Huawei Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro hands-on review

Huawei is trying to crack into the U.S. high-end smartphone market again, and its ultimate offering — a phone that will compete with the likes of the iPhone X and the Galaxy Note 8 — is the Mate 10 Pro. It’s a gorgeous, polished smartphone that utilizes this year’s popular “bezel-less” design trend, with skimpy edges flanking the screen. It packs a lot of features we’ll dive into in our hands-on review, but there are some questionable decisions that have us scratching our heads.

The Huawei Mate 10 Pro isn’t the only phone the Chinese company announced Monday, October 16, at its event in Germany. There’s also the Huawei Mate 10, which carries a similar design to the Pro, but with several key differences. The regular Mate 10 will not be coming to the U.S.

MATURE DESIGN, COLORFUL DISPLAY

Last year’s Mate 9 looks incredibly boring and bland next to the new Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro. The all-glass rear looks much more mature and minimalist, with a beautiful “reflective stripe” that runs horizontally over the dual cameras. The stripe is supposed to catch light differently throughout the day, which will be interesting to see once we’ve had a chance to use the phone for a longer period of time. Like the Mate 9, there will be a Porsche design variant of the Mate 10, and the reflective stripe will run vertically with the dual cameras in an attempt to mimic a racing stripe.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

There’s not much else on the rear, other than the Huawei logo and the fingerprint sensor below the dual camera setup on the Mate 10 Pro. This is one of a few design differences between the two devices. The regular Mate 10’s fingerprint sensor sits on the front.

In our brief time with the devices, we did notice a lot of scratches on the glass back, which is a consequence of using glass over metal. There’s no wireless charging, so it’s purely for aesthetics. We recommend slapping a case on the phone.

Flip the phones over and it’s easy to notice that they have slightly different dimensions. The Pro features a 6-inch AMOLED screen, and the regular Mate 10 has a 5.9-inch LCD screen. The Mate 10 Pro has an 18:9 aspect ratio, it’s a hair taller and narrower, and it’s easier to hold. The normal Mate 10 has a traditional 16:9 aspect ratio, and it’s noticeably wider. It was tough to access the other edge of the screen when holding the phone with one hand. The 18:9 aspect ratio on the Mate 10 Pro means it has some handy tricks like the ability to display multiple columns in supported apps. All the native apps on the device are supported, but it’s not clear yet if there’s third-party support.

The all-glass rear looks much more mature and minimalist

The edges, or bezels, around the screen are slightly smaller on the Pro, though you’re stuck with the Huawei brand name on the bottom edge. There’s no branding on the front of the Mate 10, as the fingerprint sensor sits on the bottom.

The AMOLED screen on the Pro has an unusual 2,160 x 1,080 pixel resolution, while the Mate 10 has an LCD screen, but a higher 2,560 x 1,440 resolution. It’s odd to think the bigger Pro model has a lower screen-resolution, but we didn’t see any problems with the screen. Both were sharp and colorful, with inkier blacks on the Pro model, and an overall brighter screen on the Mate 10. We were partial to the AMOLED display on the Pro, but we’ll have to test the devices more thoroughly for the review. You’ll be happy to hear that both screens support HDR10, which means you’ll see greater color depth when watching HDR-supported content on services like Netflix and YouTube.

Overall, we think the new Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro look beautiful. They’re stylish, sleek, and there’s also a brilliant blue model we’re hoping comes to the U.S. But there are two final notes on design that will lift your spirits and then pull them down. First, the Mate 10 Pro is IP67 water-resistant — like the iPhone 8 or the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, you can take it underwater up to 1.5 meters for 30 minutes. That’s great, but it’s a shame there’s absolutely no IP-rating for the regular Mate 10. The second is that there’s no headphone jack or MicroSD card slot on the Pro, but the Mate 10 has both. To be fair, the Mate 10 Pro comes in a single 128GB storage option, and the Mate 10 starts at 64GB.

There will be a USB Type-C to 3.5-mm headphone jack adapter in the box of the Mate 10 Pro, but it’s a shame there is no headphone jack. Well, at least Huawei will have a wireless headset or earbuds alternative you could buy. And the phone has to use the latest Bluetooth 5 technology, right? Wrong. Huawei has decided to go with Bluetooth 4.2 for both Mate 10 devices, even though every new flagship at this level packs Bluetooth 5, which offers better range and faster data transfer speeds. The reason? Huawei didn’t think version 5 was an important enough addition. We’re perplexed, too.

NEURAL PROCESSING, ANDROID 8.0 OREO

Both the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro are powered by Huawei’s all-new Kirin 970 processor, which the company says offers a 20 percent bump in performance over the Kirin 960 found in the Mate 9. The Pro gets 6GB of RAM, and the regular Mate 10 has 4GB.

In our brief time with them, both phones seemed to be relatively quick, but not as speedy as phones like the Google Pixel 2 or the iPhone 8. Swiping through the interface and opening apps was fast and problem-free, but on the Mate 10 in particular, we detected a delay from the time we pressed the power button to when the screen turned on. Tapping away on the camera shutter button, we saw a small amount of shutter lag that could affect camera performance. We’ll have to continue to test performance in our review.

