Huawei's Mate 10 Pro has earned positive reviews from people who've had a chance to use the new phone. But Huawei's latest flagship phone is also getting rave reviews from people who've never laid hands on it, and that's proving to be a bit of an embarrassment for the China-based phone maker.
Five-star reviews of the Mate 10 Pro have started popping up on Best Buy, with the phone earning an average rating of 4.9 stars out of 5 from 108 reviews as of earlier today (Feb. 13). That's a pretty impressive rating for a phone that's still only available for pre-order and won't actually ship until Feb. 18.
9to5Google, which was the first to spot the spike in positive user reviews for an unreleased product, points the finger at a Huawei promotion as the root of that outpouring of support. A since-deleted post on Huawei's Facebook page encouraged members to post why they wanted to use a Mate 10 Pro in the user review section of Best Buy's site for the chance to win a free phone.
As of this writing, Best Buy seems to have purged all user reviews from the Mate 10 landing page, though cached versions of that page still show the overall rating based on user reviews. The user posts we screen-capped before they disappeared are overwhelming positive... and clearly posted by people who've never handled the phone they're reviewing.
"I have the mate 9, and I'm amazed. I definitely think the mate 10 pro is going to make the best phone," reads one five-star rave while another says that "If I had the money, this is definitely what I would get, and I appreciate any chance at winning one of my own."
We've asked Best Buy to clarify its policy on user reviews of products that have yet to ship to consumers and will update this story once we hear back.
For its part, Huawei says there's "confusion" around its efforts t o recruit beta testers for its products. In a note to Tom's Guide, a spokesperson told us that beta testers are only loaned devices that remain the property of Huawei. The spokesperson also told us:
"Huawei's first priority is always the consumer and we encourage our customers to share their experiences with our devices in their own voice and through authentic conversation. We believe there is confusion around a recent social media post reaching out to recruit new beta testers. While there are reviews from beta testers with extensive knowledge of the product, they were in no way given monetary benefits for providing their honest opinions of the product. However, we are working to remove posts by beta testers where it isn't disclosed they participated in the review program."
Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at GlobalData, said the review flap "sounds like an ill-considered marketing attempt gone awry." Still, it could have an impact on U.S. shoppers' perception of Huawei, Greengart notes, since the phone maker isn't a scrappy startup looking to make a name for itself but a global giant with phone sales comparable to Apple and Samsung in other parts of the world.
"The direct channel for flagship phones for non-Western brands is pretty small, and [the people who buy those phones] do follow these sorts of stories," Greengart said.
The flap over user reviews that aren't really reviews is the latest stumble for Huawei as it tries to launch the Mate 10 Pro in the U.S. The phone maker had been expected to line up a U.S. carrier to offer the phone, but right before CES last month, word got out that AT&T had walked away from such a deal. (Huawei reps cast it as a mutual decision when we talked to them in January.)
Verizon reportedly declined to offer the Mate 10 Pro as well, and legislation has been introduced in Congress that would block government agencies from buying phones and services from Huawei and ZTE, another phone maker based in China.
While some shoppers prefer the flexibility of buying their phones unlocked, it's a challenge for device makers since the vast majority of consumers still get their devices through carriers. Up until now, Huawei has been entirely dependent on offering its phones through U.S. retailers such as Best Buy, Amazon and others. A controversy over the veracity of user reviews isn't going to help Huawei get more of a foothold in the U.S.
Editors' Note: Updated at 7:30 p.m. ET with analyst comments.