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Huawei Mate 9 Review: In Depth

4.5

The Good

  • Great software
  • Premium finish
  • Excellent battery life

The Bad

  • Expensive

Huawei Mate 9 Review: Huawei’s latest Mate phone is a mighty 5.9-inch mobile packing some top-end specs, including the super-powered Kirin 960 processor and a fresh new dual-lens Leica camera. Here’s our full Mate 9 review, to see if this handset is a worthy Galaxy Note 7 replacement.

Huawei’s Mate handsets are premium phones built for those who like massive mobile screens, and the latest version is the highly desirable Huawei Mate 9. The Mate 9 boasts a lot of firsts; it’s the first phone to come packing Huawei’s new Kirin 960 processor, for instance, which is built for top-end performance. It’s also the first phone packing the fresh new EMUI 5.0 launcher, and Huawei’s second-generation dual-lens Leica camera.

So, do all these firsts add up to an essential premium phone, the kind of expensive hand-filling blower that owners of the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 can leap to instead? Or does the Mate 7 feel more like a guinea pig handset, trying lots of new things without really succeeding?

Well, you’ve clearly seen the review score so you’ll know that the answer is not quite the first, but definitely not the second. And if you want a full breakdown, here’s our in-depth Mate 9 review.

Huawei Mate 9 review: Design

First off, the Mate 9 is a serious full-on phablet. If you want a phone that’s easy to handle or compact in any way, this isn’t the mobile for you.

On the other hand if a massive display is one of your main requirements then the Mate 9 is going to be the shining light of your life. At 5.9-inches you’ll struggle to find a bigger blower here in the UK. That said, the narrow bezels and impressively slender finish mean that the Mate isn’t much bigger than many other handsets such as the OnePlus 3, which have smaller screens.

You can tell that the Mate 9 is a premium device just with a quick fondle, too. The aluminium unibody looks pleasingly sleek, with subtle chamfered edging and some lovely detailing around the camera lenses. It’s a rugged handset too - we’ve dropped our review sample a couple of times already and it hasn’t even got a scratch on that shiny surface.

Of course, one-handed use isn’t exactly a walk in the park. The Mate 9 is a hefty and rather enormous handset, which demands two mitts for proper operation. However, Huawei has at least added in a fair few features to make one-handed use possible, which we’ll touch on in the OS and features section.

Unlike a couple of other flagships like the Sony Xperia XZ and Samsung Galaxy S7, the Note 7 isn’t water-resistant. It’s splash-proof at least though, so you can use it in the rain without worrying about the insides getting frazzled.

Huawei Mate 9 review: Screen and media

That 5.9-inch IPS display is certainly spacious, but does it also pump out pleasing visuals?

In short, yep. The Full HD resolution is a bit of a surprise, given the Quad HD display fitted on the Porsche Design model. After all, most of the Mate 9’s rivals with smaller screens still manage a Quad HD output. But the Mate’s panel is still pleasingly sharp, to the point that you’ll struggle to spy any individual pixels.

In fact, you have to stick the Mate 9 side-by-side with the HTC 10 or Galaxy S7 to notice any clarity differences, which are still pretty subtle.

You can have a play around with the colour temperature and some other basic settings in the Display menu, but there’s not a great deal of customisation on offer. However, you do at least get the Eye Comfort mode, which filters out blue light when you’re in a dimly lit environment, for an easy-on-the-eyeball viewing experience.

You get a microSD memory card slot to expand the 64GB of on-board storage, giving you buckets of space for your media collection. Certainly no need to stream your music on the go if you want to avoid using too much data.

Huawei Mate 9 review: OS and features

The Mate 9 comes with the latest version of Android Nougat, and Huawei’s brand new Emotion UI 5.0 is slathered on top to change up the overall look and feel of Google’s OS.

If that means pretty much nothing to you, no worries. Just check out our What is Android guide, and then take a look at our EMUI 5.0 review, which explains what Huawei’s Emotion UI is and does.

