Huawei Mate 9 review: A giant phone with a small frame big ambitions

BY GreenBot Staff

Published 1 Feb 2017

If you hold the Huawei Mate 9 just right, it can almost look like a Galaxy Note7.

ed, you probably don’t want it to look like a Note7 after all it went through, but there’s no denying the character craftsmanship that Samsung’s phablet exuded. And while there are distinct differences between the two hsets, the sturdy, svelte build of the Mate 9 instantly conjures images of the Note7 in happier times.

But that’s not to write it off as a copycat. Even with a somewhat derivative design, the Mate 9, which recently became available for purchase in the U.S., packs quite a punch. th a proprietary chipset, ica-bred camera, decidedly unique spin on Nougat, the phone absolutely plays by its own rules, proves that Huawei can hold its own against other premium phone makers.

xels on display

The most defining feature of any smartphone is the display, but on the 5.9-inch Mate 9 it’s particularly striking. Its ultra thin top bottom bezels manage to pack a tremendous screen into a relatively small package without needing to rely on wrap-around curves or even a particularly high pixel count. (In fact, its 1080 x 1920 I D is fairly pedestrian by today’s stards, especially when compared to the Note7’s stunning Quad HD 2560×1440 display.)

mate 9 display topher Hebert

The Mate 9’s 5.9-inch display is flanked by small bezels that allow it to fit comfortably in your h.

Of course, small is relative here. If you’re not a fan of phablets the Mate 9 is unlikely to convince you otherwise, but large phone lovers will appreciate just how much screen Huawei has built into this phone. For comparison purposes, it’s just 2mm longer 3mm wider than the xel X( just as thin), yet you’re getting nearly half an inch of extra screen.

Display purists will grumble about the seemingly low-density 373ppi density, but the 1080p resolution doesn’t dull the Mate 9 experience in the slightest. ile the sides of the Mate 9’s glass curve down kind of like the Galaxy S7 ge or Note7, the display ends before the curve. However, I barely noticed the bezels, the slight curves felt smooth natural in my h. Furthermore, its thinness helped make it seem far less unwieldy than it should, even when attempting to use it with one h.

shing buttons

th such skinny bezels, Huawei opted to put its name where the home button would be (a Samsung-inspired design feature I could do without), so you’ll find the fingerprint sensor around the back. It’s noticeably smaller than one on the Nexus xel phones, but its speed mostly made up for my sloppy fumbling during most unlocking attempts. Equally offputting is the placement of the sensor, about an eighth of an inch below the camera a good half-inch away from where my finger naturally rested, I often had to readjust my grip to reach it.

mate 9 buttons topher Hebert

Hauwei placed the Mate 9’s power button below the volume rocker, I had a devil of a time getting used to it.

As someone who generally relies on vibrations rather than sounds, I found the Mate 9’s haptic engine to be alarmingly powerful. It jolted me out of my chair a couple times when a alert came in eventually I shut them off altogether. Even the keyboard vibrations were bit too strong for my liking (a feature I use on my Galaxy S7 xel phones), I found myself wanting for an intensity slider.

Then there are the physical buttons. The volume rocker power buttons are both on the right edge of the device, but unlike the xel, the power button is below the volume controls, I lost track of how many times I pressed volume up expecting the screen to turn on or off. It’s a small issue for sure, but if your muscle memory as stubborn as mine, it’s one that will be a constant bother.

Speed demon

ke the international Note7’s Exynos 8890, the Mate 9 is built on a proprietary processor, Huawei’s own HiSilicon Kirin 960, an octa-core Big.ttle C design with four ARM 2.4GHz Cortex A73 cores coupled with four Cortex A53 cores clocked at 1.8GHz. at that boils down to is a downright screamer of a chip.

From scrolling to scrubbing, everything on the Mate 9 feels buttery smooth, it rarely got warm, even under heavy loads. Apps launched instantly, movies played with little-to-no lag, live streams were impressively clear. chmarks were mostly on par with the xel, but in day-to-day use it felt even faster than the Snapdragon 821, a real feat for a device with such a large screen to keep lit. If it wasn’t for the 1080p screen, in fact, it would be a killer Daydream phone. As such, recommends the Mate 9 o, which has the same processor but adds a 2K curved screen.

mate 9 benchmarks battery

A large battery gives the Mate 9 fantastic longevity.

so impressive is the battery life. The Mate 9 includes a giant 4,000 mAh battery, but with such a gigantic sdisplay, I was dubious that I could last through the whole day. Those fears were completely unfounded, not only did the Mate 9 tear through a heavy day like a champ, it rarely needed a charge at the end of it. And its SuperCharge tech let me quickly power up while I got ready for work in the morning, getting me from the red to a near-full charge in about an hour. In my benchmark tests, the Mate 9 topped off at a whopping 9 hours 38 minutes, besting the xel Xby nearly three hours.

However, since the Mate 9 started as a China phone, it doesn’t play nicely with the CDMA networks in the States. That means Sprint or Verizon subscribers like myself won’t be able to use it without switching to AT&T or T-Mobile, a real bummer a likely deal-breaker for many would-be buyers.

Snap decision

ke several of the flagship phones on the market, the Mate 9 utilizes a dual camera setup, with 20Mmonochrome 12MRBG sensors that work together to bring depth of field clarity to images. But the Mate 9 has one more thing going for it: ica bring.

mate 9 back topher Hebert

The Mate 9 features a dual-camera system co-engineered with ica.

