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Huawei Mate 10 Pro review

The Mate 10 Pro is the higher-end option of Huawei’s recently-unveiled Mate 10 series, which itself follows on from last year’s Mate 9 range[1]. As well as coming with bigger, more detailed screens, glass and metal bodies and an improved cameras, the USP of the Mate 10 series is mobile AI. Huawei was keen to talk this up at IFA this year and according to the raw stats, the separate AI processor – dubbed the NPU (neural processing unit) – offers a considerable performance boost compared to last year’s model.

Besides more power under the hood, the Mate 10 phones promise to be better at learning how you use them, second-guessing which apps you’ll use and at what time of day. This is the Pro version – the only one which is going on sale in the UK – which as you’d expect, boasts a better screen, more storage and, naturally, comes with a higher price tag.

Huawei Mate 10 Pro: Design, features, and storage

Huawei’s apparently been taking notes from Apple and Samsung’s design team, for the Note 10 Pro, available in a variety of metallic colours, comes sheathed in a layer of hardened Gorilla Glass. Like the Honor 9 before it, the Note 10 Pro gleams attractively.

Even the mocha brown version (which we’re reviewing) looks fetching. We appreciate that brown’s something of an opinion divider, but this is the good kind, more 80s aviator shades than Pyrex cookware. As its coated in glass, it is inherently more smashable than a plastic or metallic phone; luckily Huawei’s bunged a clear rubber jacket for you to sheathe your Mate 10 Pro in without it losing a great deal of its lustre.

On the top left sits an ejectable SIM tray which can hold up to two cards; a key point here is that for the first time in a Huawei phone, you’ll be able to use two 4G SIMs at once, thanks to the new Kirin 970 processor. Previously, that second SIM slot would only let you connect to networks at HSPA+ speeds at the very most.

Opposite the SIM tray is a volume rocker and power/on-off key. As with most Android phones, holding volume down and pressing power at once takes a screenshot.

When holding the Mate 10 Pro in our left hand, we found that we’d sometimes take screengrabs when we didn’t intend to. While the shiny body is nice to look at, don’t expect any inductive charging fun, for sitting right underneath that glass layer is an NCVM (non-conductive vacuum metal) coating. The fast charging capability, promises to give you a full tank in just over an hour, so that’s arguably not a huge deal, but it’s a blow to anyone who wants a phone with fancy show off ‘look Mum, no wires’ function.

On the subject of USB-C fast charging, you should note that Huawei’s done away with the 3.5mm headphone jack on the Mate 10 Pro. Yes, that’s annoying for people with regular headphones, or anyone who likes to drift off to sleep listening to audiobooks. Again, given how quickly this thing fills up with the supplied mains adapter (see below), that’s probably not a massive deal, but alongside buying an adapter or some new headphones, you might have to adjust your nocturnal habits.

The Mate 10 Pro comes with a huge 4,000mAh battery which gives you more than enough juice for a day’s heavy use. During our battery drain test (streaming video at full brightness and full volume over LTE), the Mate 10 Pro gave us just under 11 hours. That’s an incredible feat, considering the previous Mate 9 gave us less than half that under the same conditions.

In terms of filling it back up, from zero, you can get a full battery in 1 hour 20 minutes using the supplied Huawei SuperCharge adapter (5V 2A/4.5V 5A). Charging from a laptop’s SM© USB 2.0 port, it’s a much steeper climb. Our fully drained Mate 10 Pro took approximately 7 hours to get back up to 100 per cent.

Huawei Mate 10 Pro: Screen

As with all phones, the biggest thing that’s going to make a dent in your battery is the screen; the Huawei Mate 10 Pro sports a 6-inch 2560×1440 AMOLED screen.

This is better than the Mate 9’s 1920×1080 panel in terms of both pixel density (402 vs 373.37 pixels per inch), size (6.0 vs 5.9) and quality (AMOLED vs LCD). While the Mate 9’s screen wasn’t at all bad, the Mate 10 Pro’s boasts fantastic viewing angles and high levels of brightness, up to 730 nits, which punches through on bright and sunny days. By contrast, the Mate 9 could kick out a maximum of 626 nits.

