Huawei Mate 9 review: The closest phone to a Note7 replacement

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Mate 9

If you were thinking about whether you should get the Huawei Mate 9 or not, stop thinking and get it.

Huawei has a small market share of smartphones here in the states, but not enough to make an impact like Samsung or Apple or HTC. It’s another story overseas in China as Huawei was the second top smartphone vendor there last year, slightly behind OPPO. Huawei had some success with the Nexus 6P, but are focused on getting more devices into the US. What better way to do it than by launching the Mate 9 flagship for $600? For this price, you’re getting plenty including Android 7.0 Nougat, 64GB internal storage with support for microSD cards up to 256GB, 4GB RAM, dual rear camera setup, a 4,000mAh battery, and more. Is the Mate 9 worth getting if you’re in the states? Let’s take a look in our Huawei Mate 9 review.

Specifications

  • Operating System: Android 7.0 Nougat w/ EMUI 5
  • Display: 5.9″ IPS LCD Full HD (1920 x 1080)
  • Processor: Kirin 960 Octa-core CPU (4 x 2.4 GHz A73 4 x 1.8 GHz A53)
  • GPU: Mali-G71 MP8
  • Storage: 64GB internal w/ expandable up to 256GB
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Rear camera: dual – 20MP Monochrome + 12MP RGB, Leica lens, F2.2, OIS, dual flash, 2x hybrid zoom, 4k video
  • Front camera: 8MP AF, F1.9
  • Battery: 4,000mAh
  • Wireless: 2.4G/5G, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac with Wi-Fi Direct support
  • Bluetooth: BT4.2, support BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy)
  • Dimension: 156.9 x 78.9 x 7.9mm (H x W x D)
  • Weight: about 190g
  • Fingerprint scanner: Yes
  • Dual sim: Yes
  • Color: Space Gray, Moonlight Silver, Champagne Gold, Mocha Brown, Ceramic White

What’s in the box

  • Huawei Mate 9
  • Matte case
  • Headphones
  • USB Type-C to USB-A cable
  • USB-C to Micro USB Adapter
  • Power block
  • Sim kit tool
  • Manual

Design

Huawei kept the design terms pretty similar to last years Mate 8 model and regardless, it’s still a good looking device even if the screen size is slightly smaller by a fraction of an inch. On the front of the Mate 9, Huawei’s logo is down at the bottom and up top is the earpiece grill, proximity/ambient sensor, and a front-facing camera. The glass panel is slightly curved on all sides to give you an extra grip on the device instead of hitting a sharp end of a phone and it offers slim bezels too.

Huawei-Mate-9-Front

Flip the phone over and at first glance, you’ll either notice the fingerprint scanner or the dual camera layout. There’s also a dual tone flash and an f2.2/27mm aperture sensor. Integrated into the top edge of the Mate 9 is an IR blaster for those folks that still like them and a 3.5mm headphone jack. At the bottom are two speaker grills, the left side dedicated for the mic and the right side for the single firing speaker. In between those is the USB Type-C charging port. The right side is home to the power button and volume rocker while the left side only has the dual sim card slot.

Display

A lot of manufacturers are going with 1440 x 2560 displays on their devices, but Huawei smacked a 5.9 inch IPS Full HD (1080 x 1920) screen on the Mate 9. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Full HD displays as the PPI (pixels per inch) will be higher depending on the screen size, but I think the Chinese company made a good choice by using a Full HD display. Since it’s an IPS display the colors are more accurate than overly saturated like some phones offer with AMOLED screens. Black colors were the right level, along with reds, grays, and whites. Viewing angles were pretty good, so no arguments there.

Software/Ecosystem

Huawei has added their EMUI 5 interface on top of Android 7.0 Nougat, so on the back end you are receiving the most recent Android OS update. I’ve never used EMUI before until now and it’s pretty nice. There are plenty of pre-installed applications that Huawei had to load in there, such as their own apps “Support” and “Consumer.” Those can easily be uninstalled along with a few others that people may not even use. Unfortunately, there are some apps that cannot be uninstalled such as Phone Manager, NotePad, and Flashlight. Other than that, you’re getting your usual Android experience you’ll get on any other Android phone. By default, the home screen comes as if it were an iPhone, so all the applications will show up on your home screens. You will have the option to change the layout to an app drawer if you’d like.

Performance

Inside of the Mate 9 is the top tier SoC Kirin 960, with an octa-core CPU running four cores at 2.4 GHz while the other four cores run at 1.8 GHz and mixed into that is 4GB RAM and a Mali-G71 MP8 GPU to complete one speedy smartphone. Not once did I find the phone slowing down or getting warm because too many applications were running in the background. Even when switching from app to app, it kept its last used spot and went from there. I didn’t have to wait for an app to restart or refresh.

