Huawei Mate 10 Pro Review: Amazingly Smart Camera, Epic Battery Life

Is there enough room for yet another full-screen phone? That's the question Huawei hopes to answer with the Mate 10 Pro, the company's latest phablet, which leverages artificial intelligence in ways no one has done before.

For 2017, Huawei bumped up the screen size in the Mate 10 Pro model to 6 inches, shrank the bezels and maximized the battery life. But the biggest change is the Kirin AI processor, which enables real-time objection recognition in the camera in addition to blazing-fast performance. This device is one of the most ambitious smartphones of the year, and a worthy alternative to Samsung's Galaxy Note 8.

Editors' note: Huawei has not released final pricing and availability for the Mate 10 Pro. We may update the rating once that information is available.

Design: Understated good looks

The bigger that displays get, the less space there is for product differentiation. That could be why Apple didn't mind giving the iPhone X a notch and why Huawei has emblazoned the Mate 10 Pro's bottom bezel with the company logo — just to remind you who made the phone.

The Mate 10 Pro sandwiches a polished-metal frame between two slabs of curved Gorilla Glass 5, with minimal bezels all around. The screen's border is every-so-slightly less chunky than that of Samsung's Galaxy Note 8. This is no Infinity Display, though, so you don't get the same illusion of depth.

Along the bottom edge, you'll find a USB-C port next to one of two stereo speakers (the other doubles as the earpiece up top), and an IR blaster on the opposite side. Most devices don't feature IR blasters anymore, so the Mate 10 Pro is one of your only options if you want your next smartphone to double as a TV remote. Still, we would have preferred a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack up there instead, as you won't find that jack anywhere on the device.

The metallic band that surrounds the camera provides a distinctive bit of flair that really lifts the otherwise-stoic aesthetic.

Huawei has traded the Mate 9's brushed-metal back for glass, though not for the reason you might think. When Apple moved to glass for the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, the goal was to add wireless-charging support. Huawei has made a similar change, though wireless charging is nowhere to be found on this phone. As a result, the Mate 10 Pro feels a bit less premium than it should, considering the price this phone will likely command.

Around the back, you'll still find centrally mounted, Leica-branded dual cameras. This time, they're set in a reflective band that encompasses the entire module, including the flash and sensors. It's a distinctive bit of flair that really lifts an otherwise-stoic aesthetic. Right below the camera module is the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, which I'm happy to report is lightning-quick — so quick, in fact, that I'd prefer some kind of haptic feedback as a sign of confirmation that it’s done its job.

The Mate 10 Pro comes in three colors. Our unit was clad in Titanium Gray, though we've seen the Midnight Blue and Mocha Brown versions and can confirm the device looks classiest and most eye-catching in its cafe-inspired guise.

Just like the iPhone 8 and Google's Pixel 2, the Mate 10 Pro benefits from IP67 water and dust resistance, protecting the handset for 30 minutes in up to 3.3 feet of submersion.

Huawei Mate 10 Pro Specs

Price

Unannounced

OS

Android 8.0 Oreo with EMUI 8.0

Screen Size (Resolution)

6 inches (2160 x 1080)

CPU

Hisilicon Kirin 970

RAM

4GB/6GB

Storage

64GB/128GB

microSD Slot?

No

Rear Camera

12-MP main, 20-MP monochrome, dual f/1.6

Front Camera

8-MP, f/2.0

Battery Life (Hrs:Min)

14:33

Water Resistance

Yes (IP67)

Size

6.07 x 2.93 x 0.31 inches

Weight

6.28 ounces

Display: Not quite the Note

The Mate 10 Pro's 6-inch, 2160 x 1080 display follows the trend of 2017 flagships, with its AMOLED tech, high dynamic range (HDR10) support and 18:9 aspect ratio. This display is a step up from the 5.9-inch LCD found on the standard Mate 10 — though, oddly, that screen touts a slightly higher resolution than the one in the more expensive model.

