Huawei is slowly but surely carving out a name for itself outside of its native China, and its current flagship – the P20 Pro – is widely regarded as having some of the best cameras on any phone.
The Mate 10 Pro launched in October 2017 and is the company’s ‘other’ flagship. When it launched it cost £699, and that was a very good deal. Now, though, you can buy one for a faintly ridiculous £399. And this makes it one of the best phone bargains to be had right now in the UK. We can only sympathise with those in the US, as prices have remained high: expect to pay at least $649.
Mate 10 Pro: 9 months later
I’ve used the Mate 10 Pro as a daily driver for just over nine months now and it’s safe to say it has really grown on me. I criticised the cameras (as you can read below) for not being able to resolve as much detail as I’d have liked. But having taken thousands of photos since, and with plenty of complimentary comments on how good they look, I’d have to revise the verdict to say that they’re actually very good indeed.
Sure, if you zoom right in and peer at the actual pixels the original criticism stands, but no-one does that. Use the portrait mode and share the photos on Facebook, Whatsapp or even print them out and the quality is excellent – and the depth effect very convincing.
Battery life is exceptional. Even now, it will easily last two days with normal use and very occasionally into a third day. You can’t say the same of many other current phones.
It’s also important to revisit Huawei’s claim that EMUI avoids the age-old problem of Android slowing down as the phone ages and fills up with apps and photos. Huawei says EMUI is “born fast and stays fast”. 9 months on, the Mate 10 Pro feels just as fast as the day I unboxed it. Impressive stuff, and yet another reason to buy one today.
If there’s one feature I’d like, it’s stabilisation for video above 1080p resolution. That’s precluded by the available processing power, and is why the P20 Pro also lacks the option in 4K. But if you’re happy to shoot in Full HD, video quality is perfectly good.
Other than that, the Mate 10 Pro really is beyond reproach. The glass back still draws admiring glances and, as it has the same Kirin 970 chip as the P20 Pro, is still up there with the best in terms of outright performance. Better still, recent updates have added the best features from the P20 Pro including the long-exposure night mode and the new GPU Turbo mode which improves performance in games.
So at the current price, the Mate 10 Pro is stunningly good value. What follows below is my original Mate 10 Pro review:
Mate 10 Pro: Features & Design
The Mate series has always had practically zero side bezels so although some will think that Huawei has merely copyied the big boys with the Mate 10, it’s actually the other way around.
Previous Mate phones have all looked pretty much the same, but Huawei shook things up for 2017 and it’s no overstatement to say the Mate 10 Pro is one of the best-looking phones around. It’s also one of the most powerful and longest-lasting, attributes which should ensure its place on your upgrade shortlist alongside the Galaxy S8, Note 8 and – maybe – iPhone 8 Plus.
The Mate 10 Pro is the only model from the range that is sold in the UK. Elsewhere you’ll find the Mate 10 and even Mate 10 Lite.
But the Pro is a gorgeous-looking phone that’s taller and slimmer than its predecessors thanks to the switch to an 18:9 screen and smaller top and bottom bezels than on the Mate 9.
It’s a bit smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus, but has a 6in screen rather than 5.5in.
A glass back is the main change from previous Mate designs. Unlike the iPhone 8 which also adopts the glass sandwich, the Mate 10 Pro doesn’t support allow wireless charging. Instead, the Gorilla Glass 5 is there purely for aesthetics.
And it looks stunning. The glass curves on all four edges and reflects the light beautifully. It joins the alloy frame almost invisibly and feels silky smooth in the hand.
The problem with this is that – hardened or not – glass is still glass. Huawei provides a plastic case in the box, and a screen protector is fitted at the factory, but the case hides that glorious finish so it’ll always be tempting to go case-less and run the risk of the drop-smash.
At least it will continue to work if it falls in the bath: the Mate 10 is Huawei’s first phone to have proper waterproofing. And since the cameras protrude by a millimetre or so and aren’t part of that rear glass, they should continue working even if it does get cracked.
The Mate 10 Pro comes in four colours: Midnight Blue, Titanium Gray, Pink Gold, Mocha Brown. In my eyes, the blue version looks best, but plenty of people are taken with the bronze-like Mocha Brown.
Just be sure to have a lens cloth handy at all times to clean the glass of those inevitable fingerprints.
Another departure from previous Mate designs is the stripe which highlights the dual cameras. These are still aligned vertically but are separated instead of having a single cover as on the Mate 9.
The arrangement is essentially the same, though, with 12 + 20Mp sensors, the former colour and the latter mono. Both lenses have a faster f/1.6 aperture to let in more light than before, but only the 12Mp camera benefits from optical stabilisation.
The fingerprint scanner sits below the cameras and is a bit larger than the Mate 9’s. Having used enough phones with a rear scanner, it’s just as good – if not better – than a front-mounted sensor as your finger falls naturally on it when you pick up the phone.
