Huawei Mate 9 might be the perfect Samsung Galaxy Note 7 alternative

Huawei Mate 9 price: 699 euros

Huawei Mate 9 release date: Q4 2016

In the past 12 months, Huawei has released a handful of phones that are all quite similar. Whether it’s the Mate S, P9, P9 Plus or even the Nova series, it's difficult to distinguish between them.

Some are cheap, some more powerful or bigger, but none offer a stand-out feature. The Mate 9 is different, and that’s what makes it such an interesting prospect. It’s huge, seriously powerful and aimed squarely at the power user. It isn't for everyone, but I can see that many will find it a seriously tempting proposition.

It also comes to market at a time when the previous best phablet, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7, has been withdrawn from the market for catching fire. It appears to be the perfect moment for Huawei to jump in and take the best phablet crown.

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And while this clearly isn't the first Mate device, it appears that it can easily be classed as the best. It has a decent screen, powerful CPU – and, thankfully, Huawei has finally seen fit to alter and modernise the awful Android skin of past.

But let’s start with the biggest selling point here: the size. At 5.9-inch, this is a big _phone_ – probably the biggest I've held this year; it dwarfs 5.5-inch handsets such as the Pixel XL. The metal back curves slightly to make it easier to hold, but it’s a struggle to do anything comfortably without the use of two hands.

It would have been nice if Huawei had experimented a little with the design; it feels safe. The glass front and metal back have been a staple on pretty much every Huawei _phone_ for years, and I can’t be the only person getting a little bored by this look. Still, it’s functional and feels expensive.

Considering it's a 5.9-inch screen on a high-end flagship, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was quad-HD, but Huawei has stuck with 1080p here. During my time with the phone I didn’t notice any lack of detail, but I've yet to have the opportunity to view videos or look through my photo gallery, so I'll reserve judgement until I've used the handset for longer.

In addition, although the Mate 9 supports Google’s Daydream virtual reality, I envisage there being issues since the technology performs better with higher-resolution displays.

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You do get flagship quality internals, however. As usual, Huawei is using its Kirin chips to power the Mate 9 and here it opts for the new Kirin 960.

The Kirin 960 is a high-performance chip that uses four of ARM’s new Cortex-A73 cores and four low-powered A53 cores. It also happens to be the first processor to ship with the Mali G71 MP8 GPU, which should offer up better gaming performance and graphics thanks to a 180% speed increase over the outgoing T880.

This is accompanied by 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of internal storage with support for microSD. All this translates to a super-speedy handset in operation, exhibiting fast load times and snappy apps.

Like the Huawei P9, the Mate 9 includes a Leica-branded camera on the back. The famous German optics specialist, known for its pricey but exceptional cameras, has given some of its know-how to Huawei along with an app that mirrors what you’d get on a proper Leica camera.

There was a lot of miscommunication about just how much input Leica had on the P9 cameras, and the story appears to be similar here, too.

With the Mate 9, the two sensors offer up different resolutions. The monochrome one – which helps improve contrast and low-light shooting – boasts 20 megapixels, while the colour RGB version is a lower 12 megapixels. It is possible to use the black-and-white sensor separately, but most of the time they combine to create a hybrid zoom effect that’s supposed to mirror an optical zoom as it does in the iPhone 7 Plus.

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On countless occasions, Huawei referred to the zoom on the Mate 9 as "optical" – but it certainly isn’t that. There’s simply some software trickery at play here, where the use of differing resolution sensors creates a zoom effect. It’s similar to the tech used by Sony on its phone, whereby the photo is taken at a higher resolution and then cropped.

To be completely honest, the demo room in which I was testing the Mate 9 wasn’t at all ideal for photos, so I don’t really have a feel for what the results will be like in real-world use. I can't say that I was a fan of the P9's camera – but many were – as I found the results heavily vignetted, and the focus was too much on post-processing. At least the Mate 9’s snapper seemed fast and the autofocus was quick, too.

Larger phones require an equally sizeable battery, and the 4,000mAh cell here should be perfectly serviceable. Huawei has finally added quick-charging and you’ll achieve a full charge in around 1hr 30mins when using the included charger and USB Type-C cable.

But by far the biggest win here is the software. Huawei has finally freshened up EMUI – and it seems so much better. I was told about changes to how the phone deals with memory management and uses machine learning for optimising speed, but my eyes were drawn to the reinstated app-drawer and the no-longer-hideous notification panel. It’s built on Android 7.0 too, so you get proper native split-screen multitasking and all the improvements to Doze.

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Many of Huawei’s own apps have been spruced up, too, with a focus on blue and white. They look okay, but they still don't match up to Google’s offerings. Good job you don’t have to use them.

First Impressions

The Huawei Mate 9 knows what it is, and it focuses purely on offering power-user features to those who really need a big phone. The Mate 9 isn't for everyone then – but I know there’s a niche that will lap it up.