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Huawei Mate 8 review — serious business
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Huawei Mate 8 review — serious business

by April 29, 2016
Positives

+ Premium design; slim bezels, all aluminium chassis
+ Powerful and efficient Huawei Kirin 950; amazing battery life and performance figures
+ Comfortable to hold even with the huge 6.0" display
+ Fast fingerprint sensor; includes multiple gestures
+ EMUI 4.0 based on Android 6.0 is much improved over its predecessors
+ Built-in pedometer and altimeter to keep track of your activity
+ Great audio quality from the 3.5mm output
+ Excellent 6.0" 1080p IPS NEO display

Negatives

- microUSB instead of USB Type-C port
- GPU performance unable to match even last year's Adreno 430
- Weak camera performance in low light conditions
- Built-in speaker doesn't impress

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Pokde Rating
Appearance
9.0
Features
8.0
Materials
9.0
Performance
9.0
Portability
9.0
Value
9.0
Bottom Line

The Huawei Mate 8 is a compelling buy if you can overlook the few flaws that it comes with. If you are looking for a phablet with stellar battery life, amazing CPU performance and great build quality, look no further.

8.8
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When Huawei unveiled the Huawei Mate 8 to members of the media and dealers back in March, they strongly stressed on its purpose as a productivity-driven smartphone, and even invited several successful entrepreneurs to share their experience using the device to improve their workflow. One thing that really impressed us was the lofty claims regarding the battery life. Needless to say, we definitely had to get one of these battery life monsters into our labs to try it out for ourselves. And now that we have it, let’s get down to it.

 

Unboxing

Huawei Mate 8-1

The packaging hasn’t changed much from that of the Huawei Mate S, It looks pretty similar but Huawei skipped using a sleeve this time and used a simpler top cover. The Huawei Mate 8 and Huawei logos are printed on with a reflective silver finishing for a really premium look.

Huawei Mate 8-2

Lifting the lid, the Huawei Mate 8 is lying in a tray which sports the words “Huawei Design”. I see I have the Space Gray variant today, which I do strongly prefer over the gold variants.

Huawei Mate 8-3

There is a sticker on the back of the Huawei Mate 8, which is essentially all you need to read if you have ever used a smartphone in recent years.

Huawei Mate 8-4

Taking out the plastic tray, we see cool little boxes labelled with silver printed icons. I only took out the charger from its box, and left the others in there. It’s neat, but I think some packaging material could have been saved if they skipped the individual boxes and just designed a tray with separate compartments for everything. Not only will it be more environmentally friendly, it will also be more convenient to the end user. Still, this way of packaging the included accessories is great, as I get to unbox everything one by one, just for the fun of it.

Huawei Mate 8-5

And here we have everything in the box. The included charger is a Huawei Fast Charger and is capable of supplying up to 18W, a far cry from the standard 10W chargers. I was surprised to find a thin frosted plastic case to protect the metal body of the Huawei Mate 8. Kudos to Huawei for including it in the box with the Mate 8 so the end user can protect their precious new smartphone from Day One.

 

Appearance

Huawei Mate 8-10

Design wise, the Huawei Mate 8 isn’t that different from the Huawei Mate S. The front is dominated by the HUUUUUUGEEEEEE 6″ screen, which features stunningly small bezels at the sides. The Gorilla Glass 4 here actually has chamfered edges instead of the usual 2.5D curvature. While a small detail, it does lend the Huawei Mate 8 an edgier look and sets it apart from the other flagships. The call speaker lies at the top, flanked by a tiny hidden notification light and the front facing camera. The Huawei Mate 8 loses the front facing flash, so selfie aficionados may find the Huawei Mate 8 a little less appealing compared to its predecessor.

Huawei Mate 8-7

The top and bottom bezels on the Huawei Mate 8 here feature a classy concentric circles texture. It looks amazing and catches light in a very interesting way.

