Good security tools and an up-to-date OS clash with middling performance and a stifling custom skin, resulting in a passable handset that's just a bit too pricey for what it does.
Sleek design, colourful display, speedy fingerprint sensor, latest version of Android
Underwhelming price-to-performance ratio, Emotion UI 3.1 actively makes Android worse, fallible build quality
From €649 (as tested)
Display: 5.5in AMOLED, 1920x1080 at 401ppi
Processor: Octa-core Kirin 935 (four 2.2GHz cores and four 1.5GHz cores)
Operating system: Android 5.1 Lollipop
Storage: 32GB, 64GB or 128GB, up to 128GB microSD
Battery: Integrated, 2,700mAh
Camera: 15MP rear camera, 8MP front camera
It would have required a downright unhealthy lack of cynicism to be excited by Huawei's Mate S announcement; besides the pressure-sensitive ‘Force Touch' screen on the premium 128GB edition, the biggest difference between this new flagship and the recent Honor 7 (effectively a Huawei device itself, as Honor is a Huawei subsidiary) appeared to be the significantly inflated price.
Starting at €649 - about £478 - for the 32GB model, the Mate S doesn't immediately look like a good deal when the £250 Honor 7 includes the same Kirin 935 processor, the same FHD display resolution and the same rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. Even so, we got hold of this base 32GB model and spent a few days in search of some features that might justify that extra expense.
The Mate S has a strong start thanks to its premium-feeling design. Constructed from sturdy, aerospace-grade aluminium, it weighs a very manageable 156g and measures 150x75x7.2mm. That's at the widest points, too - the edges are even thinner, due to a curved back that sits very well in the hand. The front panel, which is made entirely of Gorilla Glass, is also very slightly tapered at the edges, iPhone 6-style.
Despite the slimness, the only failures of structural integrity on our test model were - of all things - the lock button and volume rocker. These came slightly loose; not to the extent that we were worried about them falling off, but enough that they wobbled when brushed. We can't recall a similar issue even on the dirt-cheap smartphones we've tested, which makes the Mate S' poorly-fastened buttons all the more inexplicable.
It does earn back favour with its excellent fingerprint sensor. Being quite small, it's a bit picky about which area of a fingerprint it wants to scan, but it's lightning-fast at actually reading. In fact, we're convinced that it unlocks the home screen even quicker than the lock button. As always, a good sensor also has the benefit for businesses with a shared device pool, as multiple users can all enrol their fingerprints.
The Mate S also uses the Honor 7's usual SIM/microSD card tray. This can hold two micro SIMs, for dual SIM usage - useful if travelling abroad, for instance - or one micro SIM and one microSD card, which provides extra storage capacity and an additional data transfer method to the microUSB port.
For 5.5in of display space, we'd generally like to see a 2K resolution - especially at this price. However, the Mate S' 1920x1080 screen is plenty sharp, boasting a respectable pixel density of 401ppi.
AMOLED tech helps ensure that colour quality is even better, with vibrant hues and deep blacks abound. Unlike on the Honor 7, these aren't compromised by a dim default brightness, and there's no discernible backlight bleeding to mess up dark menus or video scenes.
Unfortunately, the rear sensor isn't the only thing which attracts fingerprints, as the Mate S' display can quickly become a mess of smudges. It also struggles with reflectivity issues in direct sunlight, as many smartphones and tablets do.
Our humble 32GB model didn't include the Force Touch capabilities of the top-end 128GB version, which is a shame - limiting such big features to the most expensive models is a big jump from simply charging more for extra storage, and not one we want to see other firms copying.
Still, we're also not convinced that Huawei is using the screen's ability to detect varying levels of pressure to its full potential; whereas Apple's 3DTouch tech, seen in the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus, offers new ways to manage apps and view content, Force Touch currently seems limited to things like weighing small objects or zooming in and out on a photo.
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