Everything Huawei has done towards improving their Mate series leads up to the Mate 9. The major improvements to the phone's hardare and software are easy to notice. Will the Mate 9 set the pace for smartphones in 2017? Let's find out.
If you’re familiar with the Huawei Mate 8, then you will recognize some similar design points implemented on the Mate 9. While the full metal unibody design is pretty much standard in their line of flagship phones, Huawei seems to have made it slightly more ergonomic. The subtle curves on the aluminium body lends a premium feel to the phone and I found it comfortable to handle and use.
On one side, we have the power and volume keys while the SIM tray takes up the other side. The USB-C port and dual speakers adorn the bottom of the smartphone, with the 3.5mm audio jack as well as the infrared port could be found on top.
One of the main features worth talking about, the Leica-branded dual camera, can be found on the back along with the fingerprint sensor. The camera is setup in a vertical fashion, as opposed to the horizontal layout found in the Huawei P9. The fingerprint scanner, to no one’s surprise, is blazingly fast and has to be one of the best I’ve ever used.
The Huawei Mate 9 comes with a Full HD (1080 x 1920) 5.9-inch IPS display which has a pixel density of ~373 ppi. While you can easily jump the gun and turn up your nose when you see the FHD label, it does not detract from the fact that the Mate 9 has a gorgeous display screen. The high contrast ratio and brightness settings make up for the lack of resolution and prove that you don’t always need QHD to enjoy an immersive visual experience.
That being said, seeing as how Huawei has mentioned that the Mate 9 is a Daydream VR ready smartphone, a higher quality screen would have been appreciated. The Porsche Design Mate 9 comes with a QHD screen, so it feels as though Huawei might have been limiting themselves in terms of value by giving their flagship phone just a Full HD display.
There are certainly benefits with having a Full HD screen too as they are easier on the battery and you can a larger screen size without emptying your wallet. But if screen resolution is a top priority for you, then this might be a major point of contention.
Hardware and Battery
The Mate 9 packs in some of the most impressive hardware this year in the form of the Kirin 960 chipset. It consists of four Cortex-A73 cores clocked at 2.4GHz as well as four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.8GHz. The Mate 9 is also the first smartphone to come equipped with the Mali-G71 MP8 GPU, which will likely be the graphical processor of choice for most flagship phones in 2017.
When it comes to memory, you’ll find 4GB of RAM and 64 GB storage space, which can be expandable to 256 GB using a microSD card. The dual sim Huawei Mate 9 allows you to swap out the second SIM slot in exchange for a microSD card to match your storage needs.
The fingerprint scanner does more than just unlock your phone. The sensor comes with gesture support features that allow you to navigate your phone to some degree using just the sensor. By pressing down and holding your finger over the sensor, you can return to the home screen or by swiping down, you can open the notifications bar.
Huawei has always been on the cutting edge of battery life and the Mate 9 is no exception. With a massive 4,000mAh battery, it is one of the largest in any Android flagship smartphone. The device easily lasted up to 12 hours with continuous video playback so it stacks up quite well against the best phones on the market. This is partly due to the Full HD display they have opted for rather than the QHD one, so it comes as no surprise.
For general use, the Mate 9 will comfortably last you the entire day and Huawei’s Super Charge feature should bring you back up to full charge in no time.
Huawei has partnered up with Leica to bring a vastly improved dual camera setup to the Mate 9. The camera consists of a 20MP Monochrome sensor and a 12MP RGB sensor that also comes with Optical Image Stabilization.
The dual camera has an interesting process of taking photos, wherein the RGB sensor captures the most vivid colors possible and the monochrome sensor picks out enhanced details. This also enables the Mate 9 to apply the Bokeh effect to photos, which an aesthetic blurring effect in an image.
While I’m no camera aficionado, after fiddling with the Mate 9 for a couple of weeks, I was impressed by the overall clarity and detail in the shots. The colors were vibrant and seemed about as good as you can possibly hope for in a mobile phone camera. You can record video in 4K at 30 frames per second as well as 1080p at 60 frames per second. There’s also the capability of shooting 720p video at 120 frames per second for some epic slow-mo fist fights.
The camera app itself has a PRO mode with multiple settings to tinker and fine-tune, like exposure, ISO and focal points. Using these settings, you can override the auto-focus feature and manually capture the best possible photo according to the scene.
In low-light situations, the Mate 9 makes for a capable mobile camera and the only issues I would ever have would be relating to the stabilization and auto-focus when moving around in low-light scenes. With manual settings, taking photos in dimly lit corners of the street and so on should be no issue.
The wide aperture option thanks to the dual camera sensors allows you to take a photo and then adjust the point of focus in the image at any time after the photo has already been taken. It almost feels like wizardry of some sort and while it certainly can be impressive, it works well only for large objects and scenes.
The front camera on the Huawei Mate 9 features an 8MP sensor with f/1.9 aperture lens and is more than capable of dishing out top-shelf selfies at a moment’s notice. While it does struggle a bit in low-light situations, the color and picture quality is great regardless.
Performance and Software
With the processing power of the Kirin 960 and the 4GB of RAM backing it up, the Huawei Mate 9 races through apps and games without a care. The smartphone uses Android 7.0 Nougat along with Huawei’s EMUI 5.0 software, which is undoubtedly its most refined version so far.
With the ability to add an apps tray, EMUI no longer forces uses to spread apps across the screen and that’s a positive point in our books. According to Huawei, the new machine learning algorithm built into the Mate 9 prioritizes the apps you most often use and makes sure the correct amount of resources is available to ensure smooth operation. While they claim this makes the phone just as fast months later as when you first unboxed it, there’s no clear way to test it for the time being.
Coming down to the benchmark scores, here’s what we found:
The Mate 9 offers an impressive CPU score, right up there with the other flagship smartphones in the market. While the scores relating to graphics seem a bit lower, it’s still a solid score when compared to the requirements by even the most tasking game application.
Packaging and Pricing
Our unboxing video takes care of this part as we see exactly what the Huawei Mate 9 comes with. Inside the minimalistic designed box, we have a pair of earphones, a USB Type-C cable, power adaptor, matte phone cover, SIM tray unlock pin and a tiny micro USB to USB Type-C converter. The last one was especially useful for me as I could use the phone with my portable power banks with ease.