Huawei Mate 9: First look

The Mate 9 will supposedly be the first phone to feature Amazon's Alexa AI

Huawei unveiled its latest flagship smartphones, the Mate 9 and the Porsche Design Mate 9, at an event in Munich late last year.

While this isn't a full review, we managed to try the Mate 9 out and check out its specs at the event, so read on for our rundown of its main features...

Alexa

The Huawei Mate 9 will be the first ever phone to feature Amazon's AI assistant Alexa, according to the Chinese manufacturer.

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The news broke after Digital Trends' Andy Boxall spotted a billboard at CES 2017 in Las Vegas, advertising the device as the "first smartphone with Amazon Alexa".

It appears that the feature won't come as standard, however; although the phone will first hit shelves on 6 January, the advertisement also reveals that an Alexa-enabled variant won't be available until later on in the year.

Amazon has been making a concerted effort to push its cloud-powered digital assistant into more products, and this year's CES has seen Alexa integrated into a slew of new hardware formats, including TVs, fridges and even robots.

Given the sophistication displayed by Alexa's current deployment in the Amazon Echo, the AI software could do what Siri and Google Now have thus far failed to do, and actually make phone-based digital assistants useful.

Design and display

The Mate 9 has an impressive 5.9in IPS display that fills the front, leaving quite thin bezels at the side and enough space at the bottom for the Huawei logo. The 1920 x 1080 Full HD display large screen estate should put it firmly in the phablet category, however it measures in at 156.9 x 78.9 x 7.9mm.

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Compare this with the iPhone 7 Plus (158.2 x 77.9x7.3mm) and you get a lot more display for your money. And what a display; the colour output is vibrant with reds, greens and blues, virtually popping off the screen. It is also thinner than the Mate 8.

How Huawei manages to get such a big screen in without it feeling awkward to hold is a minor miracle. The bezels at the sides of the aluminium body are very ergonomic and gently curve, so we think that long periods holding the phone will be comfortable.

The phone will come in six colour options, Space Grey, Moonlight Silver, Ceramic White, Champagne Gold, Mocha Brown and Black.

Hardware

The Mate 9 features the Kirin chipset with an Octo-core Cortex-A73 processor (Cortex-A73 2.4GHz + A53 1.8GHz) and a Mali-G71 MP8 GPU. It boasts 4GB RAM, 64GB storage and a microSD slot supporting an extra 256GB of storage. Huawei claims that the phone improves on its predecessor's graphics capability by 400%.

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There are also four microphones dotted around the device (two at the bottom, one at the top of the camera and one inside the earpiece. There is also an infrared remote control and a 3.5mm headphone jack (remember them?).

Software

The Mate 9 comes with the latest iteration of the Android operating system; Android N (Nougat). Huawei has also overhauled its overlay Emotion UI (EMUI). Now on version 5.0, it has pared back on some of the excesses in previous versions, making the OS slicker and more attractive with a white and blue colour scheme.

Huawei has also cut down on the number of taps and swipes needed to do anything, claiming that 90% of most tasks can now be done using three or fewer taps.

The phone also features a machine learning algorithm, which Huawei claims can learn what a user does with their phone and allocate resources on the CPU appropriately. It also offers improved memory optimisation with automatic cleaning. Huawei claims this should lead to a speed improvement of around 80% after 10,000 hours (a rather long 416 days) use.

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Another feature is App Twin, which is a pretty convenient use case for the enterprise. This allows users to log into their professional and personal apps at the same time. For example, a user can have one Facebook app for business and another for personal.

Camera

Like the P9, the Mate 9 has a dual lens on the rear, developed in conjunction with Leica, comprising a 12-megapixel colour camera and a 20-megapixel monochrome camera. The two can be used to provide something Huawei calls "Hybrid Zoom". This supposedly provides a 2x optical zoom effect.

There is also an eight-megapixel camera on the front for selfies.

The phone is also capable of 4K video recording. Watching a demo video, the colours and details looked sharp but we couldn't help but notice a slight juddering in the playback. We are not sure if this is down to the phone or the playback equipment used in the demo during the keynote.

Battery

The Mate 9 packs an enormous 4,000mAh battery, making it one of the biggest on the market. Huawei also touted its charging technology called SuperCharge which can recharge a phone in ten minutes to get around 3.5 hours more use out of the handset.

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Overall, the phone bettery should last over two days.

The technology uses chips not only in the phone but also in the charging plug to optimise charging through the phones USB-C port. It also claims to charge up to four times faster than the iPhone 7 Plus.

Verdict

The Mate 9 offers some high specs at a slightly high price of 699. The battery is particularly impressive for its fast charging capabilities. The huge screen should also please those looking for a phablet to replace the Note 7. It looks great but whether it will prise people from their iPhones and Galaxy remains to be seen.

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