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Huawei Mate 10 Pro Review – Smarter Than Your Average Phone?

In the world of Android smartphones, Huawei is pretty interesting. They used to make mainly budget smartphones, but over the past few years they’ve created some very powerful premium devices. They’ve come to excel in battery life in particular — despite being high-end, very fast phones, devices in their Mate line regularly last a whole day, and sometimes two. Their latest, the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro, are in the same category as their predecessors, but like Huawei phones past, we’re not sure if they’ll come to the United States. The Huawei Mate 9 did get a U.S. launch, so there’s hope.

With the Mate 10 and especially the 6.0″ Mate 10 Pro this year, Huawei wants to carve out another niche for themselves — AI. Like always with AI, we need to use a good amount of caution when using the term — this phone is far from being able to think for itself. But, in some situations, it can use the data the phone collects along with contextual information to help make pictures look a little better or translation a little easier.

Unlike most other Android smartphone makers, Huawei using their own chips under the Kirin name. New this year is an NPU, a chip made specifically to tackle AI features, making them faster and more efficient. It also allows Huawei to add AI features that don’t require a data connection — if you happen to still be on a limited data plan or if you’re in an area without good reception, you can still use those features!

So what features are we talking about? We’ll dive into some of those AI features before letting you know what we think of Huawei’s latest and greatest in detail!

Huawei – $900 – $1000 (converted from price abroad)

The Good: Excellent battery life, OLED display looks beautiful, excellent camera in all conditions, very fast, great fingerprint sensor, has HDR support, runs Android Oreo out of the box

The Bad: No headphone jack, no microSD card slot, weak single speaker on the bottom, lower resolution display than other premium phones, glass back makes it very fragile

Who it’s for: Anyone looking for a high-end alternative to Samsung Galaxy phones, smartphone photography enthusiasts, people who value battery life above all else

The Short: With an excellent new AI-powered camera and superb battery life, Huawei has built a phone that deserves to be on a lot of wish lists.

The Gear: Huawei gave us a Mate 10 Pro review unit.

Next page: Camera

Camera

Even without any special AI features, the camera on the Huawei Mate 10 Pro is really good. It’s no wonder, because it’s certainly got the hardware! On the back, it’s got a 20 MP black and white camera and a 12 MP color camera, both with wide-aperture f/1.6 Leica lenses to take in lots and lots of light in low-light environments. The 12 MP camera also has phase-detect and laser autofocus, optical image stabilization and 2x optical zoom. There’s also a dual-LED flash.

 

I’ve got some sample shots here to check out, but suffice to say I was pretty satisfied with what I got out of the Huawei Mate 10 Pro. I thought the pictures were finely detailed, and there’s an impressive lack of noise in night photos.

The only complaint I have is that the photos tend to be slightly over-exposed overall. You can see in the night shots and indoor photos that bright lights are blown out, which led to a loss of detail. But, at least that’s something that can be fixed by hopping into manual settings and tinkering with the exposure settings. You’ll still get premium results by simply pointing and shooting, but it could be better.

So, what about those AI features? The Huawei Mate 10 Pro’s camera can actually identify certain objects, then automatically adjust camera settings to take the best shot. They’ve loaded their own software to detect blue skies, flowers, plants, beaches, sunsets and sunrises, live performances, food, text, skylines at night, snow, cats, dogs, and people. This is totally based on preloaded software, though, so don’t expect recognition to get better or worse over time!

In the end, the changes are pretty subtle. Take this shot of a poke bowl, for example — it looks like the colors might be a little sharper than normal, but it’s tough to tell exactly what’s changed. At least it never seems to misfire and make a shot worse than it would have otherwise been.

The Mate 10 Pro also has a dedicated aperture mode, which will tighten focus on subjects while blurring the background. A lot of phones have this feature now, but often phones will either not outline the subject well or produce a really fake-looking background blur. I thought the Mate 10 Pro did a pretty solid job here, which makes sense — Huawei has had the feature in their phones for a couple years now, so they’ve had time to improve.

Next page: Picture Gallery

Picture Gallery

This is good news for anyone who doesn’t like sorting their photos. The Discover tab in the photo gallery scans the contents of your photos, then sorts them into categories — photos containing people, food, or landscapes, or any photos you’ve taken of documents. The phone can also sort photos by where they were taken, so if you bounce around from city to city or country to country a lot, you’ll be able to see photos from just one location with zero effort on your part. A small feature, but a pretty convenient one!

Next page: Translation

Translation

Huawei relies on Microsoft’s translation app to do the heavy lifting, but the Mate 10 Pro’s NPU plays a pretty important role. With this phone, it’s possible to use the app to translate signs and text in the real world just by snapping a picture. This feature isn’t unique to the Mate 10 Pro, but what is pretty cool is that if you’ve downloaded the language packs you need ahead of time, the phone can do that translation without being connected to a network. That could be really handy if you’re traveling to another country and you know you won’t have service when you touch down!

