Huawei has been doing extremely well in the mobile market, reaching the top 3 mobile phone brand in the world. The P9 which launched in April 2016 with the Leica dual-lens camera propelled the brand into the global market and together with the P9 Plus, sold over 10 million units, the first Huawei model to have done that.
The Mate 9 (MHA-L29) was also announced with much fanfare in Nov 2016. I was fortunate to have caught the attention of Huawei Singapore PR team who graciously sent me a unit for review.
There are many review sites that give glowing reviews on the Mate 9, but I could not quite nail down what’s so incredibly great. I mean, fast processor, quality images, smooth UI, these are given (which premium smartphones don’t have them?). After a thorough hands-on experience, I am convinced that Huawei Mate 9 is a superb smartphone to own, all thanks to the almost-perfect combination of software and hardware, form and design, with strong differentiated functions that in many cases are unique to Huawei and useful to have.
In this article, I easily identify over 30 features that make Huawei Mate 9 unique from other Android smartphones. Some features might also be available in other brands and models, but the fact that I actually uncover them during my Mate 9 review shows how easy-to-use the functions work for me.
First, the technical specs.
Here is a list of the specs that might get you interested with the Mate 9.
- Kirin 960, ARM Cortex-A73/A53 Octa-core CPU and Mali G71 Octa-core GPU
- 5.9 inch 1080 x 1920 display
- Second-generation Leica dual-lens 12MP RGB, 20MP monochrome, F/2.2
- Front camera 8MP F/1.9
- Hybrid zoom, Optical Image Stabilizer, 4K Video
- 4000 mAh battery with SuperCharge (not the same as Qualcomm QuickCharge)
- 4GB RAM
- 64GB Internal storage
- Supports microSD or second SIM (hybrid slot)
- EMUI 5.0 based on Android 7.0
- Fingerprint sensor, NFC, Wi-Fi (n, ac) dual-band, infrared sensor
Statistically-speaking, it is quite hard to believe that the Mate 9 has a 5.9-inch display, as the phone feels reasonably comfortable. Its back has a glossy metal finishing, which is unusual since most of the metal finishings from other phones are usually matt and feels cold to the touch. The metal body feels dense and rock solid which gives me the confidence that it can survive accidental drops. A phone casing is included in the retail packaging which protects the 4 corners and the rear but otherwise offers full contact with the phone. For a person who does not like casings, this one works great for me as it does not add to the bulk.
Let’s talk about the most talk-about feature of the Huawei Mate 9: the Leica Dual Lens Camera. As mentioned above, it is an improved version from the Huawei P9, but with same hardware specs: 12MP colour sensor and 20MP monochrome sensor, both at f/2.2 The front camera is 8MP at f/1.9. I won’t comment on the quality of the monochrome delivery, because it is not a feature that many casual consumers will use. Also, if you shoot in monochrome, you will never get back the colour, so what you should do is to shoot in colour and then process in monochrome, which the phone lets you do so.
The camera delivers sharp images, brightly-exposed images brings out the shadows without clipping the highlights.
There are no excessive noise reduction, the noise grains look natural with photographic quality.
Under low-light, the images look clean.
I identified 12 features that I like on the imaging and video recording.
1. Wide aperture mode to create depth of field.
The app lets me simulate from f/0.95 to f/16. In some photos with complex details, the result is not so convincing. But if you have a single subject, it creates the desired separation from the background and I have to admit, it makes the photos looks good.
2. I can also shoot video in wide aperture mode and see the live preview of the bokeh.
The result is not exactly professional-looking, but I am more than impressed at this capability.
3. Adjust wide aperture effects after shooting still images.
From the gallery, I can change the blur intensity (f-stop simulation), and change the focus point. If I find the wide aperture too fake, I will push up the aperture to give a more natural blur.
4. Slide left to access shoot more, right to access settings.
I like this approach, because it’s more reliable than tapping icon. The UI is very fluid, so I just slide, select, and slide back.
