Hands on: Huawei’s 6.1-inch Ascend Mate dwarfs every other phone, but does it work as one?

The big screen smartphone trend isn’t slowing, but there comes a point where trying to top the competition with a bigger display goes from awesome to ridiculous. Huawei may have gone over that cliff with its new 6.1-inch Ascend Mate, or it may be right at the edge of what works for a phone.

Our first impression of the Mate is that, even though it’s huge, we can see holding it in one hand – that is, if you have average or large hands. The curved back and sides fit comfortably in the palm, making it easier to forget that the phone is so large.

Still … this phone is huge. It’s so big it makes the Galaxy Note 2 look small.

If any phone truly approaches tablet size and functionality, it’s the Ascend Mate. And that raises the question of whether it even works as a phone. After the press conference here at CES, we saw plenty of people holding the Mate up to their ears and posing comically, just like when the Galaxy Note first came out. And it’s even more strange looking with a bigger phone. Most people will probably opt for a wired or wireless headset for calls.

Huawei Ascend Mate next to the Galaxy Note II

For its size, the Ascend Mate isn’t overweight. It’s around 7 ounces and doesn’t feel heavy or unbalanced. Though there are some software tricks that help with one-handed operation, this is a two-hand device. People who appreciate this – especially a keyboard that offers plenty of room and big keys – will like all the screen real estate the Mate offers.

Speaking of the screen, if you’re going to have a phone this big the display has to be exceptional, and so far that seems to be the case. Full HD plus rich colors plus a lot of brightness make it possible to imagine using this as gaming system, an e-book reader, and a work companion. The quad-core processor inside makes gaming a particularly nice prospect, especially since the screen size means more detail than your average Android phone.

Another nice aspect of the display is that it features Magic Touch, which ups the sensitivity of the capacitive technology so you can use the display even with gloves on. This can be both a blessing and a curse. If you carry your phone in your pocket and the screen comes on, you might unlock it just by walking. Still, it’s a cool feature.

The Ascend Mate will ship with Android 4.1 and also comes with a skin. The Skin looks pretty extensive and reminds us of Samsung’s TouchWiz – not in looks, but in how involved it is. Aesthetically it’s quite good-looking, and didn’t seem to slow the system down at all.

We’re looking forward to seeing how long the Mate will last on a charge. It boasts a 4050mAh battery (the biggest smartphone battery in the world, according to Huawei) that should run for two or three days without needing a charge.

Huawei says that the Ascend Mate is coming to the U.S. “this year,” though no carrier partnerships have been announced. We won’t know pricing or availability until we know that, and the wait could be several months. Until then, check out our gallery and hands-on video.

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