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Huawei Mate 9: Big, bold, and still beautiful nine months later

Plenty can happen in nine months. A human baby gestates over the period of nine months, for example, or you can try to grow over four inches of hair. Nine months is also a good time to check in with a smartphone after its initial launch. That's plenty of time for a device to effectively gestate within the general consumer populace.

It's been nearly nine months since the Huawei Mate 9 launched globally. The phablet-sized device was Huawei's great big flagship of last year. It was deemed fast, with its homemade system-on-a-chip, and it offered great battery life and solid camera performance by way of its dual-camera system. But how has it aged since its debut? Let's check in with the Chinese company's enormous smartphone and how it fares against the current crop of competition.

mate 9

It's big

Wide body against the narrow masses

Since the Mate 9's launch, we've seen smartphones effectively shrink in size while still affording plenty of room for the screen. In that sense, the Mate 9 feels like it's already aged eons, and while it may be nearly as slim as its rivals, it's 5.9-inch 1080p display is big in comparison. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6's elongated, narrow candy bar shape, the Mate 9 is like a mini-sized tablet. Though you might appreciate the extra bezel for holding the device and typing two-handed, that's not the direction flagships are headed these days.

The Mate 9 feels like it's already aged eons.

The Mate 9 has other features working in its favor, like a rear fingerprint sensor, which is easy to reach in spite of its larger size. You can customize it to work with a variety of gestures, too, and it's still faster to use than the Galaxy S8's fingerprint sensor.

I like the Mate 9's display, even if it is merely an IPS LCD, compared to the Porsche Design variant's vibrant AMOLED display. I also like its beefy audio capabilities; the phone has a dual-speaker setup so that you can hear its strength even through Snapchat or Instagram Stories. It's excellent for podcasts, though it's still a bit tinny when you playback music at the highest volume. But it broadcasts better than the Pixel.

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On the inside, the Mate 9 runs on Huawei's homemade Kirin 960 processor, which you can now also find in the Huawei P10 and Honor 9. At the time of the Mate 9's launch, it was the first mass-market chip to use ARM's new Cortex-A73 design, though now you can find a modified version of it powering the Snapdragon 835. The Kirin 960 is speedy, and with 4GB of RAM, the Mate 9 moves swimmingly through gameplay and processor-intensive apps. I can't believe it's not a Snapdragon, and that's the point, isn't it?

As for the Mate 9's 4000mAh battery — it must be the way that I'm using it because I've had to plug in this phone every other day since I switched back to it. But I will say that I've had some major issues with the Android O developer preview on my Pixel XL, so the Mate 9 has been a surefire Godsend. I can keep the screen on while waiting for my Lyft and watch YouTube TV on the ride home without fear of killing off what little battery I have left. I expected better standby time with the massive pack, but it's vastly better than what the Pixel's been offering me.

huawei mate 9

EMUI has never looked better

Not the Android you're typically used to

You've likely heard us echo it through the Android Central hallways: Huawei's software has long been its Achilles' heel, at least until EMUI 5.0 based on Android 7.0 Nougat showed up. It's what the Mate 9 is running right now, and it looks good, though some of its features won't be available if you decide to employ another launcher, like App Twin.

We've since seen EMUI 5.1 hit the market months after the Mate 9's debut, so it's weird not to have the software update yet. There are plenty of threads pointing to its existence, but nothing is confirmed for the Mate 9.

Different flavors of Android.

So what kind of Android are you getting with the Mate 9? You're getting a darker color scheme, default apps like the dialer and messaging app that aren't Google's, and Amazon Alexa (it was added on in a software update earlier this year). You're also getting the option for an application drawer, which wasn't a feature available on Huawei-made phones before, as well as themes and a vastly different notification shade. It's not as clean as the interface you'd find on the Google Pixel or even Samsung's revamped Galaxy interface, but it has features you've used before, like a night mode and multi-window mode. You can also use add-on features like the aforementioned App Twin to clone Facebook and WhatsApp and use two accounts at a time.

Fortunately, Android has this way about it that lets you customize things to your liking. I enjoy using the Mate 9 with the Evie Launcher, for instance, which lets me choose my icon pack. There are other methods you can use to get into the nitty gritty of the interface, too, if you abhor it. But I don't mind the experience of using the phone as long as I've got another launcher to spruce it up.

EMUI

Powered by Leica

A great set of rear-facing cameras

Huawei's long been a partner with camera maker Leica, and the German company has once again exerted its influence over the Mate 9's rear-facing cameras. This phone comes equipped with dual 20-megapixel and 12-megapixel cameras. The former focuses on monochrome and the latter hones in on color. Together, they have a symbiotic relationship with the goal of getting you the best shot.