Huawei Mate 10 and 10 plus review home full

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Both devices also feature a Neural Processing Unit (NPU), which Huawei claims will help process artificially intelligent queries much faster. This allows the overall software to be smarter. For example, if you’re watching a movie or playing a game and you receive a notification, the phone will suggest swapping to split-screen mode (via the notification), in case you don’t want to leave the game or movie. It can also propose switching to eye-comfort mode, which removes blue hues from the screen, when the phone detects that you’re in a low-light environment. There’s also a specially built Microsoft Translator app that utilizes the NPU to process real-time translations when you point the camera at text. It was impressively fast, and Huawei said the Chinese to English translations were accurate (we’ll take their word).

Keep in mind that Huawei’s take on Oreo looks quite different.

The Huawei Mate 9 currently runs EMUI 5.1, which is based on Android 7.1 Nougat. Naturally, you might think both Mate 10s run EMUI 6.0. Nope. To align with the latest and greatest version of Android — 8.0 Oreo, the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro run EMUI 8.0. Considering LG’s V30 just became available and released with Android Nougat, it’s nice to see Huawei going with the most recently launched version of Android. You can read about all the new features in Oreo here, but keep in mind that Huawei’s take looks quite different.

We didn’t get a chance to check out EMUI 8 in its entirety, but one of the most notable additions is a floating navigation circle that sits on the home screen. The idea is that to embrace the full edge-to-edge design, you may not like the fact that the Android navigation buttons take up a sizeable chunk of the bottom edge. You can toggle it off in the settings and opt for the floating circle, which can be placed anywhere on the screen. Tap it to go back, and press and hold it to go home. Tap and hold it and swipe it to the left or right to access your recent apps. It’s neat, though we’d have preferred a more subtle circle.

Both devices pack a massive 4,000mAh battery that Huawei said should keep the phone running for two days. There’s Huawei Supercharge on board, which should offer up a little more than 50 percent with just a 30-minute charge using the included cable.

CAPABLE, SMART CAMERA

As is tradition, Huawei is continuing its partnership with Leica on the Mate 10. Both phones have the exact same Leica-branded camera setup — a 20-megapixel monochrome camera and a 12-megapixel RGB camera. What’s unique here is how they both have a f/1.6 aperture — a world’s first. The first smartphone to have a f/1.6 aperture was the LG V30, but Huawei is the first to use it on both cameras. It should help with low light, as it allows the camera to take in more light.

Huawei Mate 10 and 10 plus review back dual lens

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Sadly, unlike the Galaxy Note 8 and the iPhone 8 Plus, you’ll only find optical image stabilization on the RGB camera. As we mentioned earlier, we did notice some slight shutter lag when we snapped a few photos, but we’ll have to continue testing to make sure.

The Portrait Mode images — where a blur effect is added behind a particular subject — looked great, as did some other shots we quickly snapped of our surroundings. We do have some concerns with one of the highlight features of the camera, which works in tandem with the NPU.

Huawei’s camera utilizes the NPU to identify the subject of the photograph.

Huawei’s camera utilizes the NPU to identify the subject of the photograph. It’s not like Samsung’s Bixby Vision or Google Lens, where it tries to give you information about the subject. Instead, the artificial intelligence will identify and tweak the image to certain presets it has been taught. For example, if it detects you’re photographing food, it will try to boost the saturation of the food to make it look more appealing. It can detect the difference between plants and flowers, knowing to work on the greens or make sure the flowers pop over everything else. Based on some sample shots we were shown, we fear it could end up oversaturating some images. We’ll have to play around with this more.

We were still impressed at how the camera could identify what we were photographing in real time so quickly. There will be 13 presets at launch, with more to come later.

There’s an 8-megapixel on the front with an f/2.0 aperture, and Huawei said it uses the NPU and AI to help take better selfies with improved bokeh (blur effect), though we didn’t get a chance to play around with this feature.

DESKTOP MODE

One of the more unique capabilities of both the Mate 10 and the Mate 10 Pro is how you can use it in a desktop mode. All you need is a USB Type-C to HDMI cable, which you use to connect the phone to a TV or monitor. You’ll immediately see a desktop version of Android on the big screen, but one of the benefits is the phone screen does not turn off — you can keep using your phone, and nothing will change on the desktop.

When connected to a TV, you can turn the phone screen into a touchpad to control the cursor. Not all Android apps will support a desktop format, but you’ll still be able to see and open anything. What’s neat is if a keyboard and mouse is connected to a monitor, you can use those for input controls on the TV. If you simply want to mirror your phone screen, you can do that, too.

We were impressed during the brief time we used this feature. It’s clearly attacking Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and Note 8, both of which offer a desktop mode — but the catch is you need Samsung’s pricey DeX dock station. You also can’t use the desktop mode and the phone at the same time with Samsung’s implementation. We’re looking forward to seeing how well Huawei’s attempt works.

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

The Huawei Mate 10 Pro will cost 800 euros (about $945), and it will be available in the U.S. starting in mid-November, while the Mate 10 will cost 700 euros (about $827), and it’ll be available internationally in late October. That’s European pricing, so the Pro may cost a little less in the U.S.

There will be a Porsche Design version of the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, and it will cost 1,395 euros and will come with 256GB of internal storage. It will not come to the U.S.

So far, we’re excited for the Huawei Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro. We’re sad to see the Pro missing the headphone jack — but so do the Google Pixel 2 and iPhone 8 — but the omission of Bluetooth 5 is confusing, as is the lower resolution on the Pro. Still, they look stylish and attractive, and we can’t wait to get our hands on them to give them a full workout.

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