Hands on: Huawei Mate S review

Its biggest claim to fame is also its biggest flaw

What is a hands on review?
Huawei Mate S review

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The Huawei Ascend Mate S runs Android 5.1 Lollipop, but as with all devices from the Chinese firm it's been coated in its Emotion UI - version 3.1 to be exact.

Emotion UI is certainly improving, and Huawei has tidied up the Settings menu and notification panels over the past few iterations - but for some it will still be a step too far.

There's no app tray, meaning all your applications live on your home screens - very much like iOS on iPhone and iPad. That's not a huge issue, but the way the interface looks is a little more jarring.

Here's a premium piece of hardware with software which still looks a little childish. There is a themes generator allowing you to change the icons and colour schemes, but none of them manage to reach the levels of clean, minimalist professionalism of stock Android.

The good news is the octa-core processor and 3GB of RAM do a sterling job of keeping everything running smoothly. The Mate S should be able to handle pretty much anything you throw at it, but that will be put to the test in the full review.

Huawei Mate S review


With a 13MP rear camera and 8MP front snapper the Huawei Mate S, on paper at least, falls firmly into the mid to upper tier of smartphone cameras.

Don't let that put you off though, as it's packed the camera app full of features including the fully manual 'Pro mode' allowing you to fine tune ISO, shutter speed, brightness and more.

There's also the more familiar features including HDR, time-lapse, beauty mode and light painting, giving you a full range of shooting options.

Shutter speed is generally pretty snappy, but during my hands on time with the Mate S I did find the auto-focus could be a little lethargic every now and then.

Huawei Mate S review

Battery life

Huawei made a song and dance about the stepped battery design it's implemented for the Mate S, allowing it to fit in more capacity. I was a little disappointed then when it revealed the Mate S packs a non-removable 3000mAh power pack.

That's smaller than the 3300mAh offering in the similarly sized OnePlus 2, although it does match the LG G4. With a full HD display there will be less strain on the Mate S battery, and Huawei is promising more than a day of usage from a single charge.

You'll have to wait for the full review to see if it lives up to that claim, but it's worth noting the Mate S is fast charging enabled. A 10 minute blast with the charger is, I'm told, long enough to give you two hours of call time. Nice.

Huawei Mate S review

Early verdict

I rather like the Huawei Mate S. I'm glad Huawei has reduced screen size here, as it makes it easier to hold and the all metal body really does look and feel like a premium handset.

The fingerprint scanner on the rear is impressive, the camera is stuffed full of features and it's coming in cheaper than the core flagships on the market.

It's not all perfect though, with the headlining Force Touch technology available on a model which is yet to get a release date or price, and Huawei's Emotion UI is still very much a Marmite interface.

That said, the early signs of positive for the Huawei Mate S and it's definitely a handset you should keep an eye on.

John McCann
Global Managing Editor

John joined TechRadar over a decade ago as Staff Writer for Phones, and over the years has built up a vast knowledge of the tech industry. He's interviewed CEOs from some of the world's biggest tech firms, visited their HQs and has appeared on live TV and radio, including Sky News, BBC News, BBC World News, Al Jazeera, LBC and BBC Radio 4. Originally specializing in phones, tablets and wearables, John is now TechRadar's resident automotive expert, reviewing the latest and greatest EVs and PHEVs on the market. John also looks after the day-to-day running of the site. 

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.