But therein lies the rub: you have to pick it up to access the scanner. That, or press the power button and enter your PIN or swipe pattern to unlock.
There’s another slight niggle: you won’t find a 3.5mm headphone jack on the Mate 10 Pro, though there is one on the standard Mate 10 (a model you can’t buy in the UK).
The top edge of the phone has what looks like a headphone jack, but it’s actually an IR blaster next to a microphone. This lets you control your TV or set-top box, should you want to.
Another oddity is that the Pro doesn’t offer expandable storage via microSD whereas the standard Mate 10 does. Fortunately, the Pro packs 128GB as standard, but you’ll have to be sure that’s all you’ll need for the lifetime of the phone.
It is a dual-SIM phone, though, and it supports 4G for both nano SIMs. The modem supports Cat 18 LTE so it’s one of the first phones which can download at 1.2Gb/s. Unfortunately, you’re not going to experience this in the UK for a long while as the fastest download speed to date (offered by EE) is 150Mb/s.
Huawei is calling it 4.5G, but while it’s interesting, ultimately it isn’t a reason to buy the Mate 10 Pro (or any other phone with similar tech.)
Screen & speakers
We never got the Mate 9 Pro in the UK, but that model had an OLED screen as opposed to the IPS LCD screen in the standard Mate 9. Things are the same in 2017 and it means the Mate 10 Pro should be compatible with Google’s Daydream VR headsets (it isn’t yet certified, but is expected to be shortly).
It has a resolution of 2160×1080 which is lower than its rivals, but in the flesh it looks great and, at 480ppi, everything looks nice and sharp. The OLED tech means contrast is fantastic and colours are also great: it has a wide colour gamut (112 percent of the NTSC standard) which allows it to display HDR10 content.
Colours pop as they do on the Galaxy S8 Plus and viewing angles are nice and wide with no noticeable colour shifting.
The 18:9 aspect ratio screen is becoming more common, which is a good thing for the Mate 10 Pro as more apps will be optimised to run in full-screen mode. The phone lets you force any app to do this, but doesn’t guarantee it’ll work properly.
Unlike the Pixel 2 XL which has two front-firing stereo speakers, Huawei opts for an Apple-like approach with the top one facing the front and the bottom-firing speaker used as the second.
They’re loud enough, but not particularly well balanced with the front speaker noticeably quieter.
The lenses may have f/1.6 apertures, but the cameras are not the Mate 10 Pro’s strong suit. At least, certainly not when compared to the amazing snappers on the Pixel 2 XL.
Put simply, the Mate 10 Pro cannot resolve the same level of detail. When you look close up, photos don’t look sharp and there’s evidence of noise reduction, even in good light. This makes textures looks a bit smeary, and it’s worse in low light.
We’ve also reason to quibble about video quality. Everything looks a little soft at 1080p but while 4K is decent enough, there’s no stabilisation on offer (despite the OIS).
Annoyingly, the same restriction is imposed if you choose to shoot at 1080p60, so you either live without stabilisation or put with less detail and half the number of frames per second to get smoother video.
Audio quality on videos is pretty good, with none of the noise reduction you get on other phones that makes it sound as though the recordings were made under water. It’s a stereo soundtrack, too. Here’s a 1080p30 clip with stabilisation enabled:
Plus, while it’s easy to be critical of the quality when really scrutinising photos at 100 percent, they look good when viewed normally. The lack of sharpness isn’t noticeable: focus is actually very good.
You can snap a shot in a hurry and still get good results thanks to the array of focusing techniques (and depth perception) at the rear which mean there’s no perceptible delay between tapping the shutter button and the photo being taken.
There are lots of modes to play with including slo-mo video (which works a lot like the iPhone’s and lets you adjust which portion is slowed down), a pro mode for photo and video that gives enthusiasts access to shutter speed, ISO, metering, EV correction, focus and white balance. You can even lock the last three while you make other changes.
You can also use the monochrome camera to take 20Mp photos and they’re clean even in low light:
Huawei’s signature light painting mode is great fun at night, and long exposures can be used to get light trails or other effects.
On top of all that, there’s the option to enable Motion photos (basically the same as Apple’s Live Photos) and both portrait mode and ‘wide aperture’ mode. The latter is usable with the standard field of view which means you can take photos of several people and still get a nice blurry background.
In portrait mode, results can look great, but it doesn’t always correctly detect hair. Again, though, this is only something you’d notice if you zoom in and look closely.
Around the front the 8Mp selfie camera is decent enough and you can play with the beauty settings in the portrait mode and even toggle on the ‘artistic bokeh effect’ which uses the power of the Kirin 970 to figure out what’s in the background and blur it. And it works surprisingly well.
