Huawei knew a long time ago that the future of smartphones is “Big”, that is why they have created the Mate lineup in 2012. In case you don’t know, Mate series phones are known for their big displays and offer top of the line specifications.
Huawei has launched six Mate smartphones to date with multiple versions and the most recent one is the Mate 9 – which according to Huawei’s claim is the best smartphone of 2016. This phone is now available in the Pakistan market for a price of Rs. 70,000 and comes with a one-year local warranty.
One might ask that if Mate 9 actually is the best choice for those customers looking to buy a blue-chip smartphone that doesn’t cost them an arm and leg? Well, let’s find this out in our review.
Mate 9: The Unboxing
A premium phone deserves premium packaging and Huawei knows it all. The box is quite simple yet elegant. It doesn’t feature any picture of the phone, rather it just says Huawei Mate 9 on it along with Leica Dual Camera logo.
Opening the lid reveals the Mate 9 smartphone on top, nicely crammed in a tray. Under that, there are two boxes that contain all the accessories and warranty manuals.
Each box depicts the contents inside with small icons on it. One contains the SIM eject tool, Manuals, and a Back cover. While the other one has the Supercharger, USB Type-C cable, a USB Type-C adapter and a pair of earphones that closely resembles Apple ear pods.
The Mate 9 Design & Display:
In terms of design layout, Mate 9 isn’t so different from last year’s Mate, although there are some slight modifications that make Mate 9 a bit smaller than its predecessor. Also despite having the same size as iPhone 7 Plus, you get more of the screen on Mate 9.
The phone features a large 5.9-inch display with a 1080p resolution on the front. It has a flat screen and quite narrowed vertical bezels, although a curved or 2.5D screen would have been a much better choice since the bezels are much thinner that way and you won’t get a black outline, which doesn’t look so pretty.
Anyway, despite the 1080p resolution, the screen looks great and the brightness works well both in indoors and outdoors. The colors do seem a little bit oversaturated, though, but you’ll quickly get used to it.
Just like other Huawei flagship devices, Mate 9 doesn’t feature a physical home key and the navigation keys are software based, so there is only Huawei logo on the front bottom and regular array of ear-speaker, light sensors, camera and notifications LED on top.
The right side features the power and volume keys, which are fairly raised so you can easily find them. The left side hosts a hybrid SIM tray, which takes two nano-SIM cards or you can replace one with a micro-SD card.
On the bottom, there’s the USB Type-C port and speaker grilles, a 3.5mm headphones jack along with an infrared blaster can be found on the top.
Flipping the phone over reveals the Leica dual-camera array, set in a vertical layout rather than the horizontal design we’ve already seen on P9 and Honor 8. Moreover, the camera unit also has a slight hump, which will be directly in contact with the surface when you put down the phone.
The camera is equipped with a dual-tone LED flash on the left side and laser auto-focus sensor on the right. The top side features a noise-cancellation microphone and below the camera, there is the familiar round shape fingerprint sensor.
Since we got the Mocha Brown unit for our review, the back plate features a nice matte finish of the said color, although the frame of the phone has a gold brushed pattern. The edges are slanted as well which adds grip to phone and makes it more ergonomically friendly as compared to other big phones like iPhone 7 Plus or the Galaxy S7 edge.
Mate’s Hardware Performance:
Mate 9 is a powerhouse, the hardware specifications are bang-up that manages to impress both, the smartphone enthusiasts and the commoners.
It packs the super powerful Kirin 960 octa-core processor from Huawei, based upon the ARM Cortex-A73 chipset. It has four Cortex-A73 performance cores clocked at 2.4GHz along with four Cortex-A53 lower power cores clocked at 1.8GHz. Huawei says that most of the time phone will be using a lower power core that helps to maximize the battery time.
The Mate 9 is also the first and only smartphone of 2016 to run octa-core Mali G71 MP8 GPU with Vulkan API. This GPU promises to provide high-efficiency performance and will be featured as well in the next flagship devices from Samsung and HTC next year.
In terms of memory and storage, the version of Mate 9 we have got has 4GB of RAM and 64GB UFS 2.1 internal storage. The Pro version and the limited edition Porsche design does feature 6GB of RAM and 256GB storage, however, the regular version of Mate 9 also gets a micro-SD card. So there is no problem expanding storage and 4GB of RAM is more than enough for smooth usage.
Mate 9 passes with flying colors in the performance benchmarks and the real world experience feels like a breath of fresh air. There is absolutely no lag and even with the EMUI customization, everything works like a charm.
