Huawei Mate 10 Pro review: The best smartphone you can’t buy from a US Carrier

After the colossal disappointment of CES 2018 where Huawei had hoped to announce carrier support alongside the launch of its newest flagship, the Mate 10 Pro, the world’s third-largest smartphone maker has been left licking its wounds somewhat with regards to its thwarted plans for the United States. According to some, it may have been an ill-fated strategy anyway, with or without carrier support.

But what of the Mate 10 Pro, the world’s first Android phone with a built-in Neural Processing Unit? Well, Huawei is still launching its flagship in the United States, albeit restricted to the unlocked channels that account for just 10% of smartphone sales in the US. The great shame is that the Mate 10 Pro is a phone that is ready to be front and center as a worthy alternative to the iPhones and Samsung smartphones that people upgrade to without a second thought.

The Mate 10 Pro boasts Huawei’s newest and most powerful processor, the HiSilicon Kirin 970, along with a neural co-processor that brings AI to the dual rear cameras, a stunning exterior, and heaps of built-in storage. Has Huawei produced a worthy follow-up to the Mate 9? Join us after the break for to find out in our review of the Huawei’s Mate 10 Pro. 

Design

From the first moment that you open the box and remove the phone, it’s clear that the Mate 10 Pro is a stunning handset made from premium materials. The signature strip across the curved glass rear panel highlights the dual rear camera setup that sits above the fingerprint reader. Thanks in part to the move to the narrower 18:9 display and the minimal bezels, the Mate 10 Pro is more comfortable to hold than its predecessor. The front and back panels are made of toughened glass, although the handset can be a little slippy when placed on a surface and has proven to be something of a fingerprint magnet. Both issues are easily solved by slapping it in a case, and luckily we have a case guide for you right here.

There is a chamfered metal frame between the glass panels with the power and volume buttons on the right and the dual-SIM tray on the left. An infrared blaster and microphone cutout are present on the top of the handset.

The USB Type-C charging port and the singular speaker are on the bottom of the phone, along with aerial cutouts that are also present up top. Something that you may have noticed by its omission is the 3.5mm audio jack, and that’s with good reason, there isn’t one. If that’s a deal breaker, you’re probably better off looking at the regular Mate 10.

The fingerprint reader is precisely where you would want it, on the rear panel below the camera module, unlike the awkwardly placed sensor on the Galaxy S8. It’s a slight disappointment that the rear camera sensors aren’t flush on the back panel. Instead, they each protrude by about 1mm and, seeing as I’m paid to be nit-picky, I have to say that they don’t feel quite as polished as they perhaps might be. Overall, though, I would say that Huawei has nailed the design, there is enough heft to give a premium feel, the glass and aluminum construction feels reassuringly solid while still being of slim design, unlike the ludicrously light LG V30. With an IP67 rating, the Mate 10 Pro is both water and dust resistant, which is pretty handy for those of us who are prone to dropping our handsets in toilets.

With dimensions of 154.2 x 74.5 x 7.9mm and weighing in at 178 grams, it’s also a little lighter, shorter and narrower than the Mate 9. If I had to pick a single word to describe the Mate 10 Pro design, I would say that it is refined. While the Mate 9 was by no means ugly, it’s just that the Mate 10 Pro design has reached new levels of refinement; it feels like a premium phone should.

Hardware

 Huawei Mate 10 Pro
AnnouncedOctober 16, 2017
Display6.0"HUAWEI FullView Display18:9 OLED Display2160 x 1080 pixels, 402ppi16.7M colors, Color saturation(NTSC): 112%High contrast: 70000:1 (Typical)
ProcessorHUAWEI Kirin 970Octa-core CPU (4*Cortex A73 2.36GHz + 4*Cortex A53 1.8GHz) + i7 co-processor
RAM6GB
Storage128GB
Rear Camera20MP Monochrome+12MP RGB, f/1.6+ f/1.6 OIS
Front Camera8MP
Battery4000mAh (non-removable)
ChargingUSB Type C
SoftwareAndroid 8.0 Oreo with EMUI 8.0
ConnectivityWi-Fi 2.4G, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac with Wi-Fi Direct supportBT4.2, support BLE support aptX/aptX HD and LDAC HD AudioUSB Type CDisplayPort 1.2
SensorsAmbient, proximity, accelerometer, gyro, compass, fingerprint
Measurements154.2mm x 74.5mm x 7.9mm
Weight178g
ColorsMidnight Blue /Titanium Gray/Mocha Brown/Pink Gold