The stock camera app has the same interface as before, but the AI certainly appears to help with scene recognition. A symbol appears at the bottom-left corner to indicate what it has recognised.
For example, there’s almost no delay switching to foliage mode when pointing the camera at a plant. Similarly, face recognition (and tracking) worked really well when taking photos of a ballerina – despite the relatively dim lighting.
Even when its very dark, the cameras are still able to focus quickly and take sharp-looking photos with good skin tones.
Each camera has its own ISP (image signal processor) and these are used in conjunction with the AI engine to process images according to the type of scene detected.
The processing power is also used to enable software zoom up to 2x, and the results can be better than the telephoto lens on the iPhone 7 Plus.
Performance + AI
Huawei uses its own-design processors in its phones and the latest is the Kirin 970. It’s an eight-core chip and, like Apple’s A11 Bionic, it has dedicated neural network hardware which allows it to handle tasks such as language translation and image classification on the phone instead of requiring it to call home to servers on the internet.
Huawei says the performance of this so-called NPU (Neural Processing Unit) is 25 times better than the main CPU, and 50 times more efficient.
Overall the Kirin 970 is 20 percent more efficient than the Mate 9’s Kirin 960 and the new Mali G72-MP12 GPU is 50 percent more efficient.
All of this means the Mate 10 Pro has excellent battery life. With a 4000mAh capacity, it easily lasts a day even with heavy use. And if you’re not playing games, taking videos or constantly using the screen to browse the web, watch videos or send messages, it’ll (almost) last two days.
When it’s empty, the included SuperCharge power supply will charge the Mate 10 Pro to almost 60 percent in only 15 minutes.
As for the processor’s performance, it’s fantastic. It comfortably sits with Snapdragon 835-powered phones and thanks to the lower resolution than some of those phones, the GPU doesn’t have such a hard time rendering all those pixels so it can deliver as many, if not more frames per second.
Only the A11 goes noticeably quicker in benchmarks, but this doesn’t include image recognition. Huawei says the Mate 10 Pro can identify scenes in photos at a rate of 2000 per minute, while the iPhone 7 Plus can manage only about 500.
And in real-world use, the Mate 10 Pro feels as fast and responsive as you’d expect from a top-end flagship phone.
The real question is whether developers will use Huawei’s APIs to create apps that take advantage of the NPU. If not, you’re not going to see a huge benefit beyond translation and image and scene recognition or other apps Huawei itself releases.
Translation needs to improve before you can rely on it. Once you’ve downloaded the respective language packs, you can use the app offline. Here you can see it using the camera to translate Spanish text on another phone’s screen:
It works pretty well, but in the (admittedly hard) test above, it completely fails to translate the Spanish for department stores and calls them “large surfaces”.
As you’d hope from a brand new Android phone, the Mate 10 Pro comes with Android 8.0 Oreo and this is overlaid with Huawei’s EMUI interface.
EMUI is one of the most iOS-like Android interfaces out there and this makes it ideal if you’re jumping ship from an iPhone. The default layout is to show all apps in a grid, but you can change this for the traditional app drawer in the settings.
From the home screen you can drag down to get a search bar to find apps, music or other media.
The previous version was EMUI 6, but in order to match Android, this has now been bumped up to EMUI 8.0 for the Mate 10. You won’t notice too many major changes, since these are generally lurking behind the scenes.
EMUI 8 is great to use, although it does take a bit of adjusting if you’re used to plain Android. What’s nice is that you have a choice of whether to use the usual Android soft navigation keys or EMUI’s floating button.
You’ll have to learn the gestures for the button, but because you can position it anywhere on the screen, it could be a quicker way to operate the phone with one hand.
Disabled by default is the always-on display. This shows the time, date and notifications just like the Pixel 2 XL and Galaxy S8. You can schedule this, too, so it doesn’t use power at night.
Like Motorola, Huawei adds quite a few handy features to Android, such as double-pressing the power button to launch the camera when the phone is off, and letting you quickly call someone by holding the volume down button and speaking their name.
Thanks to the wider screen, the Mate 10 Pro has a feature called Smart Split-screen. This automatically displays some apps in two columns in landscape mode and means you can keep watching a video while replying to an email, for example.
And as with previous versions, you can use your knuckle to knock on the screen to achieve certain things. For example, a double knock takes a screenshot and you can draw letters with your knuckle to launch certain apps. You can also draw a line across the screen to enter split-screen mode – getting the knack just takes a little practice.
A potentially useful feature for some is the ability to connect a big screen using just a USB-C to HDMI adapter cable. When you do this, you get a Windows-style desktop for running apps and the phone screen becomes a virtual touchpad for the on-screen cursor. A keyboard also pops up when relevant for text entry.
The desktop environment is fairly rudimentary, but if Huawei develops it, this could be a reason to get the Mate 10 over one of your other shortlisted phones.