Huawei has a new Mate for you

Above: The good ship Jouvert, blue at lower left, photographed at Hart’s Cut, Chaguaramas last week at dusk with the Mate 9. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

BitDepth#1076 for January 17, 2017

The new Huawei Mate 9, scheduled for launch tomorrow in T&T, is a significant upgrade from its predecessor, the Mate 8, on multiple fronts.

Huawei has scaled down its overly lavish presentation box by at least a third on the height, creating a shipping case that’s just as impressive as the one the Mate 8 arrived in (http://ow.ly/SsCb3080L9S) without creating a needless impression of ostentatious waste.

Nestled in the snugly fitted box is the gleaming phone, which sports a finish that’s quite a bit brighter than the one used on the Mate 8. I tested the gold edition, and you’ll need to be ready for inquisitive stares directed at a device that gleams radiantly in your hand.

Huawei includes some useful extras. There’s a functional case and screen protector that you’ll probably want to replace with something better suited to the way you use a smartphone and a MicroUSB to USB-C connector that will allow you to use one of your old charge cables with the new device.

It’s a small touch, but a useful one, and an acknowledgement of the real world reality that devices are often charged in multiple locations.

If you charge with an adapter other than the one that ships in the box, you will lose one of the phone’s new features, fast charging that brings the phone up to 58 per cent charge in 30 minutes.

In my experience the Mate 9 charges quickly off any cable, but the circuitry for that rapid charge needs to be matched with the hefty charge cube that arrives with the device.

More useful improvements. It usually takes me between three and four hours to set up a new smartphone. Downloading apps, putting passwords and registrations in, setting up the phone just the way I’m comfortable using it.

With the new Mate 9, Huawei introduces Phone Clone. Download the app from Google Play for the old device, establish a connection with the built-in software on the new one (I could never get the QR code to activate, so I used the manual WiFi connection information) and half an hour later everything is on the new device.

After some updates and yes, passwords and registration info that doesn’t get transferred (the software would be pretty dangerous and far too James Bond if it did that) and I’m up and running in less than half the time this chore usually takes.

On specifications, the Mate 9 is slightly slimmer than that Mate 8, and if you stack the two, there’s a slight overlap. In practical use, the Mate 9 remains a large form factor phone with a 5.9 inch screen that targets users interested in a device with larger than normal dimensions.

The new Huawei Mate 9. Photo courtesy Huawei.

A challenger to the Samsung Note series in the Phablet space, the Mate 9 has matured nicely in its newest iteration, picking up a new processor (Kirin 960) and an improved GPU which supports the Vulkan API for gaming.

The device ships with Android 7 (Nougat) and a new version of Huawei’s Emotion interface (EMUI), which tidies some quirks and moves others around, so factor in some reorientation time with the new OS.

I move hefty photo files off the device quite regularly and had to hunt for a bit for the eject command to remove the USB media drive.

There’s a new Beauty function which adds virtual makeup to your face for a selfie, though it doesn’t seem to distinguish between male and female faces.

I’ve been waiting for more changes to the photo functions introduced with the dual lens P9, but they are largely incremental.

There is newly introduced optical image stabilization (OIS) for low-light photography with slow shutter speeds and a dubious new hybrid zoom function, which doubles the focal length of the rear facing camera and some tweaks to the software.

More obviously impressive is a new, significantly larger dedicated grayscale sensor (20MP) which normally improves luminance detail in colour images and can now bump captures up from the optimal 12MP capture size to an interpolated 20MP.

I’m actually surprised that the Huawei/Leica teamup hasn’t implemented RAW capture from the dedicated grayscale sensor. I know a lot of photographers who would buy a Mate 9 just to get a 20MP grayscale capture in a DNG file #fixitinsoftwarehuawei.

Not all of the newly introduced devices, a range which includes the Mate 9 Lite, the Nova and the P9 Lite (2017 edition) sport the Leica camera brand of approval, but the Mate 9 does so with good reason.

Everything that made the P9 such a ground-breaking capture device for smartphone photography is tweaked and improved in this new version of the dual-lens hardware and software.

If you record video, the device uses four built-in microphones to do directional audio with noise cancelling.

If you just want to view the screen to review photos or video, the new, visibly brighter screen shows 96 percent of the color gamut with 1500-1 contrast ratios. Those are specifications normally found on high-end computer monitors and televisions, not smartphones.

The Mate 9 keeps the screen resolution of its predecessor and at 1080 x 1920 pixels, that works out to 373ppi, maintaining crispness while scaling the UI up nicely for big fingers.

For smartphone users with a Note 7 tabanca, the new Mate is a device worth considering. Announced in the US in November, there is already a good and growing collection of accessories and cases available for the device on Amazon.

The Mate 9 also works with Amazon’s voice driven Alexa AI, the intelligence behind its Echo product and Google’s Daydream VR initiative.

Huawei’s new devices have traditionally tended to lag significantly behind their international launches, but the company is breaking new ground in bringing the Mate 9 to T&T just two weeks after it was launched for the Latin American region.

It’s a powerful statement of purpose as it builds momentum in the local smartphone market.

About Mark Lyndersay

Mark Lyndersay is a writer and photographer based in Trinidad and Tobago. He writes editorial leaders for Guardian Media Limited, for whom he has written more than 1,300 since 2001, feature writing and reviews and his column, BitDepth, which has examined personal technology issues continuously over the last 20 years. As a photographer, he divides his time between commercial assignments and annual report photography and personal projects like Local Lives, which examines the backstory of life and culture in Trinidad and Tobago.

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