Huawei Mate 9 is official with 5.9″ FHD display, Kirin 960 SoC, and 4GB of RAM
Munich, Germany: 2:30PM CET
Today, Huawei Technologies unveiled the next generation smartphone in its Mate line-up: the Huawei Mate 9. Building upon a successful 2016 with over 106 million smartphones sold worldwide, Huawei is hoping to capitalize on the void left behind by the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. The Huawei Mate 9 smartphone embodies the current Huawei smartphone strategy: iterative improvements over risky innovations.
On the hardware front, Huawei has made major strides in its camera, battery, and SoC just to name a few, while for software Huawei has incorporated some necessary behind-the-hood tools to improve immediate performance as well as performance over time. As we dive into the details unveiled at Huawei’s press event in Munich, one question we will be asking ourselves is: will Huawei’s latest smartphone be able to live up to its spec sheet? We will describe our preliminary thoughts on the smartphone based on a quick hands-on in a separate article.
Specifications at a glance:
- Display: 5.9” LCD, 1080×1920 FHD @ ~373 ppi. 1500:1 contrast ratio, 96% saturation, 16.7M colors.
- Software: Android 7.0 Nougat with EMUI 5.0
- RAM: 4GB LPDDR4-1800
- Storage: 64GB (available space for users: 52.66GB), expandable up to 2TB via micro-SDXC. Uses the latest UFS 2.1 flash storage standard.
- Camera: 20MP Monochrome + 12MP RGB sensor with f/2.2 aperture, OIS and PDAF. New camera features include Hybrid Zoom, 4-in-1 Auto-Focus features, and dual LED flash. 8MP front-facing camera with f/1.9. Recording 4K video @ 30FPS is possible (4K @ 60fps can only be decoded, but not encoded unfortunately), and processing is done using the latest HEVC algorithm for compression.
- Battery: Non-removable, 4,000 mAh LiPo battery with proprietary fast-charging protocol named “SuperCharge”.
- Sensors: Fingerprint sensor with gesture support and Level 4 Authentication. Infrared sensor (IR). NFC support.
- Chipset: HiSilicon Kirin 960 with 4xA73 BIG cores @ 2.36GHz and 4xA53 LITTLE cores @ 1.84 GHz with integrated dual 14-bit Image Signal Processor (ISP) and an i6 sensor hub. The latest Mali-G71MP8 Bifrost GPU @ 900MHz is also included with support for OpenGL ES 3.2 (Vulkan).
- Modem: UE Cat. 12/13 LTE, 4xCA, 4×4 MIMO. CDMA support.
- Misc. Connectivity: WiFi 2.4/5 GHz with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac with WiFi Direct support. Bluetooth 4.2 support with BLE.
- Sound: Stereo speaker grill on the top and bottom of the device. 3.5mm headphone jack. 4 microphones positioned through the body of the device allowing for directional sound recording. Noise cancellation during calls possible with microphone positioned within the loudspeaker.
- Ports: 1 x USB Type-C port (USB 2.1). You may either use 1 x micro-SDXC slot + 1 nano-SIM slot, or have a dual SIM set-up by inserting two nano-SIMs into the slot.
- Colors: Space Gray, Moonlight Silver, Champagne Gold, Mocha Brown, Ceramic White, Black
- Dimensions: 156.9mm height; 78.9mm width; 7.9mm thick. 190g weight.
- Price: €699 (including taxes)
- Availability: Date TBD. Will be available in China, some European markets, and some Asian countries.
Huawei also unveiled a 5.5″ QHD “Pro” model with 6GB RAM and 256GB of internal storage which they co-designed with Porsche (yes, that car company) which costs a fair bit higher (€1395) and will be available exclusively in Graphite Black, but apart from one software oddity the two phones are nearly identical. This phone doesn’t have on-screen navigation bars. Instead, the home button on the front which acts as a fingerprint sensor also serves the navigation functions on the phone. You use fingerprint tap and swipe gestures to navigate the phone: tap on the left-side of the fingerprint sensor to go back, tap on the right-side to go home, and swipe left or right on the sensor to open the recents.
In order to accommodate a myriad of software features in its latest EMUI skin, which we will describe in more detail below, Huawei has had to pack a ton of sensors into the device. Internally, the Huawei Mate 9 might not seem much different than the Huawei Mate 8. The 5.9” display should be unfamiliar with owners of the previous Huawei Mate 8, as well as the various communication radios, battery capacity, and memory capacities, but the similarities end beyond a superficial look at the specification sheet.
