Huawei Mate 10 Pro Review

Posted on March 27, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 18 Comments

Huawei Mate 10 Pro Review

The Huawei Mate 10 Pro is a beautiful, powerful, and affordable Android flagship that ticks most of the right boxes. And that’s a shame because most people here in the U.S. will never even know it exists.

This is a story of what should have been.

2018 should have been a triumphant year for Huawei, with the China-based telecommunications super-giant finally entering the U.S. smartphone market. The plan was to start with a bang, with its flagship Mate 10 Pro showing U.S. consumers that this firm, unknown to consumers here, made products that rival the best that Apple, Samsung, and Google offer.

Well, Huawei did come to the United States this year. But it did so quietly and without the major splash it had planned. We can blame political xenophobia: The U.S. government convinced both AT&T and Verizon to drop their plans to sell the Mate 10 Pro. And more recently, Best Buy—the sole remaining electronics retailing giant—said that it, too, would drop the product.

Ignore the politics. The Huawei Mate 10 Pro has a lot to offer, and you can still buy it from electronic retailers like Amazon.com (affiliate link), B&H, and New Egg. And if you’re in the market for a flagship but can’t afford the $1000 price tag that many command today, you will want to include the Mate 10 Pro in your search.

Let’s take a look.

Design

Clad entirely in curved glass, the Huawei Mate 10 Pro cuts a stunning figure. It feels great in the hand, but the glass makes it a bit more slippery than non-glass handsets like the Google Pixel 2 XL. And the glass does seem to pull fingerprints right out of the air. It gets smudgy quickly and stays that way.

The basic form factor is familiar. This a modern smartphone flagship with a tall, 18:9 near-bezel-less display, and only the “HUAWEI” logo below that display disrupts the clean lines. There are no real surprises, and the Mate 10 Pro features the same antenna bands, USB-C connectivity, and microphone and speaker placement as other flagships.

Compare it, as we must, to other flaghips, and the Mate 10 Pro design is subjectively well-positioned. It is a prettier device than the dull Pixel 2 XL, I think. But it falls just short of the elegant and curvy Samsung Galaxy S9+, which does set the bar in this area. That said, the locations of the Mate 10 Pro’s camera system and fingerprint reader is somewhat better than that of the Samsung, with fewer chances of mis-presses. And the Mate 10 Pro fingerprint reader itself is round—e.g. fingertip shaped—were the Galaxy’s is not.

One minor nit: The button layout is different from what I’m used to: The volume buttons are above the power button on the right side of the device, rather than below (as on the Pixel) or on the left side of the device (as on the Galaxy S9+).

Display

The display is the heart and soul of any modern smartphone and Huawei does not disappoint: The Mate 10 Pro features a stunning and bright 6-inch 18:9 OLED/HDR10 display running at 2160 x 1080 pixels (402 ppi). The corners of that display are squared off and not curved, as on the Galaxy S9+ and Pixel 2, but the color reproduction and clarity is just as strong as anything offered by its competitors. In side-by-side tests indoors, these displays are nearly identical-looking. (I happen to prefer the Samsung overall, but my wife chose the Huawei.)

Some will point out that this 1080p-ish display is of lower resolution than that of its competitors. And that’s true, if unfair. As noted, my wife and I had trouble telling the difference between this display and that of the Pixel 2 XL (which runs at 2880 x 1440) and Galaxy S9+ (which can be configured to 2960 x 1440, but actually runs at 2220 x 1080 out of the box). The display is a strength, not a weakness.

Outside visibility in bright sunlight is average, and about on par with what I see with the Galaxy S9+ and Pixel 2 XL.

Hardware and specs

The Mate 10 Pro is powered by an octa-core Kyrin 970 processor with an onboard Mali-G72 MP12 GPU, 6 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of non-expandable storage. The RAM and storage are obviously high-end and befitting a premium handset. But what are we to make of the CPU and GPU and the even less-well-understood Neural Network Processing Unit (NPU), which Huawei describes as a first?

