Designing a smartphone is no easy task. The smartphone market is a cut-throat, dog-eat-dog place. Crafting phone hardware to leap off store shelves involves clever design and must-have features, all done at a wallet-pleasing price. None of this has escaped the attention of Huawei, which has over the last few years moved up the ranks to become the third biggest smartphone player.
Huawei are hoping that their latest premium phablet, the Mate 9 Pro, has what it takes to be a killer phone. They may well be right, as it is a stunning looking device. This time it also commands a steep $1399 sticker price. So, the big question becomes this: does it have what it takes to sell in a price sensitive market such as New Zealand?
The Mate 9 Pro is a curious beast. Looks-wise it has an uncanny resemblance to Samsung’s Galaxy Edge. Like the Edge it has a curved screen plus a lozenge-shaped Home button that doubles as a fingerprint sensor. It might look a lot like something out of Sammy’s factory, but it’s definitely a Huawei device. The review unit has a glass front with a grippy alloy back. This should (in theory) make it far less drop-able. Huawei has also bundled a case in the box with the Mate 9 Pro. Why can’t other handset makers do this?
Its curvy finish also means it’s comfy for extended use. The curved screen also creates a big screen on a pocketable smartphone body. This sees a 5.5-inch QHD AMOLED screen attached to a phone smaller than the iPhone 7 Plus. It works, and works well.
The real differences between the Edge and the Mate 9 is the surface when you spin the Mate 9 Pro around. Unlike the Edge, the Mate 9 Pro comes with twin rear cameras and there is no camera bump in sight.
Like the P9 and Mate 9, the Mate 9 Pro’s dual camera setup uses optics co-designed by Huawei and Leica. A 20MP mono image sensor captures black and white images, and the lack of a colour filter allows it to capture more light. This means it delivers greater contrast which should translate into sharper images. The other camera has a colour filter and a 12MP image sensor. It colours in images captured with the mono sensor. Both cameras have an f/2.2 aperture and optical image stabilisation. Pictures taken by both sensors get merged into a single photo. The Mate 9 Pro captures photos that are as good/better than most high-end point and shoot cameras.
The camera app is also crammed with functions. It comes with a manual mode that’ll be familiar to most DSLR users. The thing is that it’s difficult to take a bad photo using the Mate 9 Pro, but you do need to spend time getting your head around the rich functionality of its camera app.
Spec-wise, it has a Huawei-developed Kirin 960 CPU under its hood; an 8-core beast packing acres of oomph. It’s also energy efficient. This contradictory combo is due to it using four A72 cores clocked at 2.4GHZ for heavy duty tasks. Then there’s four energy efficient (but less grunty) A53 CPU cores clocked at 1.8GHZ for other chores.
The Mate 9 Pro isn’t lacking on the storage or RAM front either. It comes with 6GB of Ram plus a generous 128GB of storage, which is plenty for most media users and gamers. It doesn’t take a MicroSD card, but this isn’t a biggie thanks to its roomy internal storage.
It also sports a 4000 mAh Li-Po battery and comes with one of the zippiest fast charge systems I’ve used. It’ll last around a day and half with typical use and charges to full in an hour and a bit. With modest use, two days’ battery life is typical. In short, the Mate 9 is not lacking on the specifications front, with more grunt here than at a bacon factory.
The Mate 9 Pro uses Huawei’s in-house designed EMUI 5.0 launcher over Android 7 (Nougat). App duplication and shovel-ware is minimal too. EMUI 5.0 also sports an optional app drawer. This should see it appealing to existing Android users as well as IOS refugees.
While some reviewers have commented that they’re not fans of EMUI, they’re missing out. Spending a little more time looking a little deeper reveals a few nifty features. Swiping up from the middle of the screen reveals a universal search bar for locating apps and files. Swiping up on the lock-screen provides access to a torch, sound recorder, calculator and camera. This puts these oft-used apps exactly where you’re likely to need them in a hurry.
I also liked the optional Floating Dock. It’s a shortcut menu that sits on the left-hand side of the screen within reach of your thumb for one-handed use, and contains a lock screen button, a button to close unused apps, and a back button.
Then there’s Motion control, which uses the Mate 9 Pro’s gyroscope and accelerometer to make using using the smartphone a seamless operation. Placing a ringing Mate 9 Pro face-down mute’s incoming calls. Picking it up decreases ringtones and alarm volume. You can also answer calls by placing the Mate9 Pro against your ear.
It might cost more than most other Huawei hardware, but then you do get a lot of phone for your money. In short, the Mate 9 Pro is aimed at the premium end of the smartphone market, and it looks and feels like a million bucks.
There isn’t much missing, with one of the best phone cameras I’ve used, a huge battery and a gorgeous big screen on a small phone body. The guts of it is that the Mate 9 Pro is a feature packed phone that is easy to recommend. PAT PILCHER