You’d think that having a Leica-engineered dual camera setup would make the Huawei P9 almost impossible to top. However, with its semi-successor, the beautiful Huawei Mate 9, the China-based brand manages to deliver a premium smartphone that could arguably go toe-to-toe with Samsung and Apple. But what makes this particular device so special?
Side Note: Before we begin, I’d just like to point out that the Mate 9 already impresses with initial presentation. When you buy a brand new Huawei Mate 9, you get this gorgeous black box with gold lettering that keeps everything simple. I mean, it simply says “Huawei Mate 9” in the middle, with the Leica logo on the bottom. Inside, the Phone is neatly displayed in a space on the side, with the various components like cables and phone cases in clean, simple boxes. No space is wasted either, as everything fits snugly within the box. If you try to put the contents away in the wrong manner, you’ll know, because the box won’t close. Obviously, even the presentation was carefully planned by Huawei.
Speaking of which, here’s what you’ll get in every Huawei Mate 9 box:
- Huawei Mate 9 unit (1 pc.)
- USB-C Charging Cable (1 pc.)
- Earphones (1 pair)
- Travel Charger (1 pc.)
- Phone Case (1 pc.)
- User Manual (1 pc.)
Design and Construction
The Mate 9 retains a similar build to the Huawei P9, but streamlines it cosmetically. In fact, my first thought about seeing the unit itself was ‘this really looks like an iPhone’! Note, of course, that this is a good thing. Why? Because that means the Mate 9 adopted a slick, minimalist design that leaves little detail on the phone shell. This cosmetic choice mirrors that of the P9, although the vital difference between the two lies in the placement of the camera. Not only does the Mate 9 have to account for the Leica-designed lenses, but it also needs to consider the placement of the fingerprint sensor.
Thankfully, the Mate 9 retains familiarity by retaining most of the P9’s button placement. First, let’s talk about the aforementioned camera placement. For the Mate 9, it takes a spot in the upper middle portion of the phone, with the two lenses placed vertically. Not only that, but they’re flanked by a flash on the left, and a sensor on the right. Lastly, right below the camera setup lies the fingerprint sensor.
Meanwhile, the right side of the phone contains the lock button and the volume buttons, while the left only has the SIM card holder. In addition, the top part of the phone holds just the earphone port, while the bottom only shows off the speaker grilles with the USB-C port. I was thoroughly impressed by the minimal design choices here, and all the buttons felt well-placed. This is also the only smartphone where I actually liked the choice to make the navigation buttons on-screen icons, instead of physical or capacitive buttons.
The display screen actually decreased a bit in comparison to its direct predecessor, the Mate 8, by measuring at only 5.9-inches. However, this still stands as an impressive upgrade from the P9 which only measured 5.5-inches. All in all, this easily retains the label of ‘phablet’.
Lastly, for the build, we need to talk about the beautiful glossy finish on this device, which just screams ‘premium’. In fact, the iPhone remark I made earlier applies here as well. And not only that, but I’d say the similarities in finish and look between the Huawei Mate 9 and a modern iPhone serve as a good thing. After all, an iPhone always looks good, in a minimalist sense. But I think what really makes it stand out is that most competitor devices go for the metallic look. The Mate 9 easily stands out in the eyes of most consumers.
OS, UI and Apps
The Mate 9 comes with Android 7.0 Nougat right out of the box, which makes sense as it’s a newer phone. However, Huawei didn’t forget to add a few details so that the interface wouldn’t look like a simple stock Android OS. They primarily accomplished this with Emotion UI (EMUI), their special Android skin. Its current iteration, the EMUI 5.0, looks organized thanks to the app drawer and limiting the number of bloatware applications.
To make things simple, the EMUI 5.0 takes many cues directly from iOS. By default, it looks flat and simple, but I’d argue that it actually touts simplicity and a minimalist design approach. In my opinion, this device benefits from EMUI, because this particular Android skin provides customization options on top of its easy-to-use interface. Furthermore, EMUI 5.0 generously offers newer features, like the ability to run two instances of the same app called App Twin, the ability to change the default look of the interface itself with Theme App, and lastly, the chance to switch to a secret secondary account with PrivateSpace. Lastly, the navigation keys take a standard form and appear on the screen itself. However, you can select the arrangement or add an extra button to the menu.
For those with experience using Huawei’s Emy, the voice control feature, consider yourself lucky. Emy lives on in EMUI 5.0, with the same features as before. Said features include simple voice tasks like calling a contact via voice command.
