HUAWEI Mate 9 Review

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If you’re in the market for a phablet, the new HUAWEI Mate 9 should already be high on your choice. Featuring a 5.9″ Full HD, 1080p LCD screen, the Mate 9 has one of the largest screen available on a flagship phone with the LG V20 slightly lagging behind at 5.7″. While the screen isn’t quad HD quality or curved liked some other phones, it offers a very vibrant display with good contrast that serves its purpose well.

HUAWEI Mate 9 Specifications
Size Height: 156.9mm; Width: 78.9mm Depth: 7.9mm
Weight 190g
Colors Space Gray / Champagne Gold
Operating System Android™ 7.0 (Nougat)
Memory 64GB ROM / 4GB RAM / microSD card slot
Camera Front: 8MP AF / F1.9 Main: Dual / 20MP Monochrome + 12MP RGB / F2.2
Battery 4000 mAh (non-removable)

Physically, the Mate 9 stays true to the design language that we have seen in previous Huawei’s phones like the P9 and the Mate 8. The company boasts the use of 50 unique processes to construct the unibody metal frame, with a fully symmetric design all around the phone. It comes with a USB Type-c port, a 3.5mm audio jack (yay!), a “4 level” fingerprint scanner, a dual lens camera which was developed with Leica and a dual-SIM/microSD slot.

One of the beauties of the Mate 9 is that while it has almost the same dimensions as the iPhone 7 Plus, its screen is 0.4″ larger than the iPhone 7 Plus’ with a 77.7% screen to body ratio (as compared to iPhone 7 Plus’ 67.7%). It doesn’t feel particularly huge as on would expect of a phablet and the little design details like the subtle curve at the corners and brush patterns at the back makes the phone easy to hold with one hand.

There’s no doubt that the Mate 9 look and feel the part of a premium flagship phone and if you’re accustomed to the 7 Plus’ screen size, you will be right at home with the Mate 9.

In the box of HUAWEI Mate 9
In the box of HUAWEI Mate 9

Right out of the box, you’re equipped with everything you need to get started. Besides the Mate 9 handset, also included is a wired headset, USB Type-C cable, charger, ejection pin and a quick start guide. Similar with the HUAWEI P9, I like how the company thoughtfully included a transparent matt casing for the Mate 9. Knowing that USB Type-C cables are not still not that common, it even threw in a USB-C to Micro USB Adapter for you to convert legacy USB cables to Type-C ones.

Powered by Kirin 960 

The Mate 9's Kirin 960 chipset. Photo Credit: HUAWEI
The Mate 9’s Kirin 960 chipset. Photo Credit: HUAWEI

While we are all very familiar with the Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 (which powers most Android flagship phones like the Samsung Galaxy S7 series, LG V20/G5, HTC 10 and OnePlus 3) and Apple’s A10 (which powers the iPhone 7), Huawei chose the Kirin 960 chipset manufactured by HiSilicon – a semiconductor company that it fully owns.

Featuring the ARM® Cortex Octa-core CPU (4 ARM Cortex A73 and 4 Cortex A53 cores) with the new Mali-G71 GPU, Huawei says the A73/A53 octa-core CPU delivers the best multi-core performance amongst all smartphone system on chips (SoCs) while providing a 15% reduction in power consumption. To date, the Mali-G71 GPU is the first ARM GPU to implement the Bifrost architecture and is capable of handling complex graphical tasks while staying super efficient without draining the battery of the device excessively. At the time of writing, the Huawei Mate 9 and Mate 9 Pro are the only two phones powered by the Mali-G71 GPU with rumours of it being also used in the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S8.

Mate 9’s Machine Learning Algorithm. Photo credit: HUAWEI

With the Kirin 960 chipset, together with the Mate 9’s Machine Learning Algorithms, Huawei wants to address the elephant in the room when it comes to Android phones’ performance in the long run. It is common knowledge that most Android phones, while perform snappily at the beginning would lose their responsiveness over time and start to lag even when performing the simple day to day tasks.

Huawei says that the Mate 9 is able to adapt and understand behavior patterns and offers a 50% increase in system response over time. While I didn’t have the opportunity to test the phone over a period of time, in the short one week plus with the phone, the Mate 9 handled almost every task thrown at it with ease even when running multiple entertainment (Spotify, YouTube, Camera) and social media/messaging (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Telegram etc) apps in the background.

The Mate 9 comes with a large 4000mAh battery. Photo credit: HUAWEI
The Mate 9 comes with a large 4000mAh battery. Photo credit: HUAWEI

With the recent cases of the exploding Samsung Note 7 still fresh on everyone’s mind, it’s only logical that phone companies are taking the extra efforts to reassure customers the many precautions it is taking to prevent such incidents from happening. Equipped with the Mate 9 is its Super Safe 5-gate protection that offers real-time voltage and temperature monitoring to virtually eliminate safety hazards and safeguard battery life – which means the chances of your phone catching fire while charging is next to none.

The Mate 9 also comes with a massive battery of 4,000 mAh (LG G5 – 3200 mAh, Note 7 – 3500 mAh, you get the idea) and the phone made good on its promise of a 2-day battery life. Like most flagship Android phones, the Mate 9 also comes with its own SuperCharge technology which promises a full day’s charge with just 20 minutes of charging. For this to work, you would need to use the included wall charger and USB Type-C cable. In my own test, i managed to get 38% of battery life in 20 minutes of charging and 68% with 40 minutes of charging which i think isn’t that bad.

