Chinese smartphone maker Huawei has unveiled its latest flagship device — the Mate 9. The handset is the company's new top-of-the-line product, positioned above the P9 family and pitched to customers who want to get the very most out of their phone. The Mate 9 comes with a 5.9-inch full HD display, 4,000 mAh battery, fingerprint sensor, rear dual-camera system, USB Type-C, 4GB of RAM, and Huawei's own Kirin 960 processor (its fastest ever). It all sounds very punchy, and the Mate 9 looks and feels like a high-end device, too, with a metal unibody design that's sleek and solid as a rock.
The Mate 9 will cost €699
The handset is launching alongside a super-lux variant, which has been given the clunky moniker of the Porsche Design Mate 9. This will be a limited edition device with boosted specs including 6GB of RAM, 256GB internal memory (compared to 64GB on the Mate 9), and a screen with 2K resolution. More notably, that handset's 5.5-inch display is curved like Samsung's Galaxy Edge series. Huawei certainly isn't targeting the mainstream with this one, as the Porsche Design handset costs a ludicrous €1,395 ($1,549). The regular Mate 9 is pricey too, costing €699 ($776). The latter device will launch in a number of European and Asian markets, but we do also know Huawei plans to bring the Mate 9 to the US some time in the future.
The Mate 9 arrives at an interesting time for Huawei, as the telecoms company — now also the third-biggest smartphone maker in the world — puts increasing emphasis on its consumer tech, while trying to expand its reach outside of China and nearby Asian markets. One-third of its revenue now comes from its consumer retail division (as opposed to 0 percent just five years ago), and the company is keen to muscle into the high-end phone market currently dominated by Samsung and Apple.
Accordingly, this year's P9 launched in the West with a flurry of marketing, including an ad campaign starring Scarlett Johansson and Henry Cavill. And in some European markets such as Spain, Italy, and Finland, it's estimated that Huawei already controls 20 percent of smartphone sales. The big test, though, will be the Mate 9's launch in the US — a market that numerous Chinese firms are trying to crack.
From our brief time spent testing Huawei's new flagship, it seems like the company has produced another well-designed and whip-fast phone. Barring the changes to the rear camera and rear fingerprint sensor, the handset is near-identical to last year's Mate 8, with similar polished lines and materials. It is also, blissfully, a little smaller than the Mate 8 and its 6-inch display, although it remains pretty massive. We didn't have a chance to try out the Porsche Design Mate 9, but its curved 5.5-inch display should certainly be a little more manageable.
Huawei has overhauled its EMUI Android skin (based on Android 7.0) for the phones' launch, giving it a fresh and simplified look with more blues and whites and reducing menu clutter. It certainly looks better than older versions of EMUI, and Huawei is also giving users the option of using an app drawer — rather than enforcing its previous iOS-inspired system of app-placement where everything you install has to find a place on the home screen.
Huawei says machine learning will keep the Mate 9 running fast after years of use
The company says it's also introduced a number of software tweaks, including a machine learning-powered system which watches how you use the phone and changes the allocation of processing power accordingly. Huawei's promise is that the Mate 9 which actually get faster the more you use it — the opposite of what happens with most Android phones — and the company claims internal tests have found that performance improved by as much as 8 percent over 10,000 hours of simulated use. And all of this is powered by the company's new octa-core Kirin 960 system-on-chip, which supports the Vulkan API for improved graphical crunch.
As ever, we'll need to see how these components stand up to real-life usage before we make our final judgement on the Mate 9, but during our brief time with the phone, the performance did seem as responsive as you could want. The impressive claim that the 4,000 mAh battery charges to 58 percent in half an hour to provide "more than a day of usage" also need to be tested.
Less immediately reassuring was the phone's rear dual-camera system, which, like the P9, comes with a bit of skin-deep Leica branding. As with the P9, picture quality was inconsistent, producing mostly good images during our hands-on but quite a few lousy ones tool. Certainly, the Mate 9's camera doesn't seem like it can stand up to the likes of the Pixel or iPhone. We'll have to see if the rest of the phone will fare any better.