Introduction and Specifications

A premium design with Leica cameras and a new SoC

The Mate 9 is the current version of Huawei’s signature 6-inch smartphone, building on last year’s iteration with the company’s new Kirin 960 SoC (featuring ARM's next-generation Bifrost GPU architecture), improved industrial design, and exclusive Leica-branded dual camera system.

In the ultra-competitive smartphone world there is little room at the top, and most companies are simply looking for a share of the market. Apple and Samsung have occupied the top two spots for some time, with HTC, LG, Motorola, and others, far behind. But the new #3 emerged not from the usual suspects, but from a name many of us in the USA had not heard of until recently; and it is the manufacturer of the Mate 9. And comparing this new handset to the preceding Mate 8 (which we looked at this past August), it is a significant improvement in most respects.

With this phone Huawei has really come into their own with their signature phone design, and 2016 was a very good product year with the company’s smartphone offerings. The P9 handset launched early in 2016, offering not only solid specs and impressive industrial design, but a unique camera that was far more than a gimmick. Huawei’s partnership with Leica has resulted in a dual-camera system that operates differently than systems found on phones such as the iPhone 7 Plus, and the results are very impressive. The Mate 9 is an extension of that P9 design, adapted for their larger Mate smartphone series.

Here are the specifications for our Mate 9 (the Dual-SIM version, as reviewed):

HUAWEI Mate 9 (MHA-L29)
Processor HiSilicon Kirin 960 Octa-core SoC
(4x 2.4 GHz Cortex-A73 + 4x 1.8 GHz Cortex-A53 + i6 co-processor)
Graphics Mali-G71 MP8
Memory 4GB
Display 5.9-inch 1080x1920 (373 ppi) IPS LCD, Gorilla Glass 3
Storage 64GB
Cameras Rear Cameras (Leica Dual Camera): 12MP RGB + 20MP Monochrome BSI CMOS sensor, f/2.2, 27mm, OIS, PDAF/CAF/Laser/Depth AF, dual-tone LED flash, 2x hybrid zoom
2160p/30 + 1080p/60 video
Front Camera: 8MP sensor, f/1.9, 26mm
1080p/30 video
Network SIM 1:
4G TDD LTE: Band 38/39/40/41(100MHz)
4G FDD LTE: Band 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/9/12/17/18/19/20/26/28/29;
3G UMTS (WCDMA)/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA: Band 1/2/4/5/6/8/19
3G TD-SCDMA: Band 34/39
CDMA EV-DO Rev. A: BC0(800MHz), only for China Telecom
2G GSM: 850/900/1800/1900MHz
SIM 2:
3G UMTS (WCDMA): Band 1/2/4/5/6/8/19
CDMA: BC0 (800MHz),only for China Telecom
2G GSM: 850/900/1800/1900MHz
Wireless 802.11ac Wi-Fi (2.4G/5G) + BT 4.2 (support BLE)
Sensors Fingerprint Sensor, G-Sensor, Gyroscope, Compass, Ambient Light Sensor, Proximity sensor, Hall sensor, Barometer, IR
Connection USB Type-C
Battery 4000 mAh
Dimensions Size (HxWxD): 156.9 mm x 78.9 mm x 7.9 mm (6.14 x 3.11 x 0.31 inches)
Weight: 190g (6.7 oz)
OS Android 7.0 (Nougat) with Emotion UI 5.0
Price $599 -

Specifications for the single-SIM variant of the Mate 9 (MHA-L09) differ only with 4G TDD LTE support, with Band 38/39/40 listed, rather than the MHA-L29's Band 38/39/40/41 (100MHz) - and the lack of a second SIM slot, of course.

First Impressions

I’m expressing my own opinion here, but I think the Mate 9 is a beautiful phone. I don't think that it is hyperbole to say that the industrial design rivals Apple, and to me this feels every bit as premium a device as an iPhone 7. Huawei has emerged as a serious player on the hardware front, and in its dark color scheme especially (this is the 'Space Gray' option) it is a striking device, with a very nice contrast between the dark edge-to-edge glass and brushed metal sides.

The level of fit and finish is very high, and things are a little more rounded and smooth this time around compared to the Mate 8. The edges still have a bit of ‘sharpness’ to them where the corners have been cut (the edge chamfer), but the phone seems nicer in hand than the Mate 8, with a more substantial feel from increased weight (190g vs. 185g) and slightly smaller overall size (156.9 x 78.9 x 7.9 mm vs. 157.1 x 80.6 x 7.9 mm).

Next we will take a closer look at the design of the phone, and its display.

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