Performance

The Mate 10 Pro sports a 6-inch AMOLED display with 2160 x 1080 resolution, 402ppi, an 18:9 aspect ratio, as well as support for HDR 10. As with the Mate 9, there is a factory fitted screen protector, and unlike the P10, Huawei saw fit to add an oleophobic coating if you remove the protective sheet. It’s unfortunate that the Mate 10 Pro had to make do with an FHD+ display while the regular Mate 10 sports a Quad HD panel, albeit of the LCD variety. It’s a shame because while the AMOLED panel is of good quality, the lower-resolution results in text appearing a little less sharp and smooth than it would on a higher-res display. In my opinion, the Mate 10 Pro deserved a Quad HD display. What the panel lacks pixels-wise it gains in sheer brightness and color reproduction; you’ll never hear a Mate 10 Pro owner complaining about muted colors, as seen with the Pixel 2 XL and LG V30.

With Huawei’s newest HiSilicon Kirin 970 processor under the hood along with the Mali-G72 MP12 GPU, the Mate 10 Pro has plenty of horsepower. The experience is slick and smooth, even with EMUI, and when coupled with the 6GB of RAM, results in a total flagship experience. Huawei’s processor is a genuine competitor for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835.

Besides the audio jack, something else that is missing (but present on the regular Mate 10) is support for MicroSD cards, which will be another deal breaker for some. On the positive side, Huawei has generously endowed the Mate 10 Pro with a more than adequate 128GB of built-in storage. As previously mentioned, there is a Neural Processing Unit (NPU) present, but other than its usage when taking and viewing images; its performance is difficult to quantify. It’s there, it’s doing something, but without being able to turn it on and off to compare performance, it’s difficult to say when it is being utilized.

Other than comparing EMUI to Marmite, something else we talk about when reviewing Huawei smartphones is the performance of its fingerprint reader. As with previous reviews, unlocking the handset is near instantaneous while also being accurate. In my experience, unlocking the Mate 10 Pro lock screen is a both quicker and more accurate than on the Pixel 2 XL, which itself is perfectly adequate.

Battery

Battery life is yet another area that the Mate 10 Pro smashes. With its massive 4,000mAh non-removable battery and Huawei’s SuperCharge technology, even the most ardent power user will struggle to empty the tank. On the average day, which includes a ton of social media, streaming Spotify for a few hours, watching 30mins of YouTube, and the usual browsing and checking emails, I tend to get to 8 PM with the battery loitering around the 45% mark. It is possible to get two days of use out of the Mate 10 Pro without resorting to Battery Saver option or choosing a lower resolution for the display if you curb your smartphone addiction ever so slightly.

When you do eventually get down to single digits, just 30mins on the SuperCharge adaptor will see the battery topped up to the 50% mark while it will reach capacity after 80mins. Despite having a glass rear panel, Huawei refrained from adding wireless charging for some reason, a decision that will won’t matter to most but will be a bone of contention to some.

Software

So, we’ve come to the usual sticking point when we review Huawei or Honor handsets. The Mate 10 Pro runs Android 8.0 Oreo with the latest version of Huawei’s EMotion User Interface (EMUI 8) running on top. Most of us will fall in one of three camps when faced with EMUI – some will instead buy a different phone, some will merely install a third-party launcher, and some will revel in all that EMUI has to offer.

If you followed the Mate 10 Pro launch event, you’d remember that Huawei made a massive deal about AI and the built-in Neural Processing Unite (NPU). The NPU comes into play when you are scrolling through the gallery for a specific image and alleviates the need to wait for every single thumbnail to load up before you can move on.

Knuckle-tap gestures for recording screenshots, multi-window support, and App Twinning that lets you runs two instances of social media apps such as Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat, are excellent examples of the added features that EMUI 8 boasts. You don’t even need to tap the display to check notifications or to navigate through your photos in the Gallery app; you can enable Slide Gestures and use the fingerprint reader to swipe down to access your notification panel or left-to-right and vice versa to view your pictures.

Another feature that users will appreciate is the addition of a dark theme that is system-wide unlike the half-baked effort found on the Pixel 2 where you need to choose a dark wallpaper to enable the feature. You can enable the dark theme on the Mate 10 Pro via the Battery settings menu, which is a little bizarre and a sign of the remaining design inconsistencies found in EMUI. Because the phone has an AMOLED display, you’ll see some benefits to battery life by enabling the dark theme. As in previous versions, you can change the navigation bar in EMUI 8.

Easy Projection is another noteworthy EMUI 8 feature that works in a similar vein to Samsung’s DeX, except instead of needing a dock you just need a USB Type-C to HDMI cable to connect to a monitor. While it isn’t something I would use often, it’s an excellent option to have.

