Huawei Mate 10 Pro Review: An intelligent premium Android choice

Alex Kidman 15 November 2017

Huawei combines an excellent camera and its own fast processor in the generally excellent Mate 10 Pro.

Quick Verdict
The Mate 10 Pro has some odd limitations, but it's a generally excellent premium handset at a highly compelling price point.

The Good

  • Smart AI camera makes photography easy
  • Good app performance
  • Attractive design
  • Water resistant

The bad

  • No microSD expansion
  • Neural processor may not have much impact
  • No headphone jack
  • EMUI is still somewhat messy
  • Battery life isn't great

Huawei has very much trodden its own path in the Android world, eschewing the standard Qualcomm path for its own Kirin silicon with generally solid results. While the larger part of its device story in Australia has revolved around more affordable handsets for budget and prepaid buyers, it has also launched its premium P and Mate series to take on the established players.

The Huawei Mate 10 Pro becomes the effective last "premium" handset to launch in Australia in 2017, and Huawei promises big things for its premium productivity phablet.

Mate10Pro_1_738

Design

While the Huawei Mate 10 Pro and Mate 10 belong rather obviously to the same product family, there's a very easy way to tell the two phones apart in Australia. That's because the Mate 10 in Australia will only be sold in the black finish, while all Mate 10 Pros will ship in the dark metallic blue hue. I'm something of a sucker for metallic blue phones, and obviously, your tastes may vary. The rear of the phone is glass-backed, and this does mean that it can rather rapidly become smudged with fingerprints unless you use the supplied clear plastic case.

 

You do technically have a choice if the blue tone doesn't suit because Huawei has also announced it will sell a limited quantity of the Porsche Design Mate 10 handsets in Australia. They're essentially Mate 10 Pros with more RAM and onboard storage alongside a fancy Porsche Design. Then again, you're also paying an $800 premium for that privilege, so choose wisely.

The Huawei Mate 10 Pro measures in at 154.2x74.5x7.9 mm so it's naturally a large handset in your hand. Bezels are minimal with Huawei branding at the base and the front facing camera at the top, around a 6 inch 1080x2160 display with rather eye-popping vibrancy as the default setting.

Then again, the Google Pixel 2 XL excluded, that's rather the norm for most Android phones these days. While the Mate 10 features a front-facing fingerprint scanner, the Mate 10 Pro hides it around the back beneath the dual camera lenses in a space that's essentially identical to that found on the Pixel 2 XL. I've been reviewing both simultaneously, and my muscle memory can find that fingerprint sensor without fail every time. It's fast, too, which is a very welcome touch.

 

The Mate 10 Pro is Huawei's first take on a water-resistant handset, which is a welcome inclusion for a company that has historically not offered that feature, but there's a significant tradeoff at play here. The regular Mate 10 has no water resistance, but it does offer a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, as well as the ability to use microSD cards for added storage. The Mate 10 Pro has neither of those features, and it's not hard to surmise that the added water resistance is the reason why.
Mate10Pro_4_738

Camera

Huawei has had a strong presence in the premium camera space thanks to its tie-up with established camera brand Leica. For the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, it's taken the formula it applied to the Huawei P10 Plus and improved it just a little, with dual rear sensors clocking in at 12MP RGB and 20MP monochrome, both at f/1.6 compared to the P10 Plus' f/1.8. Like the P10 Plus, they're Leica Summilux lenses. On the front, you'll find an 8MP RGB sensor for selfies that can also (like Google's Pixel 2 phones) manage its own portrait mode through software alone.

Like the Pixel 2, the effect can work well, or it can be a little obviously artificial. Here's a sample selfie with and without the portrait bokeh effect in play:

Mate10Pro_Selfies_738

There's also an inbuilt beauty mode, which can polish out minor imperfections, or turn you into a plastic surgeon's nightmare if you take it too far.

Huawei pitches the Mate 10 Pro as a premium camera, and the folks at DxOMark seem to agree, placing it firmly in the top performing camera phones of 2017. At the time of writing, here's how the Huawei Mate 10 Pro compares against other premium flagships according to its scoring benchmarks:

HandsetDxOMark Score
Google Pixel 298
Apple iPhone X97
Huawei Mate 10 Pro97
Apple iPhone 8 Plus94
Samsung Galaxy Note 894
Apple iPhone 892

While the underlying camera hardware on the Huawei Mate 10 Pro is impressive, it's in the software that Huawei claims it can make a difference to the user experience. The Mate 10 Pro features a neural processor that Huawei specifically uses to identify scenes and automatically apply the best possible photographic settings.

