Pros and cons: Our quick verdict on the Huawei Mate 9
The most interesting thing about Huawei’s latest flagship, the Mate 9, is actually invisible to the naked eye. Under the hood, the phone uses machine learning to anticipate which apps you’re going to use when, allowing for supposedly smoother performance. What the phone would have been like without this AI, we don’t know, but we can say that the performance feels brisk throughout. If fluid day-to-day use seems like table stakes, you might also be impressed with the long battery life, bright display and the fact that it actually has a headphone jack. Unfortunately, what’s otherwise a great phone stumbles with low-light photography, as well as some heavy-handed software tweaks that will turn off Android purists. ]
The Mate 9 isn’t on sale here in the US yet, but we expect to learn pricing in the next month or so. If the price is on par with what it costs in Europe, the phone will be on par with or slightly cheaper than its rivals, which would make it a good value, so-so camera notwithstanding.
Huawei Mate 9 review
Editor’s note: Full review video to follow soon. In the meantime, our initial hands on video can be found above.
The spectacular failure of the Galaxy Note 7 earlier this year has presented an opportunity for companies to create the best big-screen Android alternative and Samsung’s misfortune could play right into the hands of Chinese OEM Huawei.16
Huawei’s Mate range dates back nearly as long as Samsung’s Note series and by offering metal unibody designs, large displays and fantastic battery life, the range has grown in popularity. The Mate 9 continues this trend with better internals, a large display and an upgraded version of the P9’s LEICA dual camera setup but, crucially, it also brings a major revamp to Huawei’s EMUI interface in the form of EMUI 5.
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Alongside the regular Mate 9, Huawei also announced the first device in its partnership with Porsche Design – aptly named the Porsche Design Mate 9 – which brings the same internals coupled with a curved QHD display, 6GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The Porsche Design Mate 9 is limited edition and with a price tag of €1399, it’s definitely not for everyone.
Is the Mate 9, in either form, the perfect smartphone for those wanting a big-screen Android experience? Let’s find out in this, our Huawei Mate 9 review.
About this review: We’ve been using the Huawei Mate 9 and Porsche Design Mate 9 for around five weeks now as our main phone. Until early December, both handsets were running pre-release firmware and while some of our impressions were based on the non-final software, we’ve retested both phones on their latest software for this review.
All reviews published prior to November 30th 2016 were based on the non-final software and we’ve noticed several ‘issues’ in this build have been fixed in the latest software. Throughout this review, we’ll be referencing these improvements and tweaks as a reference point against issues raised in other reviews.
Huawei Mate 9: Design
The design of the Mate 9 isn’t really surprising as it’s largely unchanged from last year, although Huawei has made it a little more compact and ergonomically friendly. Alongside this, Huawei has also added a curved unibody finished with soft-feeling aluminium and the result is a smartphone that doesn’t feel as large as you’d expect.
Considering there’s a 5.9-inch display, you could be forgiven for thinking the Mate 9 is a big phone and while the display is certainly large, narrow vertical bezels and a slim profile mean it handles a lot better than other large devices. Compared to the Google Nexus 6P or the iPhone 7 Plus, the Mate 9 is infinitely easier to handle and use, despite the larger display.
To the right of the Mate 9 you’ve got the power and volume keys while on the left is the dual-SIM tray. On the bottom is a USB-C port and one of the dual speakers, while the headphone jack and infrared port can be found up top. Huawei has also added brushed patterns and a slight chamfer to the edges which adds grip, improves the handling and makes the Mate 9 more ergonomically friendly.
On the back, you’ve got a dual-camera arrangement in a vertical layout, rather than the horizontal layout found in the Huawei P9. Beneath this is Huawei’s typical fingerprint sensor which, in typical fashion, remains one of the fastest on the market. Rather interestingly – considering Huawei’s habit of mentioning the iPhone camera bump during its press conferences – the camera is on a slightly raised hump, although this does sit flush when you use the case supplied in the box.
Although the Mate 9 is a good looking smartphone, the Porsche Design Mate 9 is Huawei’s real design champion and whether it’s a sign of things to come – or a game of imitation – it’s definitely a looker. Almost all the design elements have been changed; rather than a regular display, you’ve got a dual-curved screen like the one found on the Galaxy S7 Edge.
The design changes don’t just stop there; the screen is smaller than the Mate 9 (more on that later), the fingerprint sensor is moved to the front beneath the display and flanked by back and recent keys and the back is covered in a pitch-black anodized metal that looks striking and shimmers in the light.
The curved display itself is surprising as it’s incredibly subtle and more an element of design rather than a feature in itself. The different finish on the rear also means the Porsche Design Mate 9 attracts more fingerprints but is easier to hold and provides a hard edge to grab a hold of, and more grip than the regular Mate 9.
Rather than a revolutionary design, the Mate 9 is another step in the evolution of Huawei’s design strategy. Huawei is demonstrating that big doesn’t always have to feel big, and that they can pull off a large display that’s still friendly to your hand. Personally, while the Porsche Design Mate 9 is definitely a looker, I prefer the feel of the regular Mate 9 in the hand.
Huawei is demonstrating that big doesn’t always have to feel big, and that they can pull off a large display that’s still friendly to your hand.
Huawei Mate 9: Display
The Huawei Mate 9 sports a 5.9-inch 2.5D Full HD IPS display with a density of ~373ppi, while the Porsche Design brings Quad HD resolution in a smaller 5.5-inch AMOLED display with ~534ppi density.
You could be forgiven for judging the regular Mate 9 purely on the Full HD resolution but to do so would take away from the fact the display is fantastic. Like previous Huawei devices, there’s a super high contrast ratio (1600:1+) which offers an immersive experience and helps to shield the fact it’s not an AMOLED display.
Running both devices through our testing reveals both have a cool display out of the box – with the Porsche Design more accurate than the regular Mate 9 – although this can be easily changed in the settings menu. Like most flagships, both devices also come with a blue-light filter, which is branded as “Eye Comfort” mode and works just as you’d expect by changing the display tone to a much warmer color. Digging further and the Porsche Design Mate 9 has a max brightness of 383 nits, while the Mate 9 tops out at over 600 nits.
The Porsche Design Mate 9 aside, Huawei has always stuck to its guns when it came to adopting higher resolutions and the Mate 9 screen goes to show that you don’t always need more than Full HD. Yes, it would have been nice to have better than Full HD resolution on the regular Mate 9 but this display is fantastic regardless.
Huawei Mate 9: Performance
As you might expect, the Mate 9 is packed with the latest internals from Huawei in the form of the Kirin 960 chipset, which is made up of ARM’s latest Cortex-A73 chipset (versus the A72 used in the Mate 8 and Huawei P9). The Kirin 960 comes equipped with four Cortex-A73 ‘performance’ cores clocked at 2.4GHz, paired with four Cortex-A53 lower power cores clocked at 1.8GHz. The Mate 9 is also the first handset to run the new 8-core Mali-G71 MP8 GPU, which is expected to power the Galaxy S8 and other flagship devices next year.
The regular Mate 9 comes equipped with 4GB of RAM and either 64GB of storage, while Porsche Design Mate 9 owners will get 6GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. If you do opt for the regular Mate 9, you do get expandable storage, while the Porsche Design Mate 9 is limited to 256GB of storage.
The combination of the latest processing package, ample amounts of RAM and lightning fast UFS 2.1 storage means both versions of the Mate 9 fly through everything you throw at it. On the regular Mate 9, there’s between 2.4GB and 2.6GB of RAM free with no apps running and even with 20 apps running (including a couple of games), we’re yet to hit below 1.5GB of RAM free. Based on the RAM utilization, the Mate 9 is the closest we’ve seen a smartphone come to PC-levels of optimization and resource usage.
