• Huawei Mate S release date: 15th September pre-order (non Force Touch model) Force touch version to follow
  • Huawei Mate S price: from 649
  • Huawei Mate S specs: 1080p 5.5-inch display, 3G RAM, Force Touch (128GB model only), Octa-core processor, 13MP camera

Huawei Mate S hands-on

It's been rumoured for a long time that the next iPhone, probably the iPhone 6S, will be the first _phone_ to have a pressure sensitive Force Touch display that offers different functionality depending on how hard you press the screen. But it's not. That prize goes to Huawei's brand-new Mate 5, which has been announced at IFA 2015 in Berlin.

Now, there are a couple of caveats. First off, only the 'Luxury' tagged Mate 5 comes with the Force Touch panel. This 128GB only model hasn't been given a firm release date yet, but Huawei says it's coming this year. The 'Premium' edition of the Mate 5 ditches that new feature and skims down the storage, but keeps everything else.

I've spent some time with both versions of the _phone_ and there's certainly a lot to like, but limiting Force Touch to a single model just seems a strange decision.

Related: What is Force Touch?

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The phone itself is gorgeous. A slab of metal with curves on the back that let it sit comfortably in my hands. Huawei uses the term 'Diamond Cut' to describe the back and this should help it be less slippery; something that has annoyed me with phones made completely out of metal in the past.

While the front is a simple pane of Gorilla Glass 4 covering a sharp, bright 1080p Super AMOLED display, the back has a certain whiff of the HTC One line about it. Two antenna bands sit at the top and bottom of the Mate 7, with a square camera module and two tone flash in-between.

Under the camera is a fingerprint scanner. While I tend to favour sensors placed in the home button, having it on the back feels natural. My finger rests on the pad when I pick up the phone and it unlocks without pressing down on a button. And it's fast, really fast. I've only had a short time with it, but it accepted my digit everytime, even when I have slightly wet hands.

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Huawei has added some extra functionality to the fingerprint scanner on the Mate S. Flicking down on the scanner opens up the notification tray, swiping across it lets you move through photos. As an added perk you can also snap a selfie without touching the screen using the scanner.

As I mentioned earlier, Force Touch is one of the key features here. But I'm not completely won over by its implementation. For one, it only works in certain Huawei made apps. For example, applying differing amounts of pressure to the screen in the gallery app resulted in varying amounts of zoom. This is concern as, with Force Touch being limited to a 128GB version that probably won't come cheap, I'm not convinced developers will get on board and build apps that take advantage of the tech.

But, the implantation does work and it possesses one neat trick; it can weigh stuff. Huawei showed this during the announcement, balancing an orange on the display. The phone detected it, and knew how much it weighed. Novel, yes, but cool nevertheless.

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Keeping the Mate S running is an octa-core Kirin 935 64-bit chip, paired with 3GB RAM. I haven't had enough time with the device to test it fully, or run any benchmarks for that matter, but performance so far has been impressive.

Flicking through apps is smooth, as is web-browsing and even I was opening up multiple-apps and jumping between them I didn't encounter any heat coming off the device and lag wasn't an issue. Obviously there's much more testing to be done to see how the Mate 5 really performs, but for now I'm impressed. There's also a microSD slot, so you can bump up the handset's base 32GB/64GB or 128GB storage. Sadly Huawei hasn't disclosed exactly how much more space you an add via the microSD.

A lot was said about the 13MP shooter during the announcement, and it's clear Huawei has put plenty of effort into crafting what it hopes will be great smartphone camera. There's Opitcal Image Stabilisation (OIS) for smooth, blur free video and low-light shots that don't need to be instantly deleted, plus a range of manual options for those who like more control over what they shoot.

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Snapping pictures is really fast, with the auto-focus (AF) kicking in almost instantly and locking in on target. The results look good, with plenty of detail and even some nice shallow-depth-of field effects coming through. I've only tested it in daylight so far, so it'll be interesting to see how it copes when the sun goes down or the lights are turned off.

So; impressive build, plenty of power, beginnings of a strong camera and Force Touch, there's certainly a lot that Huawei has got right, but the same old problems remain.

Instead of tidying up its skin, like seemingly everyone else is doing, Huawei EMUI (which is laid atop Android 5.1) is still a pain to use and covers almost everything beautiful about Google's OS with ugly transparency effects, strange iOS like icons and too many added features that limit the handset's real world use. 'Knuckle 2.0' is one of those such features. This lets you interact with the display by tapping it with your, you guessed it, knuckles. You can crop images, scroll through video and the like, but it just seems like a feature no one asked for, or needs.

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These annoyances crop up too often in Huawei's UI and, while you can add a custom launcher on top, you're still stuck with the poor notification panel.

Ah well, guess I can't have everything. A Huawei built device with stock Android, now that's a thought.

Early Verdict

I like the Mate S a lot; but do I love it? I'm not sure yet. There's potential, but it seems that Huawei needs to work on its UI a lot more. It's a nice size, very thin and really has that 'high-end' look.

Plus the camera is jammed with extra bits to play about with and the fingerprint sensor is not only fast, but functional for more than just unlocking your phone.

Yet, i'm just not convinced developers will get behind Force Touch, especially with it only being available on one model.

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