In the fast paced world of Android phones (and iPhones for that matter), some devices age well while others seemingly die without much of a thought to them. A lot of it depends on the manufacture and their willingness to continue to develop updates for the device but also it depends on the niche in which the device attempts to be the answer.
In the case of the Huawei Mate 9, the Chinese company has continued to support the 5.9″ phablet by recently releasing their Android Oreo based EMUI 8 experience. That, along with filling the need of a large screen device for some, has let this phone age well. It’s still a powerhouse of a device that, even though it has now been superseded by the Mate 10, I don’t have a problem recommending.
I reviewed the Huawei Mate 9 back in March 2017 and at the time, I felt it was one of the fastest devices I had reviewed to that point. I felt the same way about the smaller Huawei P10 which has the same SoC (System on Chip) setup as the Mate 9. Now nearly a year later, I still feel the same way. This is a solid phone with a lot to offer despite its age. Yes, Android Oreo will likely be the last major update for the Mate 9 but that shouldn’t completely turn you away from it. It has a lot to offer and remains one of the best overall flagship phone options out there, especially now that it is under $500.
I’m not necessarily going to be re-reviewing the Mate 9 in this post but rather will highlight how the phone has performed over time. I’ll cover how the chassis has held up, how battery life has performed over time and the new EMUI 8 update for the phone to name a few things.
Specifications of the Huawei Mate 9
The Mate 9 is every bit phablet when it comes to the physical size of the device. It measures 156.9 x 78.9 x 7.9 mm or 6.18 x 3.11 x 0.31 in in old money and weighs in at 190g (6.7 oz). I’ll talk more specifically about the form factor of the phone later in the review but even at this size, the Mate 9 is quite comfortable to hold. The display dominates the front of the device, measuring 5.9″ in size and protected by Gorilla Glass 3. It displays at Full HD, rendering at 1080 x 1920. All in, that gives you about 373 ppi so the display is easy on the eyes for long periods of viewing.
The cameras in the Mate 9 are both impressive. The rear, main camera is a 20MP shooter at f/2.2. It is a dual camera configuration that has Leica optics, phase detection and laser autofocus as well as OIS (Optical Image Stabilization). It is married up with a dual-LED flash for more natural and warm flash photos. The front facing camera is 8MP f/1.9 with both cameras having touch focus and face/smile detection built-in thanks to the Huawei camera app.The phone’s processor is the Huawei built Kirin 960. This octa-core processor has four cores running at 2.4GHz and the other four running at 1.8GHz. It is coupled with the Mali-G71 MP8 GPU and 4GB of RAM. Onboard storage is 64GB with expansion of up to an additional 256GB thanks to the MicroSD slot.
Like other Huawei phones, the Mate 9 is sold unlocked and works with a wide range of carriers here in the United States. Unfortunately the US version does not support CDMA so those of you on Verizon or Sprint would have to order the dual-SIM international version (which should work but not guaranteed). That said, for GSM carriers here in the US like AT&T, T-Mobile and others, the Mate 9 should have no problem providing 4G and LTE coverage. As always, check with your carrier but here are the frequencies that are supported:
- HSDPA: 800 / 850 / 900 / 1700(AWS) / 1900 / 2100
- LTE band: 1(2100), 2(1900), 3(1800), 4(1700/2100), 5(850), 7(2600), 8(900), 9(1800), 12(700), 17(700), 18(800), 19(800), 20(800), 26(850), 28(700), 29(700), 38(2600), 39(1900), 40(2300)
The phone can give you up to 42.2/5.76 Mbps on HSPA while on LTE, you can get up to 600/150 Mpbs
Coupled with the mobile antennas is dual-band Wi-Fi that supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth LE (Low Energy 4.2) and the normal array of accelerometers, gyroscopes, NFC, proximity and barometer sensors that you would expect in this caliber of phone.
Powering all of this is a built-in 4000mAh battery that is charged via the USB-C connector at the bottom edge of the phone. Finally, the Huawei Mate 9 has a rear mounted fingerprint scanner for security.
