Huawei Mate 8 review

Pros

  • Lovely design
  • Great battery life
  • So, so speedy

Cons

  • Shocking software
  • Inconsistent camera
  • Colours issues with the display
  • Broken Google notifications

Review Price £429.99

Key Features: 6-inch, 1080p display; Kirin 950 processor; 3GB RAM; 32GB storage; Android 6.0; 4,000 mAh battery; metal bodyManufacturer: Huawei

What is the Huawei Mate 8?

Every time a new Huawei phone is released, there’s the same question asked: Can we have this design, but without the awful software? Last year, with the Nexus 6P, that request was finally answered.

No one is really asking for a Nexus 6P with awful software and in many ways that’s exactly what the Mate 8 is. It has a similar build, camera specs and it’s very fast, but it struggles to really compete. It’s still a good phone, but it’s another missed opportunity for Huawei to really make its mark in the USA and UK.

Summary

Our Score

Pros

  • Lovely design
  • Great battery life
  • So, so speedy

Cons

  • Shocking software
  • Inconsistent camera
  • Colours issues with the display
  • Broken Google notifications

Review Price £429.99

Key Features: 6-inch, 1080p display; Kirin 950 processor; 3GB RAM; 32GB storage; Android 6.0; 4,000 mAh battery; metal bodyManufacturer: Huawei

What is the Huawei Mate 8?

Every time a new Huawei phone is released, there’s the same question asked: Can we have this design, but without the awful software? Last year, with the Nexus 6P, that request was finally answered.

No one is really asking for a Nexus 6P with awful software and in many ways that’s exactly what the Mate 8 is. It has a similar build, camera specs and it’s very fast, but it struggles to really compete. It’s still a good phone, but it’s another missed opportunity for Huawei to really make its mark in the USA and UK.

Huawei Mate 8 – Design and Build

If there’s one thing you can count on from a Huawei flagship, it’s that it will look pretty stunning. Both the Huawei Ascend P8 and Huawei Mate S easily matched the craftsmanship you’d normally expect from Apple, with a mixture of metal, glass and other high-end materials.

The Mate 8 follows this pattern, taking many cues from its half-brother the Nexus 6P. The sides of the phone are chamfered, reflecting light like a jewel. It’s an old trick used by Apple as far back as the iPhone 5, but I still think it looks great.

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m8 11Like the Mate S, the back slightly curves. The curve is only subtle, but it makes the Mate S more comfortable to hold than most flat back competitors. This is an impressive achievement as the Mate S is frankly huge phone.

Yes, it’s a touch shorter than the Nexus 6P and iPhone 6S Plus, but it’s much wider, meaning you really have to wrap your hand around it. Like using your phone in one hand? Don’t even take a second look at the Mate 8, it’s virtually impossible.

The only other phone I have used that can match the Mate 8 for size is the Nexus 6 and that was described by many as unusable due to its massive footprint.

Considering just how big it is, it feels surprisingly light. It isn’t though, at 185g it should feel heavy but the weight seems to be spread out well across the metal phone.

m8 7I’m far from convinced about the ruggedness of this phone though, but then again I am coming from the shatterproof and downright durable Moto X Force. After a few days with the Mate 8 jangling around in an empty pocket it has already starting to pick up noticeable scratches and even a slight scrape on the side. On the plus side, Huawei includes a case in the box. It’s hardly pretty, but it’ll get the job done.

Huawei Mate 8 – Display

The majority of the specs on the Mate 8 are some of the best out there, except one. The 6-inch display isn’t 4K like the Sony Xperia Z5 Premium or quad-HD like the Samsung Galaxy S6. It’s only 1080p. What is this, 2014 again?

Stretched out over 6-inches is where quad-HD, that’s 2560 x 1440, really comes into its own so it’s a shame to see it missing on the Mate 8. Maybe it’s cost cutting measure, but this is still a premiumly priced device at £429.

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m8 15I’m not saying the screen isn’t good: It’s sharp enough to make seeing pixels difficult, has decent viewing angles and once you’ve kicked it up all the way, the brightness is fine. But it pales in comparison to much of the competition.

My main issue is with colour reproduction, whites have a pinky finish and reds come across overly bright. Blacks are nice and deep though, and with such a large screen it’s great for watching YouTube.

Maybe I’ve just been spoilt with great screens over the past few months. Even other 1080p panels, like the one used in Sony’s Xperia Z5, are of far higher quality than this.

Huawei Mate 8 – Software

Software is a constant problem on all Huawei devices. Instead of skinning Android with a few additions and design changes like Samsung and HTC, Huawei completely rebuilds it.

Everything from the notification panel, to the quick settings to the lock-screen has been torn apart and changed. I’d applaud this if it was a change for the better, but it isn’t. It’s like Huawei has taken all Google’s well thought out UI elements and gone ‘Yeh, we think our way is much better.’ It’s not.

It’s pretty much like an iOS and Android mash-up, but without the style or finish of either. I hate the lack of app drawer, the ugly transparency effects and the way the quick settings are separated from the notifications. It’s a frustrating experience.

Related: Android Marshmallow features

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It’s not the design though, it just seems like too many things don’t work properly on Huawei’s skin. For example, even though the latest edition of the EMUI skin is built atop Android Marshmallow, one of the biggest features of the software is missing. For some reason, Google Now on Tap is nowhere to be seen.

There’s also far too much pestering to ‘close power intensive apps’ going on, they seem to be fine on every other Android phone, so why am I constantly being told to force quit Facebook here?

