Huawei Ascend Mate2 review: A big phone that’s an even bigger value

For the past few weeks I’ve been using a 6.1-inch Android handset with HD screen, a quad-core processor, LTE support and 13 megapixel camera. It’s packed with features and has a battery that can last for days. Here’s the best part: The Huawei Ascend Mate2 costs $299.99 without a contract and works on either AT&T or T-Mobile in the U.S.

Huawei Ascend Mate2 4G Photo

Look at an off-contract flagship phone these days and you can expect to pay $600 or more, so the [company]Huawei[/company] Ascend Mate2 is 50 percent or more less expensive. Then again, while the phone has plenty of good features, it’s not a flagship phone if you first look at the chip powering the device. Huawei chose a 1.6 GHz [company]Qualcomm[/company] Snapdragon 400 for the Ascend Mate2, which in terms of silicon is a bit dated as the chip debuted in early 2013.

I rarely felt that the phone was lacking for performance, however. With its 2 GB of memory, it fluidly runs [company]Google[/company] Android 4.3 with Huawei’s EMUI 2.0 Lite skin, which is aptly named: It’s fairly light when compared to very busy Android skins from other manufacturers. There’s no app drawer though, which irked me a bit; instead, all apps are installed to the home screens. I also see some influence from Samsung’s TouchWiz; mainly in the notification shade and settings but for the most part, Huawei’s software is pretty innocuous atop Android. Even when running multiple applications, the Ascend Mate2 keeps chugging along. No, it’s not “flagship fast” but it’s not flagship priced, either. For most typical users, there’s more than enough power here.

How many mainstream users want a 6.1-inch handset, however?

Ascend Mate2 and Moto X

Ascend Mate2 size compared to the Moto X

There’s no easy answer to that question and there’s no way to hide the fact that this is a big phone. But it’s about as small, light and thin as you could make a large handset. Huawei has minimized the bezel all around the screen so most of the front face is that 720p screen. The phone is all plastic, save for the Gorilla Glass 3 screen, which is bright and relatively crisp. And that plastic keeps the weight down: The Ascend Mate2 weighs just 202 grams even though it measures in at 6.3 x 3.3 x 0.37 inches.

All of this keeps the phone feeling smaller than you’d think when envisioning a 6.1-inch phone. Make no mistake though: This is a two-handed model, just like a tablet would be. It’s too big for my tastes — and my pants pockets too. Get past that though and the Ascend Mate2 could keep you from carrying or buying both a phone and a separate tablet.

This phone definitely has better cameras than most tablets, of course. There’s a 13 megapixel rear sensor with LED flash and a 5 megapixel camera on the front. Huawei chose a backlit Sony camera sensor on the back, with an f/2.2 aperture. Photos look better than you’d expect for a $300 phone, particularly in dim scenarios where the wide aperture gulps in light. There are modes for HDR shots, Panoramas and a few others that again remind me of Samsung’s software: Beauty mode and Sound & shot, for example.

Although it’s easy to dub the Mate2 a “mid-range phone” it has some advanced features including some that take advantage of the large screen. You can run some small apps while running other things using what Huawei calls the optional W.O.W. button. Tap it and you’ll get a few app options such as a pop-up calendar app; helpful while reading emails for example. There’s also a Gloves Mode so you can use the phone during those cold winters. And Motion Control adds some simple but effective ways to mute a call or reduce the phone’s ringer simply by flipping the phone over or picking it up. The phone also supports Bluetooth 4.0 LE so it works with wearable devices, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi networks. It only comes with 16 GB of storage but you can expand that with a microSD card.

Ascend Mate2 WOW

Perhaps the best feature of all is the battery life. Thanks to its large size, the Mate2 has plenty of room for the 3,900 mAh battery. Even a power user would have a hard time running this power pack down in a full day. I’ve been able to eke out nearly two full days of moderate use, for example. That’s actually a benefit to having a lower-powered processor as well: It takes less juice to power the chip inside the phone.

To be clear, there are arguably more capable handsets on the market today. If you want one, expect to pay twice as much money at full price, however. For the money, Huawei’s Ascend Mate2 is spectacular value, combining a generous display with capable performance and battery life that’s unparalleled by any smartphone I’ve ever used.

Are there limitations here? Of course. If you’re willing to accept them though, you’ll be surprised by how happy a $299 phone purchase can make you.