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Huawei Mate 9 Review: A smartphone that gets better the more you use it?

By James Lu - 16 Dec 2016
Launch SRP: S$898

Performance Benchmarks, Imaging, Battery Life, and Conclusion

Performance Benchmarks

As usual for Huawei, the Mate 9 uses an in-house Kirin SoC. The Kirin 960 uses four of ARM’s new Cortex-A73 cores and four low-powered A53 cores. It's also the first processor to ship with the new Mali G71 MP8 GPU, which should result in better gaming performance and graphics thanks to a quoted 180 percent speed increase over the T880 used in the Mate 8.

  Huawei Mate 9 Huawei Mate 8 LG V20 Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge OnePlus 3 Apple iPhone 7 Plus
  Huawei Mate 9 Huawei Mate 8 LG V20 Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge OnePlus 3 Apple iPhone 7 Plus
Launch SRP
  • From S$898
  • From S$998
  • From S$1098
  • From S$699
  • From S$1248
Operating system
  • Android 7.0 Nougat with EMUI 5.0
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow with EMUI 4.0
  • Android 7.0 Nougat with LG UX 5.0+
  • Android 6.0 Marshmallow
  • Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with Oxygen OS 3.2.4
  • iOS 10
Processor
  • Hisilicon Kirin 960 Octa-core (4x 2.4GHz Cortex-A73 & 4x 1.8GHz Cortex-A53)
  • HiSilicon Kirin 950 Octa-core (Quad-core 2.3 GHz Cortex-A72 + quad-core 1.8 GHz Cortex A53) processor
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad-core (dual-core 2.15GHz Kyro & dual-core 1.59GHz Kyro), 14nm process
  • Samsung Exynos 8890 octa-core (quad-core 2.3GHz Cortex- M1 & quad-core 1.6GHz Cortex-A53), 14nm process
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 (dual-core 2.15GHz Kryo & dual-core 1.6GHz Kryo)
  • Apple A10 Fusion quad-core 2.33GHz processor
Built-in Memory
  • 4GB RAM
  • 4GB RAM
  • 4GB RAM
  • 4GB RAM
  • 6GB
  • 3GB RAM
Display
  • 5.9-inch / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (373ppi) / IPS LCD
  • 6.0-inch / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (368 ppi) / IPS-NEO LCD
  • 5.7-inch Main / 2,560 x 1,440 pixels (513ppi) / IPS Quantum Display
  • 2.1-inch Secondary / 160 x 1,040 (513ppi) / IPS Quantum Display
  • 5.5-inch / 2,560 x 1,440 pixels (534 ppi) / Super AMOLED
  • Always-On Display
  • Edge Screen
  • 5.5-inch / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (401 ppi) / Optic AMOLED
  • 5.5-inch Retina HD / 1,920 x 1,080 pixels (401ppi) / IPS
Camera
  • Rear: Dual 20-megapixel (monochrome) + 12-megapixel (RGB), f/2.2, OIS, Leica optics, phase detection, laser autofocus, dual-LED flash
  • Front: 8-megapixel, f/1.9
  • Rear: 16-megapixel, f/2.0, 27mm, OIS, phase detection autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash
  • Front: 8-megapixel f/2.4, 26mm
  • Rear (Standard): 16-megapixel, f/1.8, optical image stabilization, laser autofocus, 75-degree field of view
  • Rear (Wide): 8-megapixel, f/2.4, laser autofocus, 135-degree field of view
  • Front: 5-megapixel, f/1.9, 120-degree field of view
  • Rear: 12-megapixel with f/1.7 aperture and smart OIS
  • Front: 5-megapixel with f/1.7 aperture
  • Rear: 16-megapixel, f/2.0, phase detection autofocus, OIS, LED flash, 1/2.8" sensor size, 1.12 µm pixel size
  • Front: 8-megapixel, f/2.0, 1/3.2" sensor size, 1.4 µm pixel size
  • Rear: Dual 12-megapixel, (f/1.8, 28mm & f/2.8, 56mm) with phase detection autofocus, OIS, and quad LED (dual-tone) flash
  • Front: 7-megapixel, f/2.2 FaceTime HD camera
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, DLNA, WiFi Direct, Bluetooth v4.2
  • Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4+5GHz),DLNA, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, GPS, GLONASS
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2 LE, A-GPS, GLONASS, LTE CAT 9/3G/2G
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 + 5GHz), 4G+ LTE Cat 9 (up to 450Mbps), Bluetooth 4.1, VHT80, MIMO (2x2), GPS, GLONASS, NFC, Screen Mirroring
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (dual band), Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, DLNA, USB Type-C, USB 3.1 Gen 1
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, hotspot, Bluetooth v4.2, A2DP, LE, GPS, GLONASS, Lightning connector
Storage Type
  • 64GB internal storage
  • Expandable up to 256GB via microSD
  • 64GB internal storage
  • MicroSD card slot up to 128GB
  • 64GB internal storage (UFS)
  • 2TB (MicroSD)
  • 32GB internal storage (UFS 2.0)
  • 200GB (MicroSD)
  • 64GB internal storage
  • 32 / 128 / 256GB internal storage
Battery
  • 4,000mAh
  • 4,000mAh
  • 3,200mAh
  • Removable
  • 3,600mAh
  • Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging
  • 3,000mAh
  • Dash Charge
  • 2,900mAh
Dimensions
  • 156.9 x 78.9 x 7.9mm
  • 157.1 x 80.6 x 7.9 mm
  • 159.7 x 78.1 x 7.6mm
  • 150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7mm
  • 152.7 x 74.7 x 7.4 mm
  • 158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm
Weight
  • 190g
  • 185g
  • 174g
  • 157g
  • 158g
  • 188g


Sunspider Javascript

SunSpider JavaScript measures the browsing performance of a device when processing JavaScript. It not only takes into consideration the underlying hardware performance, but also assesses how optimized a particular platform is at delivering a high-speed web browsing experience. 

The Mate 9 performed quite well here, beating everything except for the Galaxy S7 Edge and Apple iPhone 7 Plus. The actual usage experience was generally smooth, with only slight jitters on resource-heavy websites.

 

Quadrant

Quadrant is an Android benchmark that evaluates a device's CPU, memory, I/O and 3D graphics performances. As this is an Android benchmark, the Apple iPhone 7 Plus is not included. The Mate 9 performed much better than the Mate 8 but lagged slightly behind both Snapdragon 820-equipped devices. We haven't been able to benchmark an 821 device, but it should score even higher, which unfortunately would put the Mate 9 even further behind. Samsung's Exynos 8890 continues to be untouchable in this benchmark.


 

 

3DMark Sling Shot

3DMark Sling Shot is an advanced 3D graphics benchmark that tests the full range of OpenGL ES 3.1 and ES 3.0 API features including multiple render targets, instanced rendering, uniform buffers and transform feedback. The test also includes impressive volumetric lighting and post-processing effects. We're running this benchmark in Unlimited mode, which ignores screen resolutions.

The Mate 9 once again lagged slightly behind both 820-equipped processors, and was considerably weaker than both the S7 Edge and iPhone 7 Plus. It did however live up to expectations somewhat as it was greatly better than its predecessor.


 

Imaging

Huawei has once again teamed up with Leica to co-engineer its imaging system. Like the Huawei P9, the Mate 9 has a dual-lens system on its rear. However, the Mate 9 camera setup is a bit different from the P9 and other dual-camera phones like the LG V20 and iPhone 7 Plus, as the Mate 9's is split into monochrome and color sensors, with the 12-megapixel sensor capturing RGB data and the 20-megapixel sensor capturing monochrome information. Combined together, they deliver richer colors and finer details.

You can use the monochrome sensor independently, but unless you really like black and white photography, it's generally better to use both together.

Because the monochrome lens has a higher resolution than the color one, Huawei says it can do “hybrid zoom.” While this may sound like a combination of optical and digital zoom, as far as I can tell, there's nothing optical about it. Huawei's Hybrid Zoom seems to just be digital sensor cropping, where a photo is taken at a higher resolution and then cropped, something that we've seen before from the old Nokia Lumia phones, and more recently Sony.

Like the iPhone 7 Plus, the Mate 9 has a bokeh mode (called 'Wide Aperture' by Huawei) which aims to replicate background bokeh. The results aren't the best though and the algorithm is bad at distinguishing edges, often blurring out the wrong part of the photo.

Overall picture quality on the Mate 9 is quite good on standard usage, with photos taken under good lighting coming out sharp with good detail reproduction and accurate colors. Some pictures do look a little over processed,  and the auto-HDR is a little aggressive for my taste, but it does the job. Due to the relatively narrow f/2.2 aperture, low-light photography isn't the best, and even though the sensor has 6-axis optical image stabilization, pictures tend to be a hit-or-miss if there's not enough light.

Click for full-size image

 


Battery Life

Our standard battery test for mobile phones has the following parameters:

  • Looping a 720p video with screen brightness and volume at 100%
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
  • Constant data streaming through email and Twitter

The Mate 9 has a massive 4,000mAh battery, giving it one of the highest capacity batteries out there. In combination with its Full HD display, this resulted in excellent battery life. 

Huawei is also introducing its own fast-charging technology called Super Charge, which works much like Qualcomm's QuickCharge or Samsung's Fast Charge technology. Huawei claims that with Super Charge, the Mate 9 can reach about 60 percent charge in 30 minutes, which would put it on par with other quick charging technologies out there. However in my own testing it took longer than that, requiring nearly an hour to reach 60 percent.
 

Conclusion

Ultimately, despite all of the technology Huawei has crammed into the Mate 9, its two best features are its huge display and excellent battery life. While that makes it perfect if you spend all of your time watching videos on your phone, for S$898, we expect a little more.

Neither of the Mate 9's two big features, the machine-learning algorithm and Leica dual camera setup, were particularly outstanding and it still remains to be seen if the machine-learning really can deliver on the eight percent increase in performance Huawei is claiming. Mind you, eight percent is unlikely that you would actually get to feel any change in performance even if benchmarks show it. It's also worth noting that even if it does get a boost in performance, Huawei's Kirin 960 SoC still trails behind the flagship processors from Apple, Samsung and Qualcomm.

The Leica dual-lens setup looks good on paper but the results weren't as impressive in actual use. The whole setup is also let down by a mediocre f/2.2 aperture that struggles under less than ideal lightning conditions. 

If you're looking for a powerful phablet to replace your Note7, OnePlus' new Qualcomm Snapdragon 821-equipped OnePlus 3T will outperform the Mate 9. While not officially available locally, there are also many options for getting your hands on Google's new Pixel XL, which also runs on a Snapdragon 821. Alternatively, LG's V20 uses the older 820 processor (which still slightly outperforms the Mate 9) but packs in a ton of interesting audiophile, photography and video features and also has a higher resolution QHD display.

7.5
  • Design 8
  • Features 7.5
  • User-Friendliness 8
  • Performance 7.5
  • Value 7
The Good
Great battery life
Huge 5.9-inch display
Performance may get better over time?
The Bad
Mediocre benchmark performance
Camera struggles in low-light conditions
Looks almost exactly the same as last year's Mate 8
Quite expensive for what you get