The Mate 9 has a lot going for it, from the large 5.9-inch display to the incredible battery life, but there’s one feature Huawei is most proud of: machine learning to make the phone faster the more you use it. Does it really work, though?
After unboxing the Mate 9 and praising it as one of the best premium phones of early 2017, we’re now reviewing it the way it’s meant to be reviewed — by spending three months with it and letting it learn our usage behavior for a more optimized experienced.
Even with the release of the P10 — which we enjoyed using, by the way — the Mate 9’s design still holds up. It’s just as fancy-looking now as when we first unboxed it:
The specifications and features aren’t outdated by any means, either. Its Kirin 960 processor is the same one found in the newer P10 and P10 Plus, the 4GB of memory continues to be the standard for all things flagship, and its battery life lives up to expectations; more on those later.
Of course, with extended use, you truly get a feel of how a phone performs once the new gadget smells subsides. We’ve come up with nine review notes now that the Mate 9 grew accustomed to us, and vice versa.
You don’t really notice the machine learning take effect
The biggest gripe of any long-time Android user is the gradual performance decline after a few months or even weeks of use. This is caused by apps hogging more and more of the phone’s resources through time and software updates prioritizing cosmetic features and security patches over actual performance tweaks.
Huawei combated these effects by equipping the Mate 9 with machine learning to make sure everything runs smoothly no matter how old it gets. Does it actually work? So far, yes, but we can’t say for sure since there haven’t been many software patches since launch and we’re kind of responsible with our app downloads in the first place — no pointless virus scanners or “memory cleaners” for us.
With that, we’re still glad this feature is around. We did notice our usual software, consisting of social media and productivity apps, opening up faster than apps we use less often. We even tested how many simultaneously running apps it would take before the Mate 9 crashed. The answer is 50 — not bad!
Its camera does the trick, but it’s not the best
We already went ahead and compared the Mate 9’s Leica-infused dual-cameras and selfie shooter against all its rivals last February, and the results were so-so. With just a single win in 12 categories, it’s not exactly a leader in its class, but it gets the job done.
I believe the problem lies in its use of the dual-camera setup. While it does well enough for standard photos on Auto settings, using the secondary lens for artificial background blur didn’t really do it for me. As mentioned in our review of the Huawei GR5 2017, this bokeh mode feels gimmicky, and would be better off set aside.
Battery life lives up to its claims
Do we have any complaints about its massive 4000mAh battery? None at all! If anything, it may be the Mate 9’s standout feature, even more than the machine learning and Leica cameras Huawei loves to boast. Using the handset constantly for an entire day leaves us with enough juice for the next day. Getting over five hours of screen-on time is expected here.
Fast charging is actually fast
Our only concern with such a hefty battery is the charging time; it’s natural for larger capacities to take a long time to fill up (right, Xiaomi?). Fortunately for us, Huawei’s SuperCharge technology is no joke. The bundled fast-charger can bring the Mate 9 from zero to full in a little over two hours. Doesn’t sound that great compared to other phones, but when you take the larger battery into consideration, this is more than satisfactory.
There’s no learning curve
Huawei is getting better at cleaning up its Android interface called EMUI. Now on Nougat 7.0, the Mate 9’s skin doesn’t deviate from stock Android as much as before, and even gives you the option to bring back the app drawer, rather than have all apps on your home screens like on iPhones. It’s still not as pretty as Samsung or Google’s take on Android, but it’s heading in the right direction for once.
It definitely feels too big
There’s no getting around it: 5.9 inches of phone is literally a handful. Making matters worse is the recent release of the Galaxy S8+ and LG G6, which have redefined pocketability for large-screen phones. The Mate 9 is massive, takes two hands to handle in most cases, and gets even bulkier when the bundled case is installed.
The fingerprint scanner is typical Huawei
Huawei makes the best fingerprint scanners. Rival companies Vivo and OPPO have been on a tear, placing the fastest fingerprint readers on their entry-level smartphones, but Huawei has been doing this to perfection since the Nexus 6P. Quick, accurate, and never fussy — I wish Huawei would make everyone else’s authentication sensors.
Lower resolution? No problem!
Another concern when you first glance at the Mate 9’s specs sheet is the Full HD 1080p resolution. Stretched on a 5.9-inch IPS LCD, the pixel density is a lot lower than nearly every other flagship smartphone in the market right now. But you know what? It never really bothered us, and watching Netflix or YouTube shows were just as enjoyable here as compared to, say, on the OnePlus 3T or ASUS ZenFone 3 Zoom.
Speakers are just right
What would have been a treat, however, is a pair of front-facing loudspeakers on the Mate 9. Thanks to its large panel, it’s perfect for propping up on a table and watching videos, if not only for the weak and awkwardly placed stereo speakers (one on the bottom and another in the earpiece). There’s enough space on its now-relatively-thick bezels; we’re sure Huawei could have found a way to make this more of a mini theater.
Is this your GadgetMatch?
Despite the launch of some fantastic near-borderless phones since the Mate 9’s release, this supersized Huawei still has its strengths.
For one, it has the standard 16:9 aspect ratio for its display, so most videos won’t have those weird black bars on the side like with the Galaxy S8 and LG G6. Combined with the generous screen, this has to be a go-to option for those who value multimedia consumption while traveling.
Another unique selling point is the non-dwindling performance of the Mate 9. Chances are someone’s Mate 9 from early this year will outpace someone else’s Galaxy S8 by the end of 2017. This means Huawei’s phablet is a sure-fire bet for those looking for a long-time investment.
Finally, this smartphone simply lasts long. If battery life is a priority, it doesn’t get much better than this in the high-end segment. Coupled with fast-charging, the Mate 9 is the phone you want to bring on long trips.
The list of cons is no biggie: camera quality isn’t up there with the best and EMUI might not be for everyone. Having an international price of EUR 699 (although cheaper in some countries like the Philippines at PhP 31,990 or EUR 600), the Mate 9 is a top choice if you’re after a normal-looking, non-bezel-less, decently priced, supersized smartphone.