Apple’s iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X all shine at up to 625 nits. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 is however still the Nits King, with a maximum of 1,200 nits. No apps or games we’ve seen so far suffer from any weird letterboxing issues.

The Mate 10 Pro’s screen also supports HDR10, meaning that it should support Netflix HDR streams, though we didn’t notice this ourselves and at the time of writing, it’s not officially supported, unlike the Note 8, LG G6 or Sony Xperia XZ Premium.

The bigger, brighter screen comes into its own when you’re taking pictures. The camera app retains the same excellent Leica-branded user interface which is, for our money, one of the better native camera apps out there. We’ll explore that in depth later, but for now we’ll say 0.1 of an inch extra space and a greater pixel acreage makes all the difference.

In terms of storing your pics (and anything else), there’s two options of the Mate 10 Pro going, two versions are available, 64GB and 128GB. There is no microSD slot, so this can’t be expanded.

Huawei Mate 10 Pro: User interface, Android 8.0 and EMUI 8.0

Version 8.0 of Huawei’s EMUI user interface debuts on the Mate 10 series and like previous versions, you get a very stripped down and functional custom skin that’s in some ways an improvement on stock Android. By default, all of the apps are dumped onto the homescreen.

There’s no app launcher, so you’re encouraged to sort everything into folders. When you open up the Settings, you’re presented with a compressed list of options, with the great majority of things no more than three clicks away. This logical layout makes getting acquainted with the phone’s ins and outs very easy.

Android 8.0 features like Chrome Autofill (Chrome remembers passwords), Instant Apps (launch or jump to an app’s Google Play page from the browser) and Notification Dots are all present and correct on the Mate 10 Pro, meaning you can join Pixel owners in having access to the latest Android features (for now, at least).

Huawei Mate 10 Pro: Kirin 970 CPU, mobile AI, memory management and overall performance

The Kirin 970 CPU is a mobile first in that it comes with its own discrete AI processor, the aforementioned neural processing unit. We’ve written about the nuts and bolts of the Kirin 970 here[2], expanding on what shape Huawei thinks mobile AI will take. With regards to the Mate 10 series, tl;dr answers to the question ‘what’s the point of an NPU in a phone?’ are: 1) a big jump in overall processing power and efficiency, 2) enhanced machine learning to better predict your commands and 3) an intelligent scene-detecting camera.

25 x the power of the previous HiSilicon CPU

Compared to the older Kirin 960 chip which powered everything from the Mate 9[3] to the P10 series[4], the Kirin 970 promises 25 times the processing power.

This is thanks in part to a new GPU (Mali-G72 MP12) an i7 sensor hub and the aforementioned NPU; the main processor cores are the same, four Cortex A53 1.8GHz for everyday mobile tasks backed by four Cortex A73 2.36GHz big guns for heavy gaming and 4k video.

Faster app launch times

Huawei says that on app launch times have on average shortened by 20 per cent, with cold start times down by 40 per cent, so in real terms, this means that both your favourite and just-installed or rarely used apps ought to boot up much more quickly. As with the Mate 9, Huawei reps have repeatedly talked up the efficiency gains afforded by smart memory allocation. This means that a machine learning algorithm will learn which apps you use the most and when, ensuring that there’s enough RAM set aside at a certain time of day, to make sure Clash of Clans will load without a hitch.

Machine learning = better longevity

While this process happens in the background, you can augment it yourself by making use of the storage cleaner tool, which recycles unused RAM and ROM.

Huawei says that your phone should run as good as it did the first time you booted it up – a claim it made with last year’s Mate 9, too.

Huawei Mate 9 vs Huawei Mate 10 Pro: Performance Comparison

Seeing as we’ve had our had our UK/European Mate 9 (MHA-L29) for almost a year and have more or less been using it as our day-to-day phone, we decided to run put this through the benchmarking wringer again, so see how it stands up a year on and how it compares to the Mate 10 Pro. Bear in mind that since we reviewed the Mate 9, it’s received the B138 firmware update (up from B126), which promised improved support for games and power consumption. Note that in all cases (i.e.