EMUI 8 still has its flaws, such as inconsistent text-scaling from settings to third-party apps and apps such as Files and Email having icons that appear dated somewhat, but it is better than it was, especially since the addition of an app drawer in EMUI 5. Much like Samsung’s TouchWiz, or indeed Experience as it is now known, EMUI is improving with each iteration, and EMUI 8 is lighter, less obtrusive, and more refined than ever before. If EMUI 8 doesn’t prove to be to your liking, you can always swap over to a third-party launcher, as shown here.

Camera

To say that the dual Leica branded cameras are pretty good, could be the understatement of the year. They pose serious competition to the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Pixel 2, matching, and in some cases, actually faring better. Huawei’s partnership with Leica has indeed produced dividends with the Mate 10 Pro’s dual camera setup coming into its own. The much vaunted Artifical Intelligence alters things such as contrast, level of sharpness, and white balance to better suit what the camera is focussing on. As you might expect with a flagship smartphone, there is Optical Image Optimization (OIS), and as with the P10 before it, the Mate 10 Pro features a 2x Hybrid zoom.

Both the 12MP RGB sensor and the 20MP Monochrome sensor have f/1.6 apertures and leverage the built-in NPU by recognizing 13 different objects such as cats, text, faces, flowers, food, being indoors or outdoors, with the exposure parameters being automatically tuned for optimum results. Having used the Mate 10 Pro camera extensively, I can say that the feature works well, with objects and environments being recognized in a split-second. The Leica camera’s come into their own in low-light conditions, with the Monochrome sensor picking up a load of detail while keeping noise to a minimum. Portrait Mode has been improved since it appeared on the P10, with an increased sense of depth while keeping the object in sharp clarity. It’s never been easier to take a great picture, even with my shaky hands.

The camera app includes a Pro mode for when you want to dig deeper, although the automatic method will suit most of us just fine. There are the usual options for Photo, Monochrome, HDR, 3D Panorama, Panorama, Night Shot, Light Painting, Time-Lapse, Slow-mo, Filter, Watermark, Document Scan, as well as the all-important Good Food mode.

One frustration I have with the Mate 10 Pro’s camera, and indeed, with the Mate 9 before it, is that when you select to take images in 20MP resolution, you are unable to zoom in at all. A little toast will appear saying “Zoom is not supported at 20MP resolution”, which means you have to downgrade to the 12MP setting to zoom in on something. It’s a tiny issue, but it can cause you to miss a moment while you change settings.

The front camera consists of an 8MP sensor with a f/2.0 aperture, and as you would expect from Huawei, is firmly focussed on taking selfies. The Portrait Mode works well on the front camera as well, providing an excellent ‘bokeh‘ effect. You can check out the camera samples in the gallery below.

Closing

The Mate 10 Pro, in Huawei’s own words, is the best phone you’ve never heard of. The blend of performance, style, and photography chops is second to none. Sure, I wish it had a higher-res display, but the FHD+ panel has brightness and vibrancy in its arsenal.

It almost feels like a copout to say that the Mate 10 Pro is the best phone that Huawei has ever produced, but it’s absolutely correct. Where the P10 felt like Huawei dialed it in somewhat with the design, the Mate 10 Pro feels like the A-team was back from a refreshing holiday, full of inspiration and ideas. The Leica-branded dual camera setup has come of age, posing credible competition to Samsung and Apple and the Neural Processing Unit adds a touch of wonder to the camera app as it recognizes you are about to take a photo of the cat and adjusts its scenario settings accordingly. The stunning rear glass is worth spending more than a few minutes ogling, with the shiny band across the camera section adding further eye-candy to the design.

Sure, EMUI isn’t to everyone’s liking, after all, it’s like Marmite, right? But there’s no denying that the combination of the massive battery life, powerful performance of the Kirin 970, stunning design, and dual Leica cameras that can match any of its competitors, means that the Huawei Mate 10 Pro is a more than credible option for anyone buying a flagship smartphone, regardless of price.

In the UK and Europe, the Mate 10 Pro costs £529 from Carphone Warehouse, while in the US, Amazon is selling it for $799, which also gets you a $150 gift card.

Buy it Now: Amazon, Best Buy


About the Author: Peter Holden

He's been an Android fan ever since owning an HTC Hero, with the Dell Streak being his first phablet. He currently carries a Pixel 2 XL, Huawei P20 Pro, and a Galaxy Tab S2 8.0 around in his pockets. When not immersed in the world of Android and gadgets, he's an avid sports fan, and like all South Africans, he loves a good Braai (BBQ).