Huawei continues its rise in the smartphone maker ranks, and the Mate 9 is its latest flagship phablet. As such, it shows everything the company is capable of, both regarding design and hardware.
And you're most likely here reading this to see if it's any good. Worry not, we'll answer all of your burning questions in a little while.
First, let's check the at-a-glance list of Huawei Mate 9's main strong points.
It deserves a mention that Huawei launched the Mate 9 in two versions - a super premium Porsche Design one, and the regular version, which we're reviewing.
It's evident that the Huawei Mate 9's DNA is that of a classic Huawei phablet. It packs a large 5.9" display and an ample 4,000mAh battery to go with it. All of this comes in a premium-built aluminum body.
The Huawei-Leica partnership continues with this premium phablet. This time around, they've joined forces on a 20MP/12MP dual-camera setup featuring OIS and 4-in-1 autofocus. You bet 4K video recording is on the menu, too unlike the Huawei P9, which premiered the dual camera setup.
The Huawei Mate 9 will delight you with its exquisite design. It is mature looking, and you're left with the feeling that its looks have been the product of many hours spent on the drawing board.
However, there's no getting away from the fact that it's big and heavy. At 190 grams it's 2 grams heavier than the iPhone 7 Plus. While at it, we ought to give credit to Huawei for managing to pack a 5.9" display in a body that's 1.3mm shorter and just a millimeter wider than the iPhone 7 Plus.
The build quality is surely premium, but it also feels quite slippery on its own - a pleasure to handle it may be, but make sure you handle with care.
Good thing then, that a bumper cover comes bundled in the retail box.
The Power/Lock and volume rocker are on the right side, following a classic smartphone layout.
The Huawei Mate 9 packs a hybrid card slot, allowing you to use either a dual-SIM card setup or a single SIM and a microSD card for storage expansion.
The fingerprint scanner is on the back, and it's very fast and accurate.
There's a single speaker on the bottom, a universal USB Type-C plug for charging and a total of four microphones spread around the frame.
The IR blaster on the top would allow the Mate 9 to replace any standard IR remote control around your house.
The Huawei Mate 9 has the smallest display in the entire Mate history at 5.9". Some may be disappointed by the 1080p resolution, but it's quite alright as it works out to a 373ppi pixel density.
While it may lack in sharpness, at least compared to some of the higher-res competition, the Mate 9 makes it up in brightness and contrast ratio. With 1622:1 contrast ratio, it trumps both the LG V20 and iPhone 7 Plus. The screen's maximum brightness is 665nits, which is as bright as what the iPhone 7 Plus outputs.
Where the Mate 9's screen lacks is color accuracy. You do get a color wheel in the display settings, where you can adjust the color reproduction to your liking. Sadly, the overall pesky blue cast just won't leave.
Screenlight legibility is awesome, and you won't have trouble using the phone outdoors on a bright, sunny day.
Ah, there's also a night reading mode, which warms up the output severely in line with the studies that have shown that the blue light emitted by the phone's screen might disrupt your normal sleep cycle if you use it in the evening.
The minimum brightness of 4.2nits should help put less strain on your eyes when using the phone in dark environments.
Large batteries have been a staple of the mate lineup since its inception, and the Mate 9 is no different. Its 4,000mAh capacity is no longer jaw-droppingly huge, but it's still one of the most generous offerings in a phone.
The device ships with a beefy charger capable of outputting 5V/4.5A, 4.5V/5A, and 5V/2A. The Mate's cable has four extra pins on the Type-C end, two of those used when charging, the other two just for symmetry.
And speaking of, the Mate 9 battery charges ridiculously fast when you use the supplied adapter and cable. Only 10 minutes worth of charging will get you from 2% (that's the lowest point before the device powers off) to 20%. Another 10min of charging and you're looking at 40% and 50% is achieved only 25min after plugging it in.