In a nutshell, the new EMUI is the first version of Huawei’s software launcher that we actually like. You get some genuinely useful features such as in-depth resource management, and we love how flexible EMUI 5.0 is. Pretty much every feature has a couple of ways of accessing it, be it gestures or shortcuts or simply tapping into the settings menu.

There’s also a lot of built-in support for using larger phones like the Mate 9 with a single hand. That’s particularly handy if you’re laden with shopping and trying to send off a quick text or similar.

For instance, you can squash the entire contents of the screen down towards the bottom of the display, to make them easier to reach with your thumb. You also have full gesture support using the fingerprint sensor; so you can pull down the notifications panel with a flick down, or hide it away again with a swipe upwards.

Check out our EMUI 5.0 tips and tricks guide to learn more.

Speaking of that rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, it’s one of the best we’ve used this year. Despite being rather tiny (certainly in comparison with the phone itself), the scanner is easy to find with your pinkie when you pick up the handset. It’s pleasingly accurate too, only throwing up errors when your finger is wet or dirty. And no hanging around either; a quick tap and your Mate unlocks in a heartbeat.

You also get an IR blaster built into the top edge of the phone, which is a feature we haven’t seen on many phones at all recently. Even Samsung has ditched them from its handsets, as the likes of smart home control come into play. It’s far from a deal clincher, but it’s nice to have as an extra means of controlling your gadgets.

Huawei Mate 9 review: Performance and battery life

There’s no doubting the Mate 9’s chops when it comes to performance. That Kirin 960 processor is a beast, easily rivalling the likes of the Snapdragon 821 when it comes to running your apps, playing games and everything inbetween.

Multi-tasking is a pain-free process, helped by that massive screen of course. You can quickly get two apps running side-by-side with a split-screen effect, and we’re yet to see any kind of slowdown while doing so.

Meanwhile the latest games play with a perfect frame rate and look fantastic. You shouldn’t see any kind of performance issues for the full two years of a phone contract, but even if the Mate 9 did start to creak a bit, EMUI 5.0 includes plenty of simple ways to free up memory and speed things up.

Battery life is another definite highlight. The Mate 9 has a massive 4000mAh cell squished inside, which is bigger than pretty much every other phone battery from 2016. Combined with the relative efficiency of the Mate, you can expect around two full days of life from a single charge.

We even regularly made it through a full 48 hours with a bit of video streaming, gaming and other heavy use scattered sporadically through the day. So you definitely don’t need to restrain yourself and limit your use to emails and browsing to get that full two days.

The Mate 9 can also be quick-charged, giving you a full charge in roughly 90 minutes using the bundled charger and Type-C USB cable.

Huawei Mate 9 review: Cameras

One of the star features of the Mate 9 is the dual-lens camera on the back of the phone. Once again a collaboration between Huawei and optics expert Leica, that snapper is formed of a 12-megapixel RGB lens as well as a 20-megapixel monochrome lens. You also get phase detection and laser autofocus, plus full optical image stabilisation and support for 4K video recording.

Which all sounds lovely and snazzy, but is the camera actually any good? Check out our Huawei Mate 9 camera review for our in-depth impressions, plus our camera comparison vs the Galaxy S7, iPhone 7 and Pixel XL, to see which mobile camera is the best.

Huawei Mate 9 review: Verdict

The Huawei Mate 9 isn’t quite the essential purchase that Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 was (before the whole burny screamy saga), but it is a very good super-sized handset.

EMUI 5.0 is fun to use and you get all of the features you’d expect, including a solid camera and a gorgeous, spacious screen for taking in media on the move. Factor in smooth performance and impressive battery life and you’ve got a pricey but premium smartphone experience.

Key Specs

  • 5.9-inches
  • Full HD 1920x1080
  • N/A
  • Android 7.0 Nougat
  • 12MP + 20MP Leica
  • 8MP
  • Kirin 960
  • 4GB
  • 64GB + microSD
  • Yes
  • Fingerprint sensor, IR blaster

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