Huawei Mate 10 Pro Review: Almost Perfect
Huawei knocks it out of the park with the Mate 10 Pro
It takes something really special to come out on top in the arena of flagship smartphones.
Development of truly groundbreaking mobile technologies has plateaued as of late. Let’s be honest, the top-of-the-line models from big manufacturers in 2017 have followed the same formula: minimal bezels, powerful internals, great camera, waterproof etc.
The performance gaps between flagship phones have become so minute that I’d be willing to bet you can hardly tell the difference when having them in hand. Competition is tough when purchase decisions have more to do with brand loyalty and marketing than the actual product.
Amid a sea of increasingly pricey flagships with similar features and specs, Huawei decided to take a bold risk with their own offering. The Chinese giant chose to equip the Mate 10 Pro with a processor of their own design despite the popularity of Qualcomm chips among its Android rivals.
Will this gamble pay off? Read on to find how the Mate 10 Pro holds up against the other phones in its class.
What truly separates the Huawei Mate 10 Pro from the pack is its proprietary chipset.
The Kirin 970 comes equipped with an Octa-core CPU that maxes out at 2.36GHz, and a Mali-G72 MP12 GPU. The ace up its sleeve is its Neural Processing Unit (NPU) – the first of its kind on a smartphone. The NPU excels at neural networking and AI computing, giving the Kirin 970 an edge over other chipsets and enabling a boatload of machine learning features for the Mate 10 Pro.
For starters, the Mate 10 Pro studies usage behavior over time to make the most of its already ludicrous 4,000 mAh battery. Precise tuning of power usage gives the Mate 10 Pro impressive longevity, lasting a full day of intensive use. At strategic times, the phone would also remind me to charge up in anticipation of periods of intense usage. Plugged up to a wall via its USB-C port, the Mate 10 Pro would regain over half its charge in about 30 minutes. Wireless charging is not an option, though.
With 6GB of RAM, needless to say performance in tasks like browsing and games was smooth as butter. While there are definite differences in performance between competing flagships in benchmarks, you would be hard pressed to notice them in daily use. The Mate 10 Pro handles itself as it should for its price. The lack of a Micro-SD card slot is only a minor disappointment as the Huawei Mate 10 Pro comes with a generous 128 GB of onboard storage.
The Mate 10 Pro comes up to date with Android 8.0 Oreo at launch, but it’s hard to notice beneath Huawei’s intrusive EMUI skin. While there’s less bloat-ware baked in compared to past Huawei releases, Android purists would still cringe at the little changes they’ve made. I personally didn’t mind as long as the app drawer could be re-enabled in settings.
EMUI is not all bad though.
It comes with a few nifty tricks. I found the Desktop Mode cool in particular. With a USB-C to HDMI/DVI/VGA cable (not included), you can enjoy a Windows-like experience on any large screen display without a dock. In this mode, the Mate 10 Pro can even function as a trackpad. Pairing with a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard works better though.
In terms of audio, the Mate 10 Pro is a solid performer. While it lacks a headphone jack, a decent pair of USB-C headphones is included in the box. If it’s not to your liking, they’ve also thrown in a USB-C to 3.5 mm headphone jack adapter. Speakers fire from the bottom next to the USB-C port, as well as from the earpiece (where you would normally hear your calls). Together, they cover a good range of highs and lows with good clarity. They’re nowhere near the Razer phone, but can get pretty loud.
Aside from that, you get the standard bells and whistles you’d come to expect from a flagship phone: a quick fingerprint sensor, an IR blaster, NFC, and dual SIM support.
Huawei made sure the Mate 10 Pro is no slouch in the design department as well.
The impressive internals are matched by its elegant design. Its all-glass construction is made to be robust. Gorilla glass 5 protects the screen in front while its perfectly symmetrical rear glass casing had been heat treated to 700 degrees Celsius. The Mate 10 Pro is also rated IP67 for water and dust resistance. Still, I’d recommend using the provided flexible clear case. It is best not to put its hardiness to the test with an unfortunate drop. The shiny surfaces are also prone to fingerprints.
While the Mate 10 Pro boasts impressive screen-to-body ratio, it has taken Samsung’s approach to ridding itself of bezels: a prominent chin and forehead remains. This ensures the earpiece and front-facing camera are where they should be without the need for an unsightly notch on the screen.
The Mate 10 Pro’s design is completed by a metallic band around the edges which provides a good contrast against all the glass. The phone gets bonus points for its textured power button that sits below the volume rocker well within reach of your thumb. It feels so good to be able to press the right buttons without looking. Samsung should take note.
If I had one little nitpick about the design, it’s that Huawei insists on less than subtle branding on both the front and back of the Mate 10 Pro. Whether you get the phone in Midnight Blue or Mocha Brown or Pink, the silver font sticks out like a sore thumb against what is otherwise an understated design. Here’s where Samsung definitely did it better. With their screens turned off, the Midnight Black S8/Note 8 look like sexy slabs of obsidian.
An eye-catching 6-inch OLED display with an 18:9 aspect ratio adorns the front of the Mate 10 Pro. As expected, it pumps out great contrast and saturation. Support for HDR 10 is a huge bonus and its viewing angles aren’t that bad for an OLED panel. Color reproduction is middle of the road compared to more vibrant displays on some flagships.
Where the Mate 10 Pro truly suffers, though, is clarity. At its price point, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect Quad HD at least. What you get instead is Full HD+ 2160 x 1080 resolution. The other big boys do have an edge over the Mate 10 Pro in terms of pixel density.
Huawei paired the Mate 10 Pro’s unique chipset with an equally unique camera configuration.
It sports a Leica-engineered dual lens set-up comprising of an optically stabilized 12 MP RGB shooter and a 20 MP monochrome sensor. Both have an f/1.6 aperture. Together they produce exceptional images with very rich details and colors. You can use them separately as well if you’re really into two-tone photographs. Dual-LED flash and laser auto focus are good to have. A pretty standard 8 MP front facing camera is on selfie duty with adjustable beauty levels.
The camera app comes with the usual bag of tricks you’d associate with contemporary flagship phones. Notable inclusions are a “Pro” mode for fine adjustments and Portrait mode for better selfies. You can record videos in 4K or up to 1080p in 60fps with manual focus enabled by default. Video stabilization works pretty well too.
The real selling point of the camera is how well it utilizes the Kirin 970 chip. The powerful NPU is used for image recognition, tweaking settings automatically based on what you’re shooting for best effect. It can distinguish between text, food, people and 10 other “scenes” that the NPU can detect. You also get a Wide Aperture mode which intelligently blurs background with an AI-powered bokeh effect.
Overall the camera set up has something in store for everyone, be it casuals of pros.
Should you buy it?
If you lay the Mate 10 Pro’s spec sheet side by side with other top flagships, it is clear as day that it outperforms most of them. The only real competition come from Samsung’s Note 8 and the iPhone X. How I feel this phone truly shines is how all these specs come together. These days, rarely do we find technology that is a harmonious marriage of hardware and software.
Aside from the lower than ideal screen resolution and the omission of some quality of life features like expandable storage and wireless charging, I dare say this is as close as you can get to a perfect flagship in 2017. It excels on all fronts and does poorly in no particular metric.
When you factor in that the Mate 10 Pro is $300 cheaper than the Note 8 and almost half the price of an iPhone 10, it’s not hard at all to recommend this phone. In fact, it has been the daily driver I’ve carried since I got my hands on it.