Huawei Mate S Press Touch review: Huawei’s force-touch phone falls flat

Price when reviewed

When the Huawei Mate S was first announced back at the IFA technology trade show in Berlin, it beat Apple to the punch as the first smartphone with a pressure-sensitive screen. However, it’s taken until now (a good three months later) for the “Press Touch” version to touch down in Europe, and it’s set to hit Huawei’s vMall online store any day now.

Despite the delay, Huawei remains the only smartphone manufacturer – apart from Apple – to include such a screen in a smartphone. However, where Apple has clearly spent plenty of time dreaming up a series of practical ways in which its Force Touch display could be put to use, that’s far from the case here.

While Apple’s software builds in quick previews and pop-up menus all through the operating system, Mate S owners are treated to a scant selection of modifications, the majority of which are of dubious worth.

In Huawei’s gallery app, you can use the screen to zoom in and out of photos by pressing the screen. This is mildly useful, but I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve wanted, or needed, to do this. It’s fiddly to use, too, and difficult to keep steady. A two-fingered pinch is far better.

You can also use Press Touch in a few other ways. Bring up the settings and you’ll find that it’s possible to replace the Back, Home and Multitasking soft keys with pressure sensitive zones along the bottom edge of the screen. In the same vein, it’s also possible to set up a couple of extra pressure-sensitive zones in the two top corners.

Once again, though, I found these zones more awkward to use than the standard shortcut keys they replace. It’s also possible to weigh things on the screen using Huawei’s Fun Scale app, but this is too limited to be of any use (you can only weigh small items between 100g and 400g).

Finally, Huawei has promised that there’s a pop-up menu feature in the works, which will add contextual right-click-style menus to homescreen icons. At the time of writing, however, this update had yet to be rolled out. To put it mildly, Huawei’s Press Touch is a shadow of Apple’s Force Touch tech.

One thing the Chinese manufacturer has got right, however, is the physical design of the phone. It’s exceptional.

With rounded glass edges to the 5.5in Full HD AMOLED screen (topped with Gorilla Glass 4), “dual diamond-cut” chamfered edges, a thickness of only 5.7mm at the edges and 7.9mm at its thickest point, plus a curved metal rear and new fingerprint reader, it both looks the part and slips into the pocket rather beautifully.

It’s among the most compact 5.5in phones I’ve handled and feels like a much smaller handset to pick up and use. It’s smartly designed, doesn’t feel overly slippery, and – just like Huawei’s other premium smartphone, the Huawei P8 – it looks fantastic.

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