Notifications from Google’s app are still broken, just like they were on the P8 and Mate S. Get an alert from GMail or Hangouts and the text turns black, blending in with the drop-downs background and making it unreadable. It’s things like this that make it so hard to recommend.

There’s always the chance to use a different launcher – Google Launcher or NOVA, for example – but even doing this is much tougher than it should be. You really have to search it out in the settings, and even then you can’t change the notification panel.

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It’s nice to see a Huawei phone running the latest version of Android, but when it’s this this hamstrung it feels like one step forward and two back.

Huawei Mate 8 – Performance

I have lots of complaints about the Mate 8’s software, but there aren’t enough superlatives to describe how good its performance is.

The Mate 8 is one of the fastest phones I have ever used. Granted, I’m yet to fully use something equipped with the Snapdragon 820 but we’re in for a speedy year if it matches the Kirin 950 octa-core processor used here.

Related: Snapdragon 820 vs 810

Built by Huawei, the 64-bit chip boasts four 2.3GHz and four 1.8GHz cores and there’s 3GB RAM tucked inside too.

It manages to open up apps without a hint of judder, something many Android phones still seem to struggle with (I’m looking at you, Samsung) and lag is virtually impossible to find. The only time the phone seems to struggle is with the camera app but I will get on to that in the next section.

If you’re an intensive Android gamer there’s a lot to like here. Hitman Sniper, Lara Croft: Go, Asphalt 8 and more all performed without so much as a frame-drop.

The Mate 8 absolutely blitzed our usual set of benchmarking tests, scoring 6,300 in Geekbench’s multi-core test. That’s the highest we’ve seen, beating off the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+ which picked up 5,014. It couldn’t quite match the single core performance of the iPhone 6S Plus though, picking up 1,657 as opposed to 2,465.

m8 13

On the latest version of Antutu it again placed top of the list, with a score of 92,746. As a comparison, the iPhone 6S scored 59,069 and the Nexus 6P 50,030. That’s a pretty big improvement over two of last year’s speediest phones.

On the back of the phone there’s a circular fingerprint scanner placed below the camera, it’s super fast too. It takes about three to four presses for the initial set-up and then the phone will unlock almost the instant you tap your digit over the scanner.

32GB of internal storage comes as standard, though there’s also a microSD card slot (this doubles as a second sim tray) that can be combined with that initial storage.

Huawei Mate 8 – Camera

On the back of the Huawei Mate 8 there’s a 16-megapixel camera with optical image stabilisation, an f/2.0 aperture and phase detection autofocus.

m8 5

There’s also a whole load of modes too, including a rather fully featured manual option that lets you alter the focus, ISO, white balance.

That’s a pretty nice looking set of specs and features, but it doesn’t really tell the whole story.

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When it does work, the results are equally inconsistent. The 16-megapixel sensor captures a lot of detail, but it’s prone to overexposing even when the lighting conditions seem perfectly fine.

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Indoor shots with less of an overbearing light source come out better, and there’s plenty of depth to the blacks when you’re shooting at night. But, again, catch a strong light and it’ll instantly blow-out.

N

The camera app itself is reminiscent of the one on iOS, with a selection of options along the bottom and live filters. It’s probably the best of Huawei’s native app in design terms, but I wish it didn’t suffer from odd performance issues.

N

Video recording tops out at 1080p, sorry 4K fans, but the results are nice and clear and not too shaky. On the front there’s an 8MP camera for selfie shooting, it’s fine but please steer clear of the all too weird beauty mode that makes me look like a freakishly clear skinned alien.

Huawei Mate 8 – Battery, speakers and call quality

Tucked inside that big metal body is a large 4,000 mAh battery, that’s a substantial number when you consider there isn’t a power draining quad-HD display at work here.

With general use the Huawei Mate 8 offers superior battery life than most competing phablets. A day of generally heavy use – multiple email accounts, messaging and the usual phone activity – left me with 49% come midnight, and thanks to Marshmallow’s Doze feature it only loses about 3-5% on average over night.

An hour long episode of Making a Murderer on Netflix will eat through about 8%, while streaming a whole Match of the Day on BBC iPlayer takes the battery from 81% to 70%. That’s a pretty impressive showing and certainly on-par with the great battery life I found on the Moto X Force.

Related: What is USB-C?

m8 17

Unlike the Nexus 6P, Huawei has decided against replacing the more common microUSB with the snazzier and reversible USB-C port. For now that’s fine, but USB-C will be seen on a load of phones this year and it could leave the Mate 8 trailing behind.

Predictably there’s no wireless Qi support, but fast-charging is supported and you can jump from a dead battery to 50% full in about 40 minutes. a full charge takes between 80-90 minutes.

I’m less impressed by the lack of front-facing speakers, with the meagre bottom firing versions pumping out dull sounding, pretty flat audio. I guess though that the addition of front speakers would have made this a ridiculously tall phone.

One particularly neat trick is the voice recorder app, which captures audio from the array of mics positioned around the phone. Call quality is great too, especially from the speakerphone.

m8 9

Should I buy the Huawei Mate 8?

The Mate 8 is a nice looking phone with great battery life and strong performance. But, it’s seriously let down by awful software and an inconsistent camera. Personally, if you’ve got £430 to spend and you want a large screened Android phone I wouldn’t go for the Mate 8.

Nexus 6P pricing starts at £449 and it is a much, much better phone. If you search about online you can find the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 for a similar price. There’s also the Moto X Style (£329) which is another great pick.

Huawei helped make the best phone of 2015, but it’s got a lot of work to do if it wants to do a similar thing in 2016.

Verdict

Good battery and a sleek design aren’t enough to recommend this over the far superior competition

 

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