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Huawei Mate 8 review. A Different Note.

Huawei stepped into the premium phablet scene with the gorgeous looking Ascend Mate 7 which boasted superfast 4G LTE-A Cat 6 which translates to theoretical speeds of up to 300Mbps downlink and 50Mbps uplink. It also featured a fingerprint scanner and it was one of the first very few devices offering one which claimed to get your device from sleep to the home screen in under a second. And this was late 2014.

2015 came about with the Mate 8 which was an even better offering and one to reckon with as well. What made it a serious contender one might ask? Well allow me to enlighten you.

The following is a technical review of this device. For a simplified summary scroll down to the ‘In a nutshell’ section at the bottom of the review.

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Unboxing

huawei-mate-8unboxing

The packaging is made out of recycled material and organic inks to appease the polar bear friendly folk and it is done so elegantly. Open up the lid and you find:

x1 Huawei Mate 8 smartphone

x1 Quick Charger head (9v 2A)

x1 USB cable

x1 Pair of Headsets

x1 Flip case

x1 User guide

x1 Sim ejector tool

huawei-mate-8accessories

All the accessories that came with the device were placed in their own small boxes. Makes you feel like you need to own a suit and tie before you can open the box. Unboxing experience level: Special.

Phone Exterior

The face of the device houses a 6 inch FHD IPS-NEO LCD display with pretty lean bezels. It is designed in such a way that the display looks like it reaches edge to edge. Turn on the display though and a black band round the display panel becomes visible but the sheer vastness of the display sees that not being an issue at all.

Still on the display,  it is decently sharp considering 1920 x 1080 FHD is a bit of stretch for 6 inches worth of real estate. On the other hand the display produces really vivid colours and some impressive blacks for an LCD. One might actually mistake it for an AMOLED panel with just how punchy it is. Huawei claims it has a 95% color saturation meaning colour reproduction is 95% that of the Hollywood movie standard which is GOOD and makes up a lot for the relatively low resolution.

Above the display is a notification LED at the far left, a strip for the earpiece in the centre, an 8MP selfie camera and proximity and light sensors to its right. The bottom of the display is bare and only home to the HUAWEI logo.

The top of the device is where the 3.5mm headphone jack is located sharing the spot with the secondary noise cancellation microphone. The bottom has the microUSB port and is flanked by two grills. The one to the left has the primary microphone underneath and the right hides the loudspeaker.

The right edge is home to the hybrid slot that can house 2 Sim cards or one Sim and a microSD card. This can be very limited choice but in this day and age you can be happy that you still get a choice.

The left edge resides the hardware keys that is the volume rocker and the power button.

Lay the device flat on its face and you see a gorgeous sandblasted aluminium back which is very pleasing to the eye. They did a good job of hiding the plastic strips covering the antennas by giving them a paintjob and texture that matches the rest of the back. It is a clean uninterrupted design that’s very easy on the eyes.

From the top you find a 16MP camera with a dual tone flash for more natural looking images when using the flash. The bottom of the camera has the fingerprint scanner set in a slight depression so you can easily locate it and the positioning is friendly to both left and right hand users.

The Huawei logo and model number can be found right at the bottom of the device.

Camera

The main camera is a 16MP camera bundled with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) as well as Phase Detection Autofocus (PDAF). In well lit environments image quality was pretty good with great levels of detail and good sharpness. Drop the light a couple of notches and the Huawei starts to struggle a bit. In a lot of cases focus was off the mark in dimly lit environments.

huawei-mate-8duskshot

Throw it into Professional mode and you can get better images from the camera but the catch is you have to know what you are doing or the situation can get pretty worse real fast.

huawei-mate-8daylightshot

Huawei also incorporated some creative features in the camera that include Time-lapse and light painting which are some pretty cool features for one with a creative mind.

Video recording is at a maximum of FHD 1920 x 1080 which leaves us wanting considering this is a flagship phablet sending shots at the likes of Samsung and Apple. At its price range 2160 x 3840 4K UHD should be standard but Huawei wants to soften the deal by adding a smooth 60 frames per second to the FHD video as well as a 120 frames per second slowmo capture at 720p HD.

1080p video at 60 frames per second is gorgeous with nice rich colours and a very decent amount of detail. The videos come out seriously smooth and are almost unreal when viewing them from the device’s display. Focus hunting exists which makes focusing on moving objects a bit of a task and capturing video in dimly lit areas is something i would not recommend as the video comes out pretty dark and in quite a number of cases out of focus.

The front camera is an 8MP camera with a slew of features that include time-lapse as well as beauty. The camera produces pretty great selfies with great amount of detail. The beauty features do a good job of evening out skin tone and masking blemishes.

