Huawei Mate 9 review: Close, but no cigar

Huawei. Translated literally, the name means, “Chinese Achievement,” a fitting title for a company that has won over the hearts of many in its home country. Huawei currently stands as the third largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, dominating in China and advancing quickly in Europe and other parts of Asia. In the saturated US market, however, Huawei faces a challenge that will prove difficult to overcome.

US customers have become well accustomed to powerful, high-end smartphones, leaving Huawei in a difficult situation. These customers aren’t wooed simply by the latest tech specs. With the myriad of available options, high-quality specs have become an expectation rather than a distinct selling point.

Huawei is actively seeking to break into this lucrative and influential customer base, but the battle hasn’t been easy. The company’s name recognition remains low, and of those customers who recognize the company, they know it by its collaboration phone with Google, the Nexus 6P. While a great phone, it fails to reflect Huawei’s core product line, which heavily utilizes the company’s proprietary software, EMUI.

The Mate 9 is Huawei’s flagship to lead the company into the US. Design, speed, and ease of use are brought to the forefront, and the Mate 9 is engineered to deliver a consistently excellent experience. The question remains, though, will it be enough for US consumers?


The US market is inundated with the belief that bigger is better and that more is always better than less. The resulting standards are difficult for manufacturers to meet. Toss in the issue of brand recognition, and it’s clear to see why new manufacturers like Huawei have such trouble gaining a foothold in the market.

With the Mate 9, Huawei has created a great smartphone. The display is impeccable, the speed is unbeatable, and the camera performs admirably. The Mate 9 is undoubtedly one of the highest-quality phones that we have had the pleasure of reviewing, and it deserves recognition for that.

Design is an integral part of any smartphone. Huawei realizes that, and the company has created a language that is simple and elegant. Sleek metal encases the device, with tasteful chamfered edges and accents added as focal points. Adornments are kept to a minimum and the glass display subtly curves around the edges to meet the metal casing.

The design only complements the display, which offers excellent color reproduction and crisp sharpness, a refutation of critics of 1080p displays on smartphones. Typical scenarios are a dream on the Mate 9 e.g. watching movies, reading articles, and viewing photos.

As far as viewing photos, Mate 9 users will likely have an interest in this. Huawei’s collaboration with Leica continues with the Mate 9. Sealed inside the device is a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor paired with a 12-megapixel RGB sensor, allowing for extraordinary clarity and vivid colors. Other features include a powerful hybrid autofocus system and optical image stabilization, both useful accompaniments to the Mate 9’s ability to shoot 4K video.

Huawei Mate 9 Sample Photos

Speed is at the crux of a great smartphone camera, and Huawei’s Kirin 960 processor is no slouch. Paired with 4GB of RAM, the Huawei Mate 9 stands up to any competition, including that from Samsung and Apple. In many ways, the Mate 9 actually outperforms those devices. Even with low battery or while running multiple apps simultaneously, the Mate 9 is able to keep up with every task, whether it be a simple animation or something as complex as opening a PowerPoint.

Huawei is promising longevity of performance, as well. The Mate 9 is equipped with Machine Learning, allowing the CPU, RAM and ROM to learn user habits and prioritize those above tasks that are not as important to the user.

Though the Mate 9 is packed with powerful tech, battery life doesn’t suffer. A day of usage is no sweat for the Mate 9. Two days of use may push the device, but with light use, it’s possible. Even when the battery is running low, it’s a quick fix with Huawei’s SuperCharge technology. SuperCharge is a safer, faster charging system that delivers roughly an entire day’s power within 20 minutes, making it a breeze to stay charged.


The biggest drawback to the Mate 9 is its software. The catch? EMUI has quietly become one of the best UIs from a manufacturer. Fast, innovative, and full of life, EMUI is far above most other overlays. Though it integrates animation and color, the core of the UI remains tasteful and professional, allowing the Mate 9 to cater to a broad market. For those who seek more control, EMUI is largely customizable, particularly in terms of thematic elements such as color and iconography.

EMUI continues to bear a resemblance to iOS, but as it progresses, it’s becoming easier to distinguish the UI as its own software. The layouts and design elements are beginning to add a sense of personality to Huawei, a key element for the company as it seeks to build a brand in the US. By branching out from stock Android, the company takes a risk in creating a UI that tarnishes the brand. But by performing the legwork before coming to the US, Huawei has turned EMUI into a positive and distinctive feature.


Huawei Mate 99 / 10

Hearkening back to the initial question, the Mate 9 is a great smartphone. It truly delivers a powerful and pleasant usage experience. But even for all of its prowess and innovation, it remains easily lost in the mix of smartphones in the US market.

The design is beautiful, but that’s normal. The display is great, but that’s mainstream. The camera is distinctive, but not enough to separate the Mate 9 from the pack. The battle is no longer with specs, but with marketing. Huawei can’t rely on the Mate 9 to sell itself. The company needs to bring the phone to the consumer and help them to realize that it will provide value beyond its competitors.

Huawei has a golden opportunity. Right now, brand loyalty of its largest competitor, Samsung, is unstable. Huawei needs to take advantage of this time to aggressively market and advertise the Mate 9, drawing away customers from its competitors. In the saturated US market, there’s no other choice if Huawei wants to make a real impact.


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