Speaker

Some smartphones come with decent speakers when playing music or watching videos. Unfortunately, some of those phones speakers would need to be cupped in order to get a better sound, but the Mate 9 comes with a pretty good speaker and I didn’t need to cover my hand over the single fire speaker. It didn’t matter if I was watching a video on Netflix or Youtube or listening to music, I was able to hear everything and the sound stayed clear. When the speaker was at max volume, it sounded like there was a little crackling noise on a few songs and also seemed to have lost the natural sound of instruments playing because people’s singing was overpowering it all.

Huawei-Mate-9-Bottom

Camera

Dual camera setups are nothing new to the smartphone world. HTC tried it back in 2014 with the HTC One M8 and while it was a start up for future phones, it didn’t have much ground back then. Look at today’s smartphones with dual cameras and there’s a lot more features it can do. The Mate 9 comes with a dual camera setup, one 20MP Monochrome (black & white) sensor and a 12MP color sensor and was co-engineered by the German camera maker company Leica.

Huawei did a fantastic job by making the monochrome sensor mix with the color sensor to create some pretty detailed looking photos. Some photos weren’t as good when using the Galaxy S7 or Google Pixel camera, but the Mate 9 still does a good job in the camera department in my book. Not all photos that were taken outside were color detailed, meaning colors weren’t the right tone such as pinks were fading into white. On that note, some low light photos didn’t turn out as well as I thought they would, but it’s still clear as to what’s going on.

Once I took another photo, things looked better but it was odd to see some colors look faded. Indoor photos of some review units looked great and true to its color without any kind of editing. There are plenty of camera modes included with the Mate 9 also, such as monochrome for those who like black and white photos, time-lapse, slow-mo, watermark, depth of field, HDR, and more. There is the option of downloading more too, but the only one left to download (if you haven’t downloaded any yet) is the Good Food mode.

Huawei-Mate-9-Camera

As for the front-facing camera, it’s an 8MP shooter and does pretty fair in lighting conditions. Huawei’s camera software includes quite a few extra modes, filters, and effects for the front facing camera as well. The first time you flip to the front camera you’ll be asked if you want to enable Perfect Selfie mode, which asks you to take a few preliminary photos of yourself from a few different angles in order for the phone to help get your best side in all of your selfies. You can also turn on Beauty Mode, which offers several filters and effects including smoothing, and even an option to make your eyes appear bigger. If you’re one that just wants to use the plain old front facing camera though, you can do so without the other various modes.

Call Quality

I used the Mate 9 on T-Mobile’s network since this device is unlocked and every call I made was good. Everyone was able to hear me and vice versa. No one advised me that they were unable to hear me because of the mic going out or like I sounded as if I was far away from the device.

Battery Life

The Mate 9 comes with a 4,000mAh battery life and Huawei says that the phone will get you through two days of usage (average usage.) I’m an average to a heavy user depending on the day, but when I did one day of each (normal and heavy usage) I was able to end the night with around 20% battery life — which my Google Pixel can’t always hit. At one point I was able to get just shy of 2 days with the handset, but that was with minimal usage. Playing a few games here and there, light web usage, and messaging when someone needed me. Regardless, others that I know who have the device end their day with around or just above what I ended the day with.

Price/Value

High-end phones tend to cost anywhere from $650 and above, which isn’t a bad price if you can afford it by either purchasing outright or financing it through your cell phone provider. The Huawei Mate 9 comes in with a price tag of $599USD and considering it’s up to date on specs like other flagships, the amount isn’t as bad as some may think. Yes, it’s still $600, but I believe Huawei priced this phone for the US just fine.

Wrap Up

If you were thinking about whether you should get the Huawei Mate 9 or not, stop thinking and get it. It’s running Android 7.0 Nougat out of the box, so you don’t have to wait for any updates, 64GB of internal storage is plenty for some even if you have a 256GB micro SD card installed. The price may be a drawback, but it’s better than spending $700+ for a phone you may want to change when the next gen comes out. Top Pick smartphone of 2017 for sure.

Huawei Mate 9
4.6 Out of 5
Nailed it
The build quality and design are nice and with a curved back, it adds grip to the device so you don't drop it. The display is great even with it being 1080p. The sound and camera quality are good.
Needs Work
Max volume had some crackling noise and music doesn't sound the same. A few times the camera would have colors look as if they're faded.
Bottom Line
Huawei brings their flagship device, the Huawei Mate 9 over to the US with the phone's beautiful all metal design, gorgeous 1080p display, the camera capturing sharp looking photos, and up to two days battery life.
Design5.00
Display4.00
Software/Ecosystem5.00
Performance5.00
Speakers/Sound4.00
Camera(s)4.50
Reception/Call Quality5.00
Battery Life5.00
Price/Value4.00
*We were sent a sample of the Huawei Mate 9 for the purposes of this review.
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