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Huawei Mate 9 hands-on review: The Note 7’s replacement?

Huawei Mate 9 hands-on review: Less a year on from its predecessor, Huawei has unveiled the Mate 9, a 5.9-inch phablet with a new processor and a second-generation dual Leica-developed camera.

Huawei Mate 9: Specs at a glance

Screen size 5.9-inches
Screen resolution Full HD (1920×1080)
Weight 190 grams
OS Android 7.0 Nougat w/ Emotion UI 5.0
Front camera 8-megapixels
Rear camera Dual 12-megapixels/20-megapixels colour/monochrome w/ OIS + EIS
Processor 2.4GHz/1.8GHz octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 960
Memory 4GB RAM
Storage 64GB. Expandable via microSD up to 2TB
Battery 4000mAh w/ fast charging via Super Charger (58% in 30 minutes)
4G Yes. Cat 9, but supports up to Cat 13
Extras Fingerprint sensor, IR blaster, directional microphones (x4), Vulcan graphics

Huawei Mate 9: Hands-on review

The death of the ill-fated Samsung Galaxy Note 7 left a noticeable void within the smartphone market waiting to be filled by another high-end phablet and the new Mate 9 might just be a near perfect fit.

It boasts a suitably premium design, in-keeping with the likes of the P9 and P9 Plus which launched earlier in the year but with a more rounded aesthetic. The aluminium unibody will be coming to the UK in two shades, dark grey and white on silver. At the base lies a Type-C USB port, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack, along the right side you’ll find textured metal hardware controls and on the back lies the latest level 4 fingerprint sensor, which supports gestures when used in conjunction with the company’s skinned Android interface.

Depending on the market the Mate 9 will also launch with two potential hybrid SIM trays, one capable of supporting a nanoSIM and a microSD card, the other capable of the same or accommodating a second SIM in place of expandable memory.

Huawei Mate 9 hands-on review: Back<!–

Whilst Huawei also unveiled the Porsche Design Mate 9 alongside its sibling, which boasts more memory and storage, the standard device comes packing 64GB of internal space, 4GB of RAM and is the first of the company’s handsets to debut the new Kirin 960 processor.

This new octa-core SoC looks to be an impressive upgrade over the Kirin 950 found inside the Mate 8, with enhanced hardware-level encryption and a quoted 400 per cent improvement in its graphical capabilities (including the addition of Vulcan graphics support, not unlike the Samsung Galaxy S7) being amongst the most notable improvements. What’s more early artificial benchmarking tests place it ahead of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 (the processor powering Google’s new Pixel and Pixel XL) in both single and multi-core tests, as well as reports that it boasts a superior Mali GPU.

As ever for a Mate device, you can also expect a sizeable 4000mAh that should offer two to three days of use based on the lesser demands of the display. At the phone’s launch Huawei also debuted improved fast-charging technology by way of a new Super Charger power adapter, which offloads some of the necessary hardware from the phone. The company quoted 58 per cent charge from just 30 minutes charge time and full charge in around 90 minutes flat.

On the front lives a 5.9-inch Full HD IPS Neo LCD that looks to offer some of best viewing angles of any of Huawei’s smartphones (based on initial impressions) with good overall brightness and accurate colours to boot. The Mate 9 also boasts four microphones, one of which lives inside the earpiece, two of which are positioned on its underside and one which resides on its back. These work together to offer more accurate directional audio recording when using the phone’s native sound recorder or when shooting video, as well as providing active noise cancellation during phone calls.

Huawei Mate 9 hands-on review: Screen

The Mate 9 also happens to be the first of Huawei’s phones to offer Android 7.0 Nougat out the box, skinned in the latest iteration of the company’s custom overlay, Emotion UI 5.0. In the jump from EMUI 4.1, as found on the P9 and P9 Plus, Huawei has slimmed-down navigation, with most actions taking a maximum of three taps in place of five, a reworked aesthetic with a blue on white motif created through a trans-continental partnership with design teams in Sweden, San Francisco and China, and the ability to toggle an apps drawer, more like traditional Android – a feature that EMUI has lacked up until this point.

Huawei also worked to ensure that software and hardware work together to combat performance erosion over time, with lab results producing an 80 per cent improvement in performance after the equivalent of a year’s worth of use.

To achieve this the Mate 9 leverages machine learning to monitor user habits (all of which takes place locally on the device and is not offloaded to any cloud-based system) and redistribute CPU usage to the apps you more frequently use, whilst minimising background behaviour on apps you seldom touch. The phone also runs automated memory cleaning and defragmenting tasks to help maintain performance levels too.

Huawei Mate 9 hands-on review: Camera

The last and arguably most interesting aspect of the Mate 9 is the new camera arrangement. There’s a conventional 8-megapixel front-facer that enjoys all of the beauty mode functionality we’ve seen from Huawei’s previous handsets, but on the back we’re presented with the first example of a second generation camera through Huawei’s partnership with camera brand Leica.

Like the P9’s dual camera, there are two sensors on the Mate 9’s primary snapper, a 12-megapixel colour sensor with OIS (optical image stabilisation) and a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor with enlarged pixels and EIS. Both are accompanied by a dual-tone LED flash and a laser autofocus array as well.

In practice the new camera looks to be the best Huawei’s ever put into a smartphone, offering up 2x lossless zoom, DSLR-like bokeh in portrait and landscape (in a bid to outperform the iPhone 7 Plus’ portrait mode) and, as a result of the new beefier Kirin 960 processor, 4K video recording.

We’re still waiting on finalised pricing and availability information, but we’ll update this feature soon with the information once we have it.

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