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Huawei Mate 8 Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Feature-rich user experience
  • Solid screen
  • Premium design
  • Outstanding battery life

The Bad

  • Missing fingerprint gestures
  • Weak split-screen multitasking
  • Heavy UI
  • Weak video recording capabilities
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Huawei Mate 8 review: Chinese smartphone maker Huawei has been pouring more time and effort into its smartphones of late, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. The new Mate 8 is the company’s 2016 phablet and its looks to be a big phone with a lot of promise.

Design

The majority of that time and effort manifests in the design of the company’s latest handsets and as phablets go, the Mate 8 is unquestionably a looker. With the screen off it gives the illusion that the display almost stretches to the sides of the phone’s body, with almost bezel-free edging (the bezel is still pretty narrow when the screen is on).

As with the marginally smaller Huawei Mate S, the 8 also utilises an all-metal build with an elegantly curved back, finely milled sides and lightly textured hardware controls. Despite its size it feels exceptionally well made and despite its weight, feels comfortable to hold in one or two hands.

Huawei Mate 8 front Huawei Mate 8 back

Above and beneath the display there’s light patterning under the surface glass, which you could easily miss if you don’t look hard enough, but it’s a subtle element that helps up the premium factor. The back is also distinctive for a Huawei device, with a circular camera surround and fingerprint sensor (the company previous opted for a squared design with rounded corners). The clean lines and minute details all work to make this a desirable looking handset outright, not just a sexy phablet.

Screen

With the exception of the Nexus 6P, which was built in partnership with Google, Huawei has yet to release a smartphone with a 2K screen and despite its large size, the 6-inch panel on the Mate 8 rocks a more conventional Full HD resolution. At such a large size you might expect pixels to be readily visible, but at 368ppi this phone has an exceptionally clear display with crisp edges on iconography and text.

Huawei Mate 8 screen

The IPS Neo technology used (similar to the one found on the Honor 7) ensures that it also boasts accurate colours, strong contrast and great overall brightness head-on. The intensity wanes at more extreme angles but there appears to be zero colour distortion, granting the Mate 8 a truly exceptional 6-inch panel that media fans will love.

OS

Again, excluding the 6P, Huawei isn’t one to leave Android well alone and its own Emotion UI 4.0 is the latest heavy-handed re-skin of Google’s mobile OS. However, if you can forgive the loss of the apps drawer (making it decidedly more iOS like) there’s a great amount of personalisation to be made on the Mate 8, not to mention tools to make the one-handed experience that little bit more manageable.

You have six themes to choose from by default, letting you quickly change the look and feel of the phone; from wallpapers and lock screens to app icons. Huawei’s also bundled its own apps onto the Mate 8 alongside Google’s stock lineup, giving you an extra web browser, a task manager to optimise your phone’s performance and other traditional tools like a file manager and calculator. Naturally some of these are apps are more useful than others.

The interface does accommodate split screen multitasking, which is a welcome inclusion considering it’s an appealing extra for those looking to buy a large-screened device, but the functionality is frustratingly limited to only a handful of system apps.

Another unusual differentiator is knuckle mode, which we’ve seen evolve over the last few premium Huawei smartphones. By dragging your knuckle across the screen as opposed to your fingertip you can quick-launch apps and functions, but this all hinges on its reliability, which is less than stellar. Most of the time the phone interprets knuckles as fingers, meaning it’s no more convenient than searching for the feature you were trying to quick-launch in the first place.

Huawei Mate 8 perspective

Another strange omission is the lack of select fingerprint sensor gestures – something that’s pretty unique to Huawei’s handsets. Similar phones like the flagship Mate S let you swipe down the notifications panel or browse through photos simply by moving your finger across the fingerprint sensor, the Mate 8 loses out on these abilities altogether. It’s not as if it’s reserved for the Mate S either, affordable devices like the Honor 7 and 5X also sport the feature, so its absence from the Mate 8 is perplexing. You can at least touch the sensor to snap a selfie though.