Audio

We start off with the loudspeaker. It is very impressive. The sound output is very clear and for a smartphone speaker the richness of the sound it produces is impeccable with good low end bass. It actually sounds like the device’s body is acting as an acoustic chamber to enrich the audio. Volume levels are just average with peak volume hitting 71 decibels which is a small price to pay for such great audio.

Plug in a set of headphones and audio quality remains very clear with a lot of detail. The Mate 8 supports High Resolution audio meaning to say the quality of music it can play is higher than that of the highest quality mp3 files which translates to 24bit 192KHz audio for my fellow music producers.

The sound quality was very good and it completely shines when playing classical music which has a heap of instruments playing at once. You can distinguish each instrument with phenomenal clarity. Again some nitpicking here. A little more low end bass would sweeten the deal quite well, and also some audio presets in the music player as well as a graphic equalizer. Otherwise the DTS audio enhancement does duty quite well.

Connectivity

The Mate 8 is a dual sim device with a catch. You can have dual sim functionality but at the expense of expanding storage or if you want expandable storage you might need to find a safe place for your other sim.

It supports up to 4G LTE and also features superfast dual band wifi connectivity. Bluetooth is v4.2 and NFC is also present. Now Huawei is big on telecommunications and it wants you to know this from the get go.

Jump into the settings menu and under ‘More’ you will see ‘Link+’ which has 3 options, Wi-Fi+, Signal+ and Roaming+.

Wi-Fi+

This feature allows your phone to switch from wifi to mobile data if wifi is unavailable to ensure you are always connected. It also uses your location to see if you have previously connected to a wifi in that area before and automatically connect to it if it is available.

Signal+

Here the phone scans and connects to multiple base stations to maintain a good signal if you are getting out of range of your current base station.

Roaming+

During roaming the phone searches for available roaming networks in the shortest possible time.

All these enhancements are to keep you connected for as long as possible and it was surely put through its paces. For the greater part of the data tests it was pretty consistent with switches from wifi to mobile data occurring at up to a minute after a data outage. Voice calls were very clear and pleasantly loud with no issues of dropped calls to report.

Battery

The Mate 8 has a beefy 4000mAh battery which is 100mAh short of the Mate 7 but it features a more efficient chipset and is more intelligent as well which should mean a better battery life. In the real world the phablet showed pretty good stamina breezing through a day of normal usage with plenty of juice to spare.

Subjecting it to an endurance test gave a result of an impressive 54% power drain after an hour each of video recording, gaming and video streaming. Now I’m saying impressive because this device is using the then most premium chipset meaning an equally premium power drain is to be expected. Not the case for the Huawei at all here.

Huawei also added quick charging to the mix with a 9V, 2A (18Watts) getting the device from naught to 37% in 30 minutes. Pretty handy if you need to top up quick and in a hurry.

This is a completely artificial test which allows us to provide a uniform test environment for all of our devices for purposes of comparison.

Performance

Huawei went all in with the internals of the Mate 8 bringing in their in-house chipset the HiSilicon Kirin 950 with 8 cores clocked at 2.3GHz. The CPU has some serious number crunching power allowing intense multitasking without breaking a sweat. In terms of actual CPU processing it is properly flagship grade capable of slaying the best from Samsung or Apple.

The GPU is a Mali-T880 which is plenty capable given the 1080p FHD display and provides smooth graphics. A bit of stutter starts to show up when you indulge in heavy gaming which is not a huge problem but for a flagship device any sort of lag is not acceptable.

Under normal usage the device remains impressively cool even when running on 4G LTE which is owed to the new Kirin chip that was built on a 14nm process. Heavy usage sees the device heat up but nothing to panic over.

It comes with 2 variants that is a 3GB RAM/32GB ROM and a 4GB RAM/64GB ROM running on Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box with Emotion UI 4.0 ontop. It managed an Antutu 6 score of 84703 which is where all the 2015 flagships reside meaning in performance it does trade punches with the best of the best. For reference sake the iPhone 6 had 80223 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 had 83944.

Spec Sheet

O.SAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
CPU2.3GHz HiSilicon Kirin 950 octa core
GPUMali-T880
Display and Protection6 inch FHD 1080 x 1920 IPS-NEO LCD Display with Corning Gorilla Glass 4
Main Camera16MP 4608 x 3456
Phase Detection Auto Focus
Optical Image Stabilization
Dual LED Dual tone flash
1080p FHD video at 60 frames per second
720p HD slo-mo at 120 frames per second slo-mo
Light Painting
Secondary Camera8MP 3264 x 2448
Face detection
Autofocus
Beautify
Storage3GB RAM/32GB internal storage
4GB RAM/64GB internal storage
Up to 128GB microSD
Connectivity2G,3G,4G
Bluetooth 4.2
Dual band wifi
NFC
SensorsFingerprint Sensor
G-Sensor
Gyroscope sensor
Compass
Ambient Light Sensor
Proximity sensor
Hall sensor
Barometer
Battery4000mAh
Endurance54% power drain after an hour each of:
Continuous video recording
Continuous video streaming
Continuous gaming
Antutu 6 Score83944
Price $620
Weight184 grams
Loudspeaker Loudness71 decibels (Average)

Extras

A double knock on the display captures a screen grab and a double knock with 2 knuckles initiates a screen recording which I found slightly scary for you need a fair amount of force to activate these features.

