Huawei Mate 9: A phablet to go all the Huawei with

Alex Kidman 7 February 2017

Quick Verdict
The Mate 9 is an exceptional entry into the 2017 smartphone space, and one that puts every other phone maker on notice.

Strengths

  • Very powerful processor
  • Excellent camera
  • Quick fingerprint unlocking
  • Dual SIM capability
  • Good overall battery performance
  • Screen protection

Could be better

    • Only a 1080p screen
    • Emotion UI is quirky
    • No water resistance
    • No dual SIM on contract
    • No Porsche phone for you


Huawei absolutely knocks it out of the park with the Mate 9, putting every other smartphone maker on notice.

In the premium phone space, timing is everything. It’s inevitable that nobody wants to release their phones head to head with Apple, for a start. Samsung is opting to delay the Samsung Galaxy S8 until after MWC 2017, but LG is set to announce the LG G6 there.

Amidst all this noise, HTC has announced the HTC U Ultra, but not when we’ll see it locally.

Huawei Mate 9 from DWI (Digital World International)

Huawei's Mate 9 offers up a powerful processor, an excellent camera, fast fingerprint access and currently sits at number 3 on the list of finder's favourite songs.

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Huawei has beaten everyone to the punch with the Huawei Mate 9, which you can buy right now. Huawei could be accused of cheating, however, as the Mate 9 was announced in 2016, which could lead you to suspect that it’s a phone more suited to last year’s needs rather than a true premium handset for 2017. So how does the Mate 9 stack up?

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Huawei Mate 9: Why you’d want one

  • Very powerful processor: We’re going to have to wait a while to see how Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 SoC operates on a real world phone, but in the meantime Huawei’s instead opted for its own Octa-Core Kirin 960 processor to run the Mate 9. It’s extremely quick, whether you’re throwing games at it or heavy spreadsheets, and its benchmark scores reflect that. Here’s how the Mate 9 compares against its premium competition using Geekbench 4’s cross-platform CPU test:
    HandsetGeekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better)Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better)
    Huawei Mate 919256068
    Apple iPhone 7 Plus33745649
    Apple iPhone 734525599
    Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge13595333
    Samsung Galaxy S713784718
    Apple iPhone SE24494171
    Apple iPhone 6s24654052
    Google Pixel XL16294051
    Motorola Moto Z14773853
    Sony Xperia XZ16363604

    It’s not quite as solid a competitor in the 3D rendering/games space. Here’s how the Mate 9 compares against a range of premium phones using 3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited test:

    Handset3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result
    Apple iPhone 7 Plus37956
    Apple iPhone 737717
    LG G529597
    Apple iPhone SE29276
    Samsung Galaxy S728903
    Samsung Note728646
    Google Pixel XL28458
    Huawei Mate 928457
    Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge28402

    In all of our testing, the Mate 9 responded rapidly, which is what you’d want in a premium priced phone.

  • Excellent camera: Like the Huawei P9, the Huawei Mate 9 uses a dual lens approach co-developed with Leica. On the rear sits a 12MP colour and 20MP monochrome lens which combine to form very pleasing images. It’s also entirely feasible to shoot simply in monochrome, and this can give very sharp images indeed, sometimes bordering on a little too sharp. Huawei’s camera app layout is logical enough, although we do wish the swipe to the left for camera functions worked in landscape shooting mode. Premium cameras have to work particularly hard to stand out, and the Mate 9 easily stands up there with premium shooters such as the Google Pixel XL, Apple iPhone 7 Plus and Samsung Galaxy S7.
  • Quick fingerprint unlocking: The Huawei Mate 9 shifts its fingerprint sensor to the rear of the phone, which takes some getting used to. It also means you can’t unlock it without picking it up. Just having a fingerprint sensor isn’t enough for a premium phone. The Mate 9 excels in sheer speed of unlocking, so it’s probably a good thing the sensor sits on the back. It gives you time to be ready for it.
  • Dual SIM capability: If you travel and use a roaming SIM, you’ll appreciate the capability of the Mate 9 to take two SIMs. While it’s not unheard of for premium phones to offer dual SIM capability, it’s very rare that we officially see those phones released in that style here. You can get a Galaxy S7 Edge in a Dual SIM configuration, but you’d have to import one. Huawei offering it locally means that it’s supported locally.
  • Good overall battery performance: One of the benefits of having a large phone body is that manufacturers can slam in large quantities of power under the display. The Mate 9 packs in a 4,000mAh battery and is very aggressive with its battery optimisations. However, in our battery benchmark, using the older Geekbench 3’s battery test, it scored relatively poorly against other premium phones:
    HandsetGeekbench 3 Battery Test DurationGeekbench 3 Battery Score
    Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge11:55:007150
    Huawei Mate 811:14:406659
    Apple iPhone 7 Plus11:11:206713
    Samsung Galaxy Note711:02:206623
    Samsung Galaxy S710:01:206013
    Google Pixel XL9:14:205543
    Huawei Mate 99:00:305330
    Apple iPhone 77:50:104701