The Mate 8 is also presently one of only a handful of devices rocking the latest build of Android, version 6.0 Marshmallow, the star feature of which is the device-wide content-aware search power of Now on Tap, which you can initiate at any point by holding the home button.

Performance

Depending on market and device, Huawei handsets typically rock either a Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset or one of HiSilicon’s Kirin SoCs. The Mate 8 falls into the latter camp, with the latest Kirin 950 octa-core processor at its heart, backed up by 3GB of RAM on the 32GB storage model we reviewed or 4GB on the 64GB model.

Huawei Mate 8 macro power button

General usability is exceptionally fluid, with fast navigation and multitasking throughout the user experience. There was the odd occasion when an app took a moment to open or close, but no longer than the likes of Samsung Galaxy S6 or Apple’s iPhone 6s, meaning the Mate 8 is an undeniably fast phone.

On the connectivity side you’ve got all the premium inclusions you’d expect like NFC, an FM radio and Link+ – technology designed to smooth out the phone’s mobile data performance in areas of patchy WiFi or 3G/4G signal. The hybrid SIM tray also allows for dual SIM functionality or a SIM card and a microSD card up to 128GB, if storage is more of an essential than be able to operate on a second network.

Huawei Mate 8 fingerprint sensor

Easily the biggest and best feature of the Mate 8 is its insane battery life. It’s got the greatest longevity of any smartphone we’ve ever reviewed on Recombu, with a gargantuan 4000mAh cell that will provide between three and a half to four days of use per charge (switching it off at night). EMUI 4.0 also boasts a scheduled power function, so you can set your phone to switch off and on to extend battery life, but still trust that you’re alarm will go off in the morning.

Cameras

The Mate 8’s primary 16-megapixel rear snapper is a respectable all-round camera that’ll suit most users’ photographic needs. In auto mode, well-lit shots look great, with plenty of detail, minimal shake or blur (it packs 1.5° OIS) and pleasing colour reproduction. Even in artificial and low light, the levels of noise are wholly excusable.

The trouble comes in high-contrast environments, which is particularly apparent with video, where HDR shooting is inaccessible. The camera struggles to expose footage correctly, typically underexposing darker areas, resulting in a loss of detail and noticeable artifacts. There’s also the fact that despite being a premium device, the Mate 8’s video chops are limited to Full HD at 30fps with DIS switched on or 60fps with it off.

On the flip side, the camera experience is feature-packed, with a manual mode for greater photographic control, a wealth of specialised modes for things like document capture and an advanced beauty mode called Perfect Selfie.

Huawei Mate 8 Perfect Selfie default settings Huawei Mate 8 Perfect Selfie max settings

Switching to the front-facing 8-megapixel camera you have the ability capture three snaps which are combined into a single image that you can then manipulate, with control over everything from skin softness to eye size and even face thickness. At maximum settings it turns most people into alien-like beings, but if you’re not a fan of your raw, unedited face, then this might be the phone for you.

Verdict

There’s no denying that the Huawei Mate 8 is an extremely well rounded and well put together Android smartphone. The user experience is distinctive and although it isn’t perfect, it works well, feels fluid and boasts enough handy and helpful features to justify that big display.

Huawei Mate 8 handheld

If the hardware design hadn’t already made it apparent, at £429 for the 32GB model, this is an unquestionably premium smartphone and that primarily manifests in the solid performance, adaptable screen and slick aesthetic. Whilst it’s hard to find other comparable phones of a similar size, we’d consider the Sony Xperia Z5 or Z5 Compact, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Huawei’s own Nexus 6P as worthwhile alternatives.

Specification

Screen size6-inches
Screen resolutionFull HD (1920x1080)
Weight185 grams
OSAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
Rear Camera16-megapixel w/ OIS
Front camera8-megapixel
Processor2.3GHz/1.8GHz octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 950
Memory3GB/4GB
Storage32GB/64GB. Expandable via microSD up to 128GB
4G LTEYes
Bonus featuresPhone manager, knuckle mode, one-handed mode, Perfect Selfie, Quick Charge

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