This phone is also equipped with a machine learning algorithm that allocated the resources based upon the usage behavior and continues learning the patterns to optimize performance. Huawei promises that unlike other smartphones, Mate 9 will remain fast even after months of usage when normally phones become slower due to an overload of applications and user data.
For those who love playing games on their smartphones, Mate 9 is the beast you’re looking for. Forget animation lag or shuttering, everything loads super fast and the phone handles multitasking very well. Huawei also claims that the Mate 9 is the only Android phone, that is iPhone 7’s worthy competitor in terms of performance.
Thankfully Huawei hasn’t gone blind chasing Apple and the Mate 9 still features a 3.5mm headphones jack. The earphones provided in the box are good but those produce a very high-frequency sound and some songs and music just doesn’t sound good in your ears. So you should consider buying a better pair of headphones and if you don’t like using headphones, the speaker setup on the phone manages to produce much better sound.
It has two grilles, however, there is the only speaker and if you don’t crank up the volume all the way to 100%, the speakers actually sound very nice. You won’t be disappointed with the sound quality while watching a movie or listening to your favorite songs, that we can guarantee.
During a phone call and while recording videos you also get an option for “Directional speaker”, which automatically detects where the sound is coming from and turns off the mic that is not in that direction to reduce noise. In our experience, it helps a lot if you’re taking a call on speaker.
A Look at the EMUI:
Among the different customizations of Android, Emotion UI (EMUI) doesn’t enjoy a very good reputation. Mostly because it offers a relatively different experience from stock Android and like other Chinese brands Huawei has been very slow when it comes to providing updates and security patches.
But hopefully, it will change with Mate 9 as it runs on the EMUI 5, which is based upon Android Nougat 7.0 operating system and is much cleaner and snappier.
It also brings the most demanded feature “app drawer”, which is the default way of finding apps on any Android phone. But for some strange reason until now Huawei threw all the apps on the home screen by eliminating the app drawer. Still, the app drawer isn’t activated by default but you can easily switch layout by going into settings.
There are some Nougat specific features, one of them is the multitasking mode, so you can now load two apps on the screen at the same time and quickly switch between two apps.
Huawei claims that the new version of EMUI provides optimal resource allocation based upon user’s actual and personal usage habits and it does respect user’s privacy by running all the algorithms on the devices rather than on cloud.
EMUI 5 also brings some nifty features like App Twin, that allows you to run 2 separate app accounts on a single device like you can have 2 accounts on Facebook or WhatsApp on your phone.
The smart assistance feature provides motion and voice-based controls. You can take the screenshot by knocking on the screen, draw letters to open specific apps and customize the UI according to your needs. However, off-screen gestures like double-tap to wake up and draw to open apps while screen’s off are still missing.
In case your phone is lost in your room and you couldn’t find it. Just say its name and ask where you are? the phone will start ringing. Similarly, you can use voice control to accept or reject phone calls etc.
The overall experience of EMUI 5 is quite refreshing, but there are some features that just creates more confusion, like the phone manager, always telling you to close certain apps because they are consuming battery in the background, also the permissions pop-ups are a headache since every new app first asks to get certain permissions.
Mate 9 is also one of world’s first Daydream-ready phones, however, the low-resolution doesn’t make it a perfect choice for VR.
Connectivity & Security:
Mate 9 is a dual SIM phone that supports almost all frequency bands offered in Pakistan. The LTE-Advanced Cat.12 network chip supports 4-carrier aggregation and you can use 4G services provided by Telenor, Mobilink, Warid and Zong.
We have used Telenor and Warid 4G SIM cards with this phone, for Internet, calls & messaging in Lahore and everything works just fine. The Wi-Fi takes a split of the second to connect and pairing with other Bluetooth devices is no difficult at all.
Mate 9 also features NFC and an IR Blaster, so you can quickly communicate with other devices and if you have lost the remote control for your TV or music player, just use your phone – simple as that.
In terms of security Mate 9 brings the same lightning fast fingerprint scanner, we have seen on Mate 8 and Mate 7. With the slightest touch, it recognizes the owner unlocks the phone, apps, and safe vault. You can also use the sensor to takes photos, scroll between them or access the notifications and other shortcuts.
Dual Camera: What is all the fuss about?
One of the highlights of Mate 9 is the Leica-branded dual-camera setup. But one might ask, how does it makes the phone special and why there are two camera sensors stacked on top of each other?