Generally, the Mate 9's battery life is excellent. The web browsing endurance upwards of 14 hours is longer than the iPhone 7 Plus and Galaxy S7 edge (if only by some 45 minutes), and substantially better than the Pixel Xl's 9:20 hours.
The Huawei Mate 9 may not boast those fancy DACs that the LG V20 flaunts, but it still outputs solid audio performance.
When plugged into an active external amplifier, the Huawei Mate 9 posted excellent scores top to bottom, hinting at perfectly accurate audio reproduction. Its loudness was just above average so no real reasons for complaining here.
Headphones only cause a small drop in volume so its only average and a contained hike in stereo crosstalk.
The camera department of the Huawei Mate 9 is a special one. The second collaboration with Leica for the company, the Mate 9's dual setup consists of a 20MP monochrome sensor and a 12MP RGB one, each of these behind 27mm-equiv. f/2.2 aperture lens of its own. The cameras are also stabilized (OIS).
When you're shooting in color, the Mate 9 blends the image from the monochrome camera with the one from the RGB camera with the goal being to produce better images.The high-res 20MP monochrome camera records luminance data, and that's where most of the fine detail is, while the lower-res 12MP camera provides the color that goes with these details.
That f/2.2 aperture is not as wide as on other premium smartphones, but Leica argues that since you have two cameras, they capture double the light.
As for the image quality, the Mate 9's photos are all about the "Leica look." For one, colors aren't exactly dull or desaturated, more like true-to-life in the default mode, with more punch hiding in the extra modes.
Detail is abundant, and textures are rendered in a very natural way, but ultimately the 20MP color images don't match the 20MP monochrome ones for high-frequency detail such as foliage or grass.
Dynamic range in color images is quite good as well, though we'd still give it to the Pixel for better preserving the highlights. The Mate 9's B&W images are hard to beat for dynamic range, but its monochrome camera is more of a specialty tool, and once novelty wears off - unlikely to be used all that often on its own.
Thanks to the scene depth information the Mate 9 can gather from its two cameras, it can reproduce the blurred background (bokeh) of a professional camera. The feature is accessed from the Wide aperture mode toggle and lets you simulate portrait lens apertures as wide as f/0.95.
The Mate 9 does an admirable job with low-light settings, preserving detail and, to a certain extent, color. In full-on Night mode, you can manually select a shutter speed up to 32s and ISO up to 1600. The viewfinder image will change as the exposure develops, so if you figure you've gathered enough light you can stop at any time.
Then there's the Light painting mode, which includes four sub-modes: Car light trails, Light graffiti, Silky Water and Star track.
The Mate 9's front-facing camera is an 8MP f/1.9 shooter with autofocus. It produces great results in daylight with plenty of detail and pleasing colors, and also quite good dynamic range. On occasion, the Mate 9's selfie cam may choose to focus on the background instead of your face, so it's worth keeping an eye on the final images.
There's a beautification feature that, when dialed up to the extreme, does a remarkably cartoonish and overexposed rendering of reality with oversaturated colors and smeared details. We're clearly not ones to be able to appreciate it, but you can check out the end results below.
The Huawei Mate 9 encodes its 4K videos using the H.265 codec, which is still a rarity and doesn't work on YouTube. 1080p videos use the more standard H.264 compression, so they're YouTube-friendly.
4K videos are sharp and detailed and exhibit good contrast and pleasing colors - the video output is punchier than how reality looks like. Not surprising, though - Leica has traditions in still photography, not video, so the laid-back Leica processing approach doesn't apply here, we guess.
The 1080p/30fps videos have a rather standard bitrate of around 17Mbps, while 1080p/60fps is exactly double that - in effect you'd get larger files per second of footage from the Mate 9's 1080p/60ps mode, than from its 4K mode.
The Huawei Mate 9 runs on the latest Android 7.0 Nougat, so no complaints here. As usual, you get a healthy dose of Huawei customizations behind the EmotionUI name or EMUI. The proprietary overlay is a brand new version 5.0, which reuses a lot from previous iterations but also introduces a few changes.