The Mate 9 is the closest we’ve seen a smartphone come to PC-levels of optimization and resource usage.
A large part of this is down to Huawei’s new machine learning algorithm, which learns your habits and prioritises your favourite apps to ensures there’s always the right resources available when you need them. Huawei goes a step further to say that their machine learning algorithm means your phone is fast out of the box and remains fast, even after months of usage. Of course, we can’t confirm this but so far, the results are certainly promising.
How do both versions of the Mate 9 stack up to the competition and how much better is the Kirin 960 than the Kirin 950? In AnTuTu, the regular Mate 9 scores 127507 while the Porsche Design Mate 9 scores 111354. In comparison, last year’s Mate 8 scores 51432, the Exynos-8890 powered Galaxy S7 Edge scores 127507 and the Snapdragon 821-powered Pixel XL scores 136883.
Moving on to GeekBench 4 and the results are quite similar; the regular Mate 9 scores 1910 in the single-core test and 5311 in the multi-core test while the Porsche Design Mate 9 scores 1936 and 5921 respectively. By way of comparison, the Mate 8 scores 1070 and 1787, the Galaxy S7 Edge scores 1578 and 3858, and the Pixel XL scores 1575 and 4090. Interestingly in the multi-core test, the regular Mate 9 is the first Android smartphone we’ve tested that’s on par with the iPhone 7 Plus (5395) while the Porsche Design Mate 9 leads the field comfortably.
The last of our regular benchmark tests is 3DMark, where we put the new GPU to the test and the regular Mate 9 scored 2203 on the Slingshot test, while the Porsche Design Mate 9 scores 1600. By way of comparison, the Mate 8 scores just 351, the Galaxy S7 Edge scores 2178 and the Pixel XL scores 2476.
To test the GPU further, we also ran another graphics-based benchmark (which we’ll be doing more of in 2017) in the form of GFX Bench. In the T-Rex HD on-screen test, the regular Mate 9 achieved 58 frames per second (fps), while in the Manhattan on-screen test, it scored 28fps. Meanwhile, in the same tests, there was quite a drop in the Porsche Design Mate 9 results at 41fps and 20fps, which is not overly surprising given the higher resolution and extra pixels the GPU has to power. By way of comparison, the Mate 8 scores just 39fps and 17fps, the Galaxy S7 Edge scores 50fps and 14fps and the Pixel XL scores 55fps and 30fps.
Overall, the benchmark results show how much the Kirin 960 has improved over previous versions, especially in the graphics department, where the Mali GPU has almost completely closed the gap to the Adreno GPU used in Snapdragon chipsets. On paper, the Kirin 960 may not be perceived as one of the best chipsets, but the experience on the Mate 9 is almost as smooth as the Pixel XL.
Huawei Mate 9: Hardware
Like most flagship handsets, the Mate 9 comes equipped with the latest internals, including an array of sensor, a fingerprint sensor, and connectivity options. Huawei also demonstrates its network infrastructure prowess through the addition of smart WiFi features, excellent antennae and full control over dual SIM functionality.
Beneath the camera on the rear, the regular Mate 9 has a lightning fast fingerprint sensor, in the same vein of those we’ve come to expect from Huawei. It takes around half a dozen taps to register your fingerprint and once enrolled, you can wake and unlock your phone in under a second. The fingerprint sensor also comes with gesture support, allowing you to tap once to go back a step, press and hold to return to the home screen and swipe down to access your notifications and shortcuts.
On the Porsche Design Mate 9, the fingerprint sensor is moved to the front of the device with the rear sensor replaced by a Porsche Design logo. The fingerprint sensor works almost as well as on the regular Mate 9, although there does seem to be a slightly longer delay in reading your fingerprint when the display is turned off. This sensor also supports gestures, albeit they are different to the regular Mate 9 and if you opt to switch off the capacitive navigation keys, you’ll use swipe-based gestures on the sensor to navigate between screens.
The Mate 9 comes with a dual stereo speaker setup with a single speaker found on the bottom and a secondary speaker built into the earpiece above the display. The speakers are fantastic and louder than you’ll ever need them to be, but when set to above 60%, there is a noticeable tininess to the audio. However, you probably won’t need to set it to higher than this as it’s plenty loud without distortion for general usage.
Unlike many smartphones, the Mate 9 keeps the regular 3.5mm headphone jack, which can be found up top. The design might be questionable – I personally prefer a bottom mounted headphone jack – but the wired audio output isn’t, with the Mate 9 able to drive ample amounts of power to a variety of headphones. It’s not quite on par with audio-centric smartphones such as the LG V20 and ZTE Axon 7 but it comes very close and offers one of the best audio experiences on a flagship smartphone.
Like most flagships, the Mate 9 offers a plethora of connectivity options that include NFC, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and an infrared port. It’s especially great to see that Huawei kept the infrared port, which can be used to control your home appliances and entertainment. The dual SIM card slot allows you to use either two SIMs or a SIM card and microSD card (on the regular Mate 9 that is) and call quality is fantastic, especially as when you put the phone to your ear during a call, the Mate 9 eliminates ambient noise. This, coupled with the speaker in the earpiece, results in excellent call quality.
Huawei Mate 9: Battery Life
One of the principle cornerstones of Huawei’s smartphone philosophy is battery life and in particular, a desire to prioritize battery life over features (such as higher resolution displays).
The Mate 9 is no different and its 4,000mAh battery is one of the largest found on an Android flagship smartphone. Coupled with a Full HD display, you get excellent battery life as you might expect from such a large battery. By way of comparison however, the Porsche Design Mate 9 has a higher resolution (yet smaller) display and the same 4,000mAh battery capacity and there is a noticeable drop in battery life.
How does the battery stack up to the competition? Using our custom battery tester app, we’re able to say that the battery life on both devices is firmly up there with the best smartphones on the market.
The first of our tests focuses on gaming and each smartphone is charged to 100 percent, the display brightness is set to 200 nits and all sync is turned off (with Wi-Fi remaining on). During this test, the Mate 9 lasted 5 hours and 12 minutes, while Porsche Design lasted 4 hours and 34 minutes. By way of comparison, the Mate 8 lasts 4 hours and 48 minutes and the Pixel XL lasts 4 hours and 43 minutes. Our testing has revealed that no Android smartphone comes close to the iPhone 7 Plus, which lasts for 12 hours and 37 minutes when gaming.
Moving onto the next criteria and we use the same 1080p HD video file, charge phones to full and loop the video until the battery drains completely. In this test, the Mate 9 lasts for 14 hours and 12 minutes, while the Porsche Design lasts for 10 hours and 36 minutes. By way of comparison, the Mate 8 lasts for 10 hours and 34 minutes and the Pixel XL lasts for just over 7 hours.
Our last battery test focuses on wifi browsing and our apps loads the same six webpages in a continuous loop until the battery drains completely. In this test, the Huawei Mate 9 lasts for 14 hours and 4 minutes, while the Porsche Design lasts for 11 hours and 28 minutes. By way of comparison, the Mate 8 lasts for 11 hours and 57 minutes and the Pixel XL for 10 hours and 38 minutes.
Huawei has often claimed that it resisted the market transition to Quad HD displays because of the effect on battery life and as our testing has revealed, the QHD display on the Porsche Design Mate 9 has an impact on the battery life, when compared to the FHD display on the regular Mate 9. With that being said however, both smartphones offer exceptional battery life and even with heavy usage, neither device fails to last for more than a day. On several occasions, the 4000mAh unit has been enough to see us through the entirety of the second day, and sometimes, even half of the third.
With the Mate 9 Huawei proves that flagships can have lasting battery lives.