You can also crop a section of the display with your knuckle and again a decent amount of force is required to activate it which is also plenty scary.

And the knuckle gestures keep coming with the ability to launch applications from any screen using your knuckles.

  • C launches the camera
  • e launches the email
  • W launches the weather app
  • M launches the music

If you happen to misplace your device the Huawei has a feature that you can call the device with a “Okay Emy” and if it is in ‘hearing’ range it will notify you where it is by flashing the flashlight and loudly yelling “I’m Here!”

In A Nutshell

+ Very vibrant display with rich punchy colours.

+ Excellent battery life.

+ Very clear and rich audio from the loudspeaker as well as clear audio output from headphones.

+ Properly powerful CPU providing hiccup free multitasking.

+ Solid connectivity package.

+ Build quality and design is worthy of the premium status.

+ Fast and accurate fingerprint scanner capable of reading your print at any orientation.

+ Light painting and time-lapse are a creative mind’s dream.

– Main camera was not flagship grade especially in the still images department.

– The body is very slippery without a case.

– Lack of a 4K Ultra High Definition video recording mode.

– Display could be sharper as the competition already uses sharper displays on smaller screen dimensions.

huawei-mate-8design

The Huawei Mate 8 has capable cutting edge hardware to easily make it the best of the best, but a few shortcomings removed some marks to what seemed a phenomenal device. But this is a 2015 flagship and on November 3rd 2016 Huawei launched the successor to the Mate 8 which comes in two variants. A Mate 9 and a Limited Edition Mate 9 Porsche Design.

From the launch the Mate 9 duo want to cause just as much smartphone unrest as the Mate 8 did with the theme “Born Fast, Stay Fast”.

The Huawei Mate 9 duo’s feature list is as follows:

  • 5.9 inch Full HD (1080 x 1920) IPS LCD display/5.5 inch Quad HD (2160 x 1440) Dual Curved AMOLED display for the Porsche Design
  • HiSilicon Kirin 960 octa core CPU ticking at 2.4GHz
  • Mali-G71 MP8 GPU (which is more powerful than the Mali-T880 MP12 in the Exynos powered Samsung Galaxy S7 and 180% more powerful than the Mate 8. Still waiting on synthetic benchmarks to confirm.)
  • Android 7.0 Nougat with EMUI 5.0 on top (Which has some pretty cool tricks I will share in a moment.)
  •  Leica Summarit branded dual camera (21MP + 12MP) with laser autofocus and 4K Ultra HD video recording enabled.(well better late than never)
  • 4GB RAM and 128GB onboard storage/6GB RAM and 256GB onboard storage on the Porsche Design.
  • 4000mAh battery with Huawei Supercharge. (Charges up to 50% faster than the Mate 8)
  • 4 noise cancelling microphones.
  • 4G LTE-Advanced with theoretical downlink speeds of up to 600Mbps.
  • 699 Euros for the Mate 9 and a stratospheric 1395 Euros for the Porsche Design.

 

The Emotion UI 5.0 comes with a machine learning algorithm that analyses applications according to the resources they require and groups them into 3 categories that is RAM, CPU processing power and Storage. This helps in saving system resources and issuing them out to applications that require them making the device perform faster.

Applications with higher priority are given  preference for system resources. According to user behaviour and location the Emotion UI gives precedence to applications based on when and where you are. It also has Dynamic Memory Compression where it compresses low priority apps and assigns the extra space to higher priority applications on the fly.

The Mate 9’s graphics department is utilizing a new Vulkan graphics standard that is an upgrade of the Open GL standard and is said to increase graphics performance by 400%!!! compared to the Mate 8. Gamers I did not have a typo moment, that is FOUR HUNDRED PERCENT x3 EXCLAMATION MARKS.

Yesterday Huawei launched the Mate 9 Pro in its home market China and it is basically a Mate 9 Porsche Design with no Porsche Design branding which means it will be quite cheaper than its flamboyant 1395 Euro sibling but maintaining the same hardware.

I cannot wait for Huawei to give me a Mate 9 for a test review. It looks like it wants to address all the qualms I had with the Mate 8. The Mate 8 gave Samsung and Apple a real run for their money. It is as capable as it is beautiful and yes at $620 it comes through with a premium asking price. Then again this is a flagship phablet with all the best hardware the manufacturers had to offer.


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