The obvious point of discussion here lies in the 2nd-gen Leica-engineered camera system in the rear shooter. The main camera carries a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor, while the second holds a 12-megapixel RGB sensor. Thus, you have a device that has one sensor that will take the primary shot and details. On the other hand, its second sensor will handle the color accuracy, saturation, and tone. These two will then take these exact details and combine them into a single picture that contains the data collected by both sensors.
The most noticeable strength of this Leica setup comes from clean, crisp images in low-light situations, even under long exposure. In fact, the phone allows users to set the exposure manually, with the longest going for 30 seconds. Thus, the Mate 9 feels like the perfect phone for those who love taking nighttime shots, as the quality will not be deterred by the lighting. Meanwhile, daylight photos truly impress, with strong details and lively colors. Even in uneven lighting, this phone manages to take great low-light pictures.
Now, let’s go back to the dual camera feature of the Mate 9, which also brings the wide aperture simulation software. What does this mean? Simply put, with the Mate 9’s Leica rear camera, anyone can get the blurred bokeh effect that you can usually only get with DSLR’s. So how does the Mate 9 do it? Basically, the camera makes a copy of the image you took, then blurring the parts where you don’t want to focus. I was impressed by this advanced mobile photography tech, and was even more surprised when I learned that there was built-in software that did this just for the bokeh effect.
But regardless of how they did it, I love the look of the bokeh effect that the Leica cameras provide. The blurring is precise, and the image software felt responsive when we were accessing bokeh. Overall, this Leica-engineered combo can seemingly do no wrong, in my opinion. Whether it’s a selfie or a pro-level photo with the rear camera, it will certainly look good.
Huawei Mate 9 Sample Photos
Huawei Mate 9 selfie camera sample
Performance and Benchmarks
Huawei’s newest chip powers the Mate 9, the HiSilicon Kirin 960. In terms of significance, the Kirin 960 is the first chip to incorporate the ARM Cortex A73 architecture. In fact, the chip is paired with an i6 co-processor and Mali-G71 MP8 graphics. Upon comparing it to the Huawei P9, the two devices appear to stand on par with each other. However, I wouldn’t consider this a downgrade, or even a bad thing. In practice, the phone feels fluid and smooth, with no lag on any application whatsoever. Not only that, but with the help of its 4GB RAM, the multi-tasking opportunities seem endless. I managed to play Dead Trigger 2 with no problems while around 10 other apps were open. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend this on a normal basis so make sure to close any unnecessary applications when playing high-graphics games.
If you wanted any more proof that the Kirin 960 trumps the P9’s Kirin 955, AnTuTu can show you the evidence. Via benchmarking, we found that this device has a score of 138625. This particular score stands well above the 95637 of the P9 and P9 Plus.
To sum it up, you get an i6 co-processor that handles the light tasks, a Mali-G71 GPU that focuses on graphics-heavy tasks, and a combination of a 2.4GHz core plus 4GB RAM for constant optimal performance.
Even though a whopping 4,000mAh should satisfy anyone, the Mate 9 continues to optimize this by ensuring that the device lasts for at least a normal workday before truly dying. In fact, the Mate 9 lasted for over 8 hours of moderate use with the data on. Meanwhile, the video loop gave us a total of about nine hours with 100% brightness and the data off.
Lastly, Huawei inserted SuperCharge technology into the Mate 9. This means that the device won’t spend too long without a full charge. In practice, however, Huawei does put its money where its mouth is—the Mate 9 goes from zero to a hundred percent in just one hour. This extreme fast-charging should impress almost anyone who uses it.
Huawei gets a lot of things right with the Huawei Mate 9. Plus, the effort they’ve put into their flagships have reaped great rewards. From our end, at least, this follow-up to the Huawei P9 does everything the P9 does, but better. In fact, I’d even say that this is one of the best flagship phablets in the market today.
But why are we raving about this phone? There’s a myriad of answers. The design is minimal yet it exudes a ‘premium’ feel. Also, the internal specs represent a solid improvement from the P9, especially when it comes to processing power and multi-tasking. Plus, the battery life is long-lasting and fast charging. And lastly, the Leica-engineered camera setup feels like the best rear shooter in the industry today. This camera feels so valuable to the Huawei Mate 9 brand, especially the ability to take high-quality images in low light.
Retailing at around PHP 31,990, this 5.9-incher with cameras that proudly sport the Leica seal of approval should be part of your buying list.
Huawei Mate 9 Specs
|OS||Android 7.0 Nougat|
|Processor||Huawei Kirin 960, Octa-core CPU|
|Camera||20MP monochrome + 12MP RGB dual-lens rear camera, 8MP front camera.|
|Colors||Champagne Gold, Mocha Brown|
More photos of the Huawei Mate 9: