Huawei Mate 9 review: Mighty Mate

Orlin Milinov, 14 November 2016.

Introduction

With Huawei announcing the Mate 9, the manufacturer has been following the well-established game plan of releasing a 'mainstream' pocketable flagship in the spring, only to slap us with the phablet come fall time, thus staying relevant throughout the year. In this case, the Huawei Mate 9 we now have in our hands, comes 7 months after the P9.

And quite a blow it is indeed. For one, Huawei came up with not one Mate 9, but two of those. The super-exclusive Mate 9 Porsche Design will remain a rarity outside of posh company stores due to its prohibitive price - twice that of the Mate 9 proper, so we'll leave that dual-curved marketing stunt of a smartphone out of it. Though we might revisit, now that the more reasonably priced Mate 9 Pro was finally announced in China sans the Porsche branding.

We'll stick to the vanilla Mate 9 for now, and there's plenty to like about it already even without all the bells and whistles of the special edition. True to Mate traditions, it all starts with a large display - 5.9 inches in this iteration, backed up by an ample 4,000mAh battery, all of this goodness fitted in a premium-built aluminum body.

If the interesting stuff ended there, though, it would be just another phablet, no? Well, it doesn't and it isn't. Huawei's brand new in-house Kirin 960 chipset is the vehicle for the debut of ARM's latest Cortex-A73 cores promising a 30% performance boost over the A72s. And speaking of debuts, the Mali-G71 GPU is first seen here, with support for Vulkan and a focus on VR.

And of course, the camera. The Huawei/Leica collaboration that started on the P9 has matured into a 20MP/12MP dual-camera setup, monochrome and color respectively, now with the added bonus of optical stabilization and 4-in-1 autofocus. Oh, and the Mate 9 can record 4K video - a first for the Huawei Mate lineup.

Huawei Mate 9 key features:

  • Premium aluminum unibody
  • 5.9" IPS LCD screen of FullHD resolution, 373ppi, 96% NTSC; 2.5D glass
  • Kirin 960 chipset: Octa-core CPU (4xCortex-A73@2.4GHz + 4xCortex-A53@1.8GHz), i6 co-processor, octa-core Mali-G71 GPU, 4GB of RAM
  • Android 7.0 Nougat; Huawei EMUI 5.0 overlay
  • Leica co-engineered dual camera: 20MP monochrome/12MP color sensors, f2.2, 27mm equiv. focal length, 4-in-1 hybrid autofocus (phase/laser/contrast/depth sensing); dual-LED, dual-tone flash; 2160p and 1080p @ 30/60fps video capture
  • 8MP autofocus selfie camera, f/1.9, 26mm lens; 1080p video capture
  • 64GB of built-in storage, expansion via microSD up to 256GB (hybrid slot on the dual-SIM version)
  • Fingerprint reader
  • LTE Cat 12 (600Mbps downlink, 150Mbps uplink); Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2 (A2DP, LE), GPS/GLONASS/Beidou/Galileo, NFC, IR blaster
  • 4,000mAh battery; fast charging with proprietary 22.5W charger

Main shortcomings

  • FullHD display resolution is not flagship-grade, especially on a display this large, and certainly not for VR use
  • No dust or water resistance
  • No documented display glass protection (just like on the P9)
  • Non-removable battery
  • Hybrid DualSIM/microSD card slot limits options
  • No FM radio

Of course, it wouldn't be real life, if there were no compromises. In the Mate 9's case those include the FullHD display resolution - while it's good enough for general use, the VR certainly won't be the screen's forte. The pixel-dense 5.5-inch QHD Mate 9 Pro sounds better suited to the task.

Huawei Mate 9 review

We'd also be happier if the Mate had at least some water resistance - we'd appreciate the extra insurance on a device in this price bracket. Speaking of, Huawei doesn't advertise any protection on the 2.5D display glass. We can't imagine them entirely skipping any, but we tend to feel safer when we have that advertised, especially with the less than reassuring experience we had with the P9's scratch-prone screen.

Also, no FM radio this time, sorry.

Don't let the negative undertone of the last few lines affect your judgment, we're only just starting and this was only a quick glance at the specs. The actual hardware overview on the following page will certainly be a lot more upbeat.