Let's take it from the top shall we? The exterior – if we haven't already made this abundantly clear the Huawei Mate S is a gorgeous device, no doubt about it. Metal phones are arguably as classy as it gets and the Mate S is definitely one of the prettiest we have seen to date.
Huawei has spared nothing in terms of material quality and has really gone the extra length to ensure that the body is as uniform as possible. The chassis is actually molded out of a single piece of material with almost nothing else in sight, except very small plastic inserts for the antennas. The desire for smoothness extends even further with a special nanometer technology used to seamlessly attach the screen to the rest of the body.
The Mate S is also quite ergonomic and pleasant to handle. Just like its predecessor, the Mate 7, the S curves slightly at the back, which immensely improves handling, compared to a classic flat, slab design. Going round the device, there is really nothing out of place and if you have handled the Mate 7, you will feel right at home. The front of the device has the usual Huawei logo at the bottom and on top there are the standard sensors and front-facing camera (8MP with BSI and an aperture of f/2.4) complete with a LED flash for selfies.
Of course, there is the screen, which in the case of the Mate S is a 5.5-inch AMOLED model. Actually, it seems to be a little left out in the overall beefed-up specs sheet of the phone. It still has a resolution of 1080p, which is not a bad thing in itself, but could be viewed as a shortcoming in a specs comparison with other current flagships. Furthermore, the 2.5D effect I definitely nice and so is the on-cell technology, but the Mate S does seem to have disappointingly large bezels on the inside of the screen. But it is far from a deal-breaker.
On the flip side, the screen does have Force Touch, just like the latest iPhones are supposed to have. We are not even quite sure how legal using this particular name is, but it does do it justice as it is just what you expect – the phone reacts differently when you press harder on the screen. You can use it to zoom your photos – nifty!
The left side is mostly empty, housing only a SIM card slot with the rest of the important controls on the opposite side – namely power and volume rockers. It is worth noting that the Mate S has a nice and thin profile, measuring 7.2mm, but towards the said edges it is almost razor-sharp at only 2.65mm. The charging port is at the bottom and the 3.5mm jack is on the top, nothing too special in this arrangement.
However, it is interesting that Huawei has fitted the Mate with a total of three microphones, which together with a custom beam-forming algorithm promise calls and recording with minimal background noise.
On the back of the phone we find the 13MP camera along with a dual LED flash right beside it. It looks quite impressive on paper with a back-side illuminated RGBW sensor and an aperture of f/2.0. It also comes with optical stabilization and shots seem to come out really sharp, but we will get back to that once we have the unit for testing.
We really can't fail to mention the new fingerprint sensor. Just like on the Mate 7, it is conveniently placed on the back of the phone, where your index finger seems to naturally rest. It looks almost identical as well. However, Huawei has improved it as well. The Fingerprint 2.0 uses an upgraded security chip for on-key unlock technology, with 100% improvement in recognition speed and self-learning for better accuracy.
But the hardware has picked up a few other tricks as well. The little rectangular window can also be used to control the notification bar, double-click to dismiss unread notifications, slide to preview pictures, and hold to make a phone call. Quite convenient actually.
And while we are on the topic of hardware, the rest of the Mate's specs sheet looks quite impressive as well, albeit slightly disconcerting primarily because of the custom Hisilicon Kirin 935. This particular breed of in-house chips has proven to be quite a mix bag and we have seen a lot of Huawei devices perform poorly in the past. The Kirin 935 in question looks to be the same one powering the Honor 7 and judging by its mediocre performance in our review, we can't really be too excited about Huawei's choice of power engine. There’s the usual connectivity package, including Wi-Fi and GPS, but also NFC and an FM receiver.
As for the rest of the specs, now would be a great time to note that the Mate S actually comes in two variants. One is the regular version and the other is dubbed "Premium". Both have 3GB of RAM, but the Premium has 64GB of storage, instead of 32GB. It also comes with different color options (Prestige gold and Coral pink, instead of the standard Titanium grey and Mystique champagne) and naturally a bigger price tag. The regular version will set you back around €649, white the Premium one will cost a good €699, so we are definitely knee deep in flagship territory.
Last, but definitely not least, the software deserves a few words. Huawei's own EMUI 3.1 boots on the device. It is based on Android 5.1 Lollipop and is now more feature-rich than ever. New gestures are center stage for the experience so much so that Huawei has turned the concept of "feel" and "Touch. Made Powerful" into the selling point for the model.
Besides the already mentioned Force Touch, Knuckle gestures are now more powerful than ever. You can double knuckle to capture a screenshot a knuckle "W" to instantly forward whatever you are looking at in a chat. Other uses include easy cropping and quick access to professional camera mode.