Well other than the marketing advantage, these two camera sensors ensure that the photos captured with Mate 9 are filled with details. There’s a 12-Megapixel RGB color sensor coupled with a 20-Megapixel monochrome sensor, both sensors are behind lenses with f/2.2 aperture and the RGB sensor also sports optical image stabilization for additional stability in photos and videos. The monochrome sensor enhances the details on a photo and gives you an impressive bokeh effect, just like a photo taken with DSLR prime lens.
Picture is low light
The overall camera experience and image quality of Mate 9 dual-camera are quite impressive. If you have enough light, especially in the daylight the images come very sharp and highly saturated. However, the camera does struggle in low light shots, especially in the night time, images do contain lots of noise and it struggles while focusing.
The secondary 8-Megapixel selfie camera also does a very good job, though it doesn’t work so well in low light and there is no flash, you do get a “White screen” moment as it takes the selfie, but it almost always overexposes the photo. In daylight you get some very crisp photos with nice colors and it doesn’t squeeze faces on the edges, also if you want to take a group selfie and there are many people the Panorama mode is quite handy.
The camera app itself offers a very minimalistic interface and it’s almost similar to what we have seen on P9, you can quickly switch between still camera or video. Moreover, Flashlight, “Aperture” control, filters and option to switch selfie camera are just one tap away.
A swipe from the right brings different camera modes, including the ability to shot Monochrome, HDR, Panorama, Light painting, slow-mo video, time lapse etc. Swipe form left and you will get into camera settings, which allows you to change resolution, add watermarks, object tracking, GPS tags, set timers etc.
You can also activate the professional mode by swiping up just above the camera shutter, this setting allows you to control ISO, shutter speed, focus, white balance, metering and exposure according to your needs. The similar option is available for video as well. Talking about video, Mate 9 is capable of shooting 4K at 30 fps, using the h.265 codec. You can also shoot in 1080p with 60 fps or 720p with 120 fps for extra slow motion effects.
Mate 9’s camera will likely impress everyone and in right lighting conditions, it takes photos much better than iPhone 7 or Samsung Galaxy S7. Plus, you also get to shoot in black and white, which adds a nice perspective to your photos.
Battery That Charges Super-Fast:
Mate series phones always had a big battery, because a big screen and powerful processor needs more juice to run. However, previously those big batteries used to take good 3-4 hours to charge fully and that was brutal.
Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about it anymore since Mate 9 packs a 4000mAh battery that charges to 100% in just over 90 minutes. Huawei claims that for power users the battery would last for a day and for normal users it can extend up to 2 days.
With 4.5V low-voltage input plus 5A charging current, SuperCharging technology from Huawei is definitely better than OPPO’s Flash Charge or Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 and unlike other fast charging solution it keeps the phone cool, so you can also use it while charging – without being afraid that your phone will burst into flames.
The official statement says that a 100% charge can give you 20 hours of video playback or 30 hours of 3G call time and almost 20 hours of 4G browsing. However, in our tests the phone only provided 12.5 hours of 1080p video playback, also using 4G consumes the battery much faster and it took only 8 hours while using different applications that consume 4G data to deplete the battery. The Wi-Fi did perform much better with almost 12 hours of usage there was still 6% battery left.
Mate 9 also features an Ultra battery saving feature, that automatically notifies you to select it once the phone battery drops to 20%. This feature turns off all kind of fancy animations and kills the apps in the background. You have the option to run only 6 apps in order to reduce the battery consumption.
If you’re running low on battery, the Super Charging feature comes quite handy but it only works with the cable and charger provided in the box. So make sure you don’t lose them, otherwise charging will take more hours.
Why you should or shouldn’t buy Mate 9: Final Thoughts
Mate 9 is probably, Huawei’s first smartphone that can be actually compared with the flagships from Apple, Samsung or even Google and it does costs a little less than those. It performs certainly well and offers some very unique features as compared to other flagship devices of 2016.
As compared to previous phones from Huawei, Mate 9 brings some major improvements in terms of performance, but Mate 9 isn’t very much different from last year’s Mate 8, especially when it comes to 1080p screen and the design. You can also get almost same camera experience at a much lower price if you select either P9 or Honor 8 smartphones from Huawei.
So why should you go for the expensive Mate 9? well, the answer is that Mate 9 isn’t for the budget-conscious customers, rather this phone suits the users looking to buy a phone that offers the very best of features you can have in 2016 flagship device – the Leica branded dual-cameras, Kirin 960 chipset, Mali G71 GPU, Super Charge and EMUI 5 are some of the features that set it apart from the competition.