Manhattan on GFXBench) the results aren’t directly comparable, but here’s what we found out:

Mate 9 (2016 results)

  • AnTuTu Overall (142044)
  • AnTuTu 3D (50670)
  • AnTuTu UX (46801)
  • AnTuTu CPU (34027)
  • AnTuTu RAM (10546)
  • PC Mark Work 2.0 (6414)
  • PC Mark Browsing (5942)
  • PC Mark Video Editing (5413)
  • PC Mark Writing (6216)
  • PC Mark Photo Editing Score (9986)
  • PC Mark Data Manipulation (5439)
  • Geekbench Single Core (1849)
  • Geekbench Multi Core (5878)
  • GFX Car On/Off (13fps/12fps)
  • Manhattan 3.0 On/Off (32fps/58fps)
  • T-Rex On/Off (58fps/65fps)

Mate 9 (2017 results)

  • AnTuTu Overall (122120)
  • AnTuTu 3D (39176)
  • AnTuTu UX (42513)
  • AnTuTu CPU (30905)
  • AnTuTu RAM (9526)
  • PC Mark Work 2.0 (6653)
  • PC Mark Browsing (6145)
  • PC Mark Video Editing (5633)
  • PC Mark Writing (6356)
  • PC Mark Photo Editing Score (10737)
  • PC Mark Data Manipulation (5519)
  • Geekbench Single Core (1782)
  • Geekbench Multi Core (6015)
  • GFX Car On/Off (13fps/12fps)
  • Manhattan 3.1 On/Off (22fps/24fps)
  • T-Rex On/Off (58fps/63fps)

In short, there’s been some slight improvement in some areas and dips in others. Without knowing much more about how the algorithm works, at face value, it’s impossible for us to attribute anything specifically to machine learning – some of the bumps in video and photo editing here could be just as easily chalked up to the B138 OTA. Accidents happen as well; we’ve dropped our Mate 9 a couple of times and thanks to the supplied plastic case, it’s been spared any serious superficial damage.

Drops and shocks can loosen connections, so the results should be taken with a year’s worth of general wear and tear in mind, too. Anecdotally, the phone does feel almost as good as it did the day we booted it up. We’ve been pretty diligent about deleting blurry and unwanted photos and making use of the memory cleanup tool.

That said, the gallery is groaning under the weight of 800+ photos and videos and sometimes struggles to load image thumbnails. The camera app is slower when taking stills and starting to record video, too. Huawei spokespeople have said that the NPU of the Mate 10 series should directly address this ‘gallery ghosting’ issue; we’ve taken over 100 pictures with our review sample so far and have yet to witness this, but that’s not to say it won’t happen when the gallery’s eight times the size.

We still don’t know a great deal about how this machine learning algorithm behaves, how often it refreshes or how much memory (user habit data is stored locally, in RAM) other than its apparently minimal. If the above results are anything to go by, we should have a very similar if not superior experience with the Mate 10 Pro. All that aside, how did the Mate 10 Pro itself actually perform?

AnTuTu, which measures general phone performance, put it at 178449, slightly above the likes of the LG V30[5] (172525), Samsung Galaxy Note 8[6] (175916/173609) and the Google Pixel 2 XL[7] (167731).

Huawei Mate 10 Pro: Network speeds and web browsing

The Mate 10 Pro features Category 18 LTE radios, promising, on paper, download speeds of up to 1.2Gbps. Even getting close to such speeds will require your network having rolled out 5CC (component carrier) LTE upgrades[8]; to date, the likes of EE and Vodafone have implemented 3CC in a few parts of the UK. This will improve over time[9], especially as more advanced phones are now hitting the market[10], but don’t expect to get gigabit speeds out of the box. Below is the aggregate result of multiple tests performed with the Speedtest.net app[11], both indoors and out, across central and south east London:

Download speed / upload speed / latency

  • O2: 24.16Mbps / 22.49Mbps / 34.8ms
  • EE: 81.59Mbps / 64.98Mbps / 27.3ms
  • Voda: 13.38Mbps / 11.85Mbps / 27.3ms
  • Three: 33.98Mbps / 20.94Mbps / 37.5ms

While EE rules the roost in terms of raw numbers, outdoors it was on par, and occasionally slower than O2 and Vodafone. Three tended to suffer more in busier, central areas, performing better in the suburbs.