Based on our side-by-side testing, the Mate 10's screen is good as far as AMOLED panels go, but it can't quite measure up to what the Note 8 offers. The significantly lower resolution of the Mate 10 Pro's screen means UI elements and text look more jagged and pixelated upon closer inspection. On the Huawei's Normal color profile, hues are a bit brighter and cooler than in the Note 8's Basic mode, but those shades lack the same deep color range. Viewing angles are a tad worse as well, with a slightly more-pronounced blue cast as you tilt the handset from side to side.

Still, this is a solid display, even if it isn't necessarily the best one available. The Mate 10 Pro registered a peak full-screen brightness of 449 nits, which is slightly above the 433-nit average for smartphones. The display covered 147.2 percent of the sRGB color gamut and notched a Delta-E color-accuracy score of 0.62. The Note 8 fared a bit better, with results of 204.8 and 0.5, respectively. (Color-accuracy scores closer to 0 are better.)

MORE: iPhone X Is King of OLED Screens

Users who prefer more-saturated tones will appreciate the Mate's optional Vivid setting, which dials up the intensity and produces an even-cooler tint. However, the phone's auto brightness mode proved to be a  source of serious frustration during both daily use and testing, simply because the setting wouldn't turn off.

Camera: AI-assisted shooter creates brilliant portraits

The Mate 10 Pro's dual cameras represent a series of firsts for Huawei. The handset combines a 12-megapixel main sensor with a 20-megapixel monochrome one, both of which sport f/1.6 apertures — the widest of any camera the company has ever produced. Only the LG V30 equals the Mate 10 Pro's camera, though with just one lens.

Also impressive, the Mate 10 Pro is Huawei's first smartphone to launch with a dedicated chip for handling artificial intelligence, called the neural network processing unit (NPU). The phone's cameras leverage this unique resource through object recognition by tuning exposure parameters when they identify certain things. There are 13 identifiable scenarios in total, including faces, flowers, plants, food, dogs and cats, and Huawei says it will add more if necessary in future updates.

I focused the camera on a document, and the app responded by presenting a little "T" icon below the viewfinder, signifying that the camera was in text mode and had recognized what it was seeing. The phone then sharpened the image, slightly boosted the contrast, and opted for a cooler white balance to improve clarity and help separate the print from the paper.

The Mate 10 Pro consistently outperformed the Galaxy Note 8 in Portrait Mode comparisons.

And we haven't even touched on the sheer number of camera features offered in this phone: Portrait mode, true black-and-white photography and a 2.0x optical zoom, matching offerings from the iPhone X, iPhone 8 Plus and Note 8. The Mate 10 Pro's cameras are about as complete as any you'll find on competing flagships, and in our testing, they proved just as capable.

We pitted the Mate 10 Pro against the Galaxy Note 8 and that phone's dual-rear cameras. In this first photo comparison, the Note 8 breaks out to a strong start, capturing the vivid tapestry of crimson, gold and green in this lush fall scene. Huawei's phone, on the other hand, delivers a sharper but ultimately more muted representation.

Yet the Note 8 wouldn't hold the lead for long. The following images demonstrate how both phones handle portraits, with the Mate 10 Pro benefitting from the aforementioned AI processing core. While it was difficult to quantify precisely how the NPU aided this exposure (you can't turn object recognition off), the Huawei consistently outperformed the Samsung in Portrait Mode.

The Mate 10 Pro's more-aggressive bokeh evokes a more-profound sensation of depth, helping the model burst from the background. The Note 8's attempt is certainly brighter overall but a bit blurrier to my eye, with unrealistic, overpronounced highlights in the subject's skin tone and hair. You will notice some strange artifacting in both shots in specific areas around the model's head, as neither phone perfectly scaled back the blur effect along the boundaries of the foreground.

Moving back indoors for a low-light test, the Note 8 claimed the brighter scene overall, despite the Huawei's much-vaunted aperture advantage. However, the reddish tone of the wooden wall in the background isn't quite true-to-life. And again, if we zoom in, the Note 8 doesn't preserve the same level of detail as the Mate 10 Pro. An ideal photo would mix aspects of both exposures.

There's definitely a pattern here, as the Mate 10 Pro favors sharper but darker exposures, whereas the Note 8 has a tendency to produce punchier colors. Notice how the Samsung picks up the reflection of the blue sky in the hood of this Porsche and brings out the burgundy of the car parked to the left. The Huawei falters in capturing those hues, though it nails the finer details, like the texture of the asphalt.