Throughout six weeks of testing, we’ve experienced screen on time ranging from 5 to 8 hours, whereas the Porsche Design Mate 9 achieves between 4 and 7 hours. For the most part, six hours of screen on time is regularly achievable for heavy users. Whether you’re a heavy, medium or light user, the Mate 9 will power you for days on end. Battery life is a problem that plagues all smartphone users and both variants of the Huawei Mate 9 are excellent solutions to this long-running concern with modern technology. Battery technology hasn’t progressed as fast as other areas of smartphone tech, but with the Mate 9 Huawei proves that flagships can have lasting battery lives.
For the times when the battery is running low, the Mate 9 and Porsche Design Mate 9 are the first handsets to come equipped with Huawei SuperCharge, a proprietary fast charging solution that’s designed to rival Qualcomm’s QuickCharge and other OEM solutions. Charging the 4,000 mAh battery inside the Mate 9 is incredibly fast using the bundled SuperCharge charger (either the wall or the car charger), with the battery taking around 90 minutes to charge from full. How does this compare to the competition though?
Huawei claims its new 4.5V/5A charging technology is also designed to be cooler than rival fast charging solutions, and in a direct dig at Samsung, says a processor inside the charger communicates with your phone, continuously monitors the temperature of your Mate 9 and will slow charging down if it notices the handset is overheating. Below 50 percent, it charges rapidly and once it gets to 75%, the charging process slows a little. On the lock screen, the Mate 9 shows whether you’re charging at standard, “fast” or “super” speeds and while it’s not slated to work with rival fast charging solutions, the Mate 9 does charge quicker than normal when plugged into a QuickCharge 3.0 charger.
Huawei Mate 9: Camera
Huawei’s partnership with Leica continues with the Mate 9 sporting a new and improved second generation dual camera setup. Much like the one in the Huawei P9, the camera is centred around a Leica-branded dual camera, with a 12MP RGB sensor supplemented by a 20MP monochrome sensor. Both sensors are behind lenses with f/2.2 aperture and the RGB sensor also sports Optical Image Stabilisation for additional stability in photos and videos.
Like the P9, the RGB sensor captures the colors in a scene while the monochrome sensor enhances the detail and this means the Mate 9 is capable of capturing images with a very impressive bokeh effect. In the right conditions, you’re able to take images that top the same effect found in the iPhone 7 Plus and the photo sphere feature found on the Pixel XL.
Overall, image quality from the Mate 9’s dual camera array has been impressive. In daylight, you get images that are crisp, full of detail with colors that are more realistic (and less saturated) than those captured by the Galaxy S7 Edge or Pixel XL.
Huawei’s camera app means Pro mode is just a tap away and offers settings to adjust the exposure, ISO and focal point to take stunning photos. In the default mode, the Mate 9 seems to struggle with picking the right focal point (images are often under or over exposed) but manually selecting the right focal point or tweaking the scene in Pro mode allows you to take fantastic photos.
One of the biggest improvements in the final software build is the low light performance of the camera, with the Mate 9 now capable of taking low light pictures that are on par with the Galaxy S7 Edge. However, while low light shots are vastly improved, the Mate 9 does struggle with slight movement in low-light, with OIS proving less effective than in other flagship devices.
The Huawei camera app is rather straight forward to use, with options for flash, wide aperture and filters found in the viewfinder. A swipe to the right brings up the settings menu, while camera modes such as monochrome (black and white), Beauty, slow-mo, panorama, light painting and HDR can be found by swiping to the right.
HDR mode in particular is interesting as there’s no way to enable it by default or have it automatically turn on so you’ll need to remember to activate it by swiping left. The Mate 9 does activate HDR automatically in certain conditions, but hiding it in the modes menu means it’s less user-friendly than on other smartphones. HDR does a decent job of boosting colors, reducing blowouts and brightening shadows, but the effect is less pronounced than on other smartphones and the difference is minimal enough that you won’t activate HDR as much as you might with another Android device.
Moving to video and the Mate 9 is capable of shooting 4k video at 30 frames per second and like in photos, video quality is decent in daylight, but becomes a little grainy in low light. The Mate 9 is one of the first phones to shoot 4k using the new h.265 codec, but given it’s so new, very few apps (including YouTube) know what to do with it. Although there’s ample storage on the Mate 9, Huawei’s compression algorithm means 4k video file sizes are up to 50% lower than on other devices. The Mate 9 also supports shooting in 1080p at 60 frames per second (where you get software-based stabilisation) and 720p video at 120 frames per second for slow-motion footage.
The front camera on the Mate 9 is an 8MP sensor with f/1.9 aperture lens, capable of shooting Full HD video at 30 frames per second. For the most part, selfies come out rich and full of colors in good lighting and in low light, the camera does a good job at boosting the ISO and letting more light into the camera.
Huawei Mate 9 & Porsche Design Mate 9 camera samples
However, a very irritating part of taking low light selfies is the amount of time it takes the camera to actually take a photo. When the flash is set to auto (there’s no way to keep it on by default) and there’s not enough light, the screen lights up for two to three seconds before the camera fires. Unfortunately, most selfie takers won’t hold a pose for that long (especially as the screen can be quite blinding at full brightness), and especially not when taking a group selfie, resulting in selfies that have motion blur. This does seem to be a software-based issue so hopefully this will be resolved in the next update.
The Mate 9 takes gorgeous photos that you’ll be proud to share
Overall, the camera on the Mate 9 certainly doesn’t disappoint and it seems to be on par with other Android flagships. In particular, the improvement in the camera performance from pre-release to final software was drastic enough for us to change our thoughts on the camera; initially, there were several issues, especially in low light, but these are no longer a concern with the final update. It’s not perfect – no phone is after all – but the Mate 9 takes gorgeous photos that you’ll be proud to share.
Huawei Mate 9: Software
Look at past Huawei phones and there’s a single trend that has defined the company’s smartphone efforts to now: hardware is always great but poor software. Like most Chinese OEMs, Huawei used to develop its global software in China, without taking into consideration how different the Chinese market is from, well, everywhere else.
Earlier this year, we heard that Huawei was working on a revamped version of its EMUI interface, that would look to address a lot of the issues raised in previous reviews. In the Mate 9 we have just that, with EMUI 5 bringing the latest Android 7.0 Nougat OS as well as several fixes to issues that have plagued Huawei smartphones for generations.
With that out of the way, what’s new with EMUI 5? There’s a lot of changes, starting with the new Azure color scheme that’s present throughout the UI. It brings with it a complete visual overhaul, with the odd color scheme of old replaced by white backgrounds, faint grey accents and blue highlights and tones. The changes don’t end there as Huawei’s own stock apps adopt more of Google’s Material Design guidelines and the icons no longer look like out-of-place and inspired by iOS.
The biggest new feature of all? An app drawer. It sounds so simple, but finally EMUI brings the option for an app drawer in the settings. It’s not enabled by default – and when it is activated, there seems to be a one second lag before the home screen shows when you return from an app – but the app drawer brings the familiar Android interface, and vastly improves the overall user experience.
The result is a familiar software experience chiseled and refined into something closer to the bone of Android.
Android 7.0 Nougat also brings some improvements and tweaks that lend to the overall experience and it’s refreshing to see that Huawei has resisted previous habits of overhauling everything. Instead, EMUI 5 brings tweaks to the stock Android experience with Huawei showing flair and tweaks in selected locations rather than throughout the OS. The result is a familiar software experience chiseled and refined into something closer to the bone of Android.
Swiping down from the top brings a new, darker notification shade that displays more icons than before and can be heavily customised. In the settings menu, there’s an option to toggle between individual notification icons in the top bar or the total number of unread notifications. For the data-driven type of user, there’s also the option to display the current network speed – surprisingly useful at diagnosing when you have connectivity issues – as well as the carrier name, which is useful to distinguish between carriers when you’re using two SIM cards.
