We once said that 2013 will be the year of phablets, a portmanteau of "phone" and tablet", and Huawei's 6.1-inch Ascend Mate stands to be one such device. While other manufacturers have concentrated their efforts on 5-inch form factors (including Huawei, with their 5-inch Ascend D2), very few have gone beyond that. Question being: How big is too big? For any device bigger than 5-inch, users would usually be looking at a near tablet-sized form factor. (As a point of reference, tablets have been made in the 7-inch range, ignoring the gap between 5-inches to 7-inches; same goes for phone manufacturers.) In this case, the Ascend Mate, which is very much a phone, blurs the line between both product categories.
Unsurprisingly, the Ascend Mate is positioned to be an alternative for the likes of the 5.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Note II and the 5-inch Optimus VU, both of which have note-taking functions. While we were playing with the device, it seems more positioned to be a multimedia device - reason being, we didn't spot any proprietary note-taking software or built-in stylus on it.
Despite that, the Ascend Mate has top-of-the-line specs, featuring an IPS+ 720p display, Huawei's very own Hi-Silicon 1.5 GHz quad-core processor, 8-megapixel camera, Android 4.1 and a whopping 4050mAh battery, the biggest battery capacity in the smartphone industry thus far. As battery life has always been a point of contention, we would be eager to see how the Ascend Mate will fare during our battery stress tests.
Flashy specs aside, the obvious hurdle for the Ascend Mate would be fitting nicely into one's hands despite its obvious girth. Thankfully, it is pretty manageable due to its curved and lightweight body. At 198g, it is slightly heavier than the Galaxy Note II. On the other hand, because it is much bigger and has better weight distribution, we actually thought it was lighter than it looks.
Of course, to compensate for its portability, the Ascend Mate isn't constructed from the sturdiest of materials. The phone feels flimsy and damage-prone, even more so than the plastic-clad Galaxy Note II. We know this is of course also done so to make it more affordable to manufacture and sell at cut-throat prices as well, so don't expect premium build here.
The Ascend Mate is running on Android 4.1 with its own Emotion UI. While it is not as polished as, say's HTC Sense UI, it bears a resemblance to Samsung's TouchWiz UI and Apple's iOS UI. There are small changes (not sure if we can call them improvements) littered throughout - for one, the app landing page has been removed, meaning that what you see on your home pages is what you get (ala iOS). Which brings us to a second point - because of that, it is rather complicated and takes unnecessary effort when it comes to placing widgets on your home page. Otherwise, the UI design is pretty straightforward and you will see many familiar features as well if you are an Android user, such as folders and the selection of five shortcuts in the app tray. LIke its competitors, the Ascend Mate features a one-handed keyboard for easy typing - the keyboard pops up as a default and allows for quick switching between left- and right-handed typing.
At this moment, we aren't quite sure of the Ascend Mate's ability to take off - and we have good reasons to feel that way. For one, 6.1-inch is undoubtedly an extravagant size, in an age where users are looking towards thinner phones that can slide easily into your pocket. Secondly, it has much to defeat in the form of the vastly popular Samsung Galaxy Note II, branding-wise and specs-wise. Admittedly, Samsung has a much bigger brand presence than Huawei, with quality products to show for as well. On the other hand, Huawei is more well-known for its low-to-mid range smartphone devices, at least in our region. However, if Huawei prices the device correctly and affordably, we can foresee potential users flocking to get it.
The Huawei Ascend Mate will be on sale in China in Feburary 2013, in two shades, crystal black and pure white. There's no news of its local price and availability yet but seeing Huawei's track record of bringing their devices late into the local market, we might expect to see it in late Q2 and possibly, Q3.