Huawei Mate 10 Pro: Main camera

The Mate 10 Pro can take excellent, richly detailed stills incredibly quickly. Brightly-lit outdoor scenes look the best, and in cloudy scenes where there’s varying light levels, tend to fare well turning HDR (high dynamic range) on, pulls in detail from shadier areas while not overexposing more well-lit sections of the frame.

In some cases, white or pale objects can look a little redder than on other phones. This may be due to the Summilux lenses, which tend to produce a warmer look than the sharper, colder Summarits. Shots taken in dark and indoor environments benefit from the presence of that increased aperture size and secondary monochrome sensor.

While there’s incidents of grainy noise in shadowy areas and dark rooms, you’re still able able to capture a surprising amount of detail without resorting to the flash. The camera’s also incredibly quick off the draw, taking single stills near instantaneously. Regardless of how much information was in the frame, the burst mode rattled off 100 stills at an average of 6.67 seconds in our tests.

That bigger second sensor also allows for lossless 2x zoom. It’s not as good as the optical zooms of of the iPhone 8[12]/Plus[13] – and the more you push beyond 2x (up to 10x) the noisier and less detailed images become – but it otherwise does a great job.

On the downside, shots of fast-moving objects tend to result in lost detail, though with the Pro mode enabled, you can easily change things like shutter speeds and sensitivity, where appropriate which can compensate for this. Toggling Object Tracking means you can tap to focus on your subjects, which helps when shooting stills or video of pets or any fast moving object.

When snapping/recording anything that’s moving faster than a London cyclist or taxi doing 20mph, the crosshair appears to lose its grip. If there’s lots of activity in the frame, this setting can act a little haywire as well, occasionally resulting in a shot with a weird focal point. Typically you’ll tap-to-focus when you want to set the main focal point of a shot.

By long-pressing on any point in the frame, you’re able to call up two graticules that’ll let you adjust the focal and metering points, should you wish to focus on a particular object but have more (or less) light coming into the shot.

The wide aperture mode lets you play around with focal points which let you create a bokeh effect around your subjects, where foreground (or background) data is in sharp focus and the surroundings are blurred and indistinct. You can even adjust this in the gallery later, by tapping on the shutter icon. Aside from this, there’s the usual collection of fun Instagram-type filters, a watermark mode and a handy document scanner, which’ll reorient snaps of documents not taken at dead-on angles and save them as PDFs.

For beginners or anyone who doesn’t want to tinker with the Pro mode’s many many settings, thankfully the auto mode benefits from the presence of Huawei’s Neural Processing Unit. This leads us nicely on to our next point, where such things are automatically selected for you by Huawei’s super-smart AI.

Mobile AI: How does Huawei’s AI-assisted camera work?

From launch, the cameras of the Mate 10 range will come with a number of pre-set modes that’ll be activated automatically whenever certain conditions and subjects are detected. These include: Text, Food, Stage, Outdoor landscape, Snow, Water, Cat, Low-light, Sunset, Plant, Portrait, Flower, Dog.

Once a scene is identified, the AI camera will adapt the capture parameters in real time, and also tweak picture post-processing; you can see the icon for the outdoor landscape in the example below. What each of these scenes are optimised for seems fairly self explanatory. It’s hard to tell at a glance which specific camera settings are triggered by each scene, however.

Schroedinger’s Prat: When is a cat not a cat, and when is not a cat also a cat?

Take the cat mode, for example.

