Huawei Mate S

Following last year's Ascend Mate 7, the Mate S (no Ascend) is Huawei's newest large screen flagship, launched at IFA. Arguably, the Mate now sits above the P-range in Huawei's pecking order, and the 2015 effort comes with some of the nicest hardware we've seen all year.

That shouldn't come as a surprise by now. In the last 18 months, Huawei has consistently impressed with the design and construction of its high-end smartphones. The Mate S continues that trend with an all metal body, trading the plastic cutouts of the Mate 7 for the lines across the back and edges of the phone seen on many other competing metal phones.

From the back, the Mate S is a handsome fellow indeed. If you combined together the HTC One M7 and last year's Ascend Mate 7, you'd come up with a winner. The gentle curved back runs into chamfered edges, while further up the fingerprint sensor recesses and the camera protrudes.

VPN Deals: Lifetime license for $16, monthly plans at $1 & more

Touching quickly (get it) on the fingerprint sensor for a second, and once again Huawei has gone for a single-touch option. Company CEO, Richard Yu, boasted of the 100 percent performance increase over the Mate 7, which itself is no slouch. It's tough to call at this early stage, but unlocking the phone does feel a tiny bit faster. Though it's also possible it's a complete post press conference placebo.

Recapping quickly on the specs:

Category Specification
Operating System Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, EMUI 3.1
Display 5.5-inch AMOLED ONCELL display, 1920 x 1080
Processor Hisilicon Kirin 935, Octa Core: Quad 2.2GHz + Quad 1.5GHz
Storage 32GB
Rear Camera 13MP with AF, BSI, F2.0, OIS, Dual color-temp LED flashes
Front Camera 8MP, FF, BSI, F2.4, LED soft light
Sensors Accelerometer, Compass, Gyroscope, ALS, Proximate, HALL
GPS Compatible with GPS/ Beidou/ GLONASS/AGPS
Additional NFC, FM
Battery 2700mAh (Typ.) 2620mAh (min.) Lithium Polymer
Dimensions 149.8 x 75.3 x 7.2mm
Weight 156g
Colors Mystic Champagne, Titanium Grey, others vary by region

A couple of things we really like. The base level of storage is 32GB. Great stuff. MicroSD card support as well for those that want it. Even better. The single tray on the Mate S houses either a dual-SIM slot in select markets, or, as on the unit we have here, a microSD card slot alongside the nanoSIM.

The display may "only" be 1080p in a world where we now have 4K displays on phones, but you know what? It's a nice display. Just as Huawei had nice 1080p displays on the Mate 7 and P8. It looks great. And for this years model the glass rolls into the edges, with a slight lip between glass and chamfered metal.

Camera-wise, Huawei made a big deal out of the rear shooter, as has been tradition in their recent press events. It's a 13MP shooter that seems to launch and snap plenty fast enough. We'll talk more about the camera when we've spent more time with it, but Huawei has been far from the worst when it comes to phone cameras of late. So we're optimistic.

One thing we'd love to talk about is Force Touch. It looks pretty amazing. Only we can't use it. As it turns out, the model we have doesn't have it. Towards the end of the press conference Huawei popped a slide up that had a little message on the bottom that Force Touch would be coming on a future 128GB version of the Mate S. Damn.

The software leaves us less so. On one hand, it's got Android 5.1.1 Lollipop, which is as we'd expect anyone to launch a new device on during IFA. Huawei has gone over this with its EMUI brush, and while it's the latest version there, 3.1, the software has always been the achilles heel. From what we've seen and heard during the Mate S launch, nothing much has been done. It looks the same as previous Huawei and Honor branded devices from 2015, but the proof will be in the performance. We'll concede a little if some of the underlying irritations and things that are just plain broken have been fixed.

First impressions, then, are good. It's unusual to see a phone manufacturer actually shun the "bigger is better" mentality and shrink down the size of it's top of the line product. In chopping half an inch off the display size compared to the Mate 7, Huawei has something that still offers that big screen experience but in a much more palm-friendly form factor. It looks great, it feels great and seems like another home-run on the hardware.

How good it is to live with, though, is a different matter. We've only just scratched the surface, so stay tuned for our full review coming soon.