Huawei Mate 9 review: A big price increase makes this great phone a tough sell


For a while, it looked like phones would get exponentially bigger, until we’d all be holding 15in tablets against our faces to make calls. That trend, it turned out, reached its peak in 2013 with the 6.3in Samsung Galaxy Mega, and things began to get smaller again. Most phones now settle around the 5in mark – or maybe 5.1in, if you go via the mode rather than the median.

There are definitely people who want a big handset, though, and plenty of them briefly got their big hands on them earlier this year when Samsung released the 5.7in Galaxy Note 7. Unfortunately, Samsung snatched them back a month later when they turned out to be a fire hazard.

That leaves the playing field pretty low on big handsets. The iPhone 7 Plus is 5.5in, as is the Google Pixel XL. You could stump up for the 5.7in Nexus 6P, but it’s over a year old now. Who will make a handset for the big-handed?

Oh, hi Huawei!

Huawei Mate 9: Design

Like the Mate 8 before it, the Huawei Mate 9 is a real handful. Its 5.9in frame makes it even bigger than the Note 7, though it does lack the built-in S Pen that many would say was the main appeal of Samsung’s gone-but-not-forgotten phablet.

This is just a plain old phone, but a very handsome one despite its bulky frame. Indeed, the bezel is so thin that the majority of its body is taken up by screen – there’s barely room for anything else. There’s no home button (which appears permanently onscreen unless an app is full-screened), with just the top speaker, front-facing camera and Huawei logo taking away from the clean front design.

Flip it over and it’s a similar story: a smooth, metal design with very few distractions. There are two lenses for the camera – one dedicated to monochrome shots, but more on that later – and the same circular fingerprint sensor that Huawei put on its Nova and Nova Plus handsets earlier this year.

The headphone jack is in the top of the handset, interestingly, and it charges via USB Type-C cable. Helpfully, though, Huawei put a micro-USB to Type-C converter in the box, which is a genuinely classy touch.

Huawei Mate 9: Screen

Let’s get one thing out of the way right away: despite having a screen size that’s a good inch larger than most other flagship handsets, Huawei’s offering comes in at a lower resolution. If ever proof were needed that Quad HD or 4K are wasted on a screen this size, the Mate 9 is it, because despite only being 1080p, it’s a super screen. That means it’s roughly 373 pixels per inch, and yes, that’s absolutely fine for your needs, unless you’re planning on sticking it very close to your face in a VR headset.

And it scores brilliantly elsewhere in our tests, too. At a peak brightness of 622cd/m2, it’s almost twice the brightness of the now deceased Galaxy Note 7 (albeit with an IPS display rather than AMOLED), and it covers 98.7% of the sRGB colour gamut. Its contrast, at 1,529:1, is also excellent.

But let’s take a step back and see how it ranks alongside other phablets. For the purposes of this, I’ve included screen size because, if you’re reading this, that’s likely to be key.

Screen size (inches)

Resolution

Brightness (cd/m2)

sRGB gamut covered (%)

Contrast

Huawei Mate 9

5.9in

1,080 x 1,920

622cd/m2

98.7%

1,529:1

Huawei Nova Plus

5.5in

1,080 x 1,920

498.42cd/m2

95.6%

1,265:1

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (RIP)

5.7in

1,440 x 2,560

362.94%

100%

Perfect

Apple iPhone 7 Plus

5.5in

1,080 x 1,920

520cd/m2

96.3%

1,350:1

Google Pixel XL

5.5in

1,440 x 2,560

411.37cd/m2

100%

Perfect

As you can see, that makes for a very good screen indeed – and a clear improvement on the (far cheaper) Nova Plus. It’s worth noting that in terms of contrast, the Mate 9 can’t compete with the Note 7 and Pixel XL, which both use AMOLED screens.

But this shouldn’t put you off. The screen on the Huawei Mate 9 is big and beautiful.

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