Huawei has its P smartphone lineup for showcasing all things sexy about today’s mobile devices. They’re thinner, lighter, faster and pack the latest and greatest in both hardware and software specifications. While deservingly celebrated, the P lineup sacrifices certain aspects in its quest to be at the head of the smartphone sales race.
While the P series is meant for the races, there is another smartphone range that Huawei has been fronting for the last couple of years that is meant to just stick around and not go anywhere. Provide real power while not in a rush to match up to anyone’s standards. It’s the Mate series.
Huawei’s Mate smartphones (at one time calling them smartphones was unimaginable) have always been huge, powerful and enduring. The late 2015 take of the series, the Mate 8 which was finally showcased in early 2016 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, is all that and better.
It looks good and will convince you right away to part with your hard-earned cash, it has one of the best mobile processors in the market that is no slouch when it comes to delivering real power and it can last at least two days if you happen to be the business user Huawei had in mind when crafting the device.
In the box…
You can check out all specifications of the device here.
They say looks can kill. That is especially true for some other objects of desire whether real or imagined but may not be true for devices. Well, most large devices to be specific. You mostly get a blown up version of a much smaller device or something that doesn’t have much going for it in the makeup department.
That is not the case with the Huawei Mate 8. It stands out because of its design. The aluminium unibody with drilled speaker holes at the bottom, a 3.5 mm headphone jack at the top, a microphone you can easily miss and a microSD cum dual-SIM card slot will momentarily make you forget that you are actually staring at a gigantic device.
Thanks to its huge frame, it doesn’t matter where the volume rocker and the power button are placed (as long as it’s not the top), they’ll almost always feel out of reach. It takes a little getting used to before you eventually feel at home.
With a 6-inch full high definition display, the Huawei Mate 8 is a big device by all standards. You will feel that when you hold it in the hand. What you won’t feel however, is bulkiness or slipperiness. It is light. That is relative though since at 185 grams, it is heavier than the last member of the Mate lineup, the Mate S. It is however just as heavy as its predecessor, the Mate 7, was. And of course, it is every bit the better device.
The IPS-Neo display on the front, made by Japan Display Inc (JDI) goes from edge to edge giving the impression of an infinity display. Like the panel on the P8 we saw last year, the Mate 8’s display is perfect for outdoor content consumption as it is for your day-to-day usage indoors. However, it is not as pixel dense as the display on a similarly-priced device, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 (which has a QHD display panel), at just 367 pixels per inch.
The Huawei Mate 8 has a 16-megapixel camera at the back and an 8-megapixel front-facing camera. They are both accompanied by LED flash. At the back though, it’s dual-tone LED flash to better light up your late night snaps.
Huawei has added several features to the camera software that users can take advantage of. You can create some insane Time-lapse videos without having to seek the services of third party solutions like Microsoft’s impressive Hyperlapse app. Slow-motion videos are also possible by just hitting ‘Slow-mo’ in the camera app’s settings menu. If you’re the sort to use your device’s camera to capture documents then scan them using one of the many apps available for doing so, then you’ll find the ‘Document readjustment’ feature tucked away in the camera app’s settings menu quite handy.
As was the case when I reviewed the P8 last year, two features still stand out as far as the software goes: Super night and HDR. They do what they are meant to so well and you will, for a moment, forget that the Mate 8’s camera, while impressive and the best of its time, is still behind superior modules we’ve seen and used on other devices from the past year like the Galaxy Note 5.
The Professional mode is where all the magic happens for those who know what to do with their cameras. One notable missing feature is the ability to save snaps in their RAW format for further editing. Granted this is a feature the business person Huawei has in mind with this device won’t miss, it doesn’t hurt to include it since every other top device in the market at the moment has it. Maybe we’ll see it in the upcoming P9.
Object tracking when you tap an object you want the camera to keep its focus on is excellent and results in some rather nice shots, making up for the lack of an outright “Selective Focus” mode. It even works when you’re shooting videos.
Another glaring omission shows up in video capture. While 4K files are rather large and take up lots of space thus limiting users to a few minutes of video recording, it is always nice to have the ability to record 4K video. The most the Huawei Mate 8 can do is 1080p video at 60 frames per second.
