As it happens - more often than not - the Huawei Mate 10 is a fine flagship specimen, powerful and visually appealing, but it's just not that big of an upgrade over the preceding Mate 9. It still seems to have enough to succeed and, as usual, there's a Pro version that ticks a different sort of checkboxes for a different sort of users.
This season, Huawei is following trends: trim the screen bezels, use bright camera lenses, put AI in computing. Now, the latter could've been the single wow feature of the Mate 10, but it's not a tangible asset, so to speak.
The new Kirin 970 has the same set of cores as the previous version but delivers a significant boost in data processing and power management. Even further, it also has one of the industry-first NPUs for on-device AI computing. As much as we think that machine-learning-driven computing is likely to be the next big thing in mobile, we don't believe the Mate 10's potential owners should buy into that aspect of the product marketing that much.
Now, the new GPU is a quantifiable upgrade we can relate too but the benefits are offset by the bump in screen resolution.
Another upgrade you can instantly appreciate is the all-glass design - an attention grabber and, potentially, a strong selling point. It would have been even better with wireless charging support, but Huawei is not there yet. Unfortunately, the Mate is only splash-protected, while proper water-resistance is reserved for the Pro model.
Huawei made a bit of a mess with the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro as the novelties were divided between the two strangely: an 18:9 1080p AMOLED screen for the Pro and a QuadHD LCD for the "vanilla" Mate. Water-proofing but no audio jack in the Pro, splash-resistance and analog audio in the Mate 10. This fragmentation seems hard to justify, but obviously, Huawei know more than we do.
The Huawei Mate 10 is one of the premium options right now but it doesn't quite stand out. Its benefits over the Mate 9 or the P10 Plus are arguable but, admittedly, the high-res screen, the capable dual-camera by Leica, the attractive design and the great battery backup are strong enough selling points.
The Samsung Galaxy Note8 and Galaxy S8+ are a good place to start our rundown of potential options. The Note8 has an excellent dual-camera with a telephoto lens and shoots great low-light and portrait shots. The Galaxies are just as good-looking, have more advanced AMOLED screens and more RAM. The S8+ is about 100 cheaper than the Mate 10 but you'll lose the dual-camera setup, while the Note8 will give you that and an S-Pen for an extra 150.
The LG V30 isn't available everywhere but nor is the Mate 10. The V30 has a big FullVision P-OLED screen of QuadHD resolution and a dust and water-resistant body in addition to being shock-proof and temperature and humidity resistant. The V30 has a unique dual-camera with a secondary wide-angle lens, an always-on screen, high-res audio recording. The V30 is expensive, ever more so than the Mate 10, but it's a high-performance pro-tool.
Xiaomi has placed a bid in the bezel-less race with the Mi Mix 2. This time around, the screen is smaller at 6", the camera has OIS and the Mix 2 runs on the latest Snapdragon 835. Its key feature is the screen so that we can forgive the rather unimpressive camera package. It costs 200 less than the Mate 10, which is quite a tempting price for a cool bezel-less phone.
Apple may be struggling to bring the iPhone X to market, but people are still pre-ordering it by the millions. That's what you get for making a "wow" phone. The iPhone X is by no means the first all-screen phone, but it's all the same to long-term iOS users. Of course, Apple improved its camera a lot this year with a brighter lens and nice new bokeh effects for the portrait shots; there is also the controversial Face ID sensor for face unlock and selfie portraits. The iPhone X has three brand-new features, and they have paid off even before the X (eventually) starts shipping in a week.
There is also the iPhone 8 Plus with the old design, but chart-topping A11 chip and equally better rear dual-camera (minus the OIS on the telephoto). It turned out the safer choice for the fans with a regular 16:9 screen, familiar design and, of course, Touch ID.
Finally, the Mate 9 is nearly 300 cheaper, yet it offers the same processor cores, same GPU punch because of the lower screen, a similar camera experience, and equal battery life. The Mate 9 will get the EMUI 8 update in a few months. There is also the P10 Plus, 200 cheaper, with a high-res screen, a big battery and pretty much the same camera. Unless Huawei discontinues those two, the Mate 10 will be a tough sell at its current price.
The Huawei Mate 10 looks stunning and is in touch with what's hot but it's our job to see beyond the first impression. While we appreciate the high-res screen, the duly beefed up GPU and bright lens for the Leica camera, we can't pretend the Mate 9 and Mate 9 Pro don't exist.
The all-glass design and the sharp, borderless display are the right stuff to get the Mate 10 noticed and talked about. But they are the we-can-too sort of features rather than you-saw-it-here-first. Or maybe it's us being just pleased when we were looking to be wowed. That's the thing - the Mate 9 and 9 Pro would do just that, for a fraction of the price.