Sporting a 5.9”, 1080×1920 FHD resolution, slightly curved (“2.5D”) LCD display at ~373 ppi, the Huawei Mate 9’s display seems, on paper, to be underwhelming compared to the plethora of QHD devices on the market. With 16.7M colors, 96% color saturation, and a contrast ratio of 1500:1, the device’s LCD display seems fairly standard. But there is more to the display than the resolution, as Apple as repeatedly shown. Each Mate 9 display is carefully crafted under one hour of a CNC milling machine. The Huawei Mate 9’s display resolution can be assumed to be a design choice, rather than a technical one, as the GPU is more than capable of pushing QHD. Furthermore, the choice in resolution should provide some nominal performance and battery life enhancements if instead the device was running at QHD, but there is no way for us to directly verify such a comparison. Nevertheless, we will be on the lookout for how the device performs at FHD, and whether or not the display is competitive against others on the market.
As mentioned before, the 5.87” display takes up most of the front of the device. We haven’t yet measured the screen-to-bezel ratio, but when we do get some more hands on time, we’ll determine that ratio. In addition to the display, one of the speaker grills as well as the front-facing camera is located on the front. Next, on the top of the device, you’ve got your 3.5mm headphone jack (thankfully they aren’t following Apple’s lead on removing this port) as well as the IR blaster. On the right side of the phone, you’ve got your volume rocker and power button, the positions of which Huawei has inverted for “ease of use”. On the left side, you have access to the SIM card tray, which can either fit dual nano-SIMs or one nano-SIM plus one micro-SD card. The USB-C port and one of the speaker grills is located on the bottom of the device, while the fingerprint sensor is on the rear of the device.
Memory and Storage
The Huawei Mate 9 cycles through dozens of apps quite readily thanks to the inclusion of 4GB of RAM. Couple that with 64GB of internal storage and a micro-SDXC slot, and you’re unlikely to face any storage issues while using this phone. On the production devices we were shown for a brief period before the event, the device seems to allow for 52.66GB of storage space to be usable. One major upside is that the device’s flash storage implementation is based on UFS 2.1 (just like the Google Pixel and Pixel XL), so the speed with which you can access files will be much improved. If you’re wondering why the device does not pack 6GB of RAM or 256GB of storage, it’s because you will have to opt for the much pricier Porsche model of the Mate 9.
The Huawei Mate line is known for its ridiculously long battery life (if you remember the absurd battery life on the Huawei Ascend Mate 2, then you’ll know that I’m not exaggerating), and Huawei hopes to maintain the trend in the Mate 9. The device is packing a 4,000 mAh battery which promises “up to 2 days” of battery life, a claim which we will definitely put to test. Huawei is basing this promise off of the many enhancements made on the software side, which we will discuss in more detail below. We’re assuming that the decision to use a FHD display will play some part in the great battery life that Huawei promises, but again without a QHD version of the device, we can’t directly ascertain whether or not that’s true.
Huawei has acknowledged that such a large battery capacity would necessarily result in long charging times, so they are including a proprietary fast-charging protocol dubbed “SuperCharge”. SuperCharge is said to fully charge the Mate 9 in 90 minutes by supplying 5A/3.5-5V to the device. If you are unable to extend a full 90 minutes of your time to charging, then Huawei promises that you can top up 1 day of usage by charging the device for 30 minutes. Unfortunately, there’s no wireless charging support on the Mate 9. One upside is that the charging will be significantly cooler on this device compared to some competitors. On stage, Huawei showed that the device will charge up to five degrees Centigrade lower than the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.
Finally, given the recent scare around the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, Huawei has implemented some battery protection features. The device features “5 gate protection” to constantly monitor the battery during the charging process and immediately shut off charging if the voltage, amperage, or temperature exceeds safe limits. Huawei is also partially off-loading the intelligent monitoring of the battery to the OEM charger itself for additional protection.
