HUAWEI’S MATE 10 is the most recent flagship big-screen handset from the Chinese manufacturer, and it goes up against the regular contenders in the form of Samsung’s Galaxy S8+ and Note 8 and Apple’s iPhone 8, as well as cheaper rivals like the OnePlus 5T.
With Samsung planning an earlier than usual launch of its next flagship S series device, is the Huawei Mate 10 Pro worth splurging on just a couple of short just weeks ahead of the next crop of releases at MWC 2018?
On paper at least, the Mate 10 Pro demands some attention – touting some top-end specs, and a wealth of additions to the core Android OS, and with a retail price of £699, it’s not the most expensive phone at the high-end of the market, either.
Design and hardware
Huawei’s been refining the finish of both its hardware and software in recent years, and the result for the Mate 10 Pro is a flagship that feels almost as premium as devices like the similarly sized Samsung Galaxy S8+, albeit without the same curved edge design. It’s worth noting to avoid any accidents that the regular Mate 10 isn’t waterproof, but the Mate 10 Pro is.
Like its high-end rivals, the phone is a combination of a metal chassis with a glass rear panel, and the finished product is an impressive package – but not one for anyone that hates fingerprints all over the front and back of their phone.
To the right side of the 6in (2160×1080, 402ppi) OLED display is the power button and volume rocker, while the left side of the chassis houses only the combined microSD and SIM slot. At the bottom of the phone is the USB-C port, and there’s no 3.5mm headphone socket in sight, so you’ll need to use the included adapter if you want to use wired headphones.
Notably, on the rear of the phone, the Leica-branded main camera has a 20MP monochrome sensor and a 12MP RGB sensor that combine to form higher resolution images. You also get a dual-LED flash and optical image stabilisation on the camera too. Sitting beneath the camera arrangement is the zippy fingerprint sensor that unlocks the phone in almost no time at all – you’re not left waiting around to see if your print has been registered.
Returning to the front of the device, the selfie camera is a more regular affair, comprised of an f/2.0 wide-angle lens and 8MP sensor.
Powering everything along is Huawei’s own Kirin 970 octa-core CPU with i7 co-processor, and a Mali-G72 MP12 GPU. RAM is either 4GB or 6GB, depending on which model you have – we’ve reviewed the 6GB RAM model with 128GB storage.
You also get a “neural network processing unit”, which is essentially Huawei’s response to artificial intelligence-based processing units in some other Android and iPhone handsets. It’s harder to say specifically when this processor is being used, but it kicks into life for things like object identification when you’re taking photos and predicting which apps you might need to use next, as well as on-the-fly language translations.
Similarly, depending on where you’re buying your Mate 10 Pro, there are a few different colours to choose between – Midnight Blue, Titanium Grey, or Mocha Brown. In the UK, only the 128GB version is being sold so far.
Software, EMUI 8
Running beneath Huawei’s Emotion UI is Google Android Oreo (8.0), and while the most recent version of Android is still very much there, there are a few changes worth calling out.
Aside from minor appearance tweaks, the most notable EMUI 8.0 features are the AI-based integrations in some of Huawei’s own apps that draw on that neural processor. For example, the camera makes use of it for object identification and the photo gallery app uses a smart loading mechanism that detects when you’re quickly scrolling past photos looking for a specific one so that you don’t need to wait for all the thumbnails to load.
The Navigation Dock is another EMUI 8 feature that you’ll either love or never use. In short, it places a virtual joystick-like button on your screen that functions as the traditional home, back and recent buttons found at the bottom of most Android handsets. You still have the option of using the regular virtual buttons at the bottom of the screen if you want to keep both options in play at once though.
If you do go for the Navigation Dock option, it’ll take a little while for you to get used to navigating your phone with it, but when you do, you won’t miss reaching for the usual buttons.
There are some productivity features tucked in the new UI too, including an option to connect the Mate 10 Pro to a PC (via a USB to DisplayPort or HDMI) for a full computer experience, a bit like Samsung’s DeX setup but without the need for a dock.
Overall, and thankfully, EMUI 8 is now refined enough to allow you to have things pretty much like stock Android, or as customised as you can make it with Huawei’s tweaks. Regardless of how you like your phone, none of the EMUI changes are likely to leave any previous Android user feeling lost.
I did have a few minor software niggles – EMUI has historically not played nicely with the password manager I use, for example. In this case, the phone consistently removes one of the permissions required to let you log into apps automatically. It’s no deal-breaker, and likely won’t be a problem for 99.9 per cent of potential purchasers, though.
Unlike some other Huawei devices tested in the past, the Mate 10 Pro does a good job of keeping most of the proprietary functions out of the way, unless you choose to actively use them. The UI night mode is a neat option you don’t see many places, even if it doesn’t work with third-party apps on the phone.
