need to do is place your finger on the sensor to unlock the phone. It works very well, too as it scans your finger print in 360 degrees, not just the front part. So even if you placed your finger in a rather awkward angle, it will still read your fingerprint.

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The sensor works very well with success of maybe around 9 out 10. It does not work well with a sweaty or wet finger, so you have to wipe your registered fingers first.

You can register up to five finger prints on the device. I registered my left and right index fingers; I just have to figure out the remaining three slots. Do I allow access to the phone to other people like my Mom, Dad, or maybe the girlfriend? That’s probably not a good idea. Decisions, decisions. Anyway, let’s talk about the display on the next section.

Display

Though the Mate 7 is one of those phones that look very good with the display off, powering the display will further endear Mate 7 to you.

It sports an IPS Full HD display with a resolution of 1920X1020 and a pixel density of 367 ppi. The Mate 7’s glass display is Gorilla Glass 3, the same scratch-resistant panel used on most high-end devices.

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The display is crisp, well-detailed, and in high resolution. Color reproduction is great and text displays perfectly on the Mate 7. The screen is very bright that, if you — for some reason — decide to crank it up to its maximum brightness level, can be very painful to the eyes. We should just leave the auto brightness setting do its thing. The outdoor legibility is very good on the Mate 7.

The gap between the display and the glass is almost non-existent, making the icons look as if their floating on the glass display. Viewing angles are also excellent on this phone, making the Mate 7’s display, undoubtedly, one of the best displays we’ve reviewed so far.

Performance

The Mate 7 has a 3GB RAM and features the homegrown Huawei Hisilicon Kirin 925 octa-core processor composed of two quad core units (4 x 1.8GHz A15 cores and 4 x 1.3GHz A7 cores).

The lesser quad core unit is used for basic tasks like texting or browsing the ‘Net. The Kirin 925 processor, meanwhile, intelligently activates the second, more powerful unit for task requiring high performance such as multi-tasking or playing HD games. The activation is seamless — you won’t notice it when the phone goes into berserk mode.

Performance-wise, the phone is very fast and we experienced almost no lags switching in between task and applications. Bench mark geeks would be very pleased as it scored very high on notable benchmark apps.

Antutu Score: 42039
Quadrant Score: 12100
Nema Mark 2 Score: 59.2

One thing to note is that once the processor recognizes the demand for performance is slowing down, it will adjust accordingly and will start to regulate the cores to balance both the performance and battery of the Mate 7. This helps the phone preserves its battery life.

Interface

On previous Huawei phones, we dreaded the UI shipped with it. Huawei calls it the Emotion UI or EMUI. Now at its third version, we’re quite happy to say the EMUI has improved a lot in terms of visual as well as usability aspects. It’s based on Android version 4.4.2 Kitkat.

The EMUI is far from stock Android as it has its own icons and themes. Those familiar and loves the MIUI OS by Xiaomi will love the EMUI as they are very similar in many ways. Applications are skinned and candy colors were used.

You can also apply a couple of themes preloaded with the software, though not as customizable and numerous compared to the MIUI themes. The navigation buttons on the Mate 7 is customizable and is patterned after Android Lollipop instead of Kitkat. Below are screenshots of the EMUI.

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One good feature of the EMUI is that it will notify you of apps running on the background that may potentially drain your battery. For example, if the phone noticed you haven’t used Facebook in a while, it will send a notification on the notifications panel to suggest if you might want to close the app as it might drain your battery if it keeps running on the background.

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A not so good aspect of this functionality is that it will also suggest you to close essential apps and processes like Google Sync or Google Play Services which are needed for the phone to function as it should. User discretion is advised.

Other notable features include FM radio support, a step counter app, flash light app, and a magnifier app, which utilizes phone’s camera.

Lastly, I also liked the idea of having the phone dialer, contacts and messaging under one app. You can easily switch between the three functionalities by swiping. Though under one app, they still have separate icons in the launcher.

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Camera

The Mate 7 sports a 5MP front and 13MP rear camera. The front camera is decent enough for “groufies” and selfies and has a beauty shot slider, as well as filters. The rear camera takes very good images especially on daylight conditions or well- lit environments.

Performance tends to fall off when the environment is not well-lit. While it will not blow anyone out of their seats, it’s very good camera overall.

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The camera app is very simple to use and very minimalist with a few onscreen buttons to activate functionalities. There are lots of settings to configure, from resolutions to geo-tagging and activate the HDR or Panorama mode.

You can also assign the fingerprint sensor to capture photos as well as activate the audio control function to use your voice to facilitate the snapping for you.

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Battery life

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One gripe about recent smartphones is their puny battery life which is not enough for the functionalities they boast. The Mate 7 certainly does not disappoint in this category.

With a 4100mAh battery, the Mate 7 packs a lot of juice under the hood. With my normal routine I was able to squeeze more than two days on a single charge — the most from all the smart phones I’ve tested on my normal usage.

It also helps that the phone keeps notifying you of processes running in the background which you might not need and also having an ultra power saving mode. With the battery being non-removable, it’s nice to know the battery will last me a couple of days before popping it to a wall charger.

Conclusion

The Huawei Mate 7 is the best-built phone from the Chinese company to date. It’s a true octa-core phone with a huge vibrant screen and a massive battery capacity to boot — a combination most phone companies can only dream of.

The fingerprint sensor works very well for a first implementation and the phone’s design is easy on the eyes. Is this a keeper phone? Certainly so.

What I liked

• Large vibrant display
• Narrow bezels
• Materials used and overall built of the phone
• Fingerprint sensor works very well
• Overall phone performance
• Battery life
• Compactness for a 6-incher
• EMUI 3.0 more mature

What I didn’t like

• Does not support USB OTG functionality
• Average image results on low-lit conditions