First, you can set up a Private space, which you can access with a different fingerprint. The data stored there is independently encrypted, and Huawei says it's inaccessible to the other users. Sadly, you can have only one Private space per device.
In addition to that you can have two app instances for some social apps, so two users can access their accounts from the same phone user profile.
The notification area is a 50/50 mix between stock Nougat and Emotion 5.0. Huawei has tweaked the look of the quick toggles and added the auto-brightness switch, which Google so stubbornly refuses to keep in plain sight. The notifications themselves look just like on a Pixel.
Throughout the interface you get contextual menus with relevant options right at the bottom of the screen above the navigation bar - hugely convenient for single-handed operation. The universal drawer that pulls out from the left side of Google apps is a lot better suited for left-hand use than right-hand, and even for lefties some of the higher-placed options are still too far away.
The UI is completely themeable too.
The Huawei Mate 9 is powered by the Kirin 960 SoC, developed by the in-house chipmaker HiSilicon. The main processor within the chipset consists of a quad-core Cortex-A73 cluster clocked at 2.4GHz, plus a quad-core array of the less-powerful Cortex-A53 cores ticking at 1.8GHz. The Cortex-A73s boast a 30% power efficiency compared to the previous A72 design, while also promising improved performance.
The new Mali-G71 GPU shines, but not everywhere. In some of our tests it didn't outrun the competition as expected, but in applications that can benefit from the Vulkan graphics API support, it's a beast.
The conclusions we can draw about the Mate 9's performance is that it has a really fast CPU in both single-threaded and multi-core applications and a GPU that's still not quite there. Or rather, a GPU that is still waiting for applications that can benefit from the Vulkan graphics API support.
The Huawei Mate 9 is a very solid smartphone for those who crave a big-screen phone. Even more so, considering the Galaxy Note7 tragic demise.
A proper top-shelf phablet, the Mate 9's aluminum body is as premium as they come. AMOLED die-hards may not be thrilled about the Mate's LCD, but in reality, there's little to complain about it - other than the bluish tint on the screen, it's simply great.
The real head-turner here is the camera. Episode 2 of the Huawei-Leica collaboration brings a higher resolution 20MP monochrome shooter to accompany the 12MP regular RGB one. The two also work in unison to deliver 20MP color shots (almost as good), but stick to 12MP color or 20MP B&W and you won't be disappointed.
|Huawei Mate 9|
The Apple iPhone 7 Plus is one of the best large-screen phones around. It has got a smaller 5.5" screen but is one of the best LCDs around. The photos from the 7 Plus are inferior in detail (due to the lower 12MP resolution) but the second camera creates excellent portrait shots with great-looking software bokeh. The iPhone has the best mobile processor on the market, great stereo speakers and is finally waterproof. Its battery life is inferior to the Huawei Mate 9 - but even with iOS at the wheel, 2900mAh can only get you so far.
We mentioned the Pixel XL a few times on the previous pages, and we'll kick off the comparisons with Google's phone. Pricing info on the Mate 9 is pretty scarce for markets outside the EU, and that's where the Pixel XL is probably the most expensive. A 32GB plus-sized Phone by Google will run you 200 more than the larger-screened (5.9" vs. 5.5") Mate 9 with twice the storage and a microSD slot (the Pixel doesn't have one).
We consider the OnePlus 3T as one of the best phones to buy at any price, but it helps that it's very reasonably priced. It has a great camera, better processor (and much more RAM) and is among the fastest phones we've used - if not the fastest. It has slightly better battery life than the Mate 9, but not by a large margin. Huawei has it beat on screen size and expandable storage.
Just how cheesy would it sound if we say that the Mate 9 could very well be your 'best mate'? It'll keep you company all day and well into the night (in a decidedly non-disturbing way), it'll be with you in both vividly colorful moments and thought-provoking black-and-white dilemmas, and it'll look good while doing all of it. Okay, hold it, the Mate 9 is still nothing but a smartphone - it's just a very good one.
|Design and build quality||