Huawei Mate 8-9

On the back the camera lens protrudes from the smooth sandblasted aluminium surface, while the fingerprint sensor is directly under it. The back is just so slightly curved for a better grip and looks very clean with only the Huawei logo and some regulatory certification. The round camera and fingerprint sensor sets it apart from the previous generation. The contrast of circular elements compared to the rest of the device which is considerably angular is quite refreshing. The back actually has two little plastic strips at the top and bottom for connectivity purposes, but they blend in well enough with the metal to be nearly unnoticeable.

Huawei Mate 8-8

Taking a look at the right of the Huawei Mate 8, we see chamfered edges and a brushed metal texture. The power button and volume rocker are here, and are easily distinguished by touch. Over on the left there is a single card tray slot and the long clear strip of brushed metal and nice shiny chamfering.

Huawei Mate 8-11

Over on the bottom, the signature two grilles flanking the microUSB port is here. As usual, there is only one speaker and the other grille hides the microphone. Call me a nitpicker, but it would look even better with a USB Type-C port.

Huawei Mate 8-12

The top is home to only the 3.5mm jack and microphone.

The Huawei Mate 8 is one great looking premium phablet. I usually refrain from using that P-word but 6″ is really encroaching on tablet territory. However its slim bezels, chamfered edges and slightly curved back may belie its size when held.

 

Specifications

CPU: HUAWEI Kirin 950 64-bit (4 x A72 @ 2.3 GHz + 4 x A53 @ 1.8 GHz) + i5 co-processor
RAM 3GB LPDDR4
Display: 6.0″, FHD (1080p) IPS NEO display
Storage: 32GB internal (expandable with microSD up to 128GB)
Camera: 16MP f/2.0 Sony Exmor RS IMX298 sensor with PDAF, OIS
8MP f/2.0 front camera
OS: Android 6.0 with Emotion UI 4.0
SIM: nanoSIM (dual SIM support, one slot doubles as microSD slot)
Battery: 4000 mAh (non-removable)

 

Performance

While the HiSilicon Kirin 935 was slightly underpowered for a 2015 flagship like the Huawei Mate S, the Huawei Mate 8 packs an all new Huawei Kirin 950 which features 4 A72 cores running at 2.3 GHz and 4 A53 cores at 1.8 GHz. The CPU is manufactured on the 16nm FinFET node, which promises greater power efficiency than previous generations. The CPUs are mated to 3GB LPDDR4 in the case of the lower specced version, which we have here now. A new Mali-T880 MP4 is responsible for graphics processing, and is a huge upgrade from the Mali-T628 MP4 in the Kirin 935. Besides the usual components, there is also a new i5 co-processor to handle other low intensity tasks with a low power consumption. Overall, it should be quite an improvement over the previous Kirin 935 and finally bring Huawei on par with its rivals in terms of raw performance.

Huawei Mate 8 3DMark

3DMark is a GPU benchmark, meant to judge the gaming performance of the tested devices. Previously, all Huawei devices with the Kirin 930/935 literally sucked in the GPU department, but the Huawei Mate 8 and the Kirin 950 in it ends that trend. The Huawei Mate 8 performs better than its predecessors, but still loses out to the even more powerful Adreno 430 GPU in the Nexus 6P. With that said, you shouldn’t have any trouble even in the latest games thanks to the less taxing 1080p resolution of the Huawei Mate 8.

Huawei Mate 8 3DMark (2) Huawei Mate 8 3DMark (1) Huawei Mate 8 3DMark (3)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Huawei Mate 8 Antutu

Antutu tests the overall system performance, and here the Huawei Mate 8 is the highest scoring smartphone to ever grace our labs with its existence. While the GPU may be weaker than the Adreno 430, the faster CPU cores definitely makes up for the difference here.

Huawei Mate 8 Antutu

 

 

 

 

 

 

Huawei Mate 8 Geekbench

As Geekbench is a CPU benchmark, it is easy to see why the Huawei Mate 8 scores so well here. The quad A72 and quad A53 clusters beat the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810’s quad A57 and quad A53 CPUs, hands down.