Huawei Mate 9 camera samples.

There's little information on what's happening with software updates.

The dual-lens, dual-sensor setup is efficient at capturing the mood, even if does tend to overexpose bright and sunny shots. I loved tinkering around with the wide-aperture mode turned on, and though the Mate 9's primary camera aperture doesn't go as low as the competition, it makes up for it with the aid of optical image stabilization. OIS still isn't a guarantee for most mobile phones.

The Mate 9's dual cameras also help make it capable of bokeh-like "portrait" effects. It's an impressive shooter in well-lit scenic panorama situations, too, though some scenes will look drowned out when it's overcast. You can also choose between three different color modes, including one that helps the colors pop up in an otherwise dull setting. Conversely, it can also overdo the adjustments and contribute to an overly processed photo. Pictures taken at dusk also have a tendency to come out grainy. Still, I love shooting with the Mate 9, though it's nothing compared to the shots I've managed with the Pixel XL.

mate 9

Nine months later

Mate 9 is a worthy phone with too much competition

I've received plenty of queries asking about Android-powered smartphones that are under $500. If you're on a network like AT&T or T-Mobile and you're looking for an unlocked, global device that's different than the status quo, the Mate 9 is a great deal. In addition to its giant 4000mAh battery — which, hey, will get you through a day and a half of average use without a charge — it has an impressive dual-camera setup and a beautiful 5.9-inch screen. I like its wider body, too, as it's easier to handle and multitask with than some of the newer, all-glass devices hitting the market.

mate 9

Perhaps the only caveat to the Mate 9 is that there's little information on what's happening with software updates. We're still wondering: when is EMUI 5.1 making its way over to the device? I should also note that the Mate 9 in my possession is stuck on the Android security patch from April 5, 2017. And I'm not alone, as I discovered in our forums.

Nine months on and there is already a host of smartphones worth the cash over the Huawei Mate 9. With the deals going on right now for Samsung and LG's flagship devices, you may wonder whether it's worth grabbing one of these at its current price of $450. The answer is yes, particularly if you're looking for a wide-bodied, unlocked phone to last you several trips around the earth. But there's no reason to choose this particular device over any other. If you can spare the extra cash, about $150 will net you one of the latest flagships on sale or you can nab a year-old device like the Google Pixel at a much cheaper price. Or if you'd rather stick with the Huawei family, don't forget the Honor 9 is now available at Amazon.

See at Amazon

Florence Ion is an editor and columnist at Android Central. She writes about Android-powered devices of all types and explores their usefulness in her everyday life. You can follow her on Twitter or watch her Tuesday nights on All About Android.