5. Easily pick focus point and exposure point separately.
When I tap on a focus point, I can then slide up or down next to the AF point to adjust exposure. Or, when I tap and hold on the focus point, I can then drag to another point on the frame as exposure meter.
6. Hybrid zoom and OIS quality.
I believe this feature is a combination of digital crop plus multiple exposure algorithm. The output, albeit oversharpened, is better than many other smartphones with digital zoom alone. I can distinguish text better than the LG V20 that I compared with. The built-in optical image stabilizer further improves the sharpness of the captured image.
7. Selfie preview window.
In selfie camera mode, there is an additional preview display at the top right of the screen that shows a face. This is to make the user look at the small preview display so that the eyes are looking towards the camera. So ingenious!
8. Photo edit functions.
There are loads of photo editing adjustments available, even applying mosaic to blur out privacy, as well as duotone effect. These should satisfy simple processing before publishing online.
9. Slow-motion video capture.
Another feature which I have loads of fun. It lets me shoot clips like normal. During playback, I can adjust the slider to pick the section which I want to slow down, though I cannot control the speed. When I am happy, I can save the footage to another video for sharing.
10. Trim video and save.
During video playback, Mate 9 lets me trim the start or end of footage and save to another file. This feature help me trim away the messy starting and ending of the video before sharing.
11. Adjust video playback speed.
Just for fun, I can change playback speed from x0.5 to x1.5. That will tickle most viewers. Hopefully future updates can let me save the speed-change videos.
12. Directional recording.
During video recording, enabling directional recording lets me capture only audio that is in the frame while suppressing audio that is out of frame. Meaning if I enable this mode, the mic will suppress the voice of the person holding the Mate 9 and only amplifies the voices within the video frame.
That’s 12 features on the camera alone, and I’m not even halfway through.
In this section, I will share the features that I like when it comes to interacting with the Mate 9.
13. Choice of standard iOS or Android drawer.
I do not like single-drawer homescreen like iOS, and I am glad that the Mate 9 lets me opt for dual-drawer.
14. Homescreen can view in landscape mode.
This feature is rarely available on smartphones. With this capability, I can use the Mate 9 perpetually in landscape mode in all screens.
15. Small navigation buttons.
Some might find them too small, but I like it so that they do not take up precious screen space. I also like that the buttons do not auto-hide so that they are readily available instead of having me to swipe up to reveal before selecting.
16. Fingerprint sensor can slide down notification panel.
It feels so natural that I really missed it when I switched to other smartphones. I can also enable the sensor to browse gallery images.
17. Knuckle gestures.
This is the first time I encountered another way of on-screen gesture, and what’s more amazing is how the Mate 9 can distinguish between finger and knuckle. With knuckle, I can do screen capture, trigger split-screen.
18. Floating dock.
It replicates the 3 navigation keys at the bottom so that I can access them around my thumb instead of stretching to the bottom of the screen. I would hope that with this dock enabled, the navigation keys can be hidden.
19. Reduce screen size for one-hand navigation.
Just swipe the bottom navigation key, to the left or to the right, and the display will downsize towards either side for easier one-hand operation.
20. Raise to ear to switch from Bluetooth headset to phone.
There are so many times I felt like a fool when I tried to pick up the phone but could not hear the party because I did not realise my Bluetooth headset was enabled. This feature will automatically switch to the phone to spare the embarrassment.
21. Dual speaker output.
At portrait mode, the main speaker below the phone pumps up lower frequencies while the front-facing ear speaker delivers higher-pitched sounds, giving an impression of better directional audio.
22. Stereo+ mode.
When Stereo+ audio mode is enabled, the speakers will play in stereo in landscape mode and in correct orientation, although the front-facing speaker can only deliver higher frequencies while the side-facing speaker delivers more clarity compared to the portrait mode. Still, it is a simple feature to deliver great value with common hardware.
23. Intelligent UI.
Huawei boasts that the new EMUI 5.0 is able to learn usage patterns over time and be more intelligent in efficient. How this works remains to be seen.
24. Cancel SMS.
Cancel SMS sending within 6 seconds, a feature inspired by Gmail, but still a wonderful feature for trigger-happy users who change their mind.
25. Screen recording.
With this feature built-in, there is no need to install third party apps and I can conveniently record my on-screen experience.
26. App twin.
I mentioned previously that Xiaomi has this ability to run multiple instances of Facebook and Whatsapp on the same phone. Here, the Mate 9 also has this feature. For users with multiple SIM card and mobile numbers running in one phone, this means finally there is no need to hold 2 physical phones.
27. Wi-Fi+ feature.
When enabled, the Mate 9 will learn and auto turns off Wi-Fi when the phone is no longer in the Wi-Fi network. This feature can be useful in saving battery. At times, it even auto-connects to public Wi-Fi network.
28. Eye comfort mode.
Making the display look warmer is a feature that many smartphone makers are providing to improve visual comfort. Mate 9 goes a step further by letting me set a schedule to auto-enable within a period. The colour temperature can also be adjusted to my preference. With this ability to schedule, I think more people would enable this automatically during the night time to give your eyes the much-needed comfort.
29. Mobile data usage warning.
When the Mate 9 switches from a weak Wi-Fi signal to mobile data, it will remind you that some data has been used and asks if you want to switch back to Wi-Fi.
30. Infrared port.
Not many smartphones have it now, but it’s good to have one on the Mate 9.
Huawei puts power in the hands of the user when it comes to power management. The Mate 9 offers some of the most empowering features to let users be fully aware of the power utilisation and how it wants the apps to be run in the background.
Through the Phone Manager app, I can get information on the apps with high battery drain, restrict the activities in the background or stop it altogether. I can drill down to each app on its battery as well as data usage.
Since the Mate 9 carries 4000 mAh, I let my messaging apps and social apps run in the background, and so the phone managed a mere 14 hours. But what I find is that even when the battery dips below 20%, the drain did not accelerate, unlike the LG G5, when the battery could suddenly go on a nosedive.
The battery can be topped up with the proprietary charger (5A/4.5V, 4.5A/5V, 2A/5V) which delivers so-called SuperCharge that can charge from 11% to 88% in about an hour without excessive heat. QC chargers are not compatible.
As if the above list is not convincing enough, here’s the one that ought to seal the deal: all Huawei Mate 9 purchased in Singapore will enjoy 2 years warranty, first year one-time free screen replacement, 3-day repair promise, complimentary pick-up and delivery of repair service. The HiCare app is a useful resource for tips and help, even a live chat to resolve problems. What can I say? Huawei is all out to win the market. Read more for Huawei Singapore extended warranty.
The major dislike about the Mate 9 is the notification appearing in numbers instead of the usual app icons. I have to always pull down the drawer to see what the notifications are. (Post update: this has been fixed in newer firmware updates like B135).
The other handicap which I have loved on the ASUS Zenfones and LG G5 is no tap-to-wake screen gesture.
I find that the touch display is not always sensitive to register my actions. I suspect it is due to the knuckle gesture causing some false response.
The Mate 9 is also heavy at 190 grams compared to the recent premium smartphones I have reviewed, though I’m sure one can get over it especially when it feels pretty solid. After all, no one is complaining how heavy gold weighs.
Highly Recommended Buy
With over 30 features I listed above, it’s safe to say that the Huawei Mate 9 is the best smartphone to get now, especially when you are comparing functions. The camera delivers extraordinary images without requiring further processing, and the wide aperture mode makes focused objects stand out in the photo. But if you don’t like the design nor the weight, then you have to look elsewhere for a compromise, or perhaps wait for upcoming Huawei smartphone models, since they might incorporate some of the above features.
The Mate 9 retails in Singapore at S$898, and comes in 2 colours: Champagne Gold and Space Grey.
Official product website: http://consumer.huawei.com/en/mobile-phones/mate9/index.htm
Are you also a Mate 9 user? Are there any features I missed out that you want to share? Comment below! If you are not impressed with Mate 9, share with us what features you are looking for that is not found in Mate 9?