Huawei has been making well-crafted devices for a number of years now, and the Mate 9 is no exception. Having said that, it’s not the most exciting design out there, especially because it looks so similar to the Mate 8 (which was only released nine months ago). The frame now has rounded sides, similar to the iPhone 6 and 7, and the back finish is glossy instead of matte. The phone’s left edge houses a dual-SIM tray, and one of the slots doubles up as a microSD card slot. On the right, you’ll find both the power button and volume rocker. On the bottom, the micro-USB port has been replaced with a USB-C port, while on the top edge you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Despite having one of the largest displays on the market, the Mate 9 only has a Full HD (1,980 x 1,020 pixels) resolution display, which gives it a relatively low 373ppi. Clarity is acceptable though, and the IPS LCD panel is one of the better ones out there, with rich colors and reasonably good contrast. The screen also gets very bright, with a maximum of 677 nits, making it easy to view even under the brightest lighting conditions.
On the back of the device, Huawei has once again teamed up with Leica to co-engineer its imaging system. The Mate 9 has a dual-lens system on its rear, however, it’s a bit different from most other dual-camera phones like the LG V20 and iPhone 7 Plus. Instead, the Mate 9’s dual cameras are split into monochrome and color sensors, with the 12-megapixel sensor capturing RGB data and the 20-megapixel sensor capturing monochrome information. The idea is you can combine them together to deliver richer colors and finer details.
Because the monochrome lens has a higher resolution than the color one, Huawei says it can do “hybrid zoom.” While this may sound like a combination of optical and digital zoom, as far as I can tell, there’s nothing optical about it. Huawei’s Hybrid Zoom seems to just be digital sensor cropping, where a photo is taken at a higher resolution and then cropped, something that we’ve seen before from the old Nokia Lumia phones, and more recently Sony.
Overall picture quality on the Mate 9 is decent, with photos taken under good lighting coming out sharp with good detail reproduction and accurate colors. Some pictures do look a little over processed, and the auto-HDR is a little aggressive for my taste, but it does the job. Due to the relatively narrow f/2.2 aperture, low-light photography isn’t the best, and even though the sensor has 6-axis optical image stabilization, pictures tend to be a hit-or-miss if there’s not enough light.
The Mate 9 runs on Android 7.0 Nougat with Huawei’s Emotion UI 5.0 on top of it. EMUI has several differences from stock Android, with the most obvious being the removal of the apps drawer. Instead, all of your apps live on the home page similar to iOS. Interestingly, there’s now an option to restore the app drawer, but it’s hidden in the Settings menu. This time round, Huawei has also adopted more of Google’s features rather than force its own version of the same thing on you. For example, the Mate 9 now uses Google’s default split-screen multitasking feature rather than its own solution like previous Huawei devices.
As usual for Huawei, the Mate 9 uses an in-house Kirin SoC. The Kirin 960 uses four of ARM’s new Cortex-A73 cores and four low-powered A53 cores. It’s also the first processor to ship with the new Mali G71 MP8 GPU. Benchmark performance was decent, with the 960 generally scoring in the vicinity of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821, Samsung’s Exynos 8890 and Apple’s A10 processors were all significantly more powerful.
The Mate 9 has a massive 4,000mAh battery, giving it one of the highest capacity batteries out there. In combination with its Full HD display, this resulted in excellent battery life, lasting nearly fifteen hours in our video looping battery benchmark.
Ultimately, despite all of the technology Huawei has crammed into the Mate 9, its two best features are its huge display and excellent battery life. While that makes it perfect if you spend all of your time watching videos on your phone, for $898, we expect more.
A decent, large display smartphone with outstanding battery life.
AT A GLANCE
Operating System: Android 7.0 Nougat with EMUI 5.0
Processor: Hisilicon Kirin 960 Octa-core (4x 2.4GHz Cortex-A73 & 4x 1.8GHz Cortex-A53)
Display: 5.9-inch 1,920 x 1,080 pixels IPS LCD (373ppi)
Camera: Dual 20-megapixel (monochrome) + 12-megapixel (RGB), f/2.2, OIS, Leica optics, phase detection, laser autofocus, dual-LED flash
The mate 9 has a dual rear camera setup engineered by Leica.
The phone’s ultra-thin bezels give it a compact footprint.
Text: James Lu / Pictures: Huawei