Samsung isn't the only brand known for throwing seemingly every possible feature into its phones, and the telecom giant Huawei is betting big on AI this year with its new flagship, the Mate 10 Pro. With an attractive design, speedy performance, and a massive battery, it's the best phone the company has ever crafted, but a number of unforeseen circumstances may keep it from seeing its fifteen minutes of fame.
If all had gone according to plan, the Mate 10 Pro would have been Huawei's big entry into the U.S. as a premium brand, but between getting dropped by AT&T and soliciting fake reviews on Best Buy ... it isn't off to a great start. Months after we reviewed it, the unlocked model is still up for pre-order stateside, but it's a hard sell at $800.
The Mate 10 Pro matches nearly everything you might expect from a 2018 flagship phone. It's absolutely gorgeous, with a sleek glass and metal design that curves to fit comfortably in your hand, despite a massive footprint, and it feels every bit as premium as phones from competing brands like Samsung or HTC. I love the aesthetic choice to put a horizontal stripe through the glass around the camera hardware, which gives it a unique and identifying look.
The included case and screen protector are nice touches that save you the trouble of finding your own.
It's one of the more slippery phones around, and that glass back is quick to pick up scratches, but Huawei at least includes a thin TPU case in the box that does a good job at solving both problems.
One reason so many brands are moving to glass designs for their phones is to support wireless charging, but sadly you won't find that here. You also won't find a 3.5mm headphone jack, with the Mate 10 Pro going the way of USB-C audio, for better or worse. On the bright side, it's at least water-resistant — though that's basically a given in 2018.
As always, I love Huawei's placement of the fingerprint sensor around the back of the phone, just under the camera modules. It's in the perfect spot to quickly find with your index finger, and it's one of the fastest sensors I've ever used. What's more, it allows for swiping gestures to pull down the notification shade or swipe through photos in your gallery.
Up front, the Mate 10 Pro is all display, with a massive 6-inch AMOLED panel and that fancy new 18:9 aspect ratio everybody's been switching to. As a stickler for pixels, I was hoping for more than 1080p, but it's perfectly fine for daily use and a much lower battery drain than QHD.
Huawei has been making a lot of noise over the Mate 10 Pro's Kirin 970 chipset — and more specifically, the Neural Processing Unit it includes. This NPU equips the Mate 10 Pro with powerful AI features that aim to improve photography as well as maintain the phone's performance over time, but most of its enhancements are in the backend for now. Save for the scene detection feature (more on that later), you probably won't even notice that it's there.
You'll definitely notice the rest of the software, though. It's impossible to talk about a Huawei device without bringing up the company's often questionable UX design.
EMUI 8 is running the show on the Mate 10 Pro, backed by Android 8.0 Oreo. As always, it's quite a departure from the traditional experience most Android users are accustomed to; there's no app drawer by default, and you'll have to sort through a myriad of pre-installed Huawei software that tends to replicate features that already exist elsewhere on the phone.
To be fair, EMUI is more reserved than ever with the Oreo refresh, as menus in the Settings app are now far less convoluted, and enabling the app drawer reveals a pretty reserved and close-to-stock home screen, complete with the Google Feed. But certain fundamental problems persist throughout the UI.
You've undoubtedly heard the saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," right? Huawei hasn't.
The lock screen only shows you notifications that have come in since the last time you locked your phone, and even new notifications can't be expanded in the lock screen. This doesn't stop the notification LED from blinking, meaning you'll constantly be checking for notifications that aren't there until you unlock the phone.
I've also run into problems with default apps. Changing the home screen launcher is already more difficult on EMUI than anywhere else, but even once you've done so, all it takes is for your new launcher to receive an update from the Play Store, and the Mate 10 Pro defaults back to the Huawei Home for ... some reason.
It's not all bad, though. EMUI has a great one-handed mode, and plenty of options for hiding the navigation bar or replacing it with a floating dock. In addition, it adds a convenient scaling button to the bottom of apps that aren't yet optimized for the 2:1 aspect ratio of the display.
The Mate 10 Pro has a fantastic pair of cameras around the back that come as a result of Huawei's partnership with Leica. It pairs a 12MP primary sensor with a secondary 20MP monochrome sensor — both with an f/1.6 aperture, and the former equipped with OIS.
This layout isn't a first for Huawei, but the Mate 10 Pro benefits from improved optics and post-processing over its predecessors, and the result is an extremely impressive shooting experience on the phone. From dynamic range to sharpness, detail, and low-light performance, the Mate 10 Pro produces some absolutely stunning photos.
That's thanks in part to Huawei's beloved NPU. Its most visible feature is its scene detection capabilities in the camera app; point the phone at a subject like a pet or your lunch, and the software will intelligently switch to one of 13 optimal shooting modes, changing the camera settings to best fit your shot. It works well, though I wish the software were a bit more clear on exactly what settings it's changing.
You'll probably want to play around in the camera app for yourself, though; there's no shortage of shooting modes and additional options. The wide aperture mode allows you to capture those depthy, bokeh-filled shots, though the ƒ/1.6 aperture does a pretty great job at that naturally.
Now for as well-rounded as the Mate 10 Pro is, there's one thing it excels in above all else: battery life. It's packing a whopping 4000mAh cell, and boy is it impressive. During my weeks of testing, I never once managed to kill the phone in a single day, even when spending significantly more time playing games to intentionally run the battery down.
If there's any one reason to buy this phone, it's the insanely long battery life.
It's still not the best metric, but on average, I saw six to seven hours of screen-on time, mostly comprised of Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Slack, and various messaging apps. For context, I get closer to three or four hours of screen-on time with phones like the OnePlus 5T under the same workload — and even less on the Galaxy S8. Put simply, if there's a longer-lasting phone than the Mate 10 Pro, I haven't seen it.
To make matters even better, Huawei's 5A/4.5V SuperCharge technology means that it won't take long to top up either. It's not quite as fast as OnePlus's Dash Charge, but it still manages to bring the Mate 10 Pro back up to a full tank of gas in less than 90 minutes.
The Mate 10 Pro is a hard sell at $800, but that's not the whole story.
Overall, the Mate 10 Pro is a great phone that encompasses all that makes up a flagship in 2018. It has one of my favorite designs of the year, extraordinary cameras, and easily the best endurance of any phone I've ever tested. In a vacuum, it's an easy recommendation as Huawei's best phone to date, an AI-focused powerhouse.
But this isn't a vacuum, and there are a lot of other great phones out there. Phones like the Galaxy S8 and S8+ bring wireless charging and microSD expandability to the mix, and the LG V30 offers expansive manual video controls. The real kicker? They're all cheaper than the Mate 10 Pro.
For $800 without the option for carrier financing (though that's out of Huawei's control), it's hard to picture most people buying the Mate 10 Pro over the aforementioned alternatives. Still, at the moment there are plenty of deals to get $150 back on the Mate 10 Pro through Amazon, Best Buy, and even Huawei's own site, and at $650 it becomes a much more compelling prospect — especially if you're someone who needs that all-day battery life.
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