Moving further around EMUI 5 and one thing is clear; this is a rapid interface, with bloatware – on the global version at least – kept to a minimum. The few preloaded apps can generally be uninstalled, save for a few that Huawei uses to provide core EMUI f5 features. The launcher is fast, full of features and heavily customisable and aside from the aforementioned slight stutter when you have the app drawer enabled, there is no noticeable lag. Although the launcher’s color scheme is pleasant and usable, if it’s not for you, there are plenty of themes available in Huawei’s theme store, although these won’t change the look and feel of Huawei’s own default apps.
During a briefing on EMUI 5 in China, Huawei revealed that EMUI 5 had been redesigned to ensure most tasks were only a couple of taps away. The exact figures they quote are being able to reach 50% of features within two taps and over 92% within three taps and nowhere is this more noticeable than in the settings menu. In previous generations, you’d find options nested inside options inside further options and so on, but with EMUI 5, the Settings menu is more user friendly and easier to navigate.
Take the battery menu for example; in EMUI 4.1, the battery menu could be found nested three levels deep but in EMUI 5, it’s a top-level menu. Dig into this menu and you’ll find the usual plethora of options including an ultra-power saving mode (which reduces your usage to a couple of apps only), regular power saving and the ability to reduce the screen resolution to eek out the last hours of your battery.
Battery management has also been revamped in EMUI 5, with a large improvement in the way the interface handles power-intensive apps. Previously, Huawei phones would prompt you with constant notifications about resource-heavy apps, and these are a lot less persistent in EMUI 5. Huawei’s new machine learning algorithm can be seen at work here as apps that you use frequently – in my case, this include Slack and FIFA Mobile – will appear in these prompts but won’t be killed off by default. EMUI now also gives you the option to blacklist rogue apps that might be the cause of battery drain and have them automatically killed when you turn off your display.
EMUI 5 also adds the ability to use multiple accounts with single-account applications like WhatsApp and Facebook, using the Twin App feature. How does EMUI does this? Essentially, the Mate 9 runs two instances of the app at the same time. If you have two SIM cards and have been frustrated as you couldn’t run Whatsapp with both numbers on the same phone, then the Twin App feature is the perfect solution.
What about the Porsche Design Mate 9? Does the curved display have any software benefits? In a word: no. The software experience is almost identical, save for some ugly Porsche Design themes, tweaks to UI tuning to take advantage of the high res display and a dark mode to save on battery life. The biggest difference is in day-to-day usage, where the on-screen keys from the regular Mate 9 are replaced by back and recent apps keys flanking the home button; these keys aren’t labelled so you can swap them around and work just like you’d expect. Although it is possible to disable the keys and navigate by swiping the home key, it doesn’t really work as well as you’d hope, and we wish using on-screen keys like the regular Mate 9 was an option.
EMUI 5 is smooth, feature-rich and easily Huawei’s best software to-date
Overall, EMUI 5 feels more polished than previous generations and with a lot of features built-in like Samsung’s TouchWiz, it may yet serve as the next best alternative to the Galaxy Note 7. From EMUI 4 to EMUI 5, Huawei shows just how much can be achieved by listening to customer feedback. The result are clear to see: EMUI 5 is smooth, feature-rich and easily Huawei’s best software to-date.
Huawei Mate 9: Gallery
Huawei Mate 9: Specifications
|Size||Height: 156.9mm; Width: 78.9mm; Depth: 7.9mm|
|Colors||Space Gray, Moonlight Silver, Champagne Gold, Mocha Brown, Ceramic White|
|Display||5.9” FHD display|
|1080p (1920 x 1080), 373ppi|
|16.7M colors, Color saturation (NTSC) 96%|
|High contrast 1500:1 (Typical)|
|CPU||HUAWEI Kirin 960; Octa-core (4 x 2.4 GHz A73 + 4 x 1.8 GHz A53) + i6 co-processor|
|Operating System||Android™ 7.0 (Nougat)|
|Emotion UI||EMUI 5.0|
|microSD card slot, support up to 256GB (uses SIM 2 slot)|
|Dual SIM||Dual SIM|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 2.4G/5G, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac with Wi-Fi Direct support|
|BT4.2, support BLE|
|USB Type C (High Speed USB)|
|Camera||Front: 8MP AF, F1.9|
|Main: Dual, 20MP Monochrome + 12MP RGB, F2.2|
|OIS (Optical Image Stabilization)|
|Battery||4000 mAh (Typical Value)|
Huawei Mate 9: Price & Final Thoughts
The Mate 9 isn’t a revolutionary upgrade over its predecessor, nor is it going to be for everyone, but it does excel in the key areas that Huawei intended it to: battery, performance and camera. 2016 is arguably the year where Huawei broke through, first with the P9 and now with the Mate 9. With all things considered, the Mate 9 is probably the best big-screen Android smartphone you can buy right now.
The very-public demise of the Galaxy Note 7, coupled with the current trend for smartphone displays to measure 5.5-inches or less, means the Mate 9 is one of just a handful of big Android devices currently available. The LG V20 is another of these but there doesn’t seem to be an LG V20 launch planned for Europe, meaning the Mate 9 is the only big-screen flagship currently available for this market.
What will the Mate 9 cost? At the launch in Munich, Huawei confirmed the Mate 9 would cost €699 when it launches in Europe this month. Pricing for the US is yet to be confirmed but given the EU pricing, it’s likely to cost around $700 when it launches at CES in January. For those in the US that really want it right now though, you can find it online for around $750. This pricing puts the Mate 9 firmly in the flagship Android smartphone category, and while it’s not perfect, it can definitely hold its own against other devices.
What about the Porsche Design Mate 9? Well, if the glorious QHD display, subtle curves and stylish design have piqued your interest, it will set you back €1,395. Yep, the Porsche Design Mate 9 costs over a thousand Euros, which makes it a luxury smartphone, that isn’t designed for the mass market.
If you’re after a smartphone that offers exceptional battery life, an intriguing dual camera and incredible performance, the Mate 9 delivers in spades
Should you buy either of them? If you’re after a smartphone that offers exceptional battery life, an intriguing dual camera and incredible performance, the Mate 9 delivers in spades. If money is no object and you want a smartphone that is unattainable to most customers, the Porsche Design Mate 9 is certainly worth considering.
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Honor Magic tucks Huawei’s latest smarts into a slab of glass
Huawei is probably best known for its Leica-branded smartphones aimed at high-end users, but its e-commerce brand Honor has also been busy entertaining affordable markets with some surprisingly nice devices — namely the 8 and the Note 8. To wrap up the year, today the company announced the Honor Magic to showcase some of its latest goodies. “This is an experimental product of ours,” said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group. “This concept phone will help us pre-evaluate uncertain future technologies.” In a nutshell, the Magic is a mix of fresh design, faster charging tech, smarter assistant and interesting improvements on other aspects of user experience.
First and foremost, the device comes with a nice 5.09-inch AMOLED curved display with QHD resolution (577 ppi), and Honor took one step further by also curving the top side. These three round edges are mirrored to the phone’s glass back, so if it weren’t for the metallic chin and mid-frame, the Magic would resemble a piece of polished black pebble. And because of the moderate body size plus the curved back, the Magic feels nice in my hand.
