Huawei has had a tough time of things in 2018, getting the rug pulled out from under it just before it launched the U.S. version of its flagship Mate 10 Pro on AT&T. The blows just kept coming with Verizon pulling out of a deal, followed by "security warnings" from some of the American government security agencies. While all of the political mess is somewhat fun to look back at and is good for a nice chuckle or two, my focus here is on the phone itself, Huawei's centerpiece.
The Mate 10 Pro is a fantastic phone, without a doubt. It has a stunning design, a great camera, smooth performance, and Android 8.0 Oreo (with Project Treble) to boot. And even at $799, it is one of the better phones that a person can buy right now — the problem is that very, very few likely will. Couple that high, flagship-level price with the lack of any carrier or financing partners and I fear the Mate 10 Pro will be nearly DOA here in the U.S., especially considering how similar it is spec-wise to the Honor View10.
But you, dear reader, did not come to this second opinion to read about doom and gloom. With the U.S. launch of this phone, I thought I would take a look at it to see whether my opinion lined up with what Ryan thought in the original review, and to what extent if so.
Beauty, thy name is Mate 10 Pro
The Mate 10 Pro is a stunning device. Huawei really outdid itself with the design on this phone, creating something that draws attention and is easily the best-looking phone that I have on my desk. As with a few of its other devices, Huawei has a nice selection of colors from which to choose — I received the gorgeous blue version and it has spoiled for me normal, boring phone colors (remember, I really liked the blue Honor View10).
Glass sandwich phones are a bit off-putting sometimes, though. They collect fingerprints immediately upon picking them up and are insanely slippery. During my use, the Mate 10 Pro fell out of my pockets, slid off my nightstand, and got lost in the couch several times. Similar to how a metal phone like the OnePlus 5T or Honor View10 can be difficult to grip, especially in the cold, one should handle glass devices like the Mate 10 Pro with the utmost care.
The glass construction is what gives the phone its stunning looks, however, and I find myself constantly in awe of the design. Oftentimes, I would take it out of my pocket just to look at it and see how the blue would catch the light — I was never disappointed.
Huawei builds sturdy devices, as I have said before, and the Mate 10 Pro keeps with that tradition. Its weight is nicely distributed, giving it a nice heft that feels good during use. The glass back curves on all four sides, making sure that the phone sits comfortably, even while reaching to the top of the tall display.
Like Ryan said, the symmetry on the back of the Mate 10 Pro is quite satisfying to people like us who notice such things. The camera lenses and fingerprint sensor align perfectly down the center line, with the flash and autofocus flanking the camera array. Even the Leica branding looks nice.
All of this to say, Huawei nailed the design on the Mate 10 Pro. It is easily one of the most beautiful phones I have seen, though I am not a fan of the logo on the bottom bezel — I guess that we can't have everything.
A better display than most
The 2160x1080 OLED panel that Huawei used in the Mate 10 Pro is the best I have seen in the company's device portfolio, putting offerings from competitors like Xiaomi to varying degrees of shame. Even the Honor View10 cannot compare with its LCD (though it is good in its own right).
Out of the box, Huawei calibrated the display to be quite vibrant, with highly-saturated colors that pop. While normally not my cup of tea (I use sRGB on my 5T), I actually liked it on the Mate 10 Pro. Such vibrancy seemed to fit with the blue bezels.
Viewing angles are spectacular and outdoor brightness is more than adequate. At night, I thought that the display did not get dim enough, even with the blue light filter active. That comes down to personal preference, I think, so it is a minor thing.
Color shifting, something you often hear about when discussing OLED panels, was relatively minor even at extreme angles. Like Ryan, however, I did notice some traces of smearing in the transition from black to color, but it was difficult to see and, in my use, depended on the material shown and the screen's brightness.
The Mate 10 Pro's display is not quite on the same level as the Galaxy S9's, or even the S8's, but it is a step above many others in the market; it is certainly the best that I have seen on a Huawei phone.
Stereo speakers and no headphone jack
This phone features a stereo speaker setup, with one of them on the bottom of the frame and the other in the earpiece. While not new or innovative, I wish more manufacturers would do this — I find it quite annoying when I cover up the bottom speaker with my hand when watching a video or playing a game (in landscape) and suddenly can't hear what is going on.
It gets plenty loud enough for notifications and media in a quiet or low-volume room. Distortion does kick in at higher levels, obviously, but not until about 75-80% of the phone's maximum.
The Mate 10 Pro, unfortunately, lacks a headphone jack, unlike the View10. USB-C headphones are not at all widespread at this point, so odds are that most people will use Bluetooth. On that front, I did not notice anything abnormal; both range and sound quality were fine.
Great camera experience
Like we have seen with previous Huawei phones, the Mate 10 Pro uses two lenses: a 20MP monochrome (which also handles the "lossless" zoom) and a 12MP RGB (with OIS). The phone merges the details captured from both into the final image, which often comes out looking better than what we've seen from past devices like the Mate 9 and P10. It is very quick to capture pictures in many lighting conditions and the quality of most of the images produced put the Mate 10 Pro up there with Samsung and Google for the best in Android photography.
I took this phone up into the mountains on a day trip, spending time capturing some of the different environments in which I found myself — auto mode served perfectly for most of those situations. White balance is usually very good and OIS helps immensely to keep the shots stable. The cameras pull in a lot of light, helping even dim scenes feel brighter. This works most of the time, but I had a few photos come out feeling "fake." By this, I mean that the post-processing seemed over the top, resulting in what Ryan described as photos that look "like a painting." I second this assessment.
