The Chinese Android experiment – Day 1 with the Huawei Ascend Mate 2

Watch out Samsung and LG. As Chinese manufacturers begin selling Android devices direct to consumers, how will the Android mobile landscape change?

Huawei Ascend Ascend Mate 2 or Nexus 5?

The Chinese are coming.

That’s nothing new when it comes to tech of course. But one key difference at least in the world of mobile and Android is that mobile manufacturers based in China are coming direct.

Huawei and ZTE notably are reaching beyond their own large domestic markets and making a global push. For instance, Huawei earlier this year started shipping a 6.1-inch Android phablet called the Ascend Mate 2. Then just last week they unveiled the Honor line, which looked, not surprisingly, like dead ringers for the new iPhone 6s – save the Honor 6 and 6 Plus will run Android.a

As you might expect, price is a key differentiator. Most of these Chinese made and sold devices go for about half the price of their brand name competitors. Take the Samsung Note. The latest model of this very popular plus-size phone goes for about $800 or so (unlocked, contract free). The aforementioned Ascend Mate 2 is only $299. Granted, the latter carries mid-range specs. Still it’s enticing buyers. If I were Samsung or LG — two massively successful South Korean companies who sell a range of Android-powered handsets — going into 2015 I’d be watching companies such as Xiaomi, ZTE, and Huawei very closely.

So, I had to give it a go. Go hands on. For a few weeks at least, possibly more. To find out if these new Chinese phones are the real deal. Will they fall apart in a matter of days? Can they seriously compete with the big boys — Samsung, LG and Motorola — when it comes to quality build, and features? And could one of them be a serious, day-to-day, unabashed replacement for my departed Nexus 5?

Speaking of Nexus. The timing was right. After two replacements I finally decided to offload my utterly unreliable Nexus 5. The first developed mysterious hairline cracks (not from being dropped) that I suspect were the result of pressure from being in my pocket. Google was good enough to replace it under warranty. Months later, the battery began to bulge slightly after a charge and fluid discharged through the volume and on/off switches. Again, back went the hobbled Nexus 5. Google customer service again was exemplary and they shipped a replacement. This one I sold on eBay.

Though I wanted a Nexus 6, especially given that it was made by Motorola, there were a few problems:

1. It’s never in stock apparently (Google Play is apparently in a perpetual state of stock out of the Nexus 6)

2. At $649 (32GB) and $699 (64GB) it’s almost twice the price of its predecessor. That’s a chunk of change. After all, this is a small plastic device that will likely get lost, stolen and surely be bounded off various concrete surfaces.

Enter the Huwaei Ascend Mate 2.

Huawei Ascend Ascend Mate 2 or Nexus 5?

$299 on Amazon (direct from Huwaei). Unlocked. Carrier free.

For that, you get a mid-range device with ho-hum specs. Snapdragon 400 CPU – one that’s a few generations behind the latest and greatest. An HD display, yes, but only 720p. And no Gorilla Glass.

From all I’ve read the HAM2 (as it’s called on forums), however, features a killer feature:

Battery life.

According to several tests, the monster Huawei can outrun every single Android and Apple smartphone on the market as of December 2014.

So: could I go from a flagship, Lollipop Nexus 5 to the Huawei middling, Jelly Bean Ascend Mate 2, and still be able to live a normal Silicon Valley existence?

My first impressions after getting unboxing the HAM2 and popping in my T-Mobile SIM (and 32GB microSD):

— it’s large… 6.1-inch screen! Can definitely feel this thing in my pocket

— it’s large… reading, surfing, social networking is a blast on this thing

— it’s large… and it seems that means the equally large battery is a monster, I’ve yet to finish a day with it below 75% after regular use (but no video streaming, or games)

I thought I’d miss having the latest Android version (Lollipop) or even 2013s release (KitKat). No matter, the phone does what I need it to do: Gmail, calendaring, Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard, Google Music, Yelp. It pairs with my Pebble. And I’ve never felt wanting for more speed (though, to be sure, faster is almost always better).

Bonus: Amazon price matched Target who is selling a version of the Ascent Mate 2 for only $225.

