The Mate 9 is the latest phablet from the Chinese manufacturer Huawei and its deemed a worthy alternative or replacement for those who wanted or lost out on the Note 7.
For Huawei, the Note 7 issue could be a blessing for them or a curse, depending on which way you look at it. It means the owners of the late Note 7 can finally find a decent replacement that’s big with a good camera and a battery life that’s worth it.
On the other hand, it means most people will compare it to the Note 7 and miss features such as the SPen, its vibrant display and camera, and in turn, say it’s not enough to replace their beloved Note 7 (RIP). Having said that, though, it’s such a great device and I love it.
Huawei Mate 9 Design Review
Huawei has mastered the art of designing smartphones, from the materials used, the screen to body ratio, how it feels in hand and even where buttons are placed, to how the software works with the hardware in mind. For example, you can set things up to make it easy to use one-handed and most settings or menu are two to three steps away.
On the front of the device, there’s a minimalist Huawei logo/branding at the bottom and up top, there’s the speaker/earpiece, sensor and an 8MP F1.9 front facing shooter. The Mate 9 is a huge device and not for everyone and luckily, phablets now have their place in the market, thanks to Samsung.
The Mate 9 packs a 5.9″ FHD Display at 1080p (1920 x 1080), dishing out 373ppi and for such a huge display, I was concerned it wouldn’t look as good as the Note 7’s Super AMOLED display, which it isn’t, but it still manages to look just fine, whether it’s for movies, reading or general usage. Elsewhere, the Mate 9 measures 78.9mm in width x 7.9mm depth, weighs about 190g, and as heavy as it feels, it kind of adds to its premium credential.
All the ports and buttons are placed around and on the back of the Mate 9; on the right side, you have the volume rockers and a power button which feels very clicky and on the left side is a dual sim tray – you can either use it for a dual sim card setup or insert one microSD card and one sim card.
Up top, there’s a 3.5mm audio port, with an IR blaster next to it; it’s rare now to find a decent smartphone with IR blaster included and although not many may find it useful, I quite like having it there as most hotel remotes are made for the hotels to make sales from on-demand contents – I like to be in control.
To the bottom of the Mate 9, Huawei has opted for a USB Type-C connector which allows for faster charging and data transfer compared to a micro USB port. On either side of the USB Tye-C, you will notice the two grills, one is actually a speaker and yes the Mate 9 has a dual stereo speaker set up, but the second one is built into the earpiece up top.
On the back there’s a fingerprint sensor which again Huawei has opted to have it do more than just scan your fingerprints to unlock your phone, it doubles up as a touch sensitive button allowing you to go back to a previous screen with one tap, return to the home screen by pressing and holding it, and accessing your notifications by swiping down.
The Mate 9’s USP after it’s huge battery is the dual-Leica camera set up; on paper, it’s a beast of a camera setup. Located on the back, just above the fingerprint sensor, the camera is arranged on top of each other with one designed for monochrome (black and white pictures) and the second, for RGB (colour).
The monochrome lens is a 20MP shooter and the RGB lens is just 12MP with an F2.2 aperture for capturing sharp images in low light. There’s also an OIS (Optical image stabilisation) present, a BSI CMOS sensor, dual-tone flash to the left of the camera and a mouthful of PDAF+CAF+Laser+Depth auto-focus to the right of the cameras. For the videographers, you can capture 4K videos too – more on camera performance later.
Overall, the Mate 9 is a good looking device, and you can tell that Huawei has put a lot of effort into making it feel premium, even its packaging feels like an expensive one. Its aluminium body with chamfered edges with a slight, subtle curve feels nice in hand and when it comes to using its big screen, there are features in place to make it easier to use.
Huawei Mate 9 Software Review
Over time, Huawei has been working hard to perfect their EMUI Android iteration and you can see progress made. While some hardcore Android users may still find that it’s not quite there yet, others would find it adequate for everyday use with no issues.
Although this is Huawei’s own version of Android (reskinned), it’s still based on Google’s latest Android OS 7 Nougat, which should promise some improvements on battery consumption, application performance and more. Alongside colour scheme changes and Android Nougat’s material design, Huawei listened to its users and brought back some essentials.
You now get an app drawer, which in the past proved to be annoying having no divide between the home screen and all your apps how you want it. It may still feel like they were reluctant to include this feature as you have to go into settings to activate it.
Elsewhere, you will notice less bloatware (unnecessary brand applications), perhaps because with the non-network exclusive version we are reviewing. Android 7.0 generally lends itself well to the general feel of the device software and the app drawer is not too slow to load up, the notification area is slick with the option to modify to suit your needs.
There’s a function for running the Mate 9 with multiple users with applications like Whatsapp and Facebook; this comes in very handy when you have a device you use for work and business perhaps. Using the App twin feature, you can run multiple accounts, and as mentioned before this is a great example of software working in harmony with the hardware as it’s very useful when using multiple sim cards.
