Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Gear Friday: An almost gr8 Mate by Huawei

Huawei Mate 8. Photo / Juha Saarinen
Huawei Mate 8. Photo / Juha Saarinen

Chinese tech mega vendor Huawei has pulled out all stops to compete with Samsung and others in the Android market, and its latest Mate 8 smartphone is a great leap forward compared to earlier models.

The Ascend moniker gone from the name, the Mate 8 packs new and much improved hardware, including a very fast Kirin (no relation to the Japanese beer brand) 950 four by four core chip set made by Huawei subsidiary HiSilicon.

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One set of four cores run at up to 2.3 GigaHertz, the other at up to 1.8GHz.

My review unit came with 32 Gigabytes of storage and 3GB of RAM. The NZ retail device will have 64GB of storage and 4GB of memory inside, oddly enough.

You can also slot in two SIM cards for the Mate 8, which could be handy for roaming.

There's also faster graphics, and while the Mate 8 on a per-core basis isn't as quick as say an iPhone 6s in benchmarks, working together, the processors make for a very snappy and responsive device indeed.

This is a big phone, with a six-inch diagonal screen, measuring 157.1 by 80.6 millimetres, but it's fairly slim at 7.9mm and not too heavy, tipping the scales at 185 gram. It feels very well put together, as it should, being a pricey premium device.

As with the Google Nexus P6, also made by Huawei, the responsive fingerprint reader is at the back of the device, which takes a bit of time to get used to.

Huawei decided to keep the screen resolution at a relatively modest 1080 by 1920 unlike competitors that are at 1440 by 2560 pixels - and the Google Nexus 6P.

This matters less than the numbers suggest: the full HD screen looks good, has the same resolution as Apple's iPhone 6s Plus and fewer pixels to push means the Mate 8 uses less power. Despite heavy use, the Mate 8 would often go a day and a half between charges; the battery has a big, 4,000mAh capacity and charges in just two hours with the beefy Huawei wallwart - and reaches 75 per cent charge in just one hour, which is fantastic.

Mate 8 runs the latest Android 6.0 with bunch of customisations like motion control to drive the phone. And, uh, knuckle control. You can swipe with your knuckles to multitask two apps, draw an S to start video recording, but I found the whole thing awkward and gimmicky.

The Mate 8 camera is strange: the specifications for the 16 megapixel unit with a Sony sensor, phase and contrast autofocus, fast f/2.0 lens and optical image stabilisation, manual exposure control and lots of other features suggest it should deliver very good pictures and video.

Sony makes arguably the best digital camera sensors currently, and I'm not sure what Huawei did in the Mate 8, because the pictures from the phone are on the dull side, with slightly muted colours.

The autofocus was hit and miss, and the video quality isn't amazing either - the Mate 8's camera struggles in the bright New Zealand sun, and blows highlights quite badly. Maybe this can be fixed in a future firmware update, but for now the Mate 8 camera lets the phone down - I actually preferred the lower-resolution camera in the Nexus 6P in comparison.

Also odd: there's no 4K video like on competitor devices, only 1080p at 60 frames per second.

Checking with Huawei revealed that the review units have older system software and the company confirmed that an update is in the works that'll improve picture quality.

It'll be interesting to see if the new software fixes the camera image quality - and I will provide an update on this - and until then I'll hold off on a final verdict on the Mate 8.

The phone will cost $1,099 RRP once it hits the shops, which isn't too bad, but I'd want the camera to be up to scratch before forking out that much money.

- NZ Herald

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Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen is a technology journalist and writer living in Auckland. Apart from contributing to the New Zealand Herald over the years, he has written for the Guardian, Wired, PC World, Computerworld and ITnews Australia, covering networking, hardware, software, enterprise IT as well as the business and social aspects of computing. A firm believer in the principle that trying stuff out makes you understand things better, he spends way too much time wondering why things just don’t work.

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