The Mate 9 is an all aluminum chassis and body which gives it a solid feel in your hand but also gives it durability. I’ll admit that the Mate 9 has not been my daily driver this past year but it has seen its fair share of action. Overall, it has held up exceptionally well. Huawei provides a clear plastic shell-style case with the phone and I’ve kept it on the phone the entire time. The case, for sure, has seen plenty of wear and has the scratches to show for it. But the underlying chassis of the phone has hardly a blemish. Yes there are few scratches but nothing I would consider major damage or distracting.
If anything is distracting, it is the few minor scratches around the UBS-C port where I’ve clumsily tried to plug in the phone to charge it. But even that is far less than the wear that I’ve seen near the port on my Google Pixel XL.
The same could be said for the display of the Huawei Mate 9. Protected by Gorilla Glass 3, my screen has zero nicks or scratches and looks brand new. Further, the screen does not have any dead pixels or uneven tone to it.
Overall, there is little to complain about when it comes to the physical durability of the Mate 9. Huawei did a great job in constructing this phone and it has stood up well to normal wear and tear.
There is no denying that batteries in smartphones loose their longevity over time. While Apple has been catching a heap of trouble for throttling devices that have worn batteries, the fact is that the battery in your smartphone is slowly losing its ability to hold a charge the moment it is born. The Mate 9 is no different.
The built-in 4000mAh Lithium-Polymer battery, out of the box, was easily able to get me through a day and a bit between charges. A year later, that hasn’t changed. The battery has held up remarkably well, still providing me a solid day of usage between charges. On days when I’m traveling or not at my desk for a considerable amount of time, the Mate 9 is a trusted device for me in that I know I will have some battery left at the end of the day. Further, Huawei has built it some very impressive battery saving technology into the phone (most of which you can optionally enable or disable) so if I really get desperate, there is a Ultra save mode which essentially turns the phone into… just a phone. I’ve never had to use this but it is there should I be well into my second day between charges.
There will come a point when the battery life on my Mate 9 starts to fade but for now, it is holding strong.
Still One of The Better Cameras Available
You’d expect with a name like Leica attached to it that the Mate 9’s photos would be outstanding. And for the most part, they are stunningly beautiful. The camera optics and sensors are great and overall, you are going to get some impressive 20MP shots with this phone. Outdoors, it is really hard to beat as it has excellent color accuracy and saturation. Indoors, photos are good but not outstanding. Huawei has done a lot of work through updates to improve the low light abilities of the camera and, to an extent, they have improved it. Still, it doesn’t do as well as the Pixel lineup in these low light situations.
That said, if you use the flash when indoors, Huawei has balanced the warm flash exposure very well and indoor shots get the same richness of colors that outdoor shots do without washing them out.
If there has been one big change over the past year on the Huawei Mate 9, it has been the introduction of EMUI 8, the company latest version of their user experience. Based on Android Oreo, EMUI 8 is an evolution to EMUI 5 that came with the Mate 9. That version was a significant improvement over the previous iterations of the platform from the Chinese company and version 8 evolves it further.
A lot of what has improved in this new build is the overall flow and ease of finding things in Settings for example. EMUI 3 and 4 made doing simple settings changes incredibly painful at times. Version 5 greatly improved that and 8 makes it even better. Add to this all the normal goodies that are built into Oreo and you have a solid Android build running on the phone.
Huawei has also beefed up the Artificial Intelligence that is built into EMUI in this update. The AI learns how you use the phone and bubbles up relevant apps and other content to you more quickly. This is something that takes time for the system to learn – the more you use your phone the faster it learns – and it is all done on the device itself.
That said, EMUI 8 isn’t perfect. You still have to do a fair amount of hunting to find some settings and changing simple things like wallpapers without using a theme is still awkward. While the launcher has certainly improved in this release, some may still prefer Action Launcher or Nova Launcher as it brings you closer to a Pixel experience. As I put in my original review, don’t let the launcher stop you from getting this phone. It’s replaceable.
Yes, I still recommend the Huawei Mate 9
Despite it being a year old and despite the fact that Android Oreo is likely the last major update this phone will see, I don’t hesitate in recommending the Mate 9 for those who are looking for a powerful, big screen device. The phone, for me, has held up nicely over the past year. It doesn’t feel sluggish and with EMUI 8 now on it, you have all the benefits of Oreo on the phone.
As an added bonus, with the Mate 10 now rolling out, you can pick up the Mate 9 for considerably less than its $599 launch price. At the time of this writing, it is available for $449 in Space Grey on Amazon.