Huawei is releasing the Mate 9 at a crucial time for the Chinese smartphone maker. Industry titans Apple and Samsung are each facing a set of problems, from dwindling returns on innovation on the one hand to fears over safety on the other. The flagship market is looking increasingly brittle, so does the Mate 9 represent a brick flung by Huawei into the status quo?
Like the Mate phones before it, the Mate 9 is a quality handset, but the price has risen significantly this time around, with a price of €699 (around £620). It still isn’t as expensive as the base level iPhone 7 Plus, which comes in at an even pricier £719, but it is a big step up from the reasonable £429 price tag of the Mate 8.
Is it nearly £200 better, though? Huawei would certainly like you to think so, boasting of the phone’s performance-tweaking “machine learning”, a freshly uncluttered EMUI, a speedy Kirin 960 SoC processor and a design that carries on the Mate brand’s palm-filling aesthetic approach. It’s not a direct play into the flagship space, but it hints at ambitions to take on the big players over the next few years.
So what are we dealing with? Display-wise the Mate 9 has a 5.9inch, 1080p screen. In-hand the colours look vibrant and deep while Huawei’s EMUI 5 version of Android N is responsive and pleasingly minimalist in its use of blues and whites. I’m not the biggest fan of large screens, but the phone comes with a new feature that detects misplaced fingers on the screen, and stops them from accidentally launching apps or selecting menus as you reach across the screen with your thumbs.
Flip over the phone and you’ll see a symmetrical coterie of sensors, with a flash and IR sensor positioned on either side of the Mate 9’s Leica-branded dual-camera system. These capture 20- and 12-megapixel images respectively, with the former shooting in monochrome and the latter shooting in colour. Having a lens dedicated to black-and-white images should, in theory, increase the dynamic range of photos. They’re also capable of shooting 4K video. Below the camera is a fingerprint sensor, neatly positioned for your index or middle finger. Things are business-as-usual on the phone’s edges, with a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top and a USB Type-C charging port on the bottom, centred between a pair of industrial-looking grilles.
The Mate 9 comes with Huawei’s new octa-core Kirin 960 chipset, which makes use of four 2.4GHz ARM Cortex-A73 CPUs and four low-power 1.8GHz Cortex A53 cores, the new Mali-G71 MP8 graphics processor, and UFS 2.1 storage technology. In terms of memory, Huawei is offering a 4GB RAM model with 64GB of storage, with a microSD card slot that supports up to 256GB. The premium Porsche-branded curved-screen variant will instead have a whopping 6GB of RAM and 256GB storage.
Huawei has one main thing in mind with the Mate 9: long-term performance. Smartphones tend to have a lifetime lasting little more than a couple of years – fresh out of the box your phone will zip between apps without a problem, but give it two years and that pace will turn sluggish. Using a mixture of intelligent resource scheduling, high-speed memory recycling and storage optimisation, Huawei is aiming for the Mate 9 to perform faster than its predecessors further in its lifecycle.
Sluggish performance a year down the line is never pleasant, although focusing on enduring phone performance does raise a few questions about release cycle – by making the Mate 9 better in the long-term, will the company risk undercutting a need to buy a new phone two years down the road?
Quick charging is another feature touted by Huawei. The Mate 9 will come with Huawei’s new Supercharge feature, which involves automatic voltage and current output adjustments, and “five-gate real-time voltage, current and temperature monitoring” to avoid overheating. All of this should mean the new Mate will charge swiftly and safely, allegedly four times faster than the iPhone 7 Plus, with ten minutes of charging delivering enough charge to last three-and-a-half hours of use.
The elephant in this particular room is, of course, Samsung, and Huawei hasn’t missed a trick in emphasising the safety of its device’s charging. Not only is the 4,000mAh battery touted as being a safe piece of kit, it’s also bleeding massive – a proper step up from competitors that come in between 3,000 and 3,500mAh. Coupled with fast charging, this is a phone that wants to stay alive for a long time.
It’s such a shame that the Mate 9 is so expensive when previous models have been so reasonably priced. Either way, we’ll have a fuller verdict on Huawei’s latest offering once we’ve run our benchmarks, but first impressions are that the handset is another impressive effort from the Chinese company.
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