Video recording has seen a slight upgrade from what we found in the D1 Quad XL. You can shoot 1080p video at a more common 30 frames-per-second instead of the old 24.8, reducing eyestrain and preserving more detail in each frame. Image quality runs into barriers as with photos, although a healthy 24 Mbps bitrate reduces visual artifacts and leads to uncommonly pristine audio. Huawei still hasn't introduced support for tap-to-focus or simultaneous stills and videos, though.
Performance and battery life
The several months between the last of the 2012 Ascend line and the 2013 batch haven't led to a big leap in performance. The Ascend Mate is once again running one of Huawei's own HiSilicon K3V2 SoCs, this time clocked at a slightly higher 1.5GHz. While it's a quad-core processor, it's still based on ARM's older Cortex-A9 architecture, rather than the newer A15 or a custom, in-between design like Qualcomm's Snapdragon range. Any improvement is more likely to come from Huawei doubling the RAM to 2GB; we had no problems juggling several apps at once.
Unfortunately for Huawei, the competition hasn't stayed put since the K3V2 reached shipping devices. Samsung was just bringing the firepower of the Galaxy Note II's Exynos 4 Quad to bear at the time we reviewed the D1 Quad XL, and the LG Optimus G Pro has the luxury of an even faster Snapdragon 600. While Huawei wasn't necessarily hoping to beat LG or Samsung in raw performance, the generational gap is still a bit too obvious for our liking: what was once a top-end processor is now closer to a budget model.
For a smartphone whose size is so conducive to gaming, the graphics are more than a little disappointing.
The limitations are most visible in graphics rendering. That GLBenchmark result gives a clue as to what's in store, but firing up a few games makes it clearer. Although an older game like Riptide GP runs smoothly, an intensive title like Real Racing 3 stutters its way down to single-digit frame rates. For a smartphone whose size is so conducive to mobile gaming, that's more than a little disappointing. Ideally, Huawei would be shipping the K3V3 with the inaugural Ascend Mate, not its sequel.
You might forgive that sluggish performance after seeing the battery life, however. Huawei makes exceptional use of that 4,050mAh battery pack, and you don't have to be miserly to see the full benefits. With the Ascend Mate in a normal power profile, we could loop a 720p video in stress test conditions (screen at half brightness; WiFi on, but not connected; social apps in the background) for a whopping 12 hours and 40 minutes -- one of the best results we've ever seen. If you're keeping score, that's two hours more than the Galaxy Note II and over five hours longer than the Optimus G Pro. The jury's out on the Galaxy Mega 6.3, although its 3,200mAh cell doesn't promise an evenly matched fight.
Real-world testing is more impressive still. The Ascend Mate easily lasts through a full day of moderate usage with battery to spare, and four hours of extreme camera testing left the phone with just over half of its capacity. If there's a setback, it's the time spent powering back up. While there won't be much trouble returning to full capacity when using the proprietary fast-charging adapter that Huawei supplies in the box, a computer's USB port or a regular phone adapter can take north of four hours to do the same job. That said, we'd much rather have the luxury of charging a device slowly at home than be forced into a quick mid-day recharge at work.
Cellular performance won't impress anyone.
Cellular performance won't impress anyone, but we weren't expecting more when there's no trace of LTE inside the device. We received an unlocked, carrier-neutral Ascend Mate capable of 21 Mbps HSPA+ data on the 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100 bands, and managed a low, but usable average of 4.2 Mbps downstream and 2.1 Mbps upstream on Telus' network in Ottawa, Canada. Call quality on that network was merely adequate, both inbound and outbound; it wasn't exceedingly clear, but there were no outstanding complaints, even with background noise.
Media performance is solid, if hurt by that missing MHL. No one will wax poetic over the built-in speakerphone, which isn't particularly loud, but they could be happy with the Dolby Digital Plus audio. Similar to Beats processing, its equalization software fills out the sound range on headphones. The default audio profile is a bit bass-heavy, but it's possible to choose a different sound or shut off the Dolby software entirely if it's overwhelming. External video is limited to DLNA media sharing when there's no MHL to lean on.
At times, the Ascend Mate comes across as a two-sided smartphone. There's the would-be flagship, with a big screen and even bigger battery life. If you value those two factors above others, you may have found an ideal mobile companion: the Mate outperforms the Galaxy Note II and Optimus G Pro on both those fronts, and it may outlast the Galaxy Mega 6.3 on battery tests, too. The Ascend Mate breaks away from the pack on software. While we frequently prefer the stock Android interface, Huawei has shaped its Emotion UI into a truly unique and at times superior experience, as long as you don't mind that missing app drawer.
The other half is classic Huawei: that is, it's a budget-conscious device that undercuts its pricier competition. For all of the Ascend Mate's outward trappings of greatness, it's really a frugal phone on the inside with an older processor, 3G-only data, modest storage and mostly recycled camera technology. That's more than acceptable for those who mainly care about battery life and screen size, but these design sacrifices prevent the Mate from being the best in its class. We also want to see how the Galaxy Mega 6.3 stacks up in comparison. After all, Samsung's incoming gigantophone has LTE, a 16GB storage option and a more mature (if sometimes criticized) software bundle.
As such, the Ascend Mate makes the most sense if you can get one for a significantly lower price than its competitors. The good news is that you can, depending on where you live. As of this writing, a store like Expansys UK sells the Ascend Mate for £335 ($508), a full £110 less than the £445 ($674) Galaxy Note II. In Huawei's native China, it's an even cheaper ¥2,688 ($438). Americans won't save as much over a Galaxy Note II (it's just a $55 difference at Expansys), but the phone is still one of the least expensive in its category -- especially if you're measuring the cost per screen inch. We've come to enjoy using the Ascend Mate, but we also accept that it's a specialized tool, not a jack of all trades.