The AI can (in theory) identify the differences between cats and dogs and alter parameters on the fly for the best results, with a tiny image of its selected mode appearing when it identifies a subject. It's not quite 100% accurate, although there is scope for it to learn over time.

It's a similar approach again to how the Google Pixel 2 handles its camera work, but where that phone uses software, Huawei is explicitly using hardware to handle the heavy lifting. If you're a photo novice it can work very well, especially in low light. Here's how the Huawei Mate 10 Pro automatically interpreted a low light shot of the Sydney Harbour bridge:

Mate10Pro_sampleshot_night_738

Here's how the Pixel 2 XL took that shot:

Pixel2XL_lowlight_738

And the iPhone X's interpretation of the scene:

iPhoneX_lowlight_738

If you're not a fan of the camera automatically deciding on settings for you, pro tweaking is only a swipe away.

Overall, the Mate 10 Pro lives up to the expectations I'd have of a premium Huawei phone in 2017, with fast capture and focus, and pleasing photographic results. Here are some sample shots:

Mate10Pro_sampleshot_6_738 Mate10Pro_sampleshot_5_738 Mate10Pro_sampleshot_4_738 Mate10Pro_sampleshot_3_738 Mate10Pro_sampleshot_2_738 Mate10Pro_sampleshot_1_738

Performance

While the majority of premium Android handsets in 2017 have opted to use Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 SoC, Huawei went its own way with its Kirin family of processors. The Huawei Mate 10 Pro (and Mate 10) are the first handsets to run on the new Kirin 970 SoC, which as mentioned previously, includes a neural processor for handling AI tasks. By Huawei's claims, the neural processor can aid performance by up to 50%, but there is something of a catch here.

Applications have to be coded to actively support the neural processor, and at launch, they're explicitly few and far between.

Huawei points to Microsoft's Translate app as being neurally aware, and it certainly seems slick, but in my testing, it didn't appear that much faster than using Google Translate. Rather like Huawei's claim of software that auto-optimises Android responsiveness over time, the neural processor in the Mate 10 Pro is a very hard critter to quantify. On a performance level, the same is true of the fact that the Mate 10 Pro is the first Category 18 phone to hit Australia. It's great to be ready for the future, but nobody in Australia is offering Cat 18 speeds yet.

Thankfully, the actual app performance of the Mate 10 Pro is substantially nippy anyway, right up there with the best of the Android cohort in day to day usage as well as benchmark results. Here's how it compares using Geekbench 4's CPU test:

HandsetGeekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
Apple iPhone X418510319
Apple iPhone 8427010272
Apple iPhone 8 Plus411310221
Huawei Mate 10 Pro18886787
Samsung Galaxy S8+20206690
Samsung Galaxy S819896628
Huawei P10 Plus18636544
Nokia 819326529
OnePlus 519766506
Samsung Galaxy Note 820246490
HTC U1119196362
Sony Xperia XZ Premium19086324
Google Pixel 2 XL19146254

Clearly, it rests on using multi-core performance to make it as quick as it is. Here's where it stands using 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited test:

Handset3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
Apple iPhone 864461
Apple iPhone X61256
Apple iPhone 8 Plus59205
HTC U1140239
Sony Xperia XZ Premium40086
Google Pixel 2 XL39551
OnePlus 539497
Samsung Galaxy Note 832277
Huawei Mate 10 Pro30765

The Huawei Mate 10 Pro comes with Android 8.0 ("Oreo") out of the box, which means you get the latest Android features, but it's also running Huawei's often inconsistent EMUI overlay on top. EMUI is very much an acquired taste, whether you're trying to work out where specific settings are or trying to get the more gimmicky features, such as knocking on the screen to get a screenshot taken.

I'm not so certain that anyone should be punching their phone screens to start with, but leaving that aside, it's just not consistent enough beyond its gimmick status to be worth bothering with. For every screenshot I captured, there were at least five random screen selections or highlights that engaged instead. EMUI is clearly something Huawei is committed to continuing with, but it's often either unresponsive in application or confusing if you're used to a more regular Android approach, albeit not quite as nuclear a rewrite of Android as, say, Oppo's ColorOS.

Mate10Pro_2_738

Battery life

Battery life in large screened phones has been a contentious issue ever since the first wisps of smoke started emerging from Samsung's ill-fated Galaxy Note 7, with many manufacturers opting for smaller batteries and pinning their hopes on improved processor performance to carry the power story. Not so Huawei.

The Huawei Mate 10 comes with a 4,000mAh battery and the approval tick of safety from external outlet TÜV Rheinland. 4,000mAh is a lot of power to put into a smartphone, and with it, there's a fair expectation that you should get a lot of battery life.