In reality, the feature is still pretty limited. As always, it depends on which languages you’re using — you’re more likely to get better results going between languages with many similarities (English and Spanish) than between languages with huge differences (English and Chinese). But, that’s true of any translation program right now.

What’s limited in particular here is the ability of the phone to translate from a picture. The phone can handle short, typed sentences well, which is handy for restaurant menus, but it tends to struggle with signs and handwriting. I’d take a picture of clear written text, only to get a partial translation or be told that no text could be identified. In these cases, the German isn’t recognized at all, while the first character and last two characters of the Chinese are missed.

In fairness, this whole field is still pretty young, and these are the foundations for bigger and better things in the future. It’s just good to set your expectations right if you’re considering buying a phone for the present.

Next page: What we think of the phone overall

How we like the Mate 10 Pro as an everyday phone

Like so many Android phones, the Huawei Mate 10 Pro is a product of trends. This year, one of the most noticeable trends has been a move away from aluminum builds to metal frames with glass on the front and back. We’ve said it about other phones, and we’ll say it here too — it doesn’t matter what anyone, Apple or Android, says about the strength of the glass. You might get lucky and come away unscathed after a drop or two, but you’re just as likely to have a shattered back or front after one drop. This seems to be an industry-wide trend now, so all we can say is that you’re going to need to be even more careful with phones from now on (or get a case!).

That’s just about where the negativity ends, because otherwise this phone is terrific! It’s got an 18:9 6.0″ display, but because most of the front of the phone is the display, it’s actually smaller in size than its predecessor, the Mate 9. That makes it much more comfortable to hold and use with one hand. If using it with one hand is still uncomfortable for you, it’s possible to turn on a little movable button that can be used instead of the bottom navigation buttons to make things a little easier.

The phone runs on the Kirin 970 chipset, which we’ve found to be just about on par with Qualcomm’s best for everyday use. Phones powered by Qualcomm chipsets might be a little better for 3D games, but the gap has narrowed a lot over the past couple years. Better yet, despite being a very fast and very powerful phone, the Mate 10 Pro always lasts over a day, even if you listen to a lot of music or watch a lot of videos. If you’re a moderate user, it could even last two! If you’ve ever been frustrated by the constant need to carry an external battery pack with you, you’ll want to give this phone a look. The phone doesn’t have a microSD card slot, but the base model has 128 GB of storage, so that’s not a bad compromise.

One of the reasons the battery performs so well is that Huawei stuck with a 1080p resolution display. Most other premium Android smartphones use 1440p displays, but we generally don’t notice too big of a difference between the two in day-to-day use. The only knock on Huawei here is that this isn’t a good phone for VR — it’s not compatible with Google Daydream, and the 1080p display will look very pixelated with any other mobile VR headsets. If you don’t care about VR, though, you’ll love the display — especially because it’s an OLED display, which improves color contrast tremendously. Speaking of which, the phone is compatible with HDR 10, but not the more advanced Dolby Vision image processing.

There’s just one problem, and it’s a common one among smartphones. The picture is great, but that’s only half the experience! While we usually use headphones with phones, sometimes we like to watch videos and rely on the smartphone’s speaker. The Mate 10 Pro only has a single mono speaker on the bottom, plus a much fainter sound coming from the earpiece speaker. The quality is a bit tinny, too, so that’s a bummer. Making matters worse, there’s no headphone jack, so you’ll either have to use Bluetooth headphones or USB Type-C headphones, which are few and far between. Huawei includes a pair of USB Type-C headphones with the Mate 10 Pro, but they’re not great and don’t stay in your ears securely.

The Mate 10 Pro does run Android Oreo out of the box. That’s the latest version, so you’ll be able to use all the new features (picture-in-picture is the only one worth getting excited about). Huawei has their own EMUI overlay, too, and it’s improved a lot over the years. It’s mostly just the settings menus that have been rearranged at this point. Huawei still disables the app drawer by default, but you can turn it on in settings — that was a longtime complaint that was addressed last year. There are only a couple preloaded third party apps, and fortunately, those can be uninstalled if you don’t want them.

And, as always, we’ll give a shout-out to our favorite Huawei feature. The backside fingerprint scanner works great, but the really awesome thing is that you can swipe down on it to bring down the notification center. It’s a really helpful addition on larger phones like these!

Overall, this is a really strong phone that deserves to be considered among the best of the best in Android smartphones. It’s extremely expensive as a result, although until we get confirmation that the phone is coming to the U.S., we can’t say too much about price yet. The Huawei Mate 9 launched in the United States last year at a much lower price tag than it did internationally, so we can hold out hope that the same will happen with the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro.