Huawei is aiming big with the Mate 10.
Here’s a glass-and-metal sandwich that arrives packing twin Leica cameras, an eye-catching 18:9 screen and skinny bezels - and yet it’s the teeny tiny CPU inside it that’s potentially even more exciting.
The Kirin 970 is a piece of smartphone silicon with a separate AI brain inside, dedicated purely to machine learning, image recognition, and all other kinds of neural network jobs that would usually need a supercomputer to crunch through.
AI assistants are here, whether you like it or not, and it’s tech like this that’s making them smarter. In the Mate 10, these smarts could make you a better photographer, give you a heads-up on features you’re not using (but should) and even translate other languages in real-time.
That’s pretty neat - and when that tech is squeezed into a gorgeous slab of glass like this, with a giant battery, quality cameras and the latest version of Android, there’s plenty to like.
DESIGN & BUILD
From the front, it’s tough to miss the switch to an 18:9 screen: there are barely any bezels on this thing, and the smallest of Huawei logos crammed in at the very bottom.
With such skinny sides, Huawei is effectively cramming a 6in screen into a phone the same physical size as last year’s 5.5in models. More for less is always good in my book, and the whole thing sits comfortably in your hand.
Flipping it over reveals the other big switch. The entire back panel is made from glass, which is bonded to an aluminium frame. So pretty much like every other big-name phone doing the rounds right now. Huawei has gone for curved glass to better fit the curve of your palm, though, which both looks and feels slick.
At the right angle, the whole back glints with colour and depth, thanks to the multiple layers of glass that reflect light in different ways. A small strip of darker colour highlights the twin Leica-branded cameras, and the fingerprint sensor floats on its lonesome just below, but otherwise the panel is uninterrupted. Just watch out for fingerprints - this thing is a magnet for ‘em.
The midnight blue colour is more than a bit tasty, but I’m partial to the mocha brown version too - those copper hues are very in right now, don’tcha know. A much more restrained titanium grey is also available (if you’re boring), and a fourth pink gold model completes the line-up.
IP67 water- and dust-resistance mean you can comfortably take it to the beach, pool or even just near the kitchen sink without worrying a bit of butterfingers will result in a dead phone. This finally puts Huawei on par with Samsung, which has had a waterproof option for a year or two now.
You won’t find a headphone jack anywhere around the sides - Huawei has ditched it in favour of USB-C or wireless headphones. With Google, Motorola and HTC all doing a similar thing, this move was almost inevitable, but it’s still annoying if you’ve got a quality pair of cans you want to listen to.
SCREEN & SOUND
The Mate 10 is the latest phone to make the jump to 18:9, with a 6in, 2160x1080 OLED display that slims down the bezels on all sides.
Huawei calls it Fullview, which is appropriate - the top and bottom bezels really are tiny, which I think makes it look far sleeker than the chunky Pixel 2 XL.
OK, it doesn’t have front-firing stereo speakers like Google’s phone, but the Mate 10 still does a great job with the main speaker at the bottom next to the USB-C port. It works in tandem with the earpiece speaker and gets surprisingly loud. Podcasts and YouTube videos shouldn’t pose a problem.
The side bezels don’t make quite as much of an impact as the Galaxy S8’s curved Infinity Display, but the whole thing still looks ultra-modern. The panel is beyond decent, too: expect vibrant colours, incredible contrast and decent brightness. It’ll even play HDR10 video.
That resolution is a bit of an odd one, though, falling behind the similarly-sized LG V30 and Galaxy S8+. There are still plenty of pixels here, so images and videos show lots of detail, and text doesn’t look at all blocky, but a part of me was expecting a little more from this flagship phone.
CAMERA: A SMARTER SNAPPER
This year’s P10 and P10 Plus already had great camera hardware, so it makes sense that Huawei has stuck with the same 12MP RGB and 20MP monochrome dual sensor setup for the Mate 10.
It’s the glass that has seen the biggest upgrade, with f/1.6 aperture lenses for both cameras. Only LG’s V30 can match that for wide-open, let-in-as-much-life-as-possible glass, and could make all the difference in low light.
Only the 12MP snapper has optical image stabilisation, but the 4-in-one hybrid zoom should mean you’re never left waiting for the phone to lock onto your subject. You get contrast, depth, phase-detect and laser autofocus all working together, and it certainly felt speedy during my brief hands-on.
Speed is the name of the game here, really. Everything is lightning-fast - including the AI-assisted scene detection. Machine learning algorithms are constantly running in the background, recognising whatever you’re pointing the camera at and adjusting the automatic preset accordingly.
Point at some flowers? It’ll boost greens, yellows and reds to make the petals really pop. It recognises faces and knows when not to blur the background, so group shots don’t leave the people at the back with smeared faces.
It all sounds great, and I don’t doubt it’ll deliver great photos, but I’m really hoping Huawei has dialled back its aggressive image sharpening. The effect was really noticeable on the P10 and P10 Plus, making some scenes just look unnatural rather than adding detail and definition.
Without properly testing the cameras I can’t make a final call on image quality just yet - that will have to wait for a full review a little closer to launch.