Our last trial, a selfie of yours truly, shows that the 8-MP front shooters on both phones mostly emulate what we observed from the rear cameras. The Mate 10 Pro displays brighter highlights and darker shadows, while the Note 8 delivers more-robust color universally, at the expense of contrast. And just as before, sharpness remains a part of the story. Notice the differences in my hair and the texture of the canvas on my backpack. The Huawei also lends a subtle blur effect to the trees in the background, a result I prefer.

Performance: Huawei's in-house chip is a winner

Unlike the majority of Android flagships powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon chipsets, the Mate 10 Pro employs Huawei's own Kirin 970 silicon. But in typical usage, you'd never know there was any difference; the device performs just as flawlessly as the best phones we've tested this year.

The Mate 10 Pro achieved a multicore Geekbench 4 score of 6,784, edging out the Pixel 2, at 6,282, and Note 8, at 6,564. However, Huawei was slightly off the mark in the Ice Storm Unlimited 3D graphics test, in which the device notched a result of 31,908. The Note 8 achieved 39,834.

Still, the 6GB of RAM in our Mate 10 Pro kept things humming at a reasonable clip, and we didn't encounter any lag when switching between apps, using multiwindow mode or snapping photos all day. The phone does get quite warm when charging, however — something to keep in mind as you put the handset through its paces.

For a real-world test, we had the Mate 10 Pro transcode a 4K video file into 1080p using the InShot app, then compared its time against the Galaxy Note 8. The Huawei finished the task in 58 seconds, a hair faster than the Samsung at 1 minute and 4 seconds. We typically use Adobe Clips for our video editing tests, but the app consistently crashed each time we attempted to run it on the Mate 10 Pro.

There's also the NPU to talk about. Huawei's co-processor is the first in an Android phone built specifically for handling AI. Huawei says the chip will keep the Mate 10 Pro running as smoothly two years into its lifespan as it does the day it's taken out of the box, but for now, that's a claim that we can't substantiate.

Battery Life: The new flagship leader

The Mate 10 Pro's exceptional battery life is one big reason why you'd opt for this machine over other top flagships.

Its 4,000-mAH battery delivered 14 hours and 33 minutes of web surfing on T-Mobile's LTE network, good enough to beat the Note 8 by more than 3 hours. Among premium flagships, the Pixel 2 XL lasted 12:09 and the iPhone X 10:49. The iPhone 8 Plus hit 11:16.

MORE: Smartphones with the Longest Battery Life

Huawei has also packed in a reverse-charging mode, allowing you to top off other devices using the Mate 10 Pro's battery. That's something you'd expect to see in a rugged phone like the CAT S41, rather than a device this premium. Plus, with the included SuperCharge adapter, the Mate 10 Pro can reach a 60 percent charge from empty in about 30 minutes. That's a welcome addition, especially considering the size of the Mate 10 Pro's battery — though, again, we would have liked to see Huawei make the most of that glass back by supporting wireless charging.

Software: EMUI offers unique features, but needs polish

Android 8.0 Oreo is paired with Huawei's EMUI interface in the Mate 10 Pro. If you've never used EMUI, strap in — it takes a little getting used to.

The most defining characteristic of EMUI is the glut of options Huawei provides for literally everything, from home screens to themes to battery-saving modes and even navigation. The Mate 10 Pro gives you the option to completely ignore Android's built-in on-screen nav bar, and instead use a single, movable floating button that can be pressed, held and dragged for various functions. This allows you to use the device more easily with one hand, but as it's drawn over on-screen content, it's pretty much always in the way.

The skeuomorphic icons for system apps feel like little portals back to 2010.

Really, that button encapsulates EMUI in a nutshell: The feature is there if you want it and can be dismissed if you don't, but either way, it adds to the noise of the software. There's just too much going on, and the result is an experience that simply doesn't look as good or feel as swift as it should.

