Huawei Mate 10 hands-on: Seriously big, seriously powerful

Huawei’s most unique product for the past few years has been its Mate line. It’s a series of phones that jam everything possible inside; huge batteries, massive displays and the absolute latest specs.

Things are a little bit different this time around, though, mostly because there are now two phones in the Mate 10 series: a regular Mate 10 and the Mate 10 Pro. You’d be forgiven for thinking the Pro was the better of the two, at least on paper, but there’s a little more to it than that.

It’s probably worth noting first that the Huawei Mate 10 won’t be coming to the UK or the USA. Instead, us Brits will be getting the Pro version only and the regular version will be heading to other territories.

Huawei Mate 10 release date

It doesn’t look like the Huawei Mate 10 will be coming to the UK. We’ll be getting the Huawei Mate 10 Pro instead. If this changes, we’ll let you know. It’ll be coming to select territories later in the month.

Huawei Mate 10 price

When we get pricing for the Huawei Mate 10, we’ll let you know. So, er, moving on…

Design

Like the previous Mate devices, the Mate 10 is a big phone. There’s a 5.8-inch quad-HD LCD screen on the front, and even though Huawei has done a great job at slimming down the bezel around the panel, it’s still virtually impossible to comfortably hold this thing without two hands.

It might be big, but it looks good. The phone is built from glass and aluminium, with a contrasting stripe running across the cameras on the back. It reminded me of the shade on the Pixel, and I’m sure it’ll attract some haters.

The back of the phone curves slightly, making it at least comfortable to hold, and it’s now made out of glass. Huawei told me this change was purely cosmetic, but unlike the iPhone 8 there’s no wireless charging. The fingerprint scanner has been moved from its typical place on the back to below the camera to the front. There’s also still a headphone jack, a feature missing on the Pro model.

Huawei’s big push with the Mate 10 is the new AI-infused Kirin 970 processor that powers the whole thing. Every aspect of this phone has an artificial intelligence twist, from the way apps open to the how the camera switches modes depending on what you’re shooting. The Kirin 970 is an eight-core CPU and a 12-core GPU, along with a dedicated ‘Neural processing unit’ that’s supposed to power the AI.

I think Huawei might struggle to get across just what this AI does, because it doesn’t have an outward-facing personality. Instead, it beavers away in the background, altering how certain things work. In the camera, for example, it can read your surroundings before you take a picture and intelligently switch modes. If you’re taking a photo of a person, it’ll know to enable the portrait mode. It worked well during my short time with the phone, but I’ll need to try it in more testing conditions to know for sure.

Paired with the Kirin 970 is 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, plus a microSD card slot. This card slot can also double as a secondary LTE/4G-capable SIM slot. The Huawei Mate 10 is one of the first phones to be Cat 18 enabled, meaning it’ll work with 1.2Gbps networks whenever those might start to arrive. This is the sort of future-proof tech I expect to see on the Mate line. Even though it’ll be of no use to 99% of people.

Another thing I expect from the Mate series is a beefy battery. The 4000mAh cell used here is massive when compared to the competition – the Galaxy Note 8 has a 3300mAh cell – and Huawei is claiming you’ll get two days of proper use. Considering the size of that battery, I can totally believe it will last multiple days. When it does run out of juice, there’s Huawei’s proprietary Super Charge that will apparently get you from zero to 58% in 30 minutes.

Leica has once again ‘co-engineered’ the camera with Huawei, putting its name alongside the dual sensors on the back. Like the P10 Plus, one of these is a 12-megapixel colour camera and the other is a dedicated 20-megapixel monochrome camera. The biggest update for the Mate 10 is that now both sensors have a very wide f/1.6 aperture that should let more light through the lens and give you better low-light shots. There’s also optical image stabilisation on the colour sensor, but not on the black-and-white one.

Huawei says it’s upgraded the autofocus too, making it much faster, and has also improved the noise-reduction.

I spent a bit of time with the camera on both the Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro, and I’m undecided yet about how I feel about the pictures. While there’s no doubt the shots look sharp and the whole shooting experience is very fast, there does seem to be a load of processing going on. Pictures are very saturated –almost too much in some cases – and the way it switches modes can lead to uneven images that vary wildly in terms of colour and dynamic range. This is all on pre-release software, though, so things could change.

On the software side of things Huawei stills lags behind the rivals in terms of design. Its own Android skin, EMUI, is now built on Android 8.0 Oreo but lacks the polish and style of Samsung’s or HTC’s skins, and still comes packed with loads of pre-installed games and apps. Software seems to still be the one thing holding Huawei back.

First impressions

Huawei has improved so much in hardware design over the past few years that its previous phones are almost unrecognisable. The Mate 10 might not be as slick to look at as the Mate 10 Pro, but its glass body and slim bezel is still attractive. It’ll be interesting to see how the Kirin 970 performs and just how the AI will affect things with prolonged use.