The way we interact with our phones is always changing. Back in the old days, we pressed buttons. Then we prodded touchscreens. Now it's all about getting us to talk to them.
So far, this isn't really working, so Huawei’s going for a different angle with the Huawei Mate S.
As well as being packed with more gestures than a sign language manual, it’s the first phone we’ve used to offer a Force Touch touchscreen, meaning it can tell between hard prods and light caresses. And a good deal in-between.
Force Touch or no Force Touch?
First, though, it’s full disclosure time. While the Huawei Mate S’s most interesting feature is that pressure-sensitive screen, the version we saw didn’t have one. Nor will most Mate Ss, by the sound of it.
Force Touch is only going to feature in the super-luxury version of the Huawei Mate S, which will cost an absolute bomb given the standard 32GB and 64GB versions cost €549 (S$865) and €649 (S$1023) a piece. Even with a normal screen, they’re pretty pricey.
So is the Huawei Mate S worth caring about without Force Touch packed-in? Well yes, actually, we think it is.
For starters, it’s easily one of the best-looking, best-feeling phones Huawei has ever produced.
The Huawei Mate S has an all-metal body with carefully bevelled edges to take away the hard feel that comes with a more angular design. It’s smooth, it’s thin, it’s fairly light. And it’s also pretty easy to handle for a phone with a 5.5in screen. There’s barely any bezel to the left and right of the Mate S's display either, which all helps make it special.
The design is based on that of the Huawei Ascend Mate 7, just about the only decent rear finger scanner out there. It seems pretty responsive, and has way more uses than your average scanner.
So, where most scanners can't do much validate payments and your identity, this one can be used to flick through your photos and even as a selfie shutter.
I’ll admit it: I tried the selfie shutter at the request of one of Huawei’s reps, and failed to get it to work on several attempts, fumbling with the thing like an even less funny Mr Bean rip-off. But that was probably just user error: the Mate 7’s scanner is great and this seems like similar tech, turbo-charged with even more uses.
Full of Emotions
The screen is strong too. The Huawei Mate S has a 5.5in 1080p AMOLED display, a bit of a departure for Huawei, which normally uses LCD screens in its phones.
The display looks good, although as is the standard for Huawei, it seems to have dumped a pretty gross-looking theme on top of the software. The EmotionUI software is a bit contentious at the best of times, but the ‘makeovers’ Huawei gives some of its top phones do it no favours.
The bit that sticks in some people’s craws about EmotionUI is that it gets rid of the separate apps menu, putting everything on a series of homescreens a bit like iOS. It’s much better than it used to be and after using it for years on and off, I’ve grown used to its quirks. But you do need to go through some of that process yourself on first using it.
On the plus side, I didn’t notice any of the lagginess that used to plague some Huawei phones. That would be pretty disappointing given the Mate S’s specs. It’s an octa-core Kirin 935 processor phone with 3GB RAM. The Kirin series comes from a company called HiSilicon, which is actually a Huawei sub-brand - so it’s keeping it in the family. Is it a Snpdragon 810 or Exynos 7420 killer? We’ll see later.
A clear shot
The Mate S takes the knuckle-gestures of the Huawei P8 to the next level here. That's right: gestures that only work with your knuckles. Where once they were just for screen-grabbing parts of the display, you can now use them to switch between apps. I can’t honestly imagine ever doing so though. Gadget fans are still ripe for ridicule at the best of times: let’s not make it even worse.
Despite packing-in obvious exterior tech such as the fingerprint scanner and Force Touch display layer, the Mate S’s camera sounds pretty similar to that of the Huawei P8. You get a 13-megapixel sensor with an RGBW layout, packing in an extra white sub pixel to get you better low-light performance.
It’s a stabilised system with a decent f/2.0 lens. Aside from the whole embarrassing selfie-snapping debacle I didn’t get to try out the camera properly. We’ll leave that for the full review.
Not quite as it appears
Yep, we’re going to have to leave quite a lot for our proper review this time, but what we’re left with are some mostly positive first impressions.
The Huawei Mate S feels pretty great, gets you a large screen that doesn’t make the phone feel super-turbo huge, and while we’d never buy one of these phones for the gesture-heavy approach, they’re all blissfully easy to ignore.
So, is the Force Touch aspect a bit of a red herring? At the moment, yes. It looks as though Huawei was desperate to get in on this technology in a phone before Apple — potentially — does so on 9 September with the iPhone 6S.
The Mate S will come in a limited run of 1000 64GB units in Luxurious Gold for Singapore, a tenth of what's being released in the South Pacific region. The special edition comes with a special pewter membership card telling you which number that you can not only show off, but also get you services for the care of your phone including a two year warranty and door to door delivery.
You can pre-order the Mate S for S$999 from 31 October at the Huawei Flagship Store (Plaza Singapure), Huawei Experience Store (Sim Lim Square), Gadget World (Jurong Point), or Jim Communications & Electronics (Suntec City Mall), and the phone will arrive on 9 November. The first 100 people to make pre-orders will also receive the ingenious TalkBand B2. Talk about bang for your buck.
By the way, it also comes in Rose Gold, but that flavour will only be available in December.