The name alone comms attention when you’re talking about photography, it mostly lives up to the hype here. ile it doesn’t offer the kind of leap the ica name suggests, the Mate 9 is a definitely a solid performer along the lines of the Galaxy S7 xel. Features like optical image stabilization 2x faux-optical zoom give it a real premium feel, while easy-to-access manual controls give you tremendous control over every picture.

pixel mate compare

The Mate 9 photo on the left doesn’t quite capture the same color sharpness as the xel on the right but it’s still a solid performer.

But even if you stick to the Mate 9’s auto settings, your pictures will be crisp vivid. ile I found some shots to be a touch undersaturated when compared to the xel, detail focus were superb, even in low light conditions. rtrait mode (called wide aperture here) isn’t just limited to faces, you can adjust the depth of field to fit the background, a neat touch that even the ione doesn’t allow. The phone’s f/2.2 aperture caused some softness with nighttime images, but coupled with the optical image stabilization dual-tone D flash, there weren’t too many unusable shots.

iphone mate 9

en compared to the ione 7 (left), the Mate 9 gives you more control over how much depth of field your wide aperture photos will exhibit.

Around the front, the Mate 9 sports an 8Mcamera with several features selfie enthusiasts will appreciate. Autofocus helps the camera capture multiple faces quickly, a beauty mode gets rid of any bothersome skin blemishes. And if you’re shooting in the dark, it will turn the screen white a moment before it snaps your picture to lighten up the shot a bit.

selfie mate

Even if pitch-black rooms, the Mate 9’s faux-front flash will brighten your selfies.

ile neither camera brings anything particularly innovative to the table, that doesn’t stop the Mate 9 from being a top-notch shooter that will produce stunning images with little fuss.

Sweet spin on Nougat

But of course, none of this matters if the OS is unusable. spend a lot of time navigating our phones jumping in out of settings, the mileage can vary greatly between Android versions. I’m happy to say that Huawei hits it out of the park with its EMUI 5.0 interface.

mate 9 emui

From the settings to the customization, EMUI 5.0 on the Mate 9 is a pleasure to use.

Now, Android purists will still probably pitch a fit, I’m generally right there with them. I’m a big proponent of stock Android, had read enough about the Marshmallow-flavored version of EMUI to know that Huawei tends to take extensive creative liberties with its design, Nougat is no different. From the icons to the animations gestures, EMUI 5 may be based on Android 7.0, but it reimagines just about every aspect of it. And it works.

mate emui

EMUI 5.0 on the Mate 9 adds subtle touches throughout that enhance the Nougat experience.

There’s a certain sweetness to EMUI 5, with little touches throughout the add a new intuitiveness to the interface. For example, there’s a plus icon after the last app in a folder that lets you quickly select one of your recently used apps without needing to drag it in. There’s an address book-style index alongside the right of the app drawer that lets you jumps to a specific letter. And when you enter the multitasking carousel, a small box will show you how much RAM you are using let free some up by close all open tabs with a tap. And all throughout there are subtle transitions unexpected animations that give the interface a fun, light feel, make it a joy to use.

exa advantage?

It’s as smart it is customizable, the thoughtful navigational touches gestures actually help make the Mate 9 feel smaller than it is. My only real quibble (other than the bits of removable bloatware in the form of third-party apps like ft New Republic) is that some of the icons are a bit too skeuomorphic for my tastes, but the ease elegance of the interface more than makes up for it.

mate 9 gnow

The Mate 9 includes support for Now, but the real test will come when its exa integration arrives.

Unfortunately, the model of the phone I tested didn’t come equipped with what’s sure to be its most compelling feature, exa. The first phone to build in support for Amazon’s digital assistant, Huawei is betting that exa will translate well from our living rooms to our pockets, but there are a lot of questions: How well will it work with ’s services? ll it be able to talk to third-party apps or just Amazon’s? ll it sync with the skills we’ve loaded onto the Echos or Dots in our homes? ll we be able to summon it by saying “Computer”?

Digital assistants are rapidly becoming one of the most essential components of the smartphone experience, exa could very well make or break the Mate 9.

Should you buy it?

This is a tough question to answer. ile the Mate 9 is undoubtedly among the top phones in its class, a few things give me pause. For one, the lack of support from Verizon Sprint puts it at a significant disadvantage. And it’s one that’s likely to plague phones coming out of China for years to come, as neither manufacturers nor CDMA carriers show much desire to work together.

mate 9 full topher Hebert

The Mate 9 is available in the U.S., but Verizon Sprint customers won’t be able to use it on their networks.

But priced at about $250 less than the Note7, the Mate 9 is a heck of a phone. ile it’s hard to call a $600 phone a bargain, Huawei has built a hset any manufacturer would be proud to call its own, you’d be hard-pressed to find another 5.9-inch hset that provides a better big-phone experience. It’s a phone that could easily cost upwards of $800, likely would if it had Samsung’s or ’s name on it.

But ultimately, the Mate 9 will be defined by its exa integration. If Huawei gets it right, it will bring a compelling feature that will set the Mate 9 apart from its competitors give Verizon subscribers a reason to consider jumping ship.

But if it’s gimmicky or glitchy, the Mate 9 could just end up being another great phone from China that ends up in the bargain bin. Or rather, a super bargain bin.