Battery testing is by its nature somewhat subjective because a heavy user can flatten any smartphone given the right apps within a day, while light users may get significantly more battery life than other users may expect.

Using Geekbench 3's battery test, which delivers a consistent use for as long as it takes for the battery to exhaust gives us a picture of the Mate 10's comparable battery performance:

HandsetGeekbench 3 Battery Test DurationGeekbench 3 Battery Score
Apple iPhone 8 Plus15:27:409276
Galaxy S8+14:55:308955
Google Pixel 2 XL14:22:308625
Apple iPhone X12:46:507652
Nokia 812:22:107421
Sony Xperia XZ Premium12:06:407266
Samsung Galaxy Note 812:00:507208
Samsung Galaxy S811:47:507078
HTC U1111:42:407026
Huawei Mate 10 Pro10:50:306505
Apple iPhone 810:30:00DNF

Given the massive capacity of the battery in the Mate 10 Pro, that battery life figure is a little disappointing. It's certainly feasible to get all-day battery life out of the Mate 10 Pro, and Huawei's own provided supercharger can fire it up with power in a pinch, but in a straight line comparative sense, it should have done more.

Mate10Pro_3_738

Verdict

Huawei has long gone its own way, and in the Huawei Mate 10 Pro it's delivered a fascinating and somewhat compelling, somewhat compromised vision of what a premium smartphone can be. It's far too early to call whether or not its neural processor is actually a gamechanger, so all we can do is assess it against the existing competition.

There are some limitations inherent in the Mate 10 Pro's design. If other manufacturers can produce water-resistant phones with integrated headphone jacks and microSD card storage, then it feels poor that Huawei couldn't manage likewise. EMUI isn't to everyone's taste, even this is one of the few phones you can buy right now with Android 8.0 on board.

Still, it's recommended if you like Huawei's general approach to photography, especially at its price point, which is also a key factor in determining its overall value. Where most large screen phones have tended towards a $1,500 price point (or thereabouts) the Huawei Mate 10 Pro delivers value at a much lower selling price.

Mate10Pro_5_738

Alternatives

Within the Huawei family, the obvious competitors would be the slightly less expensive Huawei Mate 10, available now through Vodafone and outright, or if you just want the Leica lenses, consider the P10 Plus or even the Huawei P10.

If it's a large screen phone you're after and you want a purer Android experience, the Telstra-exclusive Pixel 2 XL could be a good match, as could Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 or HTC's U11. If you want a large screen phone with best-in-class battery life and you're happy to swap operating system camps, consider Apple's iPhone 8 Plus.

Order Google Pixel 2 from Telstra from Telstra deals

  • Available in 64GB and 128GB
  • Free unlimited online storage to save photos and videos
  • Long lasting and fast charging battery
  • Use Google Lens to learn more about landmarks, artwork and more
  • New Pixel-exclusive AR stickers to dress up your photos
  • View details

    Huawei Mate 10 Pro: What the other reviewers say

    SiteCommentScore
    TechRadar (Mate 10)"The Huawei Mate 10 is a big phone with an excellent camera, striking design and plenty of power under the hood."4.5/5
    CNET"A beautiful, big-screen bruiser."4/5
    The Australian"It’s where Huawei is positioning its premium phones in Australia: at a tad below the cost of the high-end competition."8/10
    Android Authority"Huawei is among the first to ship with Android Oreo out of the box, but software is where the Mate 10 is let down a little."N/A
    Tom's Guide"Huawei delivers unrivaled battery life, AI-powered dual cameras and a robust feature set in one of the year's most ambitious smartphones."8/10
    Engadget"There aren't enough apps using the neural-processing unit for the benefits to be clear."N/A

    Mate10Pro_6_738

    Pricing and availability

    The Huawei Mate 10 Pro will cost $1,099 when it goes on sale in Australia from 4 December.

    In contract terms, it's exclusive to Optus, who still have to release precise contract details for the handset, but will presumably do so closer to its release date here in Australia.

    Mate10Pro_7_738

    Specifications

    Product Name
    Huawei Mate 10 Pro
    Display
    6.0in
    Resolution
    1080 x 2160 pixels
    ppi
    402ppi
    Software
    Android 8.0
    Storage
    128GB
    RAM
    6GB
    Battery
    4000mAh
    Front camera
    8MP f/2.0
    Rear camera
    Dual rear: 20MP Monochrome/12MP RGB f/1.6
    Processor
    Kirin 970
    Size
    154.2x74.5x7.9mm
    Weight
    178g

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