Huawei has pinned its hopes on the Mate 10 Pro as its flagship phone for the year. It was designed to be just as good as the Galaxy Note 8 ($ 949.97 at Amazon.com). And with its huge display, powerful processor and cool camera, it gets pretty close.
The Mate 10 Pro isn’t quite as fully featured as the Note 8, missing as it does the S Pen stylus, expandable storage and its own virtual assistant (though we’re not totally sold on Bixby Voice). At around £700 or AU$ 1,099 (that converts to about $ 920), this phone isn’t cheap. But solid all-round performance makes it a good option if you want a gorgeous, big screen, high-end phone without the Samsung name or the Note 8’s staggeringly high price (£869 or AU$ 1,499; the Note 8 costs about $ 950 in the US).
The Pro here isn’t the only phone in the Mate 10 series. The standard Mate 10 has a smaller 5.9-inch display, a fingerprint scanner on the front (rather than on the back) and it isn’t waterproof. Internal specs are much the same and it should be the cheaper model, although pricing and availability aren’t cemented just yet.
Only the Pro version sells in the UK, however, while the Mate 10 will be available in Australia. Neither phone has been announced for the US.
Big screen needs big hands
With its 6-inch screen, there’s no escaping the fact that the Mate 10 Pro is a large phone. The tiny bezel on all sides means that the body hasn’t had to balloon out any more than is necessary, but even so, I struggled to type with just one hand. The glass back makes it a bit slippery to juggle around when you’re trying to tap an icon that’s just out of reach. If you’ve got smaller hands, you’ll have some adjusting to do to hit that fingerprint reader on the back.
To help with one-handed use, Huawei has added an on-screen button called the Navigation Dock, which can replace the navigation bar. It floats over whatever you’re looking at and can be moved into just the correct position for your thumb to reach. A single tap takes you back a step, press and hold to go home, or press and swipe right to open your multitasking wheel. It does mean you have a small white orb hovering over everything you’re looking at, but it’s easy to move out of the way or turn off altogether.
Huawei achieves that slim bezel by moving the fingerprint scanner from beneath the display to the back, below the camera. It’s fast and accurate. The screen now dominates the front of the phone, giving plenty of room to show off your favourite Netflix shows. The 2,160×1,080-pixel resolution is a step below the Note 8’s 2,960×1,440-pixels, but in everyday use you’re unlikely to see much difference. It’s crisp, with vibrant colours and it’s bright enough to sear your eyeballs right out.
Huawei shoehorned a bunch of gestures into the “Smart Assistance” section of the Mate 10 Pro’s settings app. For example, you can take a screenshot by knocking the screen with your knuckles, and launch split-screen mode by swiping your finger horizontally across the screen. These are largely frustrating gimmicks rather than time-savers. You can largely ignore them, but they still let us down, and needlessly pounded our knuckles.
Huawei has taken a cue from Apple in switching the rear design from metal to glass. While Apple made the move to support wireless charging, however, Huawei’s decision is purely down to aesthetics — there’s no wireless charging on this phone. I do love the design, however, despite the glass being an absolute fingerprint magnet. It looks sleek, modern and classy. It’s the sort of phone you won’t feel embarrassed about pulling from your smart jacket pocket and you’ll enjoy the sideways glances as people look and try to make out what it is.
CNET reviewers got the Mate 10 Pro in both slate and brown shades. Surprisingly, we liked the brown best. It might seem like the least exciting colour for a flashy gadget (shoutout to anyone who remembers the brown Zune), but it makes a refreshing change from the usual black or silver phones on sale. It’s the colour I’d choose if I were buying the phone myself.
Great camera, in colour and mono
On the back is a similar dual camera setup to the ones we’ve seen on the Huawei P10 ($ 649.00 at Amazon.com). A 12-megapixel sensor takes shots in colour, while a 20-megapixel sensor shoots exclusively in black and white.
Shots from both sensors look great. Colours are rich, with great exposure balance between bright skies and shadowy foregrounds. The white balance does seem to err a little on the cold side, but it’s an easy couple of taps to adjust that and warm the scene up a bit. It performs well in low light too, producing bright, clear shots with minimal image noise.
You can take portrait photos with a tap of an on-screen control. While the Mate 10 Pro doesn’t save both versions, like the Galaxy Note 8 does, portraits from the Mate 10 have a decent amount of background blur, which helps your subject pop out from the scene. The “cut-out” around the subject isn’t always particularly neat (the iPhone 8 Plus ($ 980.00 at Amazon.com) was more consistent in my experience), but it’s good enough to help jazz up your Instagram portraits.