The Huawei Mate 9 is a strong device that can stand up to heavy use with its long-lasting battery. The most discerning and demanding customers will be drawn to its reliability and appealing design. We scrutinized all aspects of the Mate 9, and it scored well in all relevant areas of our review.
Huawei Mate 9 design and build quality
Huawei got the curve-itch and moved away from the edgy look of its predecessors. This comes with a big benefit: the device is much more ergonomic than the Mate 8 or even the Ascend Mate 7. Otherwise, the normal Huawei design is maintained and is dominated by metal and glossy cut edges.
The Huawei Mate 9 is quite large and heavy. With almost six inches diagonally and 190 grams in weight, it’s not designed for small hands. Compact smartphone enthusiasts should look elsewhere. But before you let the size of this device dissuade you, it’s important to look at the benefits of this phablet.
The large internal space allows for the large battery and high-quality hardware. The battery life is almost two days and the chipset won’t choke thanks to the large cooling area. Even in the toughest benchmark tests, the Mate 9 consistently receives high scores.
The elegant design of the Mate 9 is only surpassed by the 5.5 inch Porsche Design version, which also has more powerful hardware and about twice the price tag.
Huawei Mate 9 software
Huawei’s software interface has been overhauled. EMUI 5 is based on Android 7.0 Nougat and is brighter and rounder than its predecessor. The Mate 9 uses new Android features like Vulkan API for better gaming performance and Daydream for a smoother VR experience. EMUI 5 also has an app drawer by default.
So far, I’ve always considered Huawei’s software to be its biggest hurdle. Non-removable features, ominous optimization tools and Apple’s patented surface elements plague it. My favorite Huawei is the Nexus 6P because its software came directly from Google and not from Huawei.
With EMUI 5 on the the Mate 9, I was swayed. Notifications were punctual, background services stopped only when I told them to, and the software was generally reliable.
A software feature introduced already by Nova, is the App Twin function. With it, you can install Facebook or WhatsApp twice. The latter is particularly useful is you have the dual-SIM version the Mate 9, so you can use WhatsApp with both of you cell phone numbers. Instead of having two of the same app, you can also set up a second Android user profile on this device.
Huawei Mate 9 performance
Huawei intends to substantially improve gaming performance in the Mate 9. By upgrading the processor, internal memory, and a having supposedly non-aging file system, they hope to have found the secret to having short load time for the life of the phone.
But, it doesn’t live up to its hopes. Huawei promised almost twice the performance of the P9, but it’s still behind the Galaxy S7 Edge and the Pixel phones in the benchmark tests. The latter is up to 50% faster.
The rest of the SoC has been more than just a bit improved . The Kirin 960 is a new development. It has, among other things, the new ARM quad-core cluster of the Cortex-A73 with a maximum of 2.4 GHz and a Cortex-A53 with a maximum of 1.8 GHz. That’s a total of eight cores. As a GPU, the Mali G71 MP8 works well (MP8 stands for the eight computing units). The Vulkan engine contributes to improved graphics performance by using hardware resources more efficiently than the previously established OpenGL ES 3.1.
Another Huawei Mate 9 speed boost comes from outside the processor. The internal memory is from Samsung UFS 2.0. Samsung has been using this since the Galaxy S6 and it ensures shorter loading and boot times with the Mate 9 as well.
Huawei Mate 9 camera
The dual-lens camera, naturally, comes from Leica. Huawei has improved the camera from its first Leica smartphone camera, the P9, in particular for its low-light performance and sharpness. The overall approach is very interesting.
Huawei used our collective knowledge of the anatomy of the human eye to improve its camera system. Our retinas have an average of about 120 million contrast-seeing rods but only 6 to 7 million color-seeing cones. The Mate 9 camera imitates this and has a 20 MP sensor for the black and white profile of the image instead of 12 MP. The color camera still works with 12 MP.
Comparing the Mate 9 and the iPhone 7 Plus’s photos does reveal some key differences. The Mate 9’s strength lies in its low-light performance and contrast. The iPhone 7 Plus’s photos have a lot of noise in the dark areas, but in normal light conditions, they tend to be clearly sharper.
The Bokeh effect isn’t much improved. The software still create blurs mysteriously around objects and isn’t convincing. With a bit of patience and practice, though, you can use the focus effect to create unique images with the Mate 9.
For video, you can record in up to 4K, but facial tracking and stabilization are lost. Only the Google Pixel is capable of digitally stabilizing videos in 4K. The camera software on the Mate 9 is a natural improvement given the Leica-inspired surface introduced by the P9. It offers an easy-to-use Pro mode with extensive manual exposure control.
Another special feature of the camera is how quickly it opens. If you press the volume down button twice, while the Mate 9 is on standby, the phone will wake up and take a photo in less than one second. However, since the result is usually blurry and incorrectly exposed, you can just switch off this option in the settings.
Huawei Mate 9 battery
If you are using only one SIM card, you will get almost two days of battery life (with regular use and adaptive brightness). Excessive use (with two SIM cards and six hours of display-on time during the day) means you’ll have to charge it again at the end of each day.
In the detailed test, the Mate 9 can only last for two days in single SIM mode. As we launched a second SIM card, the Mate 9 delivered an average-to-good result: once a day, you had to recharge it.
The already big battery life of the Mate 8 was extended from 38 hours to around 43 hours for the Mate 9. So, Huawei has introduced the SuperCharge charger with the Mate 9.
In the test, Supercharge works twice as fast as conventional quick charging via Type-C and charges the Mate 9 completely within 100 minutes. The dedicated charger works with less power at first and with more power later. As a result, both the battery and the charger stay cooler. This not only increases the efficiency of the charging process to 98 percent but it also extends the lifetime of the components.
If the Galaxy Note 7 was still on the market, Samsung would be facing significant competition. But since that device went up in flames, the Mate 9 stands alone without any major phablet competitor. The iPhone 7 Plus makes comparable promises, but it is Apple.