There's just no stopping the charge of the phablets. Huawei's new Mate 8 is one of the newest big-boned smartphones to hit the market, and goes up against the likes of the Nexus 6P, iPhone 6S and Samsung Galaxy Note 5.
What Is It?
Hard to miss. The Huawei Mate 8 -- not the M8, as I keep mistakenly typing -- is a proper Titan of a smartphone. With a 6-inch display, it’s flipping big, and comes clad in a solid metal suit of armour. It’s not all about build, though. The Mate 8’s biggest draw is stamina. Seriously, its monster 4,000mAh battery is a two-day conquering gift from the heavens.
Who Is It For?
Anybody with large pockets, both literally and metaphorically. Not only is the phone a sizeable beast, but its price tag is up there too. Huawei’s slapped a surprisingly high RRP of £429 on the handset. It’s by no means ridiculously steep, but it’s certainly not as affordable as you might expect it to be. After all, the excellent Nexus 6P is available for less, and Huawei's still looking to gain ground in western markets.
Like Dolph Lundgren in his heyday, the Huawei Mate 8 is big, tough and damn good-looking. The Chinese company’s come on leaps and bounds in the design department over the last couple of years, and the Mate is testament to its progress. The handset is pleasantly clean and unfussy, but manages to stay well away from ‘boring’ territory.
It’s better-looking than both of its main rivals, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and the Nexus 6P, which is funny because the Mate looks like it could be their love child. From the front, it’s easy to mistake it for a swollen Note without that classic Samsung home button, and from the back, it’s very Nexus-like, minus that ugly camera panel. Hardly a surprise, of course, as Huawei did build the 6P.
The Mate has a metal unibody, which is fancy and solid and bloody well-made. Its back is smooth, matte and gently curved, which is great news for your fingertips. The main camera sensor, circular, recessed fingerprint scanner and rear flash sit close together near the top of the handset, while its brushed metal edges and light trim at the top and bottom add a nice bit of pizzazz.
We have absolutely no issues with the volume rocker and power button either. They’re well-built, and chunky enough to feel out without looking. Dual speakers and the charging port sit on the bottom edge, while the 3.5mm headphone jack lies right at the top. No crazy slimness measures here.
Our review sample is the space grey model, though champagne gold, moonlight silver and mocha brown variants are also available. We think we've got the pick of the draw.
Once again, the Huawei Mate 8 is massive. Measuring in at 157.1 x 80.6 x 7.9mm, it’s definitely too big for most consumers. I admittedly have quite small hands, but operating this bad boy with just one of them is bloody tough. If you’ve ever tried to do up your trousers and belt while speaking on the phone, you’ll know what I mean. Unless you’re built like an arm-wrestler, this is a phone for two-handed use. You’ll also struggle to fit it into shallow pockets, so make sure your collection of jeans is up to the task.
With that size comes weight, but I rather like how heavy the Mate is. It comes in at 185g -- that’s a touch more than the slightly larger Nexus 6 -- but it feels reassuring sturdy, rather than brick-like.
What’s tougher to get your head around, on paper at least, is the 1,920 x 1,080 display. Considering the Mate 8’s price, size, and the fact its main rivals pack QHD displays, Full HD seems like a bit of a let-down. In reality, however, it more than does the trick.
A pixel density of 368ppi means that images aren’t quite as sharp on the Mate as they are on the Note or 6P, but that’s the worst thing we can say. It’s bright enough to use in direct sunlight, viewing angles are excellent and colours are punchy and vibrant. This is a phone good enough for TV bingers and gamers.
A major plus-side of the Mate’s use of a relatively modest panel (resolution-wise, anyway) comes in the battery department. I’ve genuinely never used a smartphone with better stamina. The 4,000mAh battery will easily see you through the day, and leave you with around half of its charge remaining. That’s while taking pictures, messaging people, browsing the web and watching YouTube clips. This is completely alien to me.
On several occasions, I’ve managed to get through a couple of days off a single charge, though that did involve heavily limiting my smartphone use on the evening of day two. If only all smartphones were like this.