We were talking about the insane claims about the battery life and also the efficiency of the new 16nm FinFET manufacturing process, but how does it perform in the hands of the average smartphone user? Well, in my usage, the Huawei Mate 8 definitely lives up to its claim and offers truly stellar battery life.

 

With WiFi connected all the time, I managed to get more than a day of battery life from the Huawei Mate 8. I wasn’t even trying to save battery and I had location, auto synchronization on all the time. To be exact, I got more than 32 hours away from the plug, with 6 hours 12 minutes of on screen time. I frequently use Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram and the occasionally browse with Chrome, with the random shot here and there. To me, 6 hours of on screen time without sacrificing performance is just amazing.

Okay, I hear you say using WiFi all the time isn’t a good enough test, and I should try using it with a data connection on 24/7? Well, you get what you asked for. 31 hours away from the plug, with 5 hours 30 minutes of on screen time. That’s from 100% to 15%.

Whittling it down to 5%, I was now 32 hours away from the plug and have clocked 6 hours 19 minutes of on screen time. Not bad at all.

Charging up the 4000 mAh battery after running it down is quick enough, and I recorded 1 hour 50 min for the battery to charge from 9% to 94% with the included fast charger.

Performance wise, the Kirin 950 is leaps and bounds away from the Kirin 935 and is currently one of the fast SoCs out there. However it is still marred by a weaker GPU that doesn’t fare that well even when compared to the past generation Adreno 430 in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810. Battery life of the Huawei Mate 8 is just excellent and is definitely one of the strongest I have seen, yet.

 

User Experience

While the 6″ screen may be bigger than every other flagship smartphones on the market right now, the slim bezels on the Huawei Mate 8 does make it a lot more manageable. It is just slightly wider than the Nexus 6P and actually shorter than the Nexus 6P due to the much smaller bezels at the top and bottom, where the Nexus 6P has the stereo speakers. It does feel pretty secure in hand with a nice weight to it and the chamfered edges which help it sit in your hand better. Still, single handed operation of the Huawei Mate 8 may prove difficult for people with small hands. For my large hands, I can comfortably use the swiping gestures on SwiftKey keyboard to type if I had my other hand occupied, but touching the far corner proved impossible.

Huawei Mate 8-17

Unlike the Honor 5X that I recently reviewed, the Huawei Mate 8 doesn’t allow you to use the dual SIM functionality together with a microSD card. Having to choose whether I can use two SIM cards or one SIM card and more memory is not supposed to be in the equation when I get a dual SIM smartphone. While this configuration isn’t ideal, most smartphones touting dual SIM support sport a similar arrangement.

Huawei Mate 8-6

The fingerprint sensor is on the back, typical for Huawei smartphones. The fingerprint sensor here is top-notch, unlocking the device faster than the Nexus 6P’s. I tried using the fingerprint sensor with slightly sweaty fingers and it still successfully recognized my fingerprint and brought me to my homescreen in a heartbeat as well, testament to the quality of the fingerprint sensor. The fingerprint sensor here is also used to enable an array of gestures similar to the ones found in the Huawei Mate S.

Huawei Mate 8 UI (1) Huawei Mate 8 UI (2) Huawei Mate 8 UI (3) Huawei Mate 8 settings Huawei Mate 8 gestures Huawei Mate 8 music player (1) Huawei Mate 8 music player (2) Huawei Mate 8 clock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emotion UI 4.0 based on Android 6.0 is here in the Huawei Mate 8, and it doesn’t look too different compared with the previous versions of EMUI. You have the two page notification shade, iOS-like task switcher and no app drawer. Huawei has also finally received the memo to use material design and now the notification bar changes color according to the app open. The entire experience was truly fluid, without a single bit of lag and stutter even when switching between apps.

Huawei Mate 8 multi-window Huawei Mate 8 multi-window (2)

 

 

 

 

 

The dual window feature introduced with the Mate S has also been improved upon, now supporting a select few third party apps like Facebook and Instagram. Overall EMUI 4.0 is quite a nice upgrade from the previous versions.

