Huawei is stepping up its game starting with its latest Android.
Technological improvements in popular devices tend to manifest in unnecessarily small increments, or at least that’s what I’ve always maintained.
Rather than make an exponential leap, most of the time developments are staggered so that the performance improvements from one edition to the next usually isn’t all that staggering.
Huawei, however, looks determined to go all the way, first with the mid-year launch of the P9, and now the Mate 9.
It’s clear that these are bold advancements determined to aggressively propel Huawei from its present third position to the top in the worldwide smartphone market.
And does it deliver on its promises? Well for the most part, yes.
Bigger, better, faster
I attended the global launch of the Mate 9 in Munich earlier this month and Huawei consumer business group CEO Richard Yu was exuberant. With many a wry aside directed at competitors, he made it clear that Huawei was in no mood to take prisoners.
“In developing the Mate 9, we started with a simple question – how can we improve every element of the smartphone experience?” said Yu.
So what the company has delivered is a smartphone that’s fast and functional yet user friendly with a sleek design, even if doesn’t quite fit in the palm of most of our hands.
It’s powered by a Kirin 960 chipset, which Huawei is touting as the world’s highest performing smartphone processor.
On top of that the EMUI 5, the company’s updated user interface, makes it possible to access over 50% of the smartphone’s functions with just two taps, making it easier than ever to operate the phone.
And then there’s a new SuperCharge feature that powers up the phone really fast so you don’t have to be “leashed” for too long.
Like the Huawei P9/P9 Plus launched earlier in the year, one of the most celebrated features of the new smartphone is the camera design.
The Mate 9 features twin cameras – a 12-megapixel RGB sensor and 20-megapixel monochrome sensor with an improved image fusion algorithm.
The RGB sensor captures true-to-life colours, while the monochrome sensor captures intricate details and depth for a “Leica look”.
Leica optical designer Dr Benjamin Duck said, “The Leica look is mentioned often, people think it’s mysterious. It is to me too, after seven years. It is a result of chaining sensors, dynamic range, signal to noise ratio and algorithms. But you can’t reduce the look to numbers, they are only guidelines. We recalibrate and change, as a very natural look is the aim.”
What all those technical and metaphysical descriptions mean for us unrefined laymen is hours of trigger-happy snapping with remarkable results.
Picture definition is significantly clearer than on rival products, so that if you zoom in close every blemish is visible.
Despite a general claim to simplicity, there are many features to try out so you can actually complicate the photo taking and post production if you so desire.
There are all kinds of nifty options available here. A Vivid Colours mode gives you sharper colours that manage to remain natural while a Beauty Mode is something of an airbrusher of afore-mentioned blemishes.
Then there’s manual focus which works a treat if you want arty shots with a blurry foreground and yet a sharply focused object in the distance.
The front-facing (yes, let’s call it the selfie cam) option may not have the double lens treatment but it’s also pretty impressive.
When it comes to daytime conditions, I have to say this is the best camera I have used for both indoor and outdoor photography. However, when the lights go down, it does lose a little of its shine.
Odds and ends
Listening to music on the Mate 9, I realised there’s a bit of an anomaly. On the one hand, the speaker sound has shown vast improvements. There is actually a stereo system that is sensitive to whether or not you are listening in portrait or landscape orientation.
If it is in portrait it gives you treble up top and mid and bass sounds on the bottom, whereas landscape will give you a more conventional left/right speaker dynamic.
Overall, the stereo makes for a fuller sound which helped Dennis Bown’s 1977 reggae classic Wolf & Leopards come through in all its roots glory.
However, I must say that when you bypass the speakers and listen on the headphones, the sparkling sound isn’t quite there anymore
A small note (heh) about the price of the Mate 9. It’s quite a step up from the basic model price of the Mate 8. I suppose it’s to be expected given the improvements but I would have preferred a less steep increase.
If you are the kind who digs this sort of thing, the Mate 9 colour options include Space Grey, Moonlight Silver, Champagne Gold, Mocha Brown, Ceramic White and Black.
Honestly, after wrapping the phone in a screen protector and a swanky yet functional black and red cover, I can’t even recall what colour the actual phone is.
By the way, for those confused about the differences between the P series and the Mate range, the director of global product marketing for Huawei consumer business group Clement Wong has this to say, “The target audience is very different. For the P series we had celebrities like Scarlett Johansson to help market it to those who are into fashion and lifestyle. The Mate is designed as a business tool with bigger battery and big display.” Does that help?
The Mate 9 will go on sale in Malaysia tomorrow (Nov 22). Closer to Christmas, the super sleek, Porsche Limited Edition Mate 9 will be on the market. It has a 5.5in curved Amoled display, and comes with 6GB RAM and 256GB storage.
Pros: There’s a Yes song called Into The Lens in which Trevor Horn repeatedly declares “I am a Camera”. Yes, I like the charging, speed, sound and interface but it’s that camera that is key to Huawei’s ascension.
Cons: Just minor gripes really. Mainly I’d like it to be slightly cheaper.
OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 7.0 (Nougat)
DISPLAY: 5.9in FHD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels)
PROCESSOR: Kirin 960 octa-core (4 x 2.4GHz A73 + 4 x 1.8GHz A53)
CAMERA: 20 megapixels monochrome + 12 megapixels RGB (rear); 8 megapixels (front)
MEMORY: 64GB, microSD slot (up to 256GB supported)
CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth 4.2, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, WiFi Direct, USB Type C
DIMENSIONS (W x D x H) : 78.9 x 7.9 x 156.9mm
RATING: Four stars
Review unit courtesy of Huawei Technologies Malaysia, 1800-22-3366
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