To my surprise, the Magic is powered by an aging Kirin 950 — the same octa-core SoC inside last year’s Mate 8 — which is quite disappointing for a “concept phone.” That said, it still comes with 4GB of RAM plus 64GB of internal storage, the same set of cameras as the Honor 8 (a 12-megapixel f/2.2 dual-lens camera plus an 8-megapixel f/2.4 selfie camera), global LTE bands and dual SIM connectivity (but secondary SIM is limited to 2G). Gone are the usual Android navigation keys below the screen; they are all rolled into the multi-function fingerprint reader on the front: Press for home, double tap to show recent apps and swipe left to go back. I’m not a fan of this implementation, but it does free up some space on the bezel for easier holding.
The 2,900 mAh battery here may not sound so appealing when many of the latest flagship phones are offering an extra 300 to 800 mAh more juice, but the focus here is actually on the battery’s new graphite structure courtesy of Huawei’s 2012 Lab. According to internal tests, a 10-minute charge can already get a depleted battery back to 40 percent, whereas a 20-minute charge gets you up to 70 percent. Based on our quick percentage conversion, this appears to be breaking the record previously set by the Moto Z Force and its 30W charger. And for those who are wondering, Honor pointed out that there are protection mechanisms in the phone, the charger and even the bundled cable to keep you safe.
One less noticeable addition on the Magic is the infrared camera on the front, which makes use of Tobii’s eye-tracking algorithm. When you pick up the phone, the screen will automatically turn on only when you’re looking at it. This means you won’t have to find the power button while picking up the phone. On top of that there’s the FaceCode feature: The notification content on the lock screen is hidden by default, but it’s automatically displayed when the phone recognizes your registered face.
Things get even more interesting on the software side. Honor’s Magic Live UI is based on Android 6.0 and packs many situation-aware features. My favorite one is the lock screen shortcut key that’s automatically generated based on one’s daily habit. For instance, over time the phone will learn that when you go to work at 8AM you tend to listen to music, so it’ll show the music app’s icon in the bottom left corner of the lock screen around that time; at noon you tend to use a restaurant guide app to find a spot for lunch, so the shortcut will be there for you then; and so on. Another useful scenario is when you whip out the phone in the dark, that same spot will give you the flashlight button just in case.
The Magic’s lock screen also automatically brings up relevant information based on your location, messages and purchase history. Say when you’re off to pick up a parcel from the courier, the phone will load up your parcel’s tracking number as you approach one of the designated collection points. Likewise with electronic boarding passes when you’re at the airport, and the same goes for movie tickets when you’re at the cinema. Soon after booking a cab through an app — Didi Chuxing, in this case — the lock screen will also retain the driver’s details until your ride starts. All of this is a bit like Google Now but without having to unlock your phone (and besides, Google Now doesn’t work in China unless you use VPN).
The list of intelligent features on the Magic doesn’t stop there, so we’ll keep it brief: There’s driving detection to remind the user to switch to the driving interface (Motorola did this first with the Moto X back in 2013); when on WeChat, the default keyboard recommends an answer whenever you get a generic question — be it about the weather or an address; and long press the home button to toggle DeepThink on-screen keyword search (which is Huawei’s own take on Google Now’s screen search feature).
Alas, unlike previous Honor devices, the Magic doesn’t come cheap: It’s priced at 3,699 yuan which is about $530 — just a tad more expensive than Xiaomi’s very own “concept phone,” the Mi MIX. Not that it matters for most of us, anyway, as we understand that much like the Mi MIX, the Magic won’t be available outside China. But if all goes well, some of the aforementioned features may eventually end up on future Huawei-branded devices, so just sit back and let others be Huawei’s guinea pigs for the time being.
The Huawei Mate 9 stands out with long battery life and a little AI
Huawei needs new tricks to differentiate its products from the crowd of Chinese phones permeating the US market, and it’s turning to artificial intelligence to set it apart. The Mate 9 is a new Android device that offers a “Machine Learning Algorithm” that purports to learn your habits over time and optimize performance so that the device is more responsive. The Mate 9, which is expected to arrive in the US soon (although the exact timing is unknown), also has one of the largest displays on the market. We don’t yet know how much it’ll cost in the US, but we expect the Mate 9 to sell for about the same as it does in Europe (€699), which would make it slightly more affordable than other leading big-screen flagships too. That, along with the promised performance boost and supposedly safer battery tech, might be reason enough to consider the Mate 9 as your next large-screen smartphone.
Huawei has proven in recent years that it is capable of crafting a gorgeous device. The Mate 9 is another example of this though its design is reminiscent of other Android phones such as the ZTE Axon 7 and Huawei’s own P9. The all-metal unibody, rounded corners, sloping back and shiny silver accents give it a premium, modern look. My review unit is silver, but gray, gold, white and black are also available.
The Mate 9 has a relatively large 5.9-inch screen, but the phone doesn’t feel much bigger than competing devices with 5.5-inch displays. There are no physical keys on the device’s front, and you’ll have to rely on software buttons to get around the interface.
On the Mate 9’s back sits a dual-lens camera, with the word Leica faintly printed in between the two sensors. Below that is a slightly indented pinkie-sized fingerprint sensor; the rest of the phone’s matte rear has a smooth texture. The phone’s left edge houses a dual-SIM tray, and one of the slots is also capable of holding a microSD card. At the bottom is a USB-C port for charging and data transfer, and on the top edge is (you can breathe a sigh of relief here) a 3.5mm headphone jack. Huawei didn’t make any drastic changes to its overall aesthetic; this handset looks a lot like its predecessor and the P9 and falls in line with what we’ve come to expect from the Chinese phone maker.
Now, if you want the Mate 9 in a fancier chassis, you should consider the Porsche Design version, which will be available for €1,395 in Europe later this month, and globally (except the US) in January. Despite having the same guts as the regular Mate 9, this model is slightly smaller, and its curved edges make it feel thinner. The all-black exterior and so-called graphite finish lend it a classy, mysterious air — like a phone James Bond would use. Other than its better-looking frame, though, the Porsche Design Mate 9 is no different from the regular, save for some included themes and Porsche apps.
Display and sound
Although it’s not as pixel dense as others on the market, the Mate 9’s 5.9-inch display still manages to deliver crisp, rich images. The screen’s colors are actually nicely saturated for an LCD panel, which usually lacks the deep blacks and high contrast of OLED displays. The pink furniture and orange flames in the music video for Britney Spears’ Slumber Party, for instance, looked vibrant and bold.
Viewing angles are generous too though darker backgrounds were slightly hard to see when the phone was tilted far away from me. The screen also gets very bright (a scorching 677 nits at maximum intensity), which makes the screen easy to view in most lighting conditions.
If, for some reason, you don’t like the display’s color temperature, you can tweak it through the settings, dragging a slider to make it as blue or orange as you’d like. I liked the original warmth of the panel, so I didn’t find this particular feature very helpful. In addition to the default setting, you can choose what Huawei calls “Eye Comfort,” which immediately gives the interface a warm, yellowish cast. This is similar to Night Shift on iOS and is designed to reduce the blue light that can interrupt your body’s circadian rhythms.
The phone’s bottom-mounted speaker is also loud enough to fill my apartment with sound, but certain songs, including my current earworm (Oh Lord by Mic Lowry), are lacking in bass. Tracks that are percussion-heavy, like Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic, also tend to get slightly tinny at top volume, but you’ll rarely need to crank it to the max anyway.
Like other Huawei handsets, the Mate 9 runs the company’s own Emotion UI 5.0 over Android (7.0 Nougat, to be precise). EMUI has several differences from stock Android, with the most obvious being no apps drawer by default (you’ll instead see endless home pages, similar to iOS). However, you can now choose in the settings to use a drawer if that’s more your speed. You’ll also find more options in the quick settings panel than were there before — stuff like Huawei Share, Floating Dock and Screen Recording.