During the global press launch of the Mate 9, Huawei mentioned machine learning and how it would help the device stay smooth for the lifetime of the device; this is something that Android users can relate to as your device works smoothly and rapidly when it comes out of the box, but over time, deteriorates in performance. With ML, the Mate 9 still feels like new, a few months later.
There’s also Alexa integration that was launched and showcased at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, it shows the Mate 9 with Amazon Alexa baked in to allow a better integration and interaction with IoT gadgets at home. Look out for this one!
Overall, the Mate 9’s software has been improved upon a lot, and Huawei is onto something here. I like the option to customise the device to suit your taste and needs, the ability to make it easier to use one handed if you wish to and how ML is used not only for a better processor performance but to also enhance battery life.
Huawei Mate 9 Processor and Battery Performance:
Under its metal jacket, the Mate 9 is loaded with a 4GB RAM + 64GB ROM configuration, although you could also opt for the Pro version with a 6GB RAM + 256GB ROM. There’s a Micro SD card slot which supports up to 256GB extra (using the SIM 2 slot).
Performance-wise, you have Huawei’s own Kirin 960, Octa-core CPU (4 x 2.4 GHz A73+ 4 x 1.8 GHz A53) + i6 co-processor, Mali-G71 MP8 for graphics and a whopping 4000mAh battery. You have the perfect setup for work and play; a processor that is capable of multitasking with no issues and a graphics chip what will play games with no hiccups.
Without trying to bore you with benchmark scores and comparisons, it’s better we focus on how it actually performed. Any user who gets the Mate 9 won’t be disappointed. The main processes like switching between apps, loading apps running in the background to the foreground is smooth, and when it comes to its graphics performance, it looks great with no noticeable frame drops.
How quickly the device can unlock using its fingerprint sensor is a testament to how quick the Mate 9 is. Tap any application and it loads instantaneously. Even with EMUI 5 overlay, it still performs exceptionally well and I think that’s partly down to the Machine Learning Huawei spoke about.
Making a device run smoothly is now beyond just adding a bunch of high-grade processors and RAM, you need to configure its software so that it works well. The processor needs to manage applications and processes intelligently so that you don’t end up with apps slowing down your device. This is something the Pixel XL does well too.
Battery performance is no exception here, you get a full day and a half’s use out of the Mate 9, even with a heavy use. Heavy usage is determined as running your social media apps, emails, Whatsapp, Facebook applications (Facebook itself and Messenger app which drains battery normally), playing games, watch videos, capture content and a lot of internet browsing. When the iPhone 7Plus is running low, the Mate 9 is only just getting started.
Huawei Mate 9 Camera Performance:
After its first introduction to the Huawei P9, the Mate 9 also sports a dual Leica camera lens setup. It’s got one of the best camera setups for those who likes to snap monochrome images, but normal RGB images are not always the best when compared to the likes of the S7 edge or the Pixel XL.
With a 20MP Monochrome + 12MP RGB, F2.2 main camera, you would expect to get some great images, but it all depends on the lighting conditions and when you don’t have much lighting, it’s got OIS (Optical image stabilisation) built in to help you keep things sharp even when your hands are shaky.
Huawei even employed a back-illuminated sensor (BSI CMOS) to help the camera capture better images in low-light and after putting it to test, it’s decent, but again it can’t be compared to what the Pixel XL can do. For a generation that likes to share on social media, it’s more than enough.
Elsewhere, you get a dual-tone flash, PDAF + CAF + Laser + Depth auto focus, 2x Hybrid zoom and 4K video recording capabilities. For the selfie lovers, you get an 8MP camera with F1.9 aperture and AF too.
Huawei Mate 9 Camera/Picture Samples:
All pictures were taken in auto mode with HDR on and my issue with the Mate 9 is colour. The colours in the pictures I took are not vibrant like the competitors’, luminance is off as well in low light and contrast could be better. The blacks are not deep enough for my liking and I know some may say it’s less saturated for a more realistic picture in comparison to Samsung S7 edge, but sometimes you need a balance.
For videos, the Mate 9 uses a new codec for 4K video compression in order to reduce file size, however, the new h.265 codec is not compatible with many video editing applications yet, including Final Cut Pro X.
What the Mate 9 is really great at and excels at is Monochrome! it makes you fall in love with taking Black and White images again.
The Mate 9 in a nutshell, embodies how software and hardware should work together to deliver a good user experience. Whether you’re already an Android user or coming from other platforms, you will quickly fall in love with what Huawei has done with the Mate 9.
When it comes to hardware, it’s thoughtfully designed and when it comes to software, it works to ensure the device runs smoothly and not just for a couple months, but for the life of the device. If you want to expand your creativity with photography, use it in Monochrome mode and you’ll be delighted.
It offers one of the best if not the best battery life in any smartphone today and with machine learning involved, apps won’t be draining your battery unnecessarily. There are quirky features like knocking to screen record, drawing with your knuckles to open apps quickly and its fingerprint sensor is super quick. Is it a worthy alternative to the Note 7? Yes, it can be added to the list next to the Pixel XL and the S7 edge.