Well, there are different ways to measure these things. I tend to prefer real-world use, so I’ve been using the Mate 10 Pro for the past few months out in the world on my second (Mint SIM) phone line. I’ve turned to it for my daily media activities—podcasts, audiobooks, and music—and for other uses like Duolingo language learning and the Calm meditation app. I’ve taken photos, posted on social media, and done everything that I normally do with a phone. The Mate 10 Pro doesn’t disappoint, and it does indeed provide the same level of performance I’ve come to expect from other flagship-class handsets.

But these Huawei chips are still a bit of a mystery. So I did something I don’t normally do, in running benchmarks on a variety of devices to see where the Mate 10 Pro falls from a performance perspective. According to Huawei, the processing power of these chipsets is roughly equivalent to that of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC. And that is exactly what Geekbench 4 showed: The 835-based Pixel 2 XL and the Mate 10 Pro delivered identical single-core scores of 1894. And the Mate 10 Pro’s 6657 in the multi-core column beat out the Pixel’s 6303.

(The Galaxy S9+, with its more powerful Snapdragon 845, came out on top, of course, with a 2325 score for single-core and 8166 for multi-core.)

Beyond the core specs, the Mate 10 Pro features some hits and some misses.

In the win column, it includes gigabit LTE support, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, and USB-C for connectivity. It features a big (4000 mAh) battery that offers more capacity than the batteries in its competitors (which typically top out at 3000 to 3500 mAh). And it includes stereo speakers, though only the bottom one is used when the phone is held in portrait mode. (You can really tell the difference when you rotate the device, though the sound is perhaps a bit biased to the right, or bottom, speaker.)

Unfortunately, the Mate 10 Pro does not provide wireless charging capabilities, an odd omission given the glass body. And while there is no headphone jack, I had no issues at all with the bundled USB-C adapter. That’s not something I can say for the Pixel 2 XL, which has been nothing but problematic in this area.

Cameras

I’ve been fixated in recent days by the performance of the Samsung Galaxy S9+ camera system, which I found to be excellent but short of the low-light performance of the Pixel 2 XL. But the Mate 10 Pro should not be ignored. It features a high-quality dual-camera system, which, backed by that mysterious NPU, delivers excellent performance and visual quality.

This camera system, co-designed with partner Leica, provides two SUMMILUX-H lenses, both of which feature an aperture of f/1.6. The first lens is color and provides 12 MP of resolution; the second is 20 MP and monochrome. Both feature optical image stabilization (OIS) and the two work in tandem to try and deliver the optimal shot, on the fly, for virtually any given scene.

Generally speaking, it does a great job. And while the Pixel 2 XL shots usually came out ahead of those of the Mate 10 Pro in my tests, there were interesting exceptions. And the Mate 10 Pro photos are quite nice. In particular, this handset doesn’t have a tendency to produce blurry shots, as has been the case with the Galaxy S9+.

Even low-light shots are notably good. Here, again, the Pixel wins out, but I like the Mate 10 Pro’s generally warmer pictures, and the fact that they remain crisp and not washed out.

The Mate 10 Pro version of this photo is more color-accurate

The Pixel 2 XL version is bluer and less warm

I think the key to the Mate 10 Pro is to let it do its thing. With the Pixel 2 XL, I tend to focus on light sources in low-light conditions, and the results are stunning. But doing so with the Mate 10 Pro does produce an overly-white and washed out photo. If I just leave it alone and let the camera decide, it usually does the right thing.

Here, the Mate 10 Pro detected that it was taking a picture of a cat. The resulting Instagram-friendly photo offers rich, HDR-like color

For photography fans, the Mate 10 Pro also provides a nice balance between the simplicity of the Pixel and the complexity of choices you get on Samsung. It provides wide aperture, portrait mode, moving picture, and multiple HDR toggles, for example. And pro controls—ISO, white balance, and so on—are just a swipe away. There’s even a 1X/2X zoom toggle, like that on recent iPhone flagships (though I don’t think this is optical zoom). The only downside? Those HDR toggles can’t be globally engaged; they’re like a separate mode.

Overall, I very much prefer the automated nature of this camera to the complex nonsense in Samsung’s camera app: I don’t want to switch the thing to food mode, I want the camera to do that automatically. And that’s exactly what the Mate 10 Pro does.