Floating Dock is a new feature that, when enabled, places a penny-sized circle on the screen. You can anchor this to the left or right side of the display, and tap it to show the home, back and all apps keys that are also at the bottom of the screen. This makes navigating such a large device easier because you won’t have to stretch your finger all the way to the bottom to reach the buttons.
The latest version of EMUI was streamlined to make it easier to get to common settings. Indeed, nowhere is that more evident than in the Settings app. The blue-and-white theme will take some getting used to, but the new search bar at the top makes finding specific tools more convenient. You’ll also get the so-called knuckle-sensing features as on previous versions of EMUI, which lets you knock on the display to outline screenshots or start screen recordings.
In place of the typical Android apps like Messages and Photos, you’ll find Huawei’s own offerings. These are mostly skinned versions of Google’s own apps though they give you some additional functionality. For example, the Contacts app has a tool that lets you scan business cards to create new listings. Huawei also threw in some helpful apps like Files, Notepad, Calculator and Phone Manager, the last of which optimizes the Mate 9’s performance by closing unnecessary apps and processes. That app also performs virus scans and lets you lock specific apps behind a password or your fingerprint.
Along with these useful tools, Huawei also included a small set of unnecessary apps like Booking.com and News Republic. But as far as bloatware goes, this is a relatively short list — and everything is stashed away in an unobtrusive folder too.
Ultimately, the biggest difference between EMUI 5.0 and previous iterations of the software is its machine-learning algorithm, and that’s not even something you can see. Weirdly, on that note, Huawei also doesn’t let you set your own macros, such as preparing to launch Facebook right after you close Messages. It’s not clear if this will ever happen, but it’d be a nice tool for power users. Still, the new EMUI offers a host of ways to customize your interface, which should appease people who want a less heavy-handed UI.
Huawei has once again teamed up with famed camera maker Leica to “co-engineer” its imaging system. Like the Huawei P9 that was unveiled in April, the Mate 9 has a dual-lens system on its rear that’s similar to the iPhone 7 Plus. One sensor captures 12-megapixel RGB data while the other records 20-megapixel monochrome information. Together, they’re supposed to deliver rich colors and fine details.
I was generally happy with the pictures I took; they were typically sharp though often overexposed. They also generally lacked the vivid colors you’d get from, say, the Galaxy S7 or one of the Google Pixels. Photos taken with the Mate 9 in low light were also grainier than what I got from the other two handsets. As on previous devices, Huawei is offering a Night Shot mode that’s supposed to take better images in the dark, thanks to longer exposure. This starts a 10- to 17-second recording session, during which any movement of phone blurs the scene. You’d either have to use a tripod, or sit extremely still for your photos to come out clean.
Still, thanks to a wide aperture mode on the camera, you’ll be able to achieve a pleasant depth-of-field effect on your shots. Though the rear lenses have fixed apertures of f/2.2, you can play with the software setting here to make it seem wider than that. The feature is also easy to enable and disable; a tap of the aperture icon on top of the viewfinder turns it on and off. This effect works well on pictures of people or food, but slows down the capture of landscapes as the camera struggles to find a foreground to keep in focus.
An example of wide aperture mode applied with maximum blur.
The nice thing about Huawei’s implementation here compared to Apple and Samsung’s is that the Mate 9 lets you decide how much blur you want before you take the shot. You can drag a slider on the screen to choose just how much background you want out of focus. Samsung’s All Focus tool only lets you do that after you take the picture, while Apple’s tool doesn’t let you customize the level of intensity.
Unfortunately, wide aperture mode does not extend to the front camera, where it would have made my selfies pop. Still, the 8-megapixel front camera captured sharp images with mostly accurate colors. Sometimes, when shooting indoors and with Beauty Mode activated, the Mate 9 tended to overexpose, resulting in garishly colored lips and excessive contrast. At its default setting of five on a scale of one to ten, Beauty Mode made people look artificial, with the rest of the image appearing blown out, to boot. Dialing down to level three and below alleviated the problem though.
Overall, the Mate 9’s cameras are capable of capturing decent photos that are clear and colorful, and that wide aperture mode is nifty, but they won’t impress you like the iPhone 7 Plus or Google Pixel will.
Performance and battery life
In a sea of phones powered by Qualcomm’s mobile processors, the Mate 9 stands out for using Huawei’s octa-core Kirin 960 processor. This allows the company to tweak both hardware and software to offer some extra features, like that Machine Learning Algorithm I mentioned, which promises smoother and more responsive performance. In other words, the Mate 9 will learn your behavior over time and optimize performance so it appears faster to you.
Say, for example, you habitually open Instagram right after you close Twitter. The algorithm will remember your behavior and eventually start diverting resources like part of its 4GB of RAM to prepare Instagram the next time you have Twitter open.
During my time testing the Mate 9, the set of actions I performed the most were launching the Gallery app right after closing the camera, as well as checking a battery drain application after looping a video on MX Player. The thing is, I couldn’t really tell if the overall smoothness I experienced on the Mate 9 was due to artificial intelligence or simply thanks to a relatively new, speedy processor. It’s not as if there’s a way for me to A/B test that. Jumping from app to app was a lag-free experience, and I noticed no difference in smoothness whether I was opening programs I had previously used or those that I had never launched. I ran a screen recording app while loading up a game and scrolling up and down repeatedly on Engadget’s page on Chrome, and didn’t encounter a hiccup.
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
3DMark IS Unlimited
GFXBench 3.0 1080p Manhattan Offscreen (fps)
The Mate 9’s performance on synthetic benchmarks puts it in the same league as leading flagships like the Google Pixel and the Galaxy S7. It beat competing phones, including both versions of the Pixel, the Galaxy S7 Edge and the HTC 10, on the browser-based Vellamo but lost to the Pixel XL and the HTC 10 on AndEBench. The Mate 9 didn’t fare as well on graphics-intensive tests, falling behind the two Pixels on 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited. Even then, the gap wasn’t huge. The Mate 9 still outperformed the Samsung and HTC devices on that test too.
All of that horsepower is matched by a generous 4,000mAh battery, which Huawei promises will provide 20 hours of continuous video playback. On Engadget’s rundown test, which involves looping an HD video with the brightness set to 50 percent, the Mate 9 lasted an impressive 14 hours and 34 minutes. That’s 20 minutes longer than the Pixel XL, one hour longer than the Galaxy, and a whopping two hours more than the Pixel.
In the real world, that longevity meant I barely had to recharge the Mate 9 (except after battery tests) during my review period. After I left the phone in my purse for two days without using it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it still retained 80 percent of its power. On a typical workday, too, during which I received notifications throughout the day, snapped a bunch of pictures and uploaded dozens of images to my Google Drive, it sipped power at a slow rate. At the end of the day, the battery life rating had dipped from 57 percent at the start of the day to 36 percent in the evening.
When it did need recharging, the Mate 9 got back up to 55 percent within an hour of being plugged in, thanks to Huawei’s SuperCharge technology. That’s fast, considering how large the battery is and how long 55 percent can last. Getting through the first 10 percent was slower, though; it took about 20 minutes to fill up.
In case you were worried that squeezing a big battery into a thin frame could make the phone susceptible to exploding (as was reportedly what happened with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7), Huawei promises its battery is safe. The company says it uses a five-gate protection system that monitors real-time temperature, voltage and current to “eliminate safety hazards and safeguard battery life.” Indeed, during my testing, the Mate 9 never got too warm, even during resource-intensive tasks.
It’s hard to find comparisons for the Mate 9 when we don’t yet know how much it’ll cost or when it will launch in the US, but perhaps we’ll find out at Huawei’s CES press conference early next month. But based on its European pricing (€699 or about $752), it looks like the Huawei phone will go up against the Google Pixel XL ($769 and up) and the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (north of $760 through most carriers).