Once you eventually do run out of power, it doesn’t take long to charge the Mate up again. Thanks to fast-charging, you can power it up beyond the 30% mark in less than half-an-hour, and a full charge requires a touch more than an hour and a half plugged into the wall.
Our test model comes is powered by the octa-core Kirin 950 processor and 3GB of RAM. It’s a combo that’s powerful enough to blast through everyday tasks, such as watching movies and browsing the web. Lagginess? No. App crashes? Nope. Slickness through and through.
Games play like a dream too, thanks to the Mali-T880 MP4 GPU. Even intensive titles like Asphalt 8 and Real Racing 3 run fantastically well, with absolutely no stutters or stoppages to report.
The fingerprint scanner is another smooth operator, taking you from dead-screen to home screen in less than a second. Our only complaint in this department is the placement of the sensor. You can’t use it when the Mate is laid out on its back, so you have to pick it up before scanning away. With the iPhone 6S Plus and Note, it’s as easy as plodding your thumb on the home button. What is handy, however, is the option to use the scanner to take pictures.
That little touch of inconvenience is nothing compared to our disappointment with the software. Though the Mate runs on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, you wouldn’t have a clue because of EMUI 4.0. The skin is a heavy presence, transforming Android into an iOS wannabe of sorts.
Gone is the app drawer, so you have no choice but to organise your downloads across your home screens. I don’t particularly mind that, as I tend to display as many apps as I can anyway, but we imagine many Android fans would struggle to get on board. Getting everything in the right place can be an annoyingly-lengthy process.
Gone too is the carousel-like multitasking menu that we’ve grown to love, allowing you to quickly flick through your open apps. EMUI has them all laid out side-by-side, so it can take a touch more time to hunt down the app you want.
Huawei's major software additions are disappointing too. First up we have split-screen, which you can enable by holding the square Android soft key. It should allow you to make the most of the Mate’s huge display by letting you use two apps simultaneously. However, unfortunately, this feature doesn’t support Gmail, Chrome, Citymapper or any of the apps you’d actually want to fire up in split-screen mode. Sigh.
Knuckle Sense is a nice idea on paper, but it’s rather difficult to master. Two taps of your knuckle on the screen is an easy way to take a screenshot, but I’m yet to fire up the video recorded with a double-tap of two knuckles. After a drawn-out period of failure, it’s time to give up.
Huawei’s done an excellent job with the Mate’s camera. The smartphone’s primary snapper is a 16-megapixel affair with optical image stabilisation, a dual-tone flash and an HDR mode. It fires up quickly and really springs into action, so you can focus and snap without a second’s delay.
The camera app is eerily reminiscent of the iPhone’s, but most importantly it’s easy to use. There are a bunch of options and effects to choose from too, such as time-lapse and ‘light painting’, which essentially blurs and brightens your photos into arty messes.
The automatic photo mode is great, with images coming out sharp and accurate. Low light performance is impressive too, thanks to OIS.
We have one thing to say about the 8-megapixel selfie camera: beauty mode. Huawei really rams the feature down your throat, and we can’t understand why. It smooths out your facial features, transforming you into a weird doll/waxwork figure, and it’s really not for us. With beauty mode disabled, however, selfies come out looking banging.
Should You Buy It?
If battery life is the most important thing to you, absolutely. The Huawei Mate 8's stamina has seriously made me consider buying a phablet for myself. Not having to worry about battery life every time you play music and watch TV when you're out and about is a massive load off your mind. However, the Mate is gigantic, so I'd recommend getting your hands on this beast before you commit to buying it. The software is a downer too. Why can't manufacturers just leave Android alone!?
OS: Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) w/ EMUI 4.0
CPU: Octa-core Kirin 950
Screen: 6-inch, 1,920 x 1,080
Camera: 16-megapixel rear camera / 8-megapixel front camera
Colours: Space grey, champagne gold, moonlight silver, mocha brown
Price and Availability: £429