Security

Huawei delivers what I’m looking for in handset security: A fast and correctly-placed fingerprint reader. (It’s below the camera system on the back of the device where it belongs.) What’s missing is any form of facial or iris recognition system. And I have to say, I’m fine with that. I don’t like the security issues inherent in such systems, and I very much prefer the purposeful nature of signing-in with my finger.

Software

The Mate 10 Pro runs Android 8.0 Oreo, which is reasonably up-to-date, but the user interface skin, called Emotion UI (EMUI) is unique to Huawei. At a high-level, EMUI looks and works like any Android launcher, and I like that it provides native access to Google Assistant—both to the left of the primary home screen and via the Home button—rather than the nonsense that Samsung burdens its users with. Indeed, EMUI is acceptably close to stock Android, though it provides a level of customization and app bundleware that is more Samsung than Google.

Mate 10 Pro home screen, post-Paul customizations

There are some weird, anachronistic bits. The middle of the home screen dock is taken up by an old-school button—a button!—for accessing the All Apps screen, where most modern flagships let you use that for an app shortcut and support swiping up to access All Apps. There are alternatives to some Android features, like an “Eye comfort” setting instead of Night Light. You can change the home screens to work like those on iOS, too, where all apps are in there somewhere.


Huawei provides a number of its own, sometimes-quirky apps. This ranges from the expected Mail and Calendar entries to useful system utilities (Clock, Compass, Downloads, Files, Gallery and so on), to the truly odd. A full-screen Flashlight app with no light strength setting. A Huawei Consumer app that’s just a front-end to the company’s website. A Music app. A Smart Remote app which works with the device’s IR capabilities to transform the phone into a remote control for TV and electronics. And a Themes app that lets you further customize the lock screen, home screens, and icon styles.

Most of those can be uninstalled, which is nice. But the phone also includes uninstallable bloatware, which is less defensible. There are apps like Amazon Shopping and Booking.com, plus Bing Videos and SwiftKey, two Microsoft apps (!), that are listed as “system apps” that “cannot be uninstalled.” Boo.

Overall, I’m not actually bothered by most of this. Android power-users know that uninstallable apps can at least be hidden, and some of the Huawei apps are truly unique and useful. My only real concern is the sheer volume of this stuff. It’s not quite Samsung-level choice, but it’s edging into that territory.

Pricing and availability

The Huawei Mate 10 Pro costs $800 and is available now from Amazon.com, B&H, and New Egg. It comes in three colors, midnight blue, titanium gray, and mocha brown. (The review unit is titanium gray, but I’d probably opt for midnight blue, personally.)

In the box, Huawei provides a USB-C cable, charger, USB-C earbuds (a nice touch), a USB-C-to-headphone dongle, and a transparent protective case. As is the case with OnePlus handsets, the display ships from the factory covered in a protective, removable film, which I think is smart.

Recommendations and conclusions

The Mate 10 Pro is an excellent and competitive smartphone flagship with the specs, features, and design needed to take on the best in the market. The issue, as is so often the case, is the price.

Yes, the Mate 10 Pro is competitively priced. But how you feel about that cost will depend on your needs.

By comparison, a Google Pixel 2 XL with 128 GB of storage costs an indefensible $950. And my advice here is simple: Unless photography is Job One, the Mate 10 Pro is clearly the better buy and the better device.

But the Samsung Galaxy S9+ (also with 128 GB) is just $40 more than the Mate 10 Pro, at $840. And that’s a more complicated discussion. There’s little doubt that the Galaxy is the better handset by many measures—design, performance, and overall camera quality among them. But the Mate 10 Pro comes ahead in some key ways too, including the cleaner Android image with Google Assistant, the simpler camera, and the better fingerprint reader placement/size.

Last week, the Mate 10 Pro was on sale for $100 off. Given the competitive situation, I recommend that Huawei stick with that pricing level. Otherwise, the Galaxy S9+ just comes out ahead. At $700, my recommendation would be quite different. (Plus, the smaller Galaxy S9 is only $720.)

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Flagship specs
  • Beautiful glass body
  • Stunning display
  • Excellent camera system
  • Excellent audio with or without headphones

Cons

  • Glass body is slippery
  • No wireless charging
  • Price isn’t competitive with Samsung Galaxy S9 family
  • Lackluster availability in the United States
  • No headphone jack

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