Review: Huawei Mate 9 Pro
Here's a toughie. If you were a smartphone maker, what would you put into your latest smartphone so it stood out from the crowd?
Last year, Huawei got it right with the P9. Its clever dual-camera setup saw them cement their No 3 position in the smartphone market. This time they're knocking on Apple's door and eyeing up Samsung's market share with the Mate 9 Pro.
Huawei has long been perceived in New Zealand as a budget brand. Making the leap into the premium space is the result of launching well-designed hardware with excellent features that offer decent bang-per-buck value.
With its latest phone, the Mate 9 Pro, Huawei is hoping lightning will strike twice.
The Mate 9 pro is a gorgeous smartphone. This time, however, it bucks the budget trend and commands a $1399 price. Unsurprisingly, the big question becomes this – does the Mate 9 Pro have what it takes to sell despite its higher price?
LOOK AND FEEL
The Mate 9 Pro is the unbranded version of the Porsche Design Mate 9. When viewed front on, it resembles Samsung's Galaxy S7 Edge. Like the S7 Edge, it has a curved screen plus a lozenge-shaped home button/fingerprint sensor.
Its curved screen gives it more usable screen real-estate than other similar-sized smartphones. This also allows Huawei to cram a 5.5-inch QHD AMOLED screen into a chassis smaller than the iPhone 7 Plus.
My review unit sported a silver finished glass front with a grippy alloy back. This should make involuntary drop tests much less likely. Huawei also earns brownie points for bundling a case with the Mate 9 Pro. It is something other handset makers could learn from.
The similarities between the Mate 9 Pro and Samsung's S7 end abruptly when you spin it around. Unlike the S7, it sports a twin camera setup.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Mate 9 Pro is powered by the Kirin 960, a CPU developed in-house by Huawei. It's an 8-core beast that crunches a crazy amount of data. It's also energy efficient. This is thanks to a little/big 8-core configuration that see's four CPU cores clocked at 2.4GHz. These are only used for demanding tasks such as games and multimedia. Its other four cores run at a more battery-friendly 1.8GHz for less demanding day-to-day tasks.
Huawei is aiming for feature parity with the iPhone 7 Plus. The Mate 9 Pro I reviewed comes with 6GB of Ram plus 128GB of storage. It doesn't support MicroSD cards.
As with the P9, the Mate 9 Pro uses a dual camera co-designed by Huawei and Leica. There's a 20MP mono sensor that only captures black and white images. Its lack of colour filter means it can capture more light and get better contrast levels. The other camera has a colour filter and a 12MP sensor. Its role is to colour in images captured with the mono sensor. Both cameras have a f/2.2 aperture and 27mm focal length plus optical image stabilisation.
In use, the Mate 9 Pro captures photos that are on par with a high-end point and shoot camera. Its app also has a manual mode that DSLR users will appreciate.
One of the key specs of any smartphone is battery life. The Mate 9 Pro sports a non-removable Li-Po 4000mAh battery. It also comes with one of the quickest fast charge systems I've used to date. The Mate 9 Pro will last a full day and a-half with typical use and charges in a few hours. With modest use, two days battery life is typical.
The Mate 9 Pro uses Huawei's EMUI 5.0 launcher atop of Android 7. The EMUI interface feels a lot like a mash-up between Android and iOS. Large clear icons make navigation a joy. Unlike Earlier EMUI versions, there is now an optional app drawer. This should make EMUI 5.0 ideal for transitioning to Android from iOS.
EMUI 5.0 has some nice features baked in. Swiping up on the screen fires up a universal search bar to help locate apps and files. Swiping up on the lock-screen provides quick access to a flashlight, audio recorder, calculator, and camera. This mightn't sound like a big deal, but in use, it has proved handy.
Another feature is the Floating Dock. It's a shortcut menu, designed for one-handed use on the left-hand side of the screen near where your thumb sits. It contains Android soft keys, a lock screen button plus a button that closes unused apps.
Another feature is what Huawei call Motion Control. It uses the Mate 9 Pro's gyroscope and accelerometer. Placing a ringing Mate 9 Pro face down mutes a call. You can also pick it up to decrease ring/alarm volume levels and answer calls by raising it to your ear.
As clever as EMUI 5.0 is, I also experienced several compatibility issues. My Fly360 camera refused to work (and this is a widespread issue with Huawei on the Fly360 forums). Several apps also refuse to run and crash. Here's hoping future updates fixes these soon.
So, Have Huawei made a smartphone that is innovative and exciting enough to warrant a premium $1399 sticker price?
You could argue that Huawei may struggle with both Samsung's S8 and Apple's 10th anniversary iPhone imminent. The thing is though, the Mate 9 pro is a stunning piece of hardware.
It looks and feels like a million bucks. It has one of the best phone cameras available, a huge battery, plus a gorgeous screen. The Mate 9 pro is feature packed and is bound to gain traction amongst Huawei's growing fan base.
Display: 5.5-inch QHD AMOLED
CPU: Kirin 960 2.5GHz octa-core
Rear camera: 20MP Mono/12MP Colour
Front camera: 8MP (1440x2560 pixels)
OS: Android 7.0