User experience & battery
There are certain things you come to expect on a high-end smartphone; nowadays, that means things like waterproofing and biometric security – and you’ll find these on the Mate 10 Pro too.
However, what you perhaps don’t expect is a design that does so well at making the 6in panel feel smaller than it really is, and with a magical coating that makes it positively suicidal the moment you place it down on a surface.
Seriously, it’s slightly more slippery than oil and appears to generate its own kinetic forces that propel it off any given surface. The result is that after just a few weeks of use, the review model we have is peppered with fairly significant scratches.
Nonetheless, assuming that most normal people would use the phone with a case and screen protector, it’s not likely to be much of a problem in everyday life. Oddly – and most importantly – that rear glass panel doesn’t make the phone slippery when being held.
Minor gravity issues aside, the overall performance of the phone is outstanding – it didn’t hang or lag once, not even when playing graphically demanding games or taking on some pretty serious multi-tasking and app switching. Given the internals of the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, that’s perhaps not overly surprising, but it’s a feeling that should be invaluable for a regular buyer using it as an everyday phone.
The expansive display, at 6in, is one of the best things about the phone – being both bright enough to remain visible on sunny days, and with enough pop to the colours to make movies and games really shine. Like the back of the phone, however, it is a bit of a fingerprint magnet.
Another of the best features of the Mate 10 Pro is its large 4,000mAh battery pack, which will see heavy users through a full day, and regular users up to two-days of battery life. It’s an impressive feat that many phones claim, but few deliver against. Combined with the speedy performance and instant unlock fingerprint scanner, the overall impression of the handset is one of absolute capability.
Theres also an IR blaster, an almost retro throwback that I entirely appreciated, in the Mate 10 Pro too, but no 3.5mm headphone jack (though there is one in the regular Mate 10).
For reviewers that want to pore over the detailed camera specs, the P10 Pro’s Leica setup gives plenty to play around with – both in terms of different camera modes (portrait, wide aperture mode, moving image, etc.) and the hardware that has gone into making the camera in the phone.
That hardware, co-developed by Leica, consists of a 20MP monochrome sensor, combined with a 12MP RGB sensor, and unlike previous generations, truly seem to now show the point of the partnership.
Combining images from dual sensors is supposed to deliver sharper, better-balanced photos, even if you’re shooting in dingy conditions. And thankfully, this time it actually works.
Whereas most smartphones demand well-lit environments, the Mate 10 Pro is perfectly happy in a darkened corner of a room. In fact, you might find that photos you do take in bright sunlight, for example, end up a little more overblown due to all that light. It’s really just quibbling though; the camera takes some excellent shots in both conditions.
What that means is that the Huawei Mate 10 Pro delivers a camera experience that’s good enough to truly rely on for grabbing a quick, but excellent, shot. Plus, you have the option to play around taking some great monochromatic snaps too, using just the 20MP monochrome sensor.
That really is a big deal – knowing you can pull your phone out and snap a solid picture whatever you’re trying to capture, in any environment, is no small feat for Huawei’s phablet line.
And if you do want to dive deep into manual mode or play around with a wealth of different options, that’s all present and waiting for you too.
In short Smartphones have, in recent years, faced two huge challenges to the user experience. One of those is delivering longer battery life, while still increasing processing power, and the second is low-light camera performance. With the Mate 10 Pro, Huawei’s cracked both of those in one magnificent handset.
The weakest point of a Huawei phone, for me, has always been the software but even EMUI 8 mostly just stays out of your way if you want it to.
Sure, it doesn’t have the same alluring curves of something like the S8/S8+, and it does have a tendency to launch itself off of tables, but the Mate 10 Pro delivered a near flawless user experience throughout the testing, which is much harder to achieve day-in, day-out over weeks.
With a retail price of £699, it’s £100 cheaper than the same size Pixel 2 XL (plus that only has 64GB of storage, not 128GB) or S8+, nearly £200 below the Note 8’s RRP and £200 more expensive than a OnePlus 5T with 128GB of storage. That puts the Huawei in a bit of a bind – having tested both the S8+ and the Mate 10 Pro, its performance is equally good, I just happen to prefer the look of the Galaxy series, but probably not to the tune of £100 more. And while it’s a fair whack more expensive than the OnePlus, it also feels a fair amount more ‘premium’, as it should.
In the end, the Huawei Mate 10 Pro is a phone with which it’s hard to find significant faults and easy to discover bits that you like, and you probably couldn’t ask for a lot more in a phone than that.
Outstanding performance, excellent low-light camera performance, speedy fingerprint scanner, beefy battery.
Huawei’s EMUI won’t appeal to all, the handset is incredibly slippy.
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