Whenever this is activated, we’ve noticed that the following settings seem to be kicked on:

  • Shutter speed: 1/17s-1/20s
  • Focus: AF-A
  • Aperture: 1.6

The subjects of these photos are recently adopted rescue cats who tend to freeze whenever someone walks into a room (possibly why such a low shutter speed was picked) we’ve yet to see evidence of shutter speeds changing as and when the cats move. AF-A, you’d want to set anyway, so that the phone can switch between Continuous Autofocus (if the cat decides to move) and Single Autofocus (if it decides to sit still). A low f-stop like f/1.6 you’d want if you’re taking a picture of a single subject anyway, though in our experience, f/1.6 is what the Mate 10 Pro defaults to the great majority of the time anyway.

One thing we have noticed, is that it tends to be cat’s faces which trigger the cat mode; whenever either of our test felines were looking directly at the camera, we’d see the little cat symbol pop up in the bottom right of the screen. Whenever a cat looked away, or the sensor couldn’t see the cat’s face, the symbol would disappear. It might be that in time the AI evolves to include other signifiers (a tail, four legs, pointy ears, looking like a cat) which constitute cat-ness.

Also, in our tests, we found that the camera would on occasion incorrectly identify things that aren’t cats as cats;

In one other instance, the Huawei Mate 10 Pro incorrectly tagged one of our cats as a dog.

It’s early days yet. Huawei says that parameters will evolve over time; no indication as to when that’ll land though or what shape they’ll take.

Huawei Mate 10 Pro: Video

Available video modes include 4k UHD at 30fps and 1080p Full HD at 30 and 60fps. As with stills, excellent object tracking means that clips of moving objects stay in focus and optical image stabilisation compensates for phone motion.

Though you don’t get the same panoply of filters as you do with the stills camera, there’s still fun modes including time lapse, slow motion and night painting. The last of these is best used at night, for either capturing a long exposure of passing traffic or a friend messing around with a cigarette outside a pub. Video editing options on the device are also limited to a single tool which lets you trim clip length; no captions or filters for you.

Huawei Mate 10 Pro: Front camera

The 8-megapixel front camera reproduces colours well and takes pictures quickly.

Though it doesn’t feature an LED flash, the Mate 10 Pro compensates for this by briefly filling the screen with white pixels, a feature we’ve seen on previous Huawei phones. This time around, luckily, the camera is better at focussing on your face (provided it can detect it in the gloom) so your shots don’t come out looking like fuzzy Polaroids. There’s a similar wide aperture/bokeh effect you can apply to make your selfies really stand out and the same classic Huawei eyeball stretching and skin smoothing features return.

Whereas previous versions of Huawei’s digital make-up kit only let you whiten skin, you can now play with a bronzer too.

Huawei Mate 10 Pro: Prices and availability

Price-wise, the official RRP is EUR799, which currently converts to ?710; it’s thought that this price refers to the 64GB storage, 4GB RAM version; no word yet on how much the 128GB and 6GB edition would set you back. Both Vodafone and Three have announced[14] that they’ll be selling the Mate 10 Pro, but they’ve yet to announce contract details.

Huawei Mate 10 Pro: Verdict The Huawei Mate 10 Pro is a powerful, performance phone that looks fantastic, takes incredible stills and video and is (potentially) at the forefront of a mobile AI revolution.

Note: Our final verdict will be contingent on contract prices, which is why we’ve not yet posted this review with a score.

References

  1. ^ last year’s Mate 9 range (uk.pcmag.com)
  2. ^ the nuts and bolts of the Kirin 970 here (uk.pcmag.com)
  3. ^ Mate 9 (uk.pcmag.com)
  4. ^ P10 series (uk.pcmag.com)
  5. ^ LG V30 (uk.pcmag.com)
  6. ^ Samsung Galaxy Note 8 (uk.pcmag.com)
  7. ^ Google Pixel 2 XL (uk.pcmag.com)
  8. ^ having rolled out 5CC (component carrier) LTE upgrades (www.3gpp.org)
  9. ^ This will improve over time (uk.pcmag.com)
  10. ^ more advanced phones are now hitting the market (uk.pcmag.com)
  11. ^ Speedtest.net app (play.google.com)
  12. ^ iPhone 8 (uk.pcmag.com)
  13. ^ Plus (uk.pcmag.com)
  14. ^ Vodafone and Three have announced (uk.pcmag.com)

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