The Pixel XL and iPhone 7 Plus followed it into the world, but there’s still a Note-shaped hole in the smartphone market. Without wanting to rub salt into Samsung’s wounds, I have to reiterate that the Note 7 was looking like a potential phone of the year before it went up in flames. Huawei’s looking to capitalise on its South Korean rival’s spectacular failure with the Mate 9.
It looks a lot like the Mate 8, which certainly isn’t a bad thing, but it would have been nice to see Huawei tinker with the design. I wouldn’t describe the Mate 9 as pretty, but I’d say it’s ruggedly handsome, like Sean Bean or Tom Hardy. Yeah, it’s the Tom Hardy of smartphones.
The aluminium body feels solid, and the brushed metal sides and chamfered edges provide a bit of visual pizzazz. At 156.9 x 78.9 x 7.9mm, this is a big beast, but its gently curved backside helps you get to grips with it.
The only real negative I can say about the build is that the power button on my hands-on sample felt depressingly shallow, offering little resistance and no click. I need click. It sits on the right-hand edge, below the volume rocker, while the SIM and microSD (up to 256GB) slot lies on the left and the USB Type-C port is at the bottom.
The Mate 9 uses a 5.9-inch, Full HD IPS display with 373ppi. Sure, it’s a good phone display, but if Huawei has serious VR ambitions, we’re not sure the Mate 9’s capable of cutting the mustard. The limited edition Porsche Design Mate 9, on the other hand, features a much more promising 5.5-inch, 2,560 x 1,440 display with 534ppi. Unfortunately, it also costs €1,395 (£1,240).
As you can see, it features a dual-lens camera -- comprising a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor and a 12-megapixel RGB sensor -- similar to the one on the Huawei P9. The company says it’s ‘cooperated’ with Leica again, there’s OIS and the ability to record in 4K, but the sexy bokeh effect we all know and love is what Huawei’s really focused on.
In Bokeh mode, you can shift the focus and adjust the aperture. Cranking it up to maximum can make pictures look blotchy and wrong, but you can get some genuinely impressive results if you hold back and use it sensibly.
On the front, meanwhile, is a solitary 8-megapixel camera. Huawei’s still persevering with Beauty mode.
What’s far more useful is a new feature called Mistouch. Being a small-handed man-child, I can struggle to take pictures with phablets, as one of my straining fingers often ends up accidentally touching an edge of the display. Mistouch figures out when your little digits are being stupid and ignores your accidental screen taps, letting you snap a picture anyway. During my short hands-on session, it worked every time.
Huawei’s added an additional bunch of handy software features through EMUI 5.0, its Android 7.0 Nougat skin. There’s now an optional app drawer, split-screen on compatible apps, the ability to isolate individual voices on audio recordings, thanks to the inclusion of four microphones, and the option to hide your location data from all apps.
App Twin shares similarities with Samsung’s Secure Folder -- a feature we’ve previously described as a sexting addict’s dream -- allowing you to attach more than one profile to an app. Always wanted a slimy fake Facebook or Instagram profile dedicated to trawling for strange? App Twin. Huawei says it’s worked on making its menus flatter too, so you should be able to find tools and features in less steps.
Someone sound the privacy alarm, because there’s also a weird-sounding ‘AI machine-learning algorithm’ that apparently monitors your use and learns from you, and automatically schedules memory compression and cleaning and defragments your storage in an effort to combat long-term performance erosion. If it works without causing a privacy storm, it sounds good. Those are big ifs though.
There's also a tool for recording everything on your screen, and something called MirrorShare lets you beam whatever's on your screen to a TV that supports Miracast.
Inside the Mate 9 is an octa-core (4 x 2.4GHz A73, 4 x 1.8GHz A53) Kirin 960 processor, paired with 4GB RAM. However, what I really like the sound of is the 4,000mAh battery. The Mate 8 had the same capacity, and its stamina was and still is phenomenal.
On paper, the Mate 9’s rivals are way off the pace. The iPhone 7 uses a 2,900mAh battery, the Pixel XL has a 3,450mAh battery and the less said about the Note 7’s 3,500mAh battery, the better. According to Huawei, its SuperCharge fast-charging functionality will see it hit 58% from flat in 30 minutes, with a full charge taking 90 minutes.
The company's also included this line in its press release: "The battery sets a new standard in charging technology including Super Safe 5-gate protection, which offers real-time voltage, current and temperature monitoring to eliminate safety hazards and safeguard battery life."
The Mate 9 will be available in grey, silver, gold, brown and white models, though it's unlikely that the full line-up will be available in the UK... if it eventually arrives here.
Huawei's dropped a bit of a bombshell by failing to include the UK among its list of "first-wave launch markets", which includes France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain. The 64GB handset will be available for €699 (£620) on the continent, and we've asked for more details on the UK situation. We’ll let you know as soon as we get the info.