Mate 9 review: Hands-on with Huawei’s giant dual-camera beast

Huawei is releasing the Mate 9 at a crucial time for the Chinese smartphone maker. Industry titans Apple and Samsung are each facing a set of problems, from dwindling returns on innovation on the one hand to fears over safety on the other. The flagship market is looking increasingly brittle, so does the Mate 9 represent a brick flung by Huawei into the status quo?

Mate 9 review: Hands-on with Huawei’s giant dual-camera beast

Like the Mate phones before it, the Mate 9 is a quality handset, but the price has risen significantly this time around, with a price of €699 (around £620). It still isn’t as expensive as the base level iPhone 7 Plus, which comes in at an even pricier £719, but it is a big step up from the reasonable £429 price tag of the Mate 8.

Is it nearly £200 better, though? Huawei would certainly like you to think so, boasting of the phone’s performance-tweaking “machine learning”, a freshly uncluttered EMUI, a speedy Kirin 960 SoC processor and a design that carries on the Mate brand’s palm-filling aesthetic approach. It’s not a direct play into the flagship space, but it hints at ambitions to take on the big players over the next few years.

So what are we dealing with? Display-wise the Mate 9 has a 5.9inch, 1080p screen. In-hand the colours look vibrant and deep while Huawei’s EMUI 5 version of Android N is responsive and pleasingly minimalist in its use of blues and whites. I’m not the biggest fan of large screens, but the phone comes with a new feature that detects misplaced fingers on the screen, and stops them from accidentally launching apps or selecting menus as you reach across the screen with your thumbs.mate_9

Flip over the phone and you’ll see a symmetrical coterie of sensors, with a flash and IR sensor positioned on either side of the Mate 9’s Leica-branded dual-camera system. These capture 20- and 12-megapixel images respectively, with the former shooting in monochrome and the latter shooting in colour. Having a lens dedicated to black-and-white images should, in theory, increase the dynamic range of photos. They’re also capable of shooting 4K video. Below the camera is a fingerprint sensor, neatly positioned for your index or middle finger. Things are business-as-usual on the phone’s edges, with a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top and a USB Type-C charging port on the bottom, centred between a pair of industrial-looking grilles.huawei_mate_9_4

The Mate 9 comes with Huawei’s new octa-core Kirin 960 chipset, which makes use of four 2.4GHz ARM Cortex-A73 CPUs and four low-power 1.8GHz Cortex A53 cores, the new Mali-G71 MP8 graphics processor, and UFS 2.1 storage technology. In terms of memory, Huawei is offering a 4GB RAM model with 64GB of storage, with a microSD card slot that supports up to 256GB. The premium Porsche-branded curved-screen variant will instead have a whopping 6GB of RAM and 256GB storage.

Huawei has one main thing in mind with the Mate 9: long-term performance. Smartphones tend to have a lifetime lasting little more than a couple of years – fresh out of the box your phone will zip between apps without a problem, but give it two years and that pace will turn sluggish. Using a mixture of intelligent resource scheduling, high-speed memory recycling and storage optimisation, Huawei is aiming for the Mate 9 to perform faster than its predecessors further in its lifecycle.

Sluggish performance a year down the line is never pleasant, although focusing on enduring phone performance does raise a few questions about release cycle – by making the Mate 9 better in the long-term, will the company risk undercutting a need to buy a new phone two years down the road?huawei_mate_9_2

Quick charging is another feature touted by Huawei. The Mate 9 will come with Huawei’s new Supercharge feature, which involves automatic voltage and current output adjustments, and “five-gate real-time voltage, current and temperature monitoring” to avoid overheating. All of this should mean the new Mate will charge swiftly and safely, allegedly four times faster than the iPhone 7 Plus, with ten minutes of charging delivering enough charge to last three-and-a-half hours of use.

The elephant in this particular room is, of course, Samsung, and Huawei hasn’t missed a trick in emphasising the safety of its device’s charging. Not only is the 4,000mAh battery touted as being a safe piece of kit, it’s also bleeding massive – a proper step up from competitors that come in between 3,000 and 3,500mAh. Coupled with fast charging, this is a phone that wants to stay alive for a long time.

It’s such a shame that the Mate 9 is so expensive when previous models have been so reasonably priced. Either way, we’ll have a fuller verdict on Huawei’s latest offering once we’ve run our benchmarks, but first impressions are that the handset is another impressive effort from the Chinese company.

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