Huawei Ascend Mate 7 hands on

Don’t start looking for any connection between the new Huawei Ascend Mate 7’s name and previous Huawei hardware, because there really isn’t one. Yes we’ve seen Mate series phones before, but the last one was the Mate 2. Think the number 7 relates to the screen size? Think again — it measures 6 inches. Go figure.

But wait, what’s that? You read right: The Ascend Mate 7 has an enormous 6-inch display.

It makes the phone a bit of a monster, but it’s nowhere near the size it could have been if Huawei hadn’t taken the time to slim down the bezels. Instead, it’s quite compact — relatively compact, at least — and is about the same size as the 5.5-inch HTC Desire 820, and smaller than the 6.1-inch Ascend Mate 2. It’s lighter too, at 185 grams, and the device is constructed almost entirely from metal. Yep, it’s a premium Huawei phone.

Power-sipping 6-inch display

There’s a look reminiscent of the similarly premium HTC One M8 about the Mate 7, right down to a subtly curved rear panel, which makes it comfortable to hold, despite being a very large smartphone. Huawei was also inspired by HTC One Max’s rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, and has fitted one right below the camera lens too. Sadly, it wasn’t ready for testing on the device we tried out, but we’re promised it’ll be versatile enough to not only unlock the phone but also recognize different prints, so multiple accounts can be set up. Some of these accounts can be restricted to running certain apps, so it’ll be safe to make one for your kids.

Related: Check out Huawei’s flagship phone, the Ascend P7

The 6-inch screen has a 1080p resolution, and it’s a Japan Display IPS-NEO panel, which is supposed to consume less power, but retain a high contrast level for a striking visual experience. It looked good on the show floor, but without the ability to test it against many other phones in more varied environments, it’s impossible to say if the higher contrast was really noticeable. To make the massive screen a little easier to use with one hand, Huawei has added an easy access single-handed mode, where the keyboard and even the Android buttons below the screen shift over to one side.

This feature is part of Android 4.4 KitKat with Huawei’s new EMUI 3.0 interface installed on the Mate 7. Huawei has removed the app drawer, so all installed apps show up on a home screen, just like an iPhone. It’s all distinctly unusual looking, and there are six different themes from which to choose, each one customizing the wallpaper, fonts, colors, and even the standard icon images. They completely change the operating system’s style, but it’ll be down to you whether the alterations are for the better. For us, it was slightly frustrating not to instantly recognize often standardized icon images, but we can appreciate that it would become obvious enough fairly soon.

Octa-core chip, and up to 3GB of RAM

A quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor powered the Mate 2, but inside the Mate 7 is a Kirin 925, one of Huawei’s own octa-core chips with 4G LTE connectivity. The OS was fast, but then, so was the Ascend Mate 2 when we tried it out at first; when we fully reviewed it, the performance wasn’t quite up to standard. Hopefully the octa-core Mate 7 won’t suffer from the same problems. Huawei will produce two versions of the Mate 7, a black or white 16GB phone with 2GB of RAM, and a gold colored 32GB model with 3GB of RAM. The former will cost 500 euros ($650), and the latter 600 euros ($780).

You may have seen pictures of the Ascend Mate 7 with a pair of headphones attached. These are noise-canceling earbuds produced by Huawei, and they’re are designed to work with it although they don’t come packaged with the phone. The noise-canceling function requires a battery to work, which is fitted into a small clip on the headphone’s cord. By plugging them into the Ascend Mate 7, it automatically recharges, a feature not available on any other device. Similarly, the gigantic 4,100mAh battery inside the Mate 7 will also lend power to other hardware and should keep the phone operating for more than two days.

Related: Here’s our review of the Ascend Mate 2

The Ascend Mate 7 is another in a string of attractive and well-made Huawei smartphones, with both the Ascend Mate 2 and the Ascend P7 impressing in these areas. However, the firm’s weak point has always been software optimization and overall performance, which are difficult to assess without spending more time with the device. We like what we see so far, but are wary of being overly positive at this early stage.

We asked whether the Mate 7 would be coming to the U.S. through the same online channels as the Mate 2, but there are no current plans to sell it this way. Here’s hoping.

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