While both the Pixel XL and the S7 Edge offer ample, 5.5-inch screens, the Mate 9’s roomier 5.9-inch panel will appeal to those who need even more real estate to for easier reading, gaming or multitasking. The Mate 9 also has the longest endurance of the lot.
However, both the Pixel and the Galaxy have much better cameras than the Mate 9, while the Pixel in particular runs a cleaner version of Nougat, making it the best choice for Android purists.
Ultimately, what sets the Huawei Mate 9 apart is its large screen and excellent battery life. Although the company has been touting its machine-learning algorithm, it’s something that you won’t notice or think about unless performance starts to suffer. Either way, the Mate 9 is a perfectly capable device. That said, photography aficionados and stock-Android fans will still prefer the Pixel. Instead, the Mate 9 will mostly appeal to those who want a large canvas to watch videos or play games in a phone that’s not too hefty. If the handset’s US price is close to what it costs in Europe, it could be a slightly more affordable option than some rivals, making it a good value for the performance it delivers.
Huawei’s MediaPad M3 is out now for $299
After launching in Europe this September, Huawei’s high-end Android tablet has finally made its way stateside. Available now to order on Amazon, the 8.4-inch MediaPad M3 ships on November 20th. Although Europe got 32GB, 64GB and 128GB versions, complete with 4G and WiFi options, only the 32GB WiFi model has made it over to the US, priced at $299.
Announced at this year’s IFA, the MediaPad M3 is a tablet with an unsurprising focus on media. Huawei is aiming to court those who love watching movies on the go with the M3, as it boasts a 2,560 x 1,600 display, high resolution audio support, Harmon Kardon-certified speakers and a generous 5,100mAh battery. Additionally, Huawei says its 10.1-inch MediaPad M2, another tablet already available in Europe, will join the M3 in the US next month.
Engadget giveaway: Win an Honor 8 smartphone courtesy of Huawei!
There’s something personal about a smartphone. It stays with you day-to-day or, heck, even moment-to-moment, so it helps to have a sleek design and quality camera on board to capture the moments you experience. Huawei’s recently released Honor 8 fits the bill, offering a premium exterior and the increasingly popular dual camera setup.
On the outside, the 5.2-inch Honor 8 is sheathed in subtly curved 2.5D glass with an aircraft-grade aluminum trim and the ability to catch light in artistic ways. The 12-megapixel dual camera gives you the tools to capture scenes in full splendor and the 8-megapixel front-facing cam will make your selfies shine. Huawei’s own EMUI 4.0 OS is laid upon an Android 6.0 foundation and its fast-charging battery will help you keep your life moving. With all these flourishes, the $400 price makes it a great option for your next pocketable life partner. This week, Huawei has provided us with one of its Honor 8 smartphones for a lucky reader to enjoy in time for the holidays. All you need to do is head to the Rafflecopter widget below for up to three chances at winning!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
- Entries are handled through the Rafflecopter widget above. Comments are no longer accepted as valid methods of entry. You may enter without any obligation to social media accounts, though we may offer them as opportunities for extra entries. Your email address is required so we can get in touch with you if you win, but it will not be given to third parties.
- Contest is open to all residents of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Canada (excluding Quebec), 18 or older! Sorry, we don’t make this rule (we hate excluding anyone), so direct your anger at our lawyers and contest laws if you have to be mad.
- Winners will be chosen randomly. One (1) winner will receive one (1) Huawei Honor 8 smartphone ($399 value).
- If you are chosen, you will be notified by email. Winners must respond within three days of being contacted. If you do not respond within that period, another winner will be chosen. Make sure that the account you use to enter the contest includes your real name and a contact email. We do not track any of this information for marketing or third-party purposes.
- This unit is purely for promotional giveaway. Engadget and AOL are not held liable to honor warranties, exchanges or customer service.
- The full list of rules, in all its legalese glory, can be found here.
- Entries can be submitted until Nov. 18th at 11:59PM ET. Good luck!
Huawei’s new Mate 9 wants to be a smarter kind of smartphone
Huawei’s slice of the worldwide mobile pie isn’t as big as it used to be, but hey — at least it keeps getting better at making big phones. We didn’t know it would be the last Nexus phone, but the 6P was a solid sendoff. Then came the enormous Mate 8, which was incredibly well built (even if the company’s EMUI interface sometimes made me want to jam a fork in my eye). With the new Mate 9, however, Huawei is trying to do things a little differently. Case in point: the phone will eventually launch in the US, a first for the company’s flagship phablets. And that stuffed-to-the-gills custom interface? It’s been streamlined thanks to Huawei’s new user experience chief. Fortunately, the company’s smart moves don’t seem to end there.
For one, the Mate 9 feels impeccably solid, with a sloping back, rounded edges and an almost complete lack of bezel running around the sides. All together, these flourishes make the Mate 9 feel like a premium piece of kit and a little smaller than you’d expect. That last bit is especially important since the Mate 9 sports an enormous 5.9-inch, 1080p LCD screen — it’s still big, but surprisingly manageable. It helps that the Mate 9 is light too, so it’ll fit into a Daydream VR-compatible headset without straining your neck.
It would’ve been nice to see Huawei run with an even more pixel-dense display considering that Daydream compatibility, but the screen we did get seemed bright and plenty punchy. That more modest resolution probably helps the Mate 9’s 4,000mAh battery do its thing, too, and the SuperCharge tech Huawei has been working on should get a bone dry Mate to almost 60 percent in a half hour.
Huawei once again chose a Kirin chipset — the high-end 960 — to take on the Exynoses and Snapdragons of the world. It’s an octa-core affair paired with 4GB of RAM and an octa-core Mali graphics processor. We’ll have to wait and see the Mate 9 stacks up to the rest of 2016’s best phones, but the unfinished models we took for a spin didn’t break a sweat, even as we tried to break them. (Note to the Huawei folks reading this: I’m kidding. Sort of.) Now, sheer power is one thing — applying it more intelligently is a whole other matter. Ever notice how smartphones, like computers, start to run more slowly over time? Huawei says it’s using a machine-learning algorithm to prevent that power drain from happening.
To hear Huawei tell it, the algorithm looks for patterns in how you use your device over time. If you like to play Hearthstone immediately after using Twitter, for example, the Mate 9 should pick up on that and optimize available memory and CPU performance while you’re still checking tweets. The Mate 9 also uses a specific kind of storage system that keeps your saved bits from getting fragmented for even better performance down the road. This all sounds pretty great, but you should still probably take these claims with a grain of salt. Huawei promises that performance won’t suffer over time, but there’s really no way for us to check those claims right now.
The thing about using Huawei phones was that even though they pack a lot of power, the underlying software and interface was always sort of a mess. They’re working on it, though, and we’ve got a new version of Huawei’s EMUI that honestly does feel a little less cluttered. Icons have been redesigned, for one, and features that get used frequently are now easier to get to. That might not sound like a huge step forward, but it is. The EMUI of old involved a lot of putzing around, but now, something like 90 percent of the features people use most frequently are accessible within three taps. Beyond that facelift is the ability to run messaging apps like WeChat and Line in a split-screen mode, and a sort of private zone where you can store files and apps you don’t want others peeking at. It’s still a long way from stock, but there’s a good chance you won’t hate this software.
Then we’ve got the cameras. You guessed it: Huawei took a cue from the P9 and gave the Mate 9 a dual-camera system. There’s a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor around back that adds extra detail to the color data captured by the main 12-megapixel sensor. Together they’re Leica-certified, and together they’re used for a sort of 2x zoom mode… which the company has been pretty bad at explaining. Throw in the usual slew of photo modes and a handy adjustable aperture feature in software and you’ve got the makings of a fun, fascinating smartphone shooter.