Huawei Ascend Ascend Mate 2 or Nexus 5?

One of the downsides of the mid-range Ascend Mate 2 became almost immediately obvious.

After the first day, I noticed a horizontal scratch on the screen. Already! Yet I hadn’t dropped it, and I had treated it with utmost care.

Turns out, the HAM2 doesn’t have Gorilla Glass. The screen has a plastic coating, and is very fragile. I immediately ordered up some screen protectors (something I should’ve done to begin with).

I even considered returning it to Amazon, and trying another brand – maybe the OnePlus One, or ZTE ZMax. Loni told me I couldn’t do that. “That’s not fair. It has a scratch. Poor little Chinese company,” she said, giving me the loving look  of death.

Poor little Chinese company.

Indeed, founded in 1987, Huawei has 150,000 employees, and brought in over $39 billion last year. This is the company that has gone toe-to-toe against Cisco. Forbes has named it one of the most respected companies in the world.

I’m anxious to see how this phone performs over the next few days.

While Samsung, LG, Apple and others are pursuing flagship, up-market strategies ($700+ USD for unlocked, contract-free phones), upstart competitors appear content to help push the market the other direction ($300 and under). From my initial experience at least, it appears to be one that does not compromise quality or many features. 2015 looks to be a very interesting market in mobile. Is a shake-up imminent?

Let the Chinese Android experiment begin.

[Huwaei Ascend Mate 2]

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  • Sangfreud

    The Huawei Ascend Mate 2 has a screen protector pre-installed. At least the MT2-L03 variant that is sold in the US does. Are you sure that isn’t what you scratched? I immediately removed the screen protector on mine, and I haven’t had any issues with scratches. I think it actually does use Gorilla Glass.

  • kleronomia

    “Huawei.” That’s Chinese for, “Who are we?” We’re a Chinese company that makes cheap, low quality stuff. Seriously, why would anyone even consider this stuff.

    • Airyl

      What’s the difference between this and a Galaxy Mega? They’re both lumps of plastic that have pretty much the same purpose. The Ascend Mate has the same specs, more RAM, a larget battery and costs less. I’d say those are pretty good reasons.

      And not buying something solely because it’s made by a Chinese brand is pretty dumb to be honest.

  • derek adams

    I actually bought this phone, like you I really wanted the nexus 6 but i needed a phone now and didnt have the 699.99 for the nexus 6. I am very pleased with this phone. The specs listed dies include gorilla glass, at least the one i bought from target. Battery life is awesome. One of the only problems I have had with this phone is the fact that i can not text and drive due to it’s size there is a one handed mode that will shrink the keyboard and place it on the right side of the phone…..hahaha but that is a good thing. :) ive installed the google launcher and can solve that with saying ok google, and voice to text with google now. Ham2 is poised to get android 5.0 in 2015. This phone fully meets my expectations especially when compared against its more expensive counterparts. However with that said it does not have NFC which is kind of a bummer but not a deal breaker.

    • thesniper321

      text and drive?? Are you SERIOUSLY complaining about the lack capability to text AND DRIVE? Do you live in the real worl??
      You do drugs right??

      • derek adams

        No, I’m not seriously complaing about texting and driving. Its called a joke :) I was actually referring to one handed operation, but DONT worry theres a mode for that.

  • marcus

    the Ascend mate 2 has a screen protector pre installed… You scratched your screen protector not the glass!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    second error in your article.. .Ascend mate 2 comes with gorilla glass 3.

    lastly if anyone wants a stock android experience… download the google now launcher… makes all these discussions about android mods irrelevant.

    this phone is a beast! screen is awesome and bright.. and no burn in problems that are being reported with amoled screens on the nexus 6.

    the wifi and 4g LTE speeds are excellent. you can’t buy a better phone at any price IMO. don’t let the supposed mid range specs fool you.

    this phone is better than the iphone 6 plus and nexus 6 hands down.. considering the bigger display and insane battery life with no compromise in actual real world performance.

    get this phone… you will be amazed. $300 it’s a no brainer! rock on.