In continued partnership with German optics enterprise Leica Camera AG, the Huawei Mate 9 will be including a second generation Leica camera that was developed in a new innovation center as a result of the two company’s partnership. The camera is comprised of a 20MP monochrome lens and a 12MP color lens and comes with Optical Imaging Stabilization (OIS) as well as Phase Detection Autofocus, and on the front there’s an 8MP AF shooter.. In general, the camera promises improved aperture, contrast, distance differentiation, and contouring, but there are some new key features that Huawei is touting in the Mate 9. First up, there is the “Hybrid Zoom” feature which Huawei promises will allow you to losslessly zoom up to 2X. Next, the Mate 9 allows you to change the focus on a picture during post-processing, in case you snap a picture and do not immediately notice that it was out of focus. Then, Huawei is introducing a new “Face Detection” focus feature as a part of their 4-in-1 Auto-Focus feature set which will allow for quick facial recognition even under low-light settings. Finally, thanks to the Kirin 960, the Mate 9 is finally able to encode 2160p30 videos using the latest HEVC/h.265 compression algorithms, so it can join the upper echelon of devices with 4K video capture support.
On the audio front, Huawei has continued the tradition of including a 3.5mm headphone jack, which ordinarily would be a point not worth mentioning, but with other brands like Apple, LeEco and Motorola doing away with the traditional headphone jack, it seems to be worth mentioning as a feature. Apart from that, there’s a stereo speaker set-up with the top speaker grill and the speaker grill on the bottom of the device. Finally, noise cancellation during phone calls is included thanks to a microphone embedded in the loudspeaker of the phone. Nothing out of the ordinary for Huawei devices, until we get to the microphones.
Like the Huawei Mate S, the phone features directional audio recording using Huawei’s smart directional audio algorithm. But the Mate 9 improves on this feature by including an additional microphone on the device, bringing the total to 4 microphones. During audio recording, the user can see which direction the audio is coming from within the software, and during playback the audio can be isolated based on the source direction.
The Huawei Mate 9 includes the latest SoC developed under Huawei’s in-house semiconductor subsidiary team: the HiSilicon Kirin 960. Featuring an octa-core set-up with 4xA73 BIG cores running at maximum 2.36GHz frequency and 4xA53 LITTLE cores running at up to 1.84 GHz frequency and built on a 16FFC process, the Mate 9 with its Kirin 960 is quite possibly the current most powerful Android device, or so Huawei claims using GeekBench 4 as its metric of choice. Compared to the Kirin 950 found in the Mate 8 and P9 series, the Kirin 960 is said to have approximately 10% improvements in single-core performance and about 18% improvements in multi-core performance. It’s about time that Huawei devices start supporting 4K video encoding and decoding, and the Kirin 960 now makes that possible. We’ll definitely be putting this beast of a processor through the works when we get more hands-on time, so stay tuned for more in-depth coverage.
The GPU is a beast in and of itself, thanks to the inclusion of the Mali-G71MP8 GPU running at a maximum 900MHz. If you haven’t yet head of the Mali-G71, it’s including what ARM is calling the ‘Bifrost’ architecture, which promises major performance and efficiency enhancements to better prepare devices for the heavy performance demands of VR applications. We spoke to a Huawei representative about whether or not the device would support Daydream VR, and were told that only the Porsche model is Daydream VR certified. At the very least, though, the Mate 9 includes the necessary drivers for supporting the Vulkan graphics API, and is running on OpenGL ES 3.2. So you can expect that upcoming high-end games will work, and will work great, on this new device.
Finally, a dual 14-bit Image Signal Processor (ISP) and an i6 sensor hub are embedded in the SoC. Huawei promises major efficiency improvements with their integrated i6 sensor hub, so the device should not be adversely affected when operating the device with most of its software features enabled.
As mentioned in the specification sheet at the beginning of the article, the fingerprint sensor returns on the Mate 9. This time, it’s gotten even smaller, at least compared to the sensor on the Huawei P9. It’s more accurate/secure this time, too, with Level 4 authentication measures.
The Huawei Mate 9 will be the first Huawei device launching with Android 7.0 Nougat and their custom EMUI version 5.0. Besides retaining all of the features from previous versions of Android and EMUI, the Mate 9 also gains most of the features present in 7.0 such as multi-window support and density adjustment among others. The company has focused their attention on two aspects in their software update: performance and user experience. In particular, Huawei has developed some tools that they claim will maintain the device’s smooth performance even after months of use. They claim that with even with 200 apps installed and over 5,000 contacts added, the device should not significantly drop performance after 16 months of use. In fact, they tout that they’ve managed to improve long-term usage performance by 80%. These are significant claims that will definitely need to be tested before being taken at face value, but we’ll describe the changes that Huawei made anyways.