Huawei hasn’t said when the Mate 9 will hit the US, or how much it’ll cost when it does. Even so, the Mate 9 leaves a strong first impression — in light of stiff competition in its native China and abroad, it’s nice to see Huawei’s bringing its A-game. Stay tuned for more juicy details as we learn them.
The Huawei Fit feels cheaper than its $130 price
It’s almost gift-giving season, and companies are scrambling to release products that will fill your loved ones’ stockings later this year. And plenty of people are considering options for the fitness fiends in their lives. Huawei threw its name in the ring today with the newly unveiled Fit, an activity tracker (with some smartwatch characteristics) that constantly monitors your heart rate. It’s also really thin and light, to the point where it actually feels kind of chintzy. The device costs $129, which is $20 less than the Fitbit Charge 2. I’ve spent about two days with a preview unit of the Fit, and so far, I think there are better options on the market.
Don’t get me wrong, there are things I like about the Fit. As a watch purist, I like that it has a round face. I also dig its clean aesthetic. At 11.2mm, its silver-colored aluminum case is thinner than most smartwatches, making it so comfortable that I often forgot it was on my wrist. There are no knobs, dials or buttons, other than a reset button on the underside, which keeps the overall design uncluttered. However, that left me confused as to how to turn on the device when I first unboxed it. As it turns out, I didn’t have to — it’s always on, as long as it’s charged.
I also appreciate how lightweight the Fit is, but although the device feels sturdy overall, it still manages to feel cheap. What’s more, three of my colleagues agreed when I asked for another opinion. That may be due to the watch’s silicone band, which wouldn’t look or feel out of place inside a McDonald’s Happy Meal box. This could be a difference in taste, but it’s worth noting that many people prefer a little heft in a $130 device.
The Fit is available in three band colors. I got an orange one, but my favorite’s the blue. If you’re boring, a black option is also available, although it’ll be a Best Buy exclusive until the end of November. You can also swap in any 18mm watch strap if you’re so inclined.
The Fit’s 1.04-inch, 208×208-pixel LCD touchscreen displays your stats in black and white, and it is easy to read indoors. An ambient light sensor activates the backlight so you can read it in the dark, but it’s harder to make out in strong light. You can’t adjust the brightness either, so there’s no way to tweak visibility in different environments. Another thing that made the display hard to read: It picks up smudges very easily — indeed, smears and fingerprints sometimes obstructed my view.
I like that the Fit constantly shows the time, so that I didn’t have to wait for it to wake up before finding out exactly how late in the day it was. That, together with the fact that the onboard heart rate monitor (HRM) was checking my pulse every 10 minutes, made Huawei’s battery life claim of six days somewhat impressive. That’s similar to the five-day estimate that Fitbit gives for the Charge 2. I’ve only been using the Fit for two days, so I can’t vouch for its endurance, but its indicator suggests the battery is still basically full.
In addition to tracking your pulse, the Fit is capable of quite a few tasks,though they’re all typical for the category. With its onboard accelerometer, gyroscope and HRM, it automatically keeps tabs on your steps, sleep, time elapsed, calories burned, cardio zone and distance traveled (when connected to your phone’s GPS). The new Huawei Wear app for iOS and Android also lets you create customized workout plans to meet goals such as running a 5K, 10K, half marathon or full marathon. The schedule will be beamed to your wrist so you can stay on target without having to pull out your phone.
For those who are interested in activities other than running, Fit also has workout modes for walking and cycling, and will follow your distance, time, fat burning and aerobic performance during those workouts. You can start a session from your wrist or from your phone, if you want to tap its GPS for distance tracking.
The Fit is rated IP68 and 5 ATMs for water resistance, which, in layman’s terms, means it can withstand submersion at up to 50 meters. The goal is to add swim tracking capability to the Fit by 2017, but this feature is not yet live.
Like many other fitness bands on the market, the Fit will remind you to get up and move if you’ve been idle for 30 minutes or longer. I got an alert in the middle of writing this story, and the watch showed an animated stick figure doing some stretches to prod me into action. (I ignored it because who has time for that?) And just like the rest of its competition, the Fit will buzz to alert you of incoming calls, texts and messages from apps such as WeChat and Facebook. The list of apps that can send notifications to the Fit is short at the moment, but Huawei says it’s working on adding more.
During my time with it, the Fit was slow to read my pulse. I’m used to the Charge 2’s speedy response time, so the relatively long 12 seconds I had to wait for the Fit’s readout probably drove my heart rate way up.
Folks with more patience can probably live with that delay (and the Fit’s other minor shortcomings) in exchange for its relatively low price. For the money, it offers a decent list of features, especially that constant HRM, and a clean design. But $20 is a small price to pay to upgrade to the more-powerful Fitbit Charge 2, which has a better display and faster sensor. Ultimately, the Huawei Fit’s biggest problem is that it simply doesn’t feel like something you’d spend $130 on. Huawei needs to drop the Fit’s price below $100 if it’s going to stand a chance against the competition.
iPad regains share in a shrinking mobile tablet market
Apple’s share of the tablet market has been sliding for a while, but it’s making a comeback… if not for the reasons the company might prefer. Strategy Analytics estimates that the iPad climbed from 19.1 percent of the market in the third quarter of 2015 to 19.9 percent a year later. However, that’s mainly because the market as a whole shrank 10 percent. The analysts believe that many tablet manufacturers’ shipments dropped year-to-year, and that Apple simply experienced a smaller decline than most. The one major exception is Amazon, whose $49 Fire tablet helped its shipments more than double.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that Apple is on the wrong track. Strategy Analytics argues that the iPad Pro line puts Apple “on the path to recovery” by giving the company a laptop-like tablet that wasn’t an option before. However, it does show that Apple is consciously veering away from the strategies of its peers. Many of its Android rivals are shifting attention to 2-in-1 Windows tablets, like Lenovo’s Yoga series or Samsung’s TabPro S. Researchers say that Windows hybrid and tablet shipments jumped 25 percent year-over-year in the third quarter — some of those are bound to be from companies no longer convinced they can sell Android tablets as full-on computer substitutes.
The data suggests that the tablet market isn’t so much dying as maturing. Basic mobile tablets will still have an audience among those who just want to read books or watch video, but higher-end slates are taking hold. People want “everyday computing devices” that really can fill in for a conventional PC, according to analysts, and they’re willing to pay more for these devices.
Source: Strategy Analytics
Huawei opens preorders for its Honor 6X phone in China
A month after Huawei started selling its Honor 8 in the US, the company has opened up preordering for its 6X phones in China and to ship out on October 25th. While there’s no news about when that device will reach the rest of Asia, Europe or North America, because the 5X was the first phone in the Honor line to go on sale in the US back in January, it’s a good bed that its successor will follow in time.
As expected, the released spec list describes a beefier 5X, ditching the last generation’s Snapdragon 616 for Huawei’s in-house octo-core Kirin 655 processor. The lowest price tier gets you 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage for about $150, the middle boosts memory up to 4GB for around $190, and the top tier expands space to 64GB for about $240.
The 6X has a dual rear-facing camera (12MP and a second 2MP for depth), while its front one is a respectable 8MP. Like its predecessor, it supports dual-SIM functionality with a microSD slot, though 9to5Google couldn’t confirm whether it has a USB-C connector. It runs Huawei’s EMU 4.1 software on top of Android 6.0 Marshmallow to start, with an update for Nougat likely on the way.
It’s not as powerful as the $400 Honor 8, which comes with a Kirin 950 processor, but the 6X has enough mid-range hardware at low prices to serve as a decent affordable option. At least its 5.5-inch 1080p display covered in 2.5D glass and all-metal build gives it a little class near the bottom of Huawei’s product family.