Huawei Mate 9 review: Cameras and photography

Along with the impressive internals, the Mate 9 is the second Huawei smartphone to feature a dual-camera setup – and much like the Huawei P9, the Mate 9’s rear-facing camera setup has been developed in conjunction with high-end camera manufacturer Leica. Huawei has made a few changes to the setup, including an increase in resolution of the monochrome sensor, now up to 20Mp from 12Mp, and the introduction of optical image stabilisation, although the colour sensor stays the same at 12Mp.

One new feature of the Mate 9’s dual-camera setup is it's ability to provide “lossless zoom” according to Huawei, allowing you to zoom in on your subject without worrying about degrading the quality of the photo. It was an impressive claim considering there’s no telephoto lens like with the iPhone 7 Plus, and a claim we were particularly interested in putting to the test.

As seen in the above comparison shot (click to enlarge), while we expected over-aggressive noise cancellation would ruin the zoomed photos, they provided impressive levels of detail with little to no noise. They weren’t as detailed as a standard photo, but for times where a zoom is required, it’s an impressive compromise.

Along with the Huawei P9, the Mate 9 also offers the bokeh effect, which blurs out the background of an image, although it offers a significant change – the ability to zoom in. While we were initially excited about the ability to adjust the size of the aperture and focus after taking the photo, we found that the camera generally struggled to find the edges of the subject of the photo, as documented in the below photo.

The Huawei Mate 9 also features 4K video, a confusing omission from the flagship P9 earlier this year, and a front-facing 8Mp camera complete with auto-focus and a front-facing flash for those late-night selfies.

We were impressed with the quality of the photos produced by the rear-facing camera setup during our time with the Mate 9, producing clear, crisp and vibrant photos with impressive detail, even when zooming in. Macro shots are equally impressive, as showcased in the below image where you’re easily able to identify and count the number of rain droplets on the leaf. While the Huawei Mate 9 captures a lot of light in low-light conditions, we feel that the photos can become slightly washed out and noisy unless care is taken when taking the photo.

We also found that the UI had changed when compared to the Huawei P9, and the new manual mode is a little more confusing to use this time around. It’s the same story with the shallow depth-of-field mode, which we found much more confusing to use and, more importantly, get decent results with.

Huawei Mate 9 review: Software

So, let’s move onto software – an area that has seen quite a change with the introduction of the Huawei Mate 9. First of all, the Mate 9 comes with the latest iteration of the Android operating system, Android N, although whether the UK variant of the Huawei Mate 9 will come with Google Assistant (a feature announced for the US variant) is still unclear.

However, the bigger announcement comes in the form of Emotion UI 5.0, a completely overhauled version of Huawei’s UI overlay, which has polarised its customers in the past. While some love Huawei’s EMUI, others absolutely hate it, with the biggest issue being an omission of an app tray, offering an iOS-esque Android experience with all apps on the home screen.

That has all changed with EMUI 5, which offers the choice between having an app tray or having all apps displayed on the home screen, along with a myriad of other changes. It offers a unified colour scheme throughout the operating system with a rather attractive white and blue combination, apparent from the redesigned notification centre to the settings menu. It’ also much easier to use, with Huawei priding itself on the ability to access more than 50 percent of the features within two taps.

However, the most impressive part of EMUI 5 is the ability to improve the performance of the smartphone over time. Traditionally, smartphone performance starts to decrease after a year of use but Huawei claims that by implementing five core technologies, it can speed up the Mate 9 by 80% after 10,000 hours (average yearly use) of usage. How? It features a combination of AI based machine learning algorithms, the ability to intelligently allocate CPU resources to apps you use frequently, improve memory optimisation with automatic cleaning when idle and finally, improvement to the I/O storage speed.

Along with this, Huawei introduced App Twin, a feature that allows you to log into both professional and personal apps at the same time, and is ideal for business users. Say, for example, you use Facebook for business and for pleasure, but across two different accounts – App Twin will let you use both side by side. It also offers the option to split the display and run two apps side by side, although we feel that this feature is overrated and we’re not quite sure how many people use the feature in the myriad of Android smartphones available.

Read next: Best new phones coming in 2017


Huawei Mate 9: Specs

  • 156.9 x 78.9 x 7.9mm
  • 190g
  • Single-SIM with MicroSD card slot
  • 5.9in Full HD IPS display
  • Android 7.0 with EMUI 5.0
  • Kirin 960 CPU
  • Mali G71 GPU
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB storage
  • Dual 20 + 12Mp rear-facing cameras
  • Optical Image Stabilisation
  • 2x zoom
  • dual-LED flash
  • front-facing 8Mp camera with flash
  • 4K video recording
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2
  • NFC
  • Infrared Port
  • 4x microphones
  • USB-C
  • 4,000mAh battery

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