The best mate yet
Huawei’s Mate series of bigscreened smartphones have always been larger than life, but with the arrival in South Africa this past week of the new Mate 10 Pro, they’re now also a whole lot better looking, smarter and more powerful.
I’ve been a fan of the Chinese tech titan’s Mate line of phablets since I got my hands on the Mate 7 in 2014 and was smitten by its expansive screen real estate, processing power, build quality, battery stamina and a reasonable price tag. In the Mate 10 Pro, Huawei has taken these attributes to a new level including, alas, the price tag – more about that later.
Let’s start with the looks which are frankly stunning. The Mate 10 Pro boasts a gorgeous, almost bezelfree 5.9-inch screen with a towering 16:9 display ratio. The shrunken borders and new taller, but skinnier aspect ratio make for a Mate that sits in the hand more comfortably that any of its predecessors.
It’s still a big phone, but it doesn’t feel clumsy and slab-like any more. Enhancing the grip comfort is an all-glass body, which also adds to its eye-candy factor.
But a smartphone, as the first part of the term suggests, is about more than looks and the Mate
10 is not merely a feast for the eyes, it may just be the smartest smartphone in a class of seriously clever candidates. That’s because, Huawei says, it’s the first phone to feature built-in artificial intelligence (AI) without the need to connect to the internet.
These smarts come courtesy of Huawei’s own Kirin 970 chipset, billed as the world’s first true AI processor for smartphones. This allows the Mate 10 to perform clever tricks like translating text while offline and recognising plants, people and food when lining up a photo, adjusting the focus and lighting for the optimal shot.
When Huawei honchos demonstrated these features live at the launch event in Cape Town, they were at pains to switch the demo phones to airplane mode to prove they were not sneakily drawing on the cloud to supplement their brain power.
Such feats are made possible, says Huawei, by the Neural Network Processing Unit (NPU) built into the Kirin 970, which makes it basically a shrunk-down version of the kind of tech you’d normally need cooling fans and teams of eggheads with clipboards to keep in good running order.
I touched on the camera earlier and it’s undoubtedly one of the new Mate’s star features. Even without the AI smarts, the rear dual camera cluster, which features a 20MP monochrome sensor, a
12MP RGB sensor and an aperture of f/1.6 looks, makes it noteworthy, at least on paper.
I compared pictures I snapped on several Mate 10 Pros on display at the launch with identical photos taken with a Samsung Galaxy S8
I’d brought along and a colleague’s iphone 8 Plus with mixed results. In some shots the Mate came out tops, in others the iphone or Galaxy had the edge.
I’m confident my brief shootout at the launch did show that the Mate 10 Pro is up there with the best of them. And if Huawei is right about the NPU’S ability to learn on the fly and improve the phone’s software over time, including the camera, it’s only going to get better.
Another department in which the Mate is now on par with its aforementioned flagship competitors is water and dust resistance, courtesy of an IP67 rating. It’s a quality Huawei gutsily flaunted at the launch with Mate 10 Pros in goldfish bowls dotted about the venue, with staffers pulling them out at regular intervals to show they were still working.
For some, water resistance is an over-rated feature, but as a geek who at least tries to lead a reasonably active lifestyle, not having to worry about killing one of my most expensive devices by drenching it in sweat or dropping it in wet sand while lining up that epic seaside snapshot is now a nonnegotiable.
The Mate range of phablets has always been renowned for staying power and the latest in that line is no exception. Huawei claims the Mate 10 Pro’s 4000mah battery will deliver up to two days between charges in moderate use and, based on my experience with earlier models, I have no reason to doubt them.
By now you’re speculating that all of this geeky goodness can’t come cheap. You’d be right, unfortunately. The Mate line, once celebrated among those in the know for their unrivalled price tag-to-specs-ratio, is now priced firmly in line with other high-end flagships.
You’ve always needed deep pockets in the literal sense to own a Mate. Now you’ll need them in the figurative sense too. The Mate 10 Pro will set you back R17999 on prepaid or monthly contracts starting at R699, while the swanky Porsche Design model comes in at an eye-watering R26999 or R899 on contract.
Huawei now clearly understands what Apple has known since the launch of its first iphone more than a decade ago: that for many people a smartphone is so much more than a mere communication device, it’s a fashion statement.
As fashion statements go, they don’t come more big and bold than the Mate 10 Pro. That it’s also arguably the smartest, most powerful portable computing devices currently available doesn’t hurt either.
Whether brand conscious consumers will see it that way and buy these devices in the numbers needed to further cement Huawei’s growing reputation as a premium smartphone brand is yet to be seen. But based on their meteoric progress thus far, I wouldn’t bet against it.
Follow Alan Cooper on Twitter @alanqcooper.