Huawei Mate S review: A phone that ticks all the boxes

14 Jun 2016

The Huawei Mate S might not be getting all the glitz and glamour attention of the P9, but this phone packs a serious punch, without the price point of some flagship models.

It’s hard to get too excited about new mid-range Android releases as, aside from being a dime a dozen, there’s very little difference from one manufacturer’s handset to another, except for the odd tweak here or there.

Even when it comes to the higher-end flagship phones, I admit that even the slightest gimmick – such as putting curved edges on a screen – is enough to make me happy, as it’s something different.

Yet here I am in the middle of 2016 and I can safely say I’m rather impressed with one new phone’s brilliant ability to do what I want it to do and do it well.

That phone is the Huawei Mate S, released towards the end of last year, but only really trickling into Ireland in the past month or so.


Featuring an all-metal black and silver case, the Huawei Mate S looks solidly-built, as well as being pleasing on the eye in many respects.

Unlike some other phones out there, there’s no jarring angles or bezels where dirt and grime can gather and, considering it being sizable, with its 5.5in screen, it fits really well in the hand.

In terms of physical buttons, you’re left with just the power button and volume controls, which is more in line with what Apple wants to do in getting rid of buttons entirely.

While this makes sense from a design perspective – and reduces costs in manufacturing – there are times when a button is necessary, for example, when playing a game leaves you without a way of returning to the home screen without forcing it by pulling down the notifications tab.

Another point of interest is Huawei’s continuing placement of the fingerprint scanner at the back of the phone, which remains the best place for it, frankly.

Huawei Mate S design

Image via Connor McKenna


As I mentioned, you have plenty of phone to work with here with its 5.5in AMOLED screen, which also comes with Huawei’s Force Touch capability, which is basically a more limited version of Apple’s 3D Touch on the iPhone 6s.

With a resolution of 1080x1920p, images appear crisp given there are 13m colours behind it and the same goes for games and videos.


Image via Luke Maxwell

It performed quite well in the sunlight with its adaptive display responding well to the change from shade to blaring sun – particularly given the recent good weather – which couldn’t be said for some other phones I’ve tried in recent months.

The screen also supports Knuckle Sense, which lets you draw letters on the screen for shortcuts, such as drawing a ‘C’ to quickly go to a camera or ‘E’ to go to the web browser.

I can’t say I used it too much but it’s worth noting it’s there to use.


The hardware is where the Mate S really excels, as far as I’m concerned, as, for it being placed in the price bracket between mid and flagship phones, you get a phone that is more than capable of handling what’s thrown at it.

With a quad-core 2.2 GHz and quad-core 1.5 GHz CP, as well as a HiSilicon Kirin 935 processor and 3GB of RAM, I had practically no struggles with it when putting it through its paces playing games or high-res videos.

The same goes for when switching from screen-to-screen and app-to-app.

Elsewhere, Huawei has gotten plenty out of the Mate S’s 13MP camera with dual-LED flash as, much like the screen, the images will satisfy any amateur photographer looking to take a few snaps while out and about.

Huawei Mate S

Image via Connor McKenna

Then there’s the selfie camera, which will capture every blemish at an 8MP resolution, unless you tinker around with its selfie beautification features, which certainly give you a unique perspective on what you thought you looked like.

Another big plus is something rather old-fashioned: an FM radio.

It seems that the FM radio was doomed to be a cast-off in the face of unlimited data packages and manufacturers’ demand for cutting out as much hardware as possible, but it’s a pleasant surprise to find that Huawei is keeping it.

In terms of memory, the hard drive starts at 32GB, followed by 64GB and 128GB, with the addition of a micro SD card of up to 256GB possible if necessary.

User interface

Huawei’s iOS-like Emotions user interface (UI) has come in for some slack in the past as trying to emulate its more successful counterpart, however, as a regular iOS user, I find it quite easy-on-the-eye.

For example, the lack of an app tray means all the apps you download appear on your home screen, which will appeal to some, but not so much those who are firmly in the Android camp and want to pick and choose what apps appear there.

Currently running on Android Lollipop with expectations of a Marshmallow update, the UI certainly has more options to choose from in settings.


Image via Luke Maxwell

I will say as a negative here that, upon initial set-up, there are quite a few apps on there that could be considered bloatware.

In this particular phone’s example, there’s also the Three network’s bloatware, which includes an utterly unnecessary ‘3 Likes’ app that just takes you to a web link to download apps you don’t want.

You can also turn on split-screen in Huawei’s own apps such as the calendar, but sadly there doesn’t seem to be any support for third-parties with this feature as of yet.


At 2,700mAh, the Mate S’s battery isn’t the biggest on the market but, from experience, it will last you the full day quite easily.

This is with help from Huawei’s attempts to optimise the phone’s performance to become ultra-efficient, which it seems to be doing quite well.

Even after a lengthy gaming session, it still hadn’t gone down as much as I had expected, which was a pleasant surprise.


Image via Luke Maxwell

I was very impressed with Samsung’s ultra-efficient battery mode, and it was good to see Huawei have their own version, too, although it only offered texts and calls as options, which is still fine for staying in touch.

Charging is done through the now slightly out-of-date micro USB cable rather than USB C, but it still supports fast-charging promising two-hour talk-time, yet, strangely, the supplied charger doesn’t support it.

You’ll need a fast charge adapter to get the most out of this, which is a bit of an oversight from Huawei.


Overall, I really enjoyed using the Huawei Mate S. Having recently reviewed the HTC 10 and being impressed with that as a flagship phone, this phone sitting in that strange land between mid-range and flagship is equal, if not marginally superior, to its Taiwanese competitor.

Even little additions like the FM radio or Force Touch features give it that little something extra to distinguish it from other similar phones on the market.

Currently, in Ireland, the Mate S is only available on the Three network, where getting it on pre-pay will set you back €460, or free if you pay €55 per month.

Considering this pre-pay price, you’re getting a really good phone at a reasonable price, which I’d be happy to have as an everyday phone.

However, while this makes it cheaper than many of the flagship devices out there, there’s still plenty of competition out there willing to undercut it, like the offerings from its fellow Chinese company, OnePlus.

Huawei Mate S graphic

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic