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Review: Huawei Mate 9 – handsome phablet that runs and charges very fast

The Mate 9 is the latest smartphone from Huawei, with a beautiful brushed metal back and a large 5.9-inch display. The most visible feature of this phablet is probably its second-generation Leica dual-lens camera, while the combination of chamfered edges and strategic curves gives it a softer and more premium feel to go with its hefty asking price of HK$4,780.

Design and hardware

The successor to the Mate 8 released last year comes with the same 1920×1080 resolution and 4,000 mAh non-removable battery, while the screen is slightly smaller at 5.9 inches. This allows the Mate 9 to sport a smaller form factor, though the processor is bumped up to the octa-core Kirin 960 processor.

At 190 grams, it does weigh slightly more than its predecessor, though this is barely noticeable. A touch fingerprint reader is located on its back, and the phone supports dual SIM cards.

Not all improvements made it to the specs sheet. For instance, the display snaps awake within a split second when you press your finger on the fingerprint sensor. Recognition was noticeably faster in a side-by-side comparison with the Mate 8, which is no slouch itself. At the top, an IR blaster has been quietly added for you to control your air conditioner, TV and other audiovisual equipment using the pre-installed Huawei app.

Overall, the Mate 9 is a solid step up, and the curved sides mean that it doesn’t feels like it’s cutting into your palm when you are holding it.

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Features

The Mate 9 comes with Android 7.0 (Nougat), and a Huawei created user interface called the Emotion UI 5.0 (EMUI 5.0), which conforms a lot more to a stock Android device. The Quick Settings menu now holds twice the number of short cuts, with notifications showing at the bottom. The default launcher lets you set it either as an app-drawer arrangement, or to put everything on the homepage like iOS.

A feature called App Twin lets you create a second instance of apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp so that you can access a different account without having to first log out or disassociate your existing account. Unfortunately, this will not work with a third-party launcher.

Taking photos with the dual-lens Leica camera is fast and hassle-free, and it can be used to snap monochrome photos. A multitude of filter modes is available, making for a fun camera to use even if you don’t care about the Leica branding. In our tests, the dual lens did produce better shots at locations with limited lighting compared to single lens cameras.

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Performance and battery life

The new Kirin 960 octa-core processor is lightning fast when running apps. Whether it’s opening, closing or jumping back and forth, the phone never felt slow, and the battery has no problem lasting the entire day with a moderate to heavy amount of use.

The secret sauce behind the Mate 9 includes Huawei’s battery manager, which identifies power-intensive apps to give users the option to shut them down. When juice is low and the power socket is still far away, you can just enable one of two power saving modes to stretch your battery. If you know what you are doing, you can even tweak the power configurations for individual apps.

Of course, heavy users will appreciate that the Mate 9 comes with a new rapid-charging technology. In our tests, it brought the phone from 20 per cent to 90 per cent power in an hour, though it requires the use of Huawei’s charger and bundled USB-C cable. What we found useful was the “super charging” message that appears on in the screen when speed charging is enabled.

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To ease the transition to USB-C, the package comes with a micro-USB to USB-C adapter that you can use with other chargers.

Huawei says its engineers have worked to implement a machine learning algorithm to combat the problem of Android devices gradually losing their speed and responsiveness. Supposedly, this will improve the responsiveness of the Mate 9 with time, though it wasn’t something that we could verify after only having only spent a week with it.

Conclusion

Huawei has worked hard to make an already good flagship better with genuine features without resorting to gimmicky features. Users who prefer the bleeding edge will be justified in mourning the fact that it is not waterproof, the mundane screen resolution, or the fact that it doesn’t pack an AMOLED display.

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But while the Mate 9 doesn’t exactly push boundaries, there is no question that it is a solid device that will blend in well with the iPhones and Samsungs out there. The Mate 9 will be available on November 30.

Price: HK$4,780

Dimensions: 156.9mm; Width: 78.9mm Depth: 7.9mm

Weight: 190 grams

Screen size: 5.9 inches

Screen resolution: 1920 x 1080 FHD

Battery: 4000 mAh (non-removable)

OS: Android 7.0 (Nougat)

Processor: Kirin 960 Octa-core CPU

Camera(s): 8MP autofocus F1.9 (front); dual 20MP monochrome + 12MP RGB F2.2 (back)

Memory (expandable storage): 64GB internal, up to 256GB microSD

Colours: grey, silver, mocha gold, champagne gold