30 Comments
  • i just got the Mate 9 about a month ago and it is amazing. I love it. If it had Wireless charging, it would be the perfect phone. and I'm glad to see AC saying the wide phone is easier to use. Narrow life sucks
  • Love wider phones, typing is so much more comfortable. I wouldn't go any narrower than my HTC 10.
  • Llllllplplllllllll l.p. lllllllll9lplpllppllpppllpllpllplpllppllpllpp p poo plpplpp9 p 9pl9]pp9pp9p]9p opp 9 999p99999lllllllllllllpppl9 opp plus loo ppll loo l loo llpl l ppplolppp l p p ppoll9 loo l9lp loo l.p. lp l loo lpll99l9 poo l9p p p l l
  • Really enjoying mine...
  • I don't have this phone but if I liked big phones this would definitely be on my list. Very nice to see a headphone jack AND a big battery!
  • If only they would update the security patches. I have one bought on Prime Day still on the April patch. It's a great phone otherwise.
  • My Moto G5 Plus is on March Security patch. Count yourself lucky, pal. It ain't that terrible as us Motorola Folks, thanks to Lenovo's "dedication" to sink the brand.
  • Mine is on the June security patch. Mine is only ever three months behind with security patches so I think that's fine. I'm in the UK though.
  • I've been a Samsung dude for many years and this has been the first time I've deviated. And I can tell you there's no regrets. The mate 9 is a solid, mature and innovative phone. I'm skipping the phone buy season this year because my mate 9 does it all and more. Sad that most people never heard of it. Their loss.
  • It's not a bad phone by any means, but when the Galaxy S7 Edge is available at the same price or cheaper, the Mate 9 isn't worth it at all, except for the bigger (but worse) display.
  • Have you had both displays side by side? I have and it's virtually imperceptible.
  • I've found that with the best will in the world, it's hard to overcome the infinite contrast of an AMOLED display.
  • Actually the Mate 9's better in just about every way with speed+performance beating the S8/S8 Plus, better battery life than both the S7+S8, better speakers, better+faster fingerprint sensor, better cameras, faster charging time etc., I'd take it over the S7E any day.
  • Got one last month. Combined my personal/work accounts (AT&T & T-Mobile) into one phone. It's lightning fast. Was able to do video conference (Zoom) and take notes at the same time. Well worth it.
  • The fact that almost a year into the lifeline of the Mate 9, we are still comparing to its current competitors tells you Huawei hit a homerun! I agree with the lack of security updates and EMUI update but Huawei has listened to its consumer base and gave us a phone that checks all boxes (ok, no wireless charging and water proofing). For me: battery life, screen size & quality, expandable storage, performance, head phone jack, camera, dual-sim, IR blaster...Best phone I've ever owned!
  • I've had the mate 9 since Jan. I also got the Mi6 Pro, the Oneplus 3t, the HTC 11 and have a partner with the S8 plus. The Mate has been sheer joy. Big, beautifully built, dual SIM, smooth, very, very quick, great themes, great sound, fabulous camera (when you work with it!) solid, reliable performance and a good battery. The phone is so good, I can't wait to get my hands on the Mate 10. My only caveat? They are becoming expensive!
  • Out of all those phones the Mate 9 is your favorite?
  • some nerds singing the EMUI 5.0 goodness plus that big battery .huh
  • Have this phone half a year, and no other phone can offer what it offering atm, it's faster than S8+, bigger battery, wider screen aka more real estate, better camera outside of low light and indoors(selfie is better on Mate 9 too), great bands support, very fast even after half a year.. It seems Mate 9 is amount the last of the really great 16:9 phones, if so that's a great last stand gladiator :)
  • Very happy with my Mate 9. Excellent value. My battery is really good though I don't seem to get quite the SOT that others claim. Camera isn't the best on the market, but more than serviceable. And I like the bigger phones.
  • My Mate 9 is the best phone I've had so far. But it will have to last quite a long time - at least until the next 16:9 Mate or galaxy note. I cannot bear the idea of a narrow screen. Web sites are already hard to read on 16:9 but thinner? I far preferred the ratio of the pda I had before smart phones, which had a 4 inch screen that was 4:3 (16:12)
    My Mate 9 is SIM free and has had the June Android security patch for a few weeks now. That is still pretty out of date, but better than carrier phones.
  • This is my favorite phone of all time. It's not the flashy thing, but it always works and is still as fast as when it was new. As for the EMUI update, they said a while back they were skipping EMUI 5.1 on this one since there's so little difference between them. They are jumping right to Android O instead. They were one of the first companies to begin testing Android O, and they were testing it on the Mate 9.
  • "don't forget the Honor 9 is now available at Amazon" Don't forget that is missing key LTE bands in the United States, Probably not a good recommendation if you'll be using the phone in the states. It's a shame that Huawei hasn't released the Honor 8 Pro or the Honor 9 for the US market.
  • After nearly 9 months as a daily driver, the Mate 9 s performance has surpassed expectations.
    I have rarely had to use the supercharge brick since its rarely drops below 30% charge.
    Transferring files to PC is super fast and easy,it usually has 47 GB of free space.
    Taking photos in low light only requires one to use Manual settings iso 1600 s S 1/20 or 30.
    The IR blaster is super convenient to have as well.
    Only issue i have is being stuck on April security patch.Hope they also announce when to expect OREO Update. If its this year, i will definitely get the Mate 10. If they dont update the Mate9, i will get a Pixel 2 instead.
  • I want a Big screen (at least 5,7") and i am balanced between this one and the g6+ , wich one should i buy guys ?
  • Mate 9 or actually you could wait for the Mate 10 which is coming out in around a month or two.
  • If u want a bigger battery get the Mate.
  • How Can you customise your Mate 9 ? Like Can you get a pixel-like interface and appdrawer ? If so then i'd might get this one and it's big Big Big battery life
  • Nova Launcher and Pixel UI (I think that's the name) icon pack. That's what I have on my GS7, and the interface looks just like the Pixel, down to the pill-shaped Google icon and the app drawer.
  • The Honor 9 isn’t officially available in the US so it isn’t a good recommendation. If you want a Huawei phone that is officially available in the US, your options are limited to the Mate 9, Honor 8, Honor 6X, and Honor 5X. Huawei would do good to put their phones on prepaid carriers like ZTE does. It gets their name out and establishes their brand among the general populace.