Huawei Mate 9 review: A poor Note 7 replacement


Samsung’s decision to halt production of its Galaxy Note 7, due to a handful of exploding battery incidents, has left a rather large hole for would-be phablet owners. One smartphone attempting to fill the void is Huawei’s Mate 9, its latest flagship jumbo phone.

This phone has one huge display, measuring 5.9in from corner-to-corner. It only has a resolution of 1,080 x 1,920, but what the Mate 9 lacks in pixel density, it makes up for elsewhere, including a dual 20-megapixel camera, a big 4,000mAh battery and beautiful all-metal chassis. Its matte finish looks particularly classy, and its neat cluster of rear sensors and subtle antenna band covers all contribute to a much more sophisticated appearance than its predecessor — the Mate 8.

Display

The screen is gorgeous, and at no point did I feel like I could do with a higher resolution. Its pixel density of 373ppi is still perfectly acceptable on a screen this size, and I struggled to make out any kind of stepping or pixellation.

It helps that the screen is so eye-searingly bright. I measured a peak brightness of 622cd/m2, which is nearly twice that of the Note 7’s default maximum brightness in manual mode, and significantly brighter than its peak in auto-brightness mode, too, so you shouldn’t have any trouble reading the screen in direct sunlight. Combine this with an excellent contrast ratio of 1,529:1 and a superb sRGB colour gamut coverage of 98.7% and you have one of the most impressive displays on any smartphone.

Battery Life

A lower resolution screen should also help when it comes to battery life, as fewer pixels should theoretically be less of a drain on the phone’s battery. However, while Huawei’s clearly managed to improve the efficiency of its battery saving technology on the Mate 9 compared with the Mate 8, it’s still pretty disappointing considering the battery’s size.

Despite its huge 4,000mAh battery, the Mate 9 lasted only 13hrs 17mins in our continuous video playback test with the screen brightness set to our usual measurement of 170cd/m2. That’s around 90 minutes longer than the Mate 8, which also had a 4,000mAh battery, but I was hoping for more, especially after the Moto Z Play’s smaller 3,510mAh battery lasted a much more impressive 23hrs 45mins.

The Mate 9 should still get you through the course of a day, but it’s clear there are more impressive big-screen phones around if you want something to last you well into the next day.

Performance

One of the downsides of releasing a phone at the end of 2016 is that, as well as this year’s crop of phones, it’s going to have to compete very soon with 2017’s flagships, such as the Samsung Galaxy S8. If our benchmarks are anything to go by, however, then the Mate 9’s new octa-core 2.4GHz Kirin 960 processor should mean it’s fairly well-equipped to do that.

Indeed, with a Geekbench 4 multicore score of 6,244, the Mate 9 comfortably outstrips both the Samsung Galaxy S7 family, the iPhone 7 and the Google Pixel XL, making it the fastest Android phone I’ve ever tested. Its single core score is slightly less impressive, hitting just 1,843, but this is still on par with Samsung’s S7 and S7 Edge, so it can hardly be considered sluggish.

Where the Mate 9 starts to come a cropper, however, is graphics performance. This seems to be a recurring theme with Huawei’s Kirin chips, and such is the case with the Mate 9. While a score of 2,306 frames (37fps) in GFX Bench GL’s onscreen Manhattan 3.0 test is by no means terrible, it pales in comparison with other big screen phones such as the OnePlus 3, which scored an average of 47fps.

I also noticed quite a few hitches in the frame rate when I tried a quick game of Hearthstone, which ended up making it quite bothersome to play. This is a shame considering the Mate 9’s large display is primed and ready for big-screen, 3D gaming, but at least you’ll be fairly safe with simpler, 2D titles.

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