Huawei Mate 8 health

Interestingly, the Huawei Mate 8 also features a pedometer built into the device itself, so you do not need to get a fitness band just to record the number of steps you have taken. It can even estimate the number of floors you have climbed with its altimeter as well as the calories you have burnt with your physical activity. I am a rather sedentary person, and this feature doesn’t really interest me. But then it doesn’t seem to affect battery life, so no complaints here.

Huawei Mate 8-16

The camera on the Huawei P8 and Mate S were good with some cool new features like light trail mode, and when I got the Huawei Mate 8 I was expecting to be similarly impressed. This time, a 16MP Sony Exmor RS IMX298 sensor is put to use. This sensor has a conventional RGB matrix color filter array instead of the more uncommon RGBW matrix in the Huawei P8 and Mate S.

 

The UI of the camera has not changed, but then why fix what isn’t broken. The simple camera interface offers a large shutter button for easy quick shots. If you desire to make more of the camera, there is also a manual mode, which I find to be rather helpful in the case of the Huawei Mate 8.

The Huawei Mate 8 delivers quite great images as long as it keeps it from going above ISO 800, but when the times get dark, the image quality left me longing for the larger pixels of the Nexus 6P.

As you can see, most of the images are noisy with little resolved detail, and even gets a blue cast in low light conditions as in the case of the shot of the wooden ceiling. You can choose a lower ISO and shoot with a slower shutter speed for images with less noise, where the optical image stabilization was very helpful in getting shake-free images. For full-sized images, go here. However in my opinion, smartphone cameras are meant to be point and shoot, not point, adjust and shoot, and the Huawei Mate 8 disappoints in this department.

Audio wise, the Huawei Mate 8 has a few new tricks up its sleeves. It is now capable of selecting the microphone to receive information from, which is very helpful when using the loudspeaker. You can pick whether you want the Huawei Mate 8 to pick up audio from all around it, or just from the microphone at the bottom, which should be closer to you. In practice, it worked quite well as the person on other side didn’t complain about noisiness when I used the function.

Huawei Mate 8-18

If you are more interested in the listening experience, do not set your expectations too high. The single speaker doesn’t impress with its output quality, but is loud enough for most practical purposes. It is a little softer than some of its competitors though, and it does suffer from distortion at the maximum volume. Plugging in earphones and the Huawei Mate 8 offers great audio quality. It sounded quite balanced and detailed. I enjoyed listening to my Spotify playlist as well as my FLAC files a lot, and the Huawei Mate 8 can power my Xiaomi Mi Pro In-ear headphones to uncomfortable levels.

Huawei Mate 8-13

The 6.0″ IPS NEO LCD display features a rather pedestrian 1080p resolution, but I absolutely did not notice the difference when compared to its peers which are pushing 1440p resolutions already. But then, the 367 ppi is even higher than needed to qualify as a Retina display. When the Huawei Mate 8 is used under direct sunlight, it automatically adjusts the saturation of certain colors to maintain visibility. IPS NEO technology improves contrast levels with the wide viewing angles that all standard IPS displays have. The large display is perfect for any form of media consumption, and with the minimal bezels, didn’t really impact usability.

Huawei Mate 8-15 Huawei Mate 8-14

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

The Huawei Mate 8 costs RM2099, which makes it rather reasonably priced for a flagship device. The Huawei Mate 8 represents a significant step for Huawei in the right direction, with a faster in-house SoC and updated software features. The battery life is also class-leading, thanks to the efficient Kirin 950 SoC and also the 1080p display which needs less graphical horsepower to feed. The fast and accurate fingerprint sensor shows how well Huawei knows the technology. Given that it is targeted at professionals, the weaker GPU and lower display resolution may not be as important as long battery life. I wish the camera was better, but then maybe that is what the upcoming Huawei P9 is here to fix.

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About The Author
Vyncent Chan
Technology enthusiast, casual gamer, pharmacy graduate. Strongly opposes proprietary standards and always on the look out for incredible bang-for-buck.

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