EMUI 5.0

The Mate 9’s new EMUI 5.0

The EMUI 5.0 – or the Emotion User Interface –  is the default software that is running above the Android OS for most of Huawei’s phone including its Honor series. Like many other Android manufacturers, having its own default software helps the company to differentiate its phone from being just another Android phone.

The 5th iteration of the EMUI is sleek, fast and modern looking. It also brings about many design improvements where Huawei says a user can now access to 90% of the functions via the EMUI 5.0 in just 3 steps. User can now also choose to have the App Drawer on by default. Like all other Android phones, the EMUI 5 comes with many different themes and options for customization.

App twin lets you sign in to two different WhatsApp and Facebook accounts on the same phone while the Privacy mode lets you set different accounts for different users, great if you want to show off your phone to your friends and colleagues without showing your private messages and images.

Some other features that i found useful were the on-screen recording, phone optimization and also knuckle gestures which lets you take a screenshot or activate the split-screen function simply by using your knuckle.

The EMUI 5.0 also integrates many of the new features in Android Nougat 7.0. Multi-window view lets you run two apps side by side. While it only works with a handful of apps for now, this is quite a useful feature for bloggers or people who multi-task a lot. It also has advanced power management – showing you the apps that are draining your battery or put the phone into low power mode when being carried in your pocket or purse. Customized quick settings allow you to rearrange the setting icons which you use the most frequent thus getting you to what you want more quickly!

Huawei Mate 9’s Leica Dual Camera

One of the biggest selling point of the HUAWEI P9 is the Leica dual-lens camera. The co-developed camera promises to produce images with brilliant colors by intelligently combining colors taken by the RGB sensor with the details of the monochrome sensor.

The first thing you would notice about the camera app is the number of features and customization packed into it. Swipe right and you get the different camera modes while swiping left will bring you to the camera settings and swipe up to access the Pro settings. Most features are pretty self explanatory and it won’t be long before you figure out the settings and mode which you shoot best in.

HUAWEI Mate 9 Camera Options

The Mate 9 now sports a second generation Leica dual camera. It comes with a 12MP f2.2 RGB sensor and a 20MP monochrome sensor both with 6-axis Optical Image Stabilization. It has also introduced a series of new features like the Hybrid Zoom (nope, not optical zoom) and focus and a new wide aperture effect for the same depth of field camera mode on the iPhone 7 Plus.

The camera app on the Mate 9 lets you have full control over the ISO settings, white balance and even manual focus override.

One of the more interesting features is the implementation of a full monochrome image sensor. Without the filters that are in the RGB lens, images captured in the monochrome mode will display more clarity and contrast as lights are captured at its full spectrum without minimum losses in details.

Huawei says that the monochrome sensor takes better low light photos as it can absorb 200% more light than the RGB lenses. There’s just a certain charm in shooting black and white images and it is interesting what the Mate 9 can capture for a $900 camera phone.

The Mate 9 also offers a wide aperture effect which lets you take photos with a depth of field (bokeh) effect – similar to the Portrait mode in the iPhone 7 Plus. But what’s interest here is that you can adjust the area of focus (and aperture settings from f/0.95 to f/16) even after you have taken the photo unlike on the iPhone 7 Plus.

Having said that, the wide aperture mode on the Mate 9 is not perfect. There is a slight learning curve to accurately pin point the area of focus and to adjust the aperture settings to not make the blurring looks too artificial on the edges.

The Night Shot mode as the name suggests lets you take images at night with long exposure time. With the help of a tripod, you are able to achieve some really good and bright night shots.

The Mate 9 camera also performs well in daylight. I like how the colors are more accurate as Android phones tend to give its photos more saturation and there are an impressive amount of details captured with each shot.

Even on a gloomy day, photos taken on the Mate 9 are slightly muted but I would say are still more accurately reproduced than with other Android phones.

Should you get the HUAWEI Mate 9?

There is a lot to like about the Mate 9. Physically, you get one of the largest screen on a mobile phone that has a solid build and a polished form factor. With a large 4,000 mAh battery and smart power management, you could possibly get two full day of usage on a single charge. Even with 20 mins of SuperCharge, you will get enough charge to last you through a day. The second generation of Leica camera also brought mobile photography to another level with the introduction of the wide aperture mode and optical image stabilisation.

In terms of software, Huawei further refined its EMUI 5.0 software to provide a really pleasant user experience. Most of the features feel very logical and overall, the UI feels very light and snappy, almost like the stock Android on NEXUS and Pixel phones. The phone also has plethora of smart and useful features (split-screen, machine learning, phone optimization, battery notifications) and supports Daydream – Google’s latest VR headset.

At S$898, the Huawei Mate 9 is not the most expensive option in the phablet market (LG V20 retails at S$998 while the iPhone 7 Plus starts from S$1270). Yet, Huawei managed to combine both its excellent hardware manufacturing capabilities with its improved EMUI 5.0 software to create what I would say is one of the best Android phablet money can buy at the moment.

The HUAWEI Mate 9 retails at S$898 in both Space Gray and Champagne Gold. You can find out more about the Mate 9 here.

Special thanks to Huawei Singapore for the review unit.

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One Thought to “HUAWEI Mate 9 Review”

  1. very detailed review! the night shots look quite decent for a phone’s camera,

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