HUAWEI Mate 9 Review: The Best Big Phone That You Can Buy Today

2017/01/24
HUAWEI Mate 9 Review: The Best Big Phone That You Can Buy Today

HUAWEI’s Mate series has always had stiff competition from Korean powerhouse Samsung thanks to the latter’s phenomenal Note devices. This year is a little different though – with the untimely demise of the Korean brand’s flagship phablet, the door has been left wide open for its competitors to take advantage. While HUAWEI’s Mate 9 flagship is a little late for the holidays, the Chinese firm’s offering is pretty solid, coming in with fantastic features and a pretty solid price point. Today we’ll go in depth to why HUAWEI’s Mate 9 is the best high-end big phone in the market available today. But first, the specs.

HUAWEI Mate 9

2.4 GHz HiSilicon Kirin 960 octa-core processor

Mali-G71 MP8 graphics processor

4 GB RAM

5.9-inch FHD IPS display, 1920 x 1080 resolution, 2.5D curved glass

64 GB internal storage, expandable via microSD

20-megapixel seconday rear camera, Leica sensor, f/2.2 aperture, monochrome, OIS, 4-in-1 hybrid AF (laser, phase detection, depth,

contrast detection), dual LED dual tone flash, 4K video

12-megapixel primary rear camera, Leica sensor, f/2.2 aperture, color sensor, OIS, 4-in-1 hybrid AF (laser, phase detection, depth,

contrast detection), dual LED dual tone flash, 4K video

8-megapixel front camera, f/1.9 aperture, AF

Dual SIM

4G LTE

Fingerprint scanner

Android 7.0 Nougat

4000mAh battery, Super Charge

A huge phone that doesn’t feel that way

HUAWEI’s been making stylish, metal-bodied phones for a while now, and they only get better each time they come out with a new model. The Mate 9 is probably the finest metal-bodied phone that they’ve released to date. Sporting an all metal unibody design with sloping sides, rounded corners and beveled edges, the Mate 9’s design language stands out against its competitors. The phone feels extremely solid and well built which adds to the premium feel of the phone.

Flip the phone over and you’ll see the second generation Leica co-engineered, dual lens camera module, bearing the German legends’ name in-between the two cameras. A laser AF system sits on the right side of the camera, while the dual LED flash sits on the left. The fingerprint scanner sits directly below the camera module.

HUAWEI’s done a few interesting things with the body of the Mate 9. First off, the Chinese company has managed to banish the antenna bands from the back of the camera, relegating them to the sides, near the top and bottom. We really like the look of a phone with no obvious antenna lines, and while the Mate 9 isn’t the first one to use this kind of design element (ASUS’ Zenfone 3 Deluxe has antenna lines that are really hard to spot) we’re happy that it’s on the phone regardless.

The second thing that we noticed with the Mate 9 was that there’s a gloss finish applied on the back of the phone. The phone doesn’t feel as cold to the touch as a full metal device without it, which makes it a little easier to hold and more resistant to accidental slippage. The downside is that the phone’s rear is a little too glossy for our taste, and makes it look a little plasticky in certain angles. Our review unit, the champagne gold version, had the finish applied, though the silver colored variant (the one that won’t be available in the PH) did not. We’re not sure if the same finish is applied to the Mocha Brown variant.

The phone’s overall footprint is only a few mm more than a regular 5.5-inch phone, which is surprising, considering that the device has a large, 5.9-inch full HD display. Using it one-handed is no problem, though people with smaller hands may have trouble with it. The screen has a one-handed mode just for those people.

Going around the phone, you’ll see the power and volume rocker on the right side, with the 3.5 mm jack on top. The hybrid SIM/microSD tray is located on the left, while the USB Type-C port is located on the bottom, flanked by speaker grilles. The Mate 9 has several microphones scattered throughout its body, which gives you omni-directional audio recording when you need it.

The screen is a 5.9-inch, full HD LCD panel, protected by Gorilla Glass 4. HUAWEI’s one of the few holdouts when it comes to higher resolution QHD panels, stubbornly refusing to include it in the basic versions of their flagships. That was true for the P9 and is still true with the Mate 9, though customers in China have an option to opt for the Porche Design variant that has a curved, QHD display. Sadly that option doesn’t exist for PH customers.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the full HD display on the regular Mate 9. Colors aren’t as rich as vibrant as the Super AMOLED panels of competing phones, but the display still managed to deliver crisp, rich images. Colors look great on the display and viewing angles are pretty generous. There’s even a way to tweak the display’s color temperature if you don’t like the default.

We like how the front of the Mate 9 is almost all screen, which manages to reduce the physical size of the phone even more.