There’s a whole tonne of features a user can take advantage of when using the Huawei Mate 8’s stock camera app. Thankfully, they’re hidden behind the settings menu and unless you actually need to use them or have an idea of what you’re doing, you’re not overwhelmed by stuff you will never use.
As can be seen in these sample images, in sufficient lighting, the Huawei Mate 8 does take some nice shots. In low-lighting situations, things could be better.
The software on the Huawei Mate 8 draws mixed feelings. It is a hit and miss. A hit in that Emotion UI 4.0 has received several upgrades making it more stable than its predecessors and a miss because it still suffers from a lot of the things that made some of us not really like past versions of the software. Like the overdoing of optimizations and Huawei’s insistence on an iPhone-like user interface that eschews the app drawer for a free-form approach that reminds us of Apple’s iOS.
There are several nifty additions to EMUI that make it so pleasant to use. Like the inclusion of a screen recorder that you can simply have sitting in the Quick Settings panel ready for action anytime you feel like. Or the one-handed mode that can be turned on and off by simply sliding one’s finger across the bottom black bar that houses the on-screen keys. For a device as gigantic as the Mate 8, the presence of a one-handed mode cannot go unappreciated. Hand in hand with it is Huawei’s own take on another feature that is only coming to stock Android later in the year, multi-window.
About multi-window… the feature could be better utilized if more applications actually supported it besides Huawei’s own apps and a handful of others. It’s untapped potential.
The one glaring miss is the way the system is overzealous about killing applications running in the background. Granted they are not the best things on earth as they keep sipping your battery but some of us just need some things to continue running albeit temporarily.
In my case, I have a game whose implementation is not the best. It stores some game data temporarily and it is immediately erased if the application happens to be terminated without warning. You know what that means? Downloading almost 100 megabytes of data every time I fire up Need for Speed No Limits. Another application, my favourite music player, Poweramp, suffers a similar fate. Music playback stops after a few minutes and I am forced to use the stock Huawei music app. This is despite having added both applications and 30 others to the ‘Protected apps’ list, a whitelist of sorts that the system uses to avoid closing processes you deem important or you want to be maintained.
The upside of being forced to use the stock music player is that I soon discovered how beautiful and fully functional it actually is, a big departure from the application I encountered in the P8 mid last year. However, I can’t seem to play music stored on my media card. Just the music on the device’s internal storage.
Unlike other devices I have used in the last few months that have poorly implemented fingerprint scanners, the Huawei Mate 8’s fingerprint sensor is excellent. It is not only spot on when it comes to fingerprint recognition, it also plays nicely with several third party applications like LastPass, Telegram and even the Google Play Store making it easy to log in to applications and make purchases on the Play Store.
Pressing and holding on the fingerprint reader at the back of the device (a more natural place than the home button) for several seconds when the device is locked and the screen turned off results in it turning on and automatically unlocking.
A third-party screen recorder application is not the only thing you won’t need if you have the Mate 8. An Internet speed indicator like my favourite, Internet Speed Meter, won’t be needed since Huawei has a network speed indicator built right into its software. You can turn it on and you’ll always be abreast of the drop or rise in network speeds by just looking at the notification bar. Great!
The software is also tuned to play nice with a couple of gimmicky features. Gimmicky because since the day of the Mate 8’s launch in Kenya when I used them at the demo area, I have never used them again up to the time I was penning this review. These are knuckle gestures. They are made possible by Huawei’s Knuckle Sense technology. You use your knuckles to fire up apps like the music app and the camera by drawing the letter M and the letter C respectively. Using one’s knuckle to draw a line while using an app that supports multi-window results in multi-window mode kicking in. Double-tapping the screen using your knuckles takes a screenshot. The effort required to get all that done is not worth it in my opinion but if you can get used to it then well and good.
The Huawei Mate 8 has the benchmark-topping Kirin 950 processor powering it. As a result, everything is snappy and thanks to the optimizations in the software, lag is non-existent. Playing heavy games is a breeze thanks to the chip and its accompanying graphics processor, the Mali-T880.