Let me give an example. On many occasions during my time with the Mate 10 Pro, I accessed the camera from its lock screen shortcut. I’d then try to fiddle with the camera settings, which end up stacked along the left edge when you’re holding the device in landscape mode, occupying what would typically be the top of the display. Whenever I did this, the phone would stop me with a full-screen overlay telling me not to cover the top of the screen. Huawei calls this "Touch Disable Mode," and it's designed to prevent unintentional taps when the phone is in your pocket. But in this case, it prevented me from taking photos properly, simply because I hadn't unlocked the phone first — which negated the whole purpose of the camera shortcut anyway.

Those are the kinds of little annoyances that build as you navigate the Mate 10 Pro, and they're made even worse by EMUI's dated and inconsistent design direction. The skeuomorphic icons for some system apps, like Email and Files, feel like little portals back to 2010, and the text scaling fluctuates from the settings menu to the notifications shade to third-party apps, which feels like an inefficient use of all that screen space.

That's not to say all Huawei's enhancements are unwelcome. Longtime users of the company's handsets will appreciate the return of knuckle-tapping gestures to trigger certain actions, like screenshots and multiwindow mode. And the fingerprint sensor can be used for gestures as well, like swiping to view notifications.

Actually, that fingerprint sensor is central to one of my favorite features of the Mate 10 Pro: Private Space. Originally appearing on the Mate 9, Private Space allows you to create an alternate profile that is accessible only through a specific fingerprint or unlock code, but is otherwise completely hidden from the device. Apps, accounts and settings are sandboxed in each profile, so the secret one almost acts as a completely separate phone.

The Mate 10 Pro may not be pound-for-pound the best smartphone we've used all year, but Huawei is chasing features nobody else is.

Meanwhile, another returning feature, App Pair, brings similar functionality to individual apps. With App Pair, you can keep two versions of Facebook on your device, for example, with each one connected to a different account.

Price and Availability

It's not yet clear when you'll be able to get a Mate 10 Pro and how much it will cost. Despite previewing the phone in the U.S., Huawei has remained tight-lipped on North American availability. However, new findings in the device's firmware files courtesy of XDA Developers suggest the phone could launch on AT&T. We'll update this review once we know for sure.

At the moment, all we have to go on is history, and how the Mate 10 Pro is selling in other markets.The Mate 10 Pro starts at 799 euros, equivalent to around $945.

Bottom Line

With the Mate 10 Pro, Huawei hasn't just delivered a product on par with those of the company's main rivals — it's also given us a top-line smartphone that sets a new standard for battery life among high-end phones, and AI-assisted cameras that come alive when inspiration strikes you.

It's not perfect, though. The EMUI interface could use some trimming down, and although there's no doubting the build quality, the Mate's design isn't very innovative. But even in areas where the Mate 10 Pro doesn't quite lead the way, it still holds its own. The OLED screen is solid, and software features like knuckle gestures, Private Space and App Pair either rarely or never appear on other handsets. Depending on the U.S. price tag for the Mate 10 Pro, Huawei's latest phone could give the Note 8 and iPhone X a run for their money.

Credit: Tom's Guide

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  • BRANDON DAVIS
    The article was excellent (I'm rather a Huawei fan), but failed to review the connectivity of the phone. Specifically - and especially in T-Mobile's case - buyers are going to be increasingly aware of whether a phone has the requisite hardware and software to support extended range (1GB) LTE. This is being rolled out *now* to about 500 metropolitan areas (including our own Spokane area ...and we ain't that big lol).

    ...my understanding is the hardware currently requires the Snapdragon 735, four-branch antenna diversity and four physical antennas laid into the phone to support 4x4 MIMO, the Qualcomm Snapdragon X16 gigabit LTE modem, and 256QAM down and 64QAM up.

    Does Huawei have a supported equivalent in their current lineup?

    ...this has already affected my next smartphone choice (I'm in the market *now*).

    Frankly, I'm not willing to buy a phone at this price point that doesn't support this tech' *now*.

    ...I'd love for it to be a Huawei (we own a couple of the mid-range Honors, and have been *quite* happy with them). But. No fast LTE support? - Not interested.

    ...so I'd hope Tom's would start making inclusion of fast LTE support "de rigueur" for flagship phones going forward.

    My two bits. Thanks.
    0