    It’s not quite iPhone-level disappointing, but it did surprise us, simply because our own anecdotal testing suggested it should be a front runner, as last year’s Mate 8 was. We suspect that’s more an issue of the benchmark and how the Mate 9 reacted to it, however. We never had a problem with all-day battery life, and two days is entirely reasonable especially if you actively allow it to monitor apps in the background that are still eating up power. Huawei also supports fast charging through its own proprietary charger, which means even if it does run low, topping it up is exceptionally quick.

  • Screen protection: Huawei throws a screen protector onto the Mate 9 in the factory, but it goes a fair bit further than just a thin film for protection. If you drop your Mate 9 in the first three months of owning it, Huawei will replace the display free of charge. You only get one fumble fingers freebie, but given the cost of screen repair for premium phones can be considerable, it’s a fine inclusion.

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Huawei Mate 9: Why you might not want one

  • Only a 1080p screen: The Huawei Mate 9’s 5.9 inch display has a Full HD resolution, and that’s slightly problematic on a screen this large simply because it gives it a relatively low pixel density. For regular viewing it’s entirely fine, but if your desires lean more in a VR sense, you’re going to have a face full of blocky pixels, rather than a particularly fine image to deal with.
  • Emotion UI is quirky: Huawei has refined the Emotion UI launcher it puts on its phones markedly with the Mate 9. We’re big fans of the fact that you can choose between having an Android-style app drawer, or a simple run of apps, iOS style. Still, the UI is clunky in places when you’re trying to find a particular setting.
  • No water resistance: In the premium space, water resistance is fast becoming a given, but Huawei’s Mate 9 doesn’t include any IP rating. Anecdotally our review sample got rained on and made it through unscathed, but we were not brave enough to submit it to a dunking to see how well it handled that.
  • No dual SIM on contract: The Mate 9’s asking price is moderate for a premium handset, but if you prefer to buy on contract, you’ll have to give up dual SIM aspirations to do so. The Mocha Brown Dual SIM variant is for outright sale only, but the Space Grey version that you get on contract will only take a single SIM card.
  • No Porsche phone for you!: Huawei make an even more powerful version of the Mate 9, the Porsche Design Mate 9. Given the exceptional performance of the Huawei Mate 9, that’s a prospect worth salivating over, but it’s drooling we’ll have to do from a distance. Huawei Australia tells finder.com.au that it has no plans to release the Porsche Design model down under.

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Who is it best suited for? What are my other options?

The Mate 9 is an exceptional entry into the 2017 smartphone space, and one that puts every other phone maker on notice. Even if Huawei has jumped into the premium pool first, giving everyone else time to engineer further phone miracles, it has set a very high performance bar indeed. It’s very early in the year, but we can see the Mate 9 being a good option and possibly a contender come the end of the year for best phone.

In the premium space, if you wanted a large screen phone with good performance, you’d have to step up to either the Google Pixel XL or Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus, either of which will set you back a significant quantity more than the Mate 9. If the Mate 9’s dual camera optics entice you, you could opt to slide down the performance scale a tad and opt instead for the very capable Huawei P9 instead.

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Huawei Mate 9: Where can I get it?

Huawei sells the Mate 9 outright in a dual SIM configuration through Harvey Norman and JB Hi-Fi for $999.

If you prefer your phones on contract, the single SIM variant is offered by both Vodafone and Optus on 24 month contract terms. Here’s what you’ll pay for a Mate 9 through either carrier.


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Huawei Mate 9: Specifications

HuaweiMate 9
OSAndroid 7.0 ("Nougat")
Screen size5.9in
Resolution1080x1920
Display density373ppi
Storage64GB
Weight190g
ProcessorOcta-core Kirin 960
Rear camera20/12MP
Front camera8MP
Battery4000mAh

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