Another element of the Mate 10 Pro's camera performance is the inclusion of the AI NPU on the Kirin 970 SoC. Like with the View10, I am dubious of the actual efficacy, but at least it does not interfere with the photography experience. The most noticeable element is that the phone can recognize different scenes and supposedly adjust itself accordingly. For example, when I aim the phone at my cat (who is laying on my kitchen floor in the late afternoon), the viewfinder displays a message noting that the AI has, in fact, recognized him as a feline. Though neat, I have similar feelings about this as I do with Tango: it is cool, for sure, but it does not seem to improve the experience in any discernible way, therefore seeming superfluous.
Again, like Ryan, my biggest problem with the Mate 10 Pro's camera is that HDR is a separate mode, which then disables zoom and AI. It definitely helps with the over-processing in auto mode, and with the graininess in nighttime shots, but I don't understand why it's separate in the camera app.
I rarely use front cameras, but I was pleased with the Mate 10 Pro's performance in this area, too. The 8MP lens does a nice job of capturing plenty of detail and easing off of the heavy processing that I see in many of the phones that I receive. Its main downside is that it tends to overexpose selfies taken outdoors or in very well-lit rooms.
Solid performance and fantastic battery life
I do not want to rehash all of Ryan's points on this section, but the Mate 10 Pro performs extremely well. The Kirin 970 is an impressive SoC, ensuring that the phone flew through any task that I threw at it. Couple that with the fact that Huawei has continued to improve EMUI's RAM management and you get one powerful device.
I used the Mate 10 Pro as my daily driver for the last month or so. That means it endured several days a week of being off the charger for fifteen hours or more with heavy usage. In my case, "heavy" means plenty of messaging, emails, Slack, games, YouTube videos, music streaming, and internet browsing. While such use usually brings phones to the 20% or less mark (looking at you, OnePlus 5T), the Mate 10 Pro has about 30% left on a bad day. Usually, I would plug it in before bed with about 50% remaining.
Huawei phones, including the Mate 10 Pro, have insanely good battery life without many sacrifices to the user experience. I saw the occasional app fail to give me notifications from time to time, like with Telegram or Slack, but such instances happened surprisingly little. Otherwise, animations are smooth, transitions are quick, and apps load very fast.
EMUI 8 is fine
We now come to the crux of any discussion on a Huawei device: software, specifically EMUI. I have to applaud the company for its efforts in this area; EMUI 8 is the best version yet, intruding less into the actual UX than any previous version. Like I said in the last section, in both of my experiences with Huawei's latest Android skin, I have not seen much in the way of over-aggressive RAM management, like in Xiaomi's MIUI. Apps behave normally for the most part and the software does not feel sluggish.
Android 8.0 Oreo and Project Treble come standard out of the box, which I was glad to see (especially since phones are still launching with Nougat, including the Honor 7X). All of the Oreo goodness, in addition to the EMUI improvements made in the last two years, are accounted for on the Mate 10 Pro. The look and feel of the skin has received a slight update, coming more in line with stock Android while maintaining the black and blue Tron/Holo-like theme.
One irritating problem persists from previous EMUI versions: lockscreen notifications. With all of the progress that we have seen from Huawei over the last couple of years, this nuisance is all the more frustrating. The gist is this: the user cannot interact with notifications on the lockscreen, except to dismiss them; no expanding, no using inline replies, nothing. The second annoying piece is that if you unlock the phone and don't interact with any given notification, those untouched items disappear from the lockscreen upon relocking.
Other than that, the software experience is fairly decent. EMUI is one of the better Android skins, in that it does not seem like it bogs down the phone or changes things unnecessarily. Even so, it can take some getting used to, especially for those coming from a Google, OnePlus, or Motorola device.
A questionable value
It should be obvious by this point, but I really like this phone. The Mate 10 Pro represents the realization of what I had hoped when I wrote the P10 review last year. Huawei continues to show an interest in improving its hardware, software, and support. Even recently, the company hasn't had a spotless record when it comes to updating its devices. Thanks to Project Treble, however, it's possible that this reputation will begin to turn around. We'll just have to see how committed Huawei actually is, and how long it stays that way.
The real question with the Mate 10 Pro is its value proposition, i.e. how does it justify its $799 asking price? Huawei has placed it firmly in Pixel and Galaxy S territory, phones that are arguably more compelling with better availability and network support. And perhaps more concerning, it's a full $300 more than the closely-related Honor View10 (which has a headphone jack). But if it goes on sale, like it is at time of writing, then the Mate is definitely worth considering, especially if you want a phone with stellar battery life.
Convincing people to spend $799 and thus take a chance on an unknown brand in the U.S. will be the greatest challenge — the lack of carrier and financing partners will be to the detriment of this phone. That's unfortunate, because the Mate 10 Pro really is a great device.
The Mate 10 Pro combines a fantastic design with outstanding performance, an awesome and reliable dual camera setup, and a pretty good, though still heavily-tweaked, software experience. But it's the battery life that stands out — the 4,000mAh powerbank combined with Huawei's software adjustments make for some very impressive longevity. Frankly, using a phone that doesn't leave me with battery anxiety in the evening has spoiled me.
Warranty support with the Mate is also worth considering; both Samsung and Google have a very strong presence in the U.S., including carrier relationships, to deal with replacements. Getting support from Huawei, on the other hand, could prove challenging since the company has no meaningful foothold here. Granted, I don't know how equipped Huawei is to handle such things in the States, but the uncertainty is there.
It's possible that the U.S. version of the Mate 10 Pro was meant for a world where Huawei would have carrier partners. Unfortunately, things did not work out that way, so I'm interested to see how the company adapts and approaches the rest of 2018.