In their long-term testing, Huawei noticed that one of the major issues with performance degradation was application-chaining. For instance, when multiple apps that intercommunicate are installed, they tend to wake each other up in the background to serve some sort of function. Huawei sought to control this app-chaining conundrum by implementing a five step solution.
- Machine Learning Algorithm (MLA): Huawei has developed an MLA that will learn your app usage pattern and preload apps the algorithm believes you are likely to use next.
- Smart CPU Allocation: The software will intelligently allocate BIG CPU cores resources to the foreground app, while the next app to be preloaded are loaded onto the SMALL CPU cores.
- Proprietary memory compression algorithm: Your device will be able to retain more apps in memory thanks to a new proprietary memory compression algorithm, which Huawei says they have developed in-house. Additionally, the Mate 9 will automatically run garbage collection every day when the phone is idle, freeing up memory for new processes when the device returns to active use.
- Improved I/O speed: 20% improvement in disk I/O speed to allow for quicker loading/unloading of apps to and from memory as well as quicker access to files in the internal storage. As an example, a Huawei representative demonstrated scrolling through a large collection of photos in the gallery without the device showing any white/black screens indicating that the photo had yet to load.
- GPU rendering optimization: If the Mali-G71 wasn’t already enough, Huawei has enhanced GPU rendering to keep up with growing demand for high-end mobile gaming.
Thanks to multi-national effort from teams of software designers located in Sweden, China, and a newly opened office in San Francisco, Huawei has re-designed their software to be more user friendly. First, they’ve flattened the settings hierarchy, so users will no longer need to dive through deep layers of settings to find all of the Mate 9’s features. Now, a maximum of 3 steps is required to find and toggle any particular setting on the phone. Next, Huawei has caved and finally provides users the option to have an app drawer on the stock launcher. The app drawer can be enabled by changing the home screen layout in settings. Finally, Huawei has improved accidental touch detection by identifying 65 types of mis-touches and rejecting the input. As an example, a Huawei representative demonstrated that he was still able to take a picture while placing part of his hand on the opposite side of the screen, a common occurrence for users holding their phones in landscape.
Huawei has also introduced a few new productivity focused features on top of support for ‘Android for Work’. There is a new menu where you can enable dual accounts for certain social media apps. We were told thus far that Whatsapp, Facebook, and WeChat are working, but we were not told whether or not any app could be included or if the app itself needs to be updated. Though, in our limited hands-on, we noticed that Whatsapp was disabled because it required an update to the latest version of the app, so our assumption is that the app itself needs to support this feature.
On the gesture front, there’s a new gesture for quickly starting multi-window using your knuckles. You simple place your knuckle on the screen and drag your knuckle in a line across the screen as if you were trying to physically divide the screen with your hand.
Finally, Huawei is including what they’re calling ‘Private Space’, a per-folder encryption feature which can lock folders behind a fingerprint that can be separate from the one used to unlock the phone.
Pricing, Availability, and Accessories
This beast of a smartphone will cost €699 (including tax) at launch, which is approximately 770 USD. It’s pretty pricey, I admit, but we’ll see during our review if this phone is worth every penny. As for availability, the device will be available in the following markets: China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates. There are no particular details on the actual release date, nor are there any details about what models/colors will be released where, but the following color variants will be produced for the Mate 9: Space Gray, Moonlight Silver, Champagne Gold, Mocha Brown, Ceramic White, and Black.
As for accessories, there’s a car charger with Huawei’s SmartCharge and battery protection features implemented. In addition, there’s a smart cover as well as a magnetic car dock. The accessories don’t come with the actual device itself, but will be available separately.
The Huawei Mate 9 is shaping up to be another Huawei phone absolutely packed full of features. It’s difficult to outline exactly what this device can be capable of, but we will be bringing you further details about the phone after we spend some more time with it. We will definitely be testing Huawei’s claims about enhanced performance over time, memory management, and battery life. In addition to these, we will keep looking into the software to see what other tricks it has up its sleeve. And as promised, we will publish another article about what we’ve already gleaned from having spent a few hours with the device before the event. There are some exciting things I have to say that Huawei’s press event didn’t describe in much detail, mostly based on software improvements made over previous versions of EMUI, but I’ll keep you in suspense for what that entails.
What are your thoughts on the Huawei Mate 9? Let us know if you plan on making this your next device!