Fast performance made even faster with AI

Just like with their other flagships, HUAWEI’s Mate 9 is powered by Kirin processors, made by sister company Hisilicon. The octa-core Kirin 960 processor runs at a 2.4 GHz, and is paired with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage. If you’ve been following trends in the mobile industry in the past few months, you would have noticed that other companies have offered flagships with much higher RAM to improve performance. For the Mate 9, HUAWEI’s gone with software rather than hardware, and have baked in a machine learning algorithm to make the phone perform faster the longer you’ve been using it.

The elevator pitch for the machine learning algorithm is that once it learns your usage habits, the phone will be able to predict your behavior when it comes to opening apps, clearing and diverting resources as needed. For example, once the phone learns that you like to use Facebook then Reddit (or vice-versa) during certain hours of the day (like your daily commute, for example) it’ll move resources to open those apps seamlessly.

The phone felt smooth to use and we had absolutely zero performance issues with it, but unfortunately we don’t have a way to test if that overall smoothness is because of the hardware or the software on the phone. Regardless, the Mate 9 feels fast despite having just 4 GB of RAM. Games open quickly, run fast without any hint of slowdown at all.

The Mate 9 runs HUAWEI’s EMUI (now in its fifth iteration) over Android Nougat, or Android 7.0. With the new release, HUAWEI has finally included an option to add an app drawer if you wish. HUAWEI has included their own interpretation of a few Android staples like Gallery and the like, though they function pretty much the same way as stock Android.

The way that Android Nougat handles notifications feels neater than Marshmallow, since similar notifications are grouped together resulting in a less cluttered screen.

Moving onto the rest of the phone, the Mate 9 has really loud speakers that are pretty well defined, even in high volume. The fingerprint scanner is as fast as and as accurate as ever, never missing a single beat while we were using it. We’ve discovered that HUAWEI’s flagships manage to get the best LTE signal no matter which network we use compared to the other flagships that we’ve tested, and the Mate 9 is no exception.

Camera is an upgrade over the P9, but low-light performance still needs work

The Mate 9’s standout feature is the dual-camera setup on the rear that the company popularized with the P9 and the P9 Plus. The Chinese company has once again teamed up with famed German camera brand Leica to co-engineer the camera system of the Mate 9. HUAWEI has increased the resolution of the monochrome image sensor to 20-megapixels, while still retaining the 12-megapixel color sensor of the original. And just like the P9, the monochrome sensor is aimed at acquiring contrast and dynamic range (as well as depth information for the software depth of field feature) when shooting color photos, with the phone compressing the 20-megapixel image that it gets down to 12-megapixels before it’s combined with the color sensor.

Both cameras are mated with an f/2.2 lens, which is a bit higher than we would have expected from a flagship like the Mate 9.

We took the Mate 9 with us during our week in Hong Kong, and we were generally pleased with the performance of the camera. Photos are sharp despite being a smidge overexposed, and while they’re less vibrant than say, photos taken with Samsung’s Galaxy S7, the end result is more realistic. The camera does struggle quite a bit with low-light shots, which is the result of the f/2.2 aperture lens. HUAWEI’s thrown OIS into the mix, which does help a bit. There’s also an extensive “pro shooting mode” where you can fiddle with manual settings, and you can also shoot with the 20-megapixel monochrome camera as well.

Just like the P9 the Mate 9 can produce photos with convincing artificial bokeh provided you know how to use it. Shots with a single subject that’s a few feet away from the background create the most realistic effect. As before, you can adjust the bokeh after taking the shot via a slider, though now you can also check the bokeh effect before taking the shot.

The Mate 9 can now also take 4K video as well in 30FPS if you desire.

Monstrous battery life

HUAWEI’s Mate series of phones have always managed to deliver amazing battery life, thanks to big batteries and efficient processors. The Mate 9 is no exception – we regularly experience two full days of use with the Mate 9 on a single charge, which is a godsend for people like us. Travelling overseas, we usually pack multiple powerbanks with us since we primarily use our phones there for navigation via Google Maps, and despite this the Mate 9 managed to stay alive for a whole day with extremely heavy use (GPS on, mobile hotspot on). Suffice to say we barely had to use our powerbanks while navigating the streets of Hong Kong.

Back in the PH, our daily routine rarely manages to drop the Mate 9’s battery below 50% at the end of the workday. Even during those days that we did need to top up the battery before heading out, the quick charge feature of the charger (dubbed SuperCharge) makes short work of charging, though the only catch is that you’ll need to use HUAWEI’s proprietary cable.

Verdict: It’s the big phone to beat in the PH

With the absence of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 and a clear phablet leader, the door has been left wide open for companies like HUAWEI to capitalize. If you’ve been waiting for a big-screen phone that’s fast, takes great photos and has loads and loads of battery life, then you shouldn’t look any further. The Mate 9 is currently the best big phone in the market and while that’s sure to change in the next few months, right now HUAWEI’s biggest phone is also its best.

The HUAWEI Mate 9 retails for Php 31,990.

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