Huawei plays up the Mate 8’s battery performance by saying that it can last a whole two days or four days when you’re just playing music. They are right. The most outstanding feature of the Huawei Mate 8 other than the exquisite design is the battery life.
You’ll struggle to power down the 4,000mAh non-removable battery unit found in the Huawei Mate 8. Thanks to the large battery unit and Huawei’s extensive software customizations to keep rogue apps at bay, carrying a charger or staying close to a wall socket is not one of the things you have to do when you have this device. And when you need to do it, things will be sped up a bit thanks to the device’s fast charging capabilities.
The Huawei Mate 8 happens to pack some amazing sound. It is not just loud. So much I found its speakers to be far much better when playing my Discover Weekly than the speakers on some of this year’s high profile devices like the Galaxy S7 Edge. Yes, that. It could’ve been better still if the seemingly dual-speaker setup at the bottom of the device was actually a dual setup. Let not the two grilles fool you. Only the right grille has the speaker behind it, the left one is just there to look beautiful. Cosmetic.
Voice calls are loud and clear and LTE browsing speeds depending on the strength of the signal wherever you are, are great.
Whereas the Huawei P8 had Signal+ to receive cellular network signals from all directions and make sure the signal is always strong even when one is in a high speed vehicle or train, the Mate 8 adds another interesting feature: Wi-Fi+. It is part of the Link+ features. What it does is allow the user to determine certain locations where he/she wants their device to automatically switch on Wi-Fi and connect to a particular network. No frills, just that. And it works so well. It will also switch between cellular networks and Wi-Fi depending on the strength so as to make sure your Netflix experience is not degraded. While this is great, I just wish there was a way of separating the two features since I am only interested in the device connecting to my home or office Wi-Fi and not reverting to LTE when I’m in the middle of some Apple Music playback hence depleting my data bundles.
Raising the device to your ear to make or receive a call when you have connected it to a Bluetooth music player results in the call not being broadcast to everyone through the player; the device intelligently shifts it to its earpiece, giving you some privacy. You only need to toggle the feature on in the Motion settings.
- The battery life is simply amazing. It is the best battery life I have got on a high-end device over the last two years. No kidding. In the race to make slimmer, good-looking, metal-only devices, the battery has suffered. There’s still hope thanks to devices like the Mate 8.
- It’s stunningly gorgeous. I had the Moonlight Silver Mate 8 and while it doesn’t radiate as much as the Champagne Gold model does, it’s just too beautiful.
- Performance is great. It should even be much better with the 4 GB RAM variant since it gives the power user a little bit more wiggle room.
- The IPS-Neo display is great in every way you look at it. Being the most central feature of any smartphone, it goes a long way in making the Mate 8 the desirable smartphone that it is. With a big 6-inch display and long battery life, the device can easily double up as your go-to eBook Reader.
- The dual-SIM/microSD card hybrid implementation is great. Gives users lots of choices normally not available for devices of the Mate 8’s stature this side of the world. This is usually nothing to write home about in the case of mid-range and entry-level devices which almost always have dual-SIM capability. It is something when talking about premium devices in the Mate 8’s range since such is either overlooked or only makes it to certain regions like China and India.
- The overzealous termination of active applications ought to be checked. Let the system actually keep apps the user desires to keep as per their options in the settings application (Protected apps).
- There’s also this:
My main misgiving with Huawei devices has always been in the software department. While I will eventually learn to live with the company’s extensive alterations to Android, I may never learn to accept the slow or even total lack of updating devices. If what we have seen with releases of the monthly security patches by Google is anything to go by then the Mate 8 may be the first of Huawei’s devices to exorcise the ghost of slow or no updates. It will have to pass the Android N test though to convince me (and others as well) fully since one year later, the P8 is yet to get Marshmallow this side of the world. One year later!
For a business smartphone that goes head to head with the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 5, Huawei manages to put out an excellent alternative that is pleasant to own and use. The best part is that, like the P8 and the Mate S before it, the Mate 8 remains one of the most fairly priced super premium smartphones in the Kenyan market. At just Kshs 60,000 for the 3 GB RAM+32 GB internal storage variant and Kshs 70,000 for the 4 GB RAM+64 GB internal storage model, it is priced better than its competitors which have more or less the same features and specifications.