Review: Huawei Mate 9 smart phone
4.5Overall Score

Price (RRP): $999.99
Manufacturer: Huawei

For the last several weeks I’ve put my Samsung Galaxy S7 aside while using the Huawei Mate 9 smart phone, one of the company’s premium models. Much to my surprise, and rather unusually for me, I haven’t felt the hankering to get back to Sammie in the way I usually do after a week or so. Let’s see why.

Display and build

A big part of it was that I’ve been luxuriating in the real estate provided by the display. Those 5.9 inches are enormous compared to the Samsung’s 5.1 inches. Of course, the display is full HD (1080 by 1920) and LCD (contrast ratio 1500:1), rather than the S7’s 1440 by 2560 pixels delivered with Super AMOLED technology (contrast ratio: effectively infinite). But, you know, most of the time, under most real world conditions, the differences were either unnoticeable or only barely noticeable.

The bezels to each side of the display are impressively narrow. No sexy curves like the new S8, but nonetheless pleasing to the eye when the screen is lit.

The screen runs an auto-brightness routine, dimming itself when there’s less ambient light. That was too aggressive for my taste, so that in low light I had to boost it. But that was easy to do. The screen is covered by 2.5D glass – that is, it features curved edges so it can sit slightly above the surround, rather than below it – but uses the somewhat older Corning Gorilla Glass 3. The phone comes with a screen protector in place along with a slim plastic case that offers modest protection to the back and the corners.

Usually when a phone comes with a screen protector attached, I just whip it off. How can one fairly report on a phone’s responsiveness to touch if something is standing between its screen and your fingers? But somehow with this phone I felt a touch intimidated and left the pre-attached screen protector in place for a couple of weeks. Most of the time it worked well enough, but sometimes things didn’t drag or respond with as light a touch as I’d have liked. And it felt kind of spongy. And there were constantly sticky fingerprints on it.

So, heck, off with the protector! Wow, what a difference. Suddenly it was gloriously smooth and silky to the touch, while firm. Sure there were fingerprints, but they were less obvious and easily wiped away.

So you decide: increase the chance of major screen damage, or go for a smoother operational experience?

The case is metal. Huawei says that each phone body is CNC milled over a period of an hour, which is quite the production given the number of phones it must produce. The review unit was full black on the front (the remaining small areas that the black screen didn’t cover), had a matt “titanium” look rear and somewhat shiner metal edges. The power and volume keys are on the right side. The home, return and apps keys are “soft” ones at the bottom of the screen. At the rear are the lenses and flash for the cameras and a fingerprint sensor.

Usability

Starting to use each new phone is an adventure in working out what and how you can import from a previous phone. With this one there was a surprise: a Huawei app called “Phone Clone” could be loaded on my old phone and it managed the transfer. All my apps were re-downloaded from the Play Store, but my own ring tone and wallpapers weren’t added. A couple of logic-style games I use turned out to be at the same scores and points of progress as they had been on the phone I was moving from.

The fingerprint sensor was very fast and generally very reliable. The only problem I had with it was way too many times I accidentally touched it while trying to get the phone out of my pocket, so by the time I had it properly in my hand and in front of my face, I’d accidentally already invoked some random app.

The Huawei user interface is called EMUI 5.0. I liked it, largely because there was little that was unexpected. If you are okay with standard Android, you won’t have any troubles. Screen shots are captured most easily by means of the slide down shortcut menu. The menu could be edited and provided all the stuff I wanted. A pinch or touch and hold on a blank bit of screen provided access to wallpaper settings, widgets, transitions (the style of moving from one screen to another) and settings, including grid size. You can have four icons across by four down, five by five or halfway between. With such a big screen, five by five was the obvious choice.

The Huawei interface was overlaid on Android 7.0.

One oddity that caught me out on a number of occasions was that Bluetooth defaulted to being off whenever the phone started, even though NFC was on.