We’ve had many high-end smartphones waltzing through the review pit here at htxt.africa, and that’s to be expected what with all of the new phones announced at CES and MWC now making their way onto the local market.
One of these handsets is the 6-inch Huawei Mate 8, and while it may not have the same prestige as the Samsung Galaxy S7 or the risky foray into modular design of LG’s G5, we’ve found it very hard to fault the Mate 8 during our two week review period.
Just a note: the Mate 8 is not Huawei’s flagship; we’re expecting that (the P9) a bit later this year.
The Mate 8 is being aimed at the business professional, and going on our experiences with the phone Huawei’s engineers hit the nail on the head in almost every aspect. The Mate 8 offers great battery life, a host of connectivity options and a few other tricks that set it apart from other smartphones, which we are starting to think are a bit “samey” these days.
Ultimately, the question that needs answering is whether that focus on business is enough to tempt users away from the likes of Samsung and Apple. Here’s what we think.
Huawei Mate 8 review: Workaholic
Claims of battery life are always taken with a grain of salt here at htxt.africa. It’s not that we don’t trust what manufacturers report, per se, its just that most of the time battery tests are done under laboratory conditions that can’t be replicated in the real world, resulting in claims that sound like “THIS PHONE CAN TOTALLY LAST FOR 256 SOLID HOURS ON A SINGLE CHARGE (but only if you don’t use it and WiFi, LTE, the screen and seven out of eight cores are turned off)”. That kind of thing.
At the launch of the Mate 8 here in South Africa, Huawei told us that the handset would be able to last two days (three at a push) on a single charge. After our time with the handset we’re happy to report that the claim holds up.
The conditions for that test included using the phone for text messaging, calls, having Wifi turned on and screen brightness set to 100%. While two full days of use is commendable we must point out that when the battery hits the 15% mark the phone starts bugging out.
What we mean is that the display becomes unresponsive and lags when trying to type or browse through your Twitter feed, and occasionally videos would not re-orient themselves the right way when the phone was tilted. It was at this point that we decided to save ourselves some frustration and just plug the handset into the wall.
In our gauntlet test, where we play an HD video on loop until the handset dies out under the same conditions as our normal testing, we got what we consider is fast becoming the norm of 10 to 11 hours of battery life. That’s more than enough for a full day, using the phone as it is intended to be used.
The battery, then, is on par with Samsung’s latest flagship, the Galaxy S7 edge, and trounces both Apple and LG’s premium handsets.
Huawei Mate 8 review: Don’t trim the fat
Once again Huawei uses its own flavour of Android which it calls “EMUI”. Now at version 4.0, Huawei’s EMUI is a rather nice take on Android’s interface, but sadly the firm is guilty of also loading it with bloatware. We hate bloatware.
At first it doesn’t seem so bad with Facebook, Instagram and the usual suite of Google Apps. Once you start using the phone, however, you start to notice things like HiPhone (which we accidentally ignored and then were never able to find again, even in the apps list) and the Huawei Health app, which, while nice, would be nicer if it had the option to install it at my own discretion, rather than just being present by default.
All tallied up, the bloatware and OS take up about 12GB of the 32GB storage space. There is the option to add an SD card if you need extra space, and with Android Marshamallow installed you can even merge and encrypt that SD card so it works like it’s a part of the phone.
Speaking to the subjective user experience is tricky, but we do enjoy it. The themes run throughout the interface, even customising the layout of things like the alarm clock, which seldom gets a sideways glance from developers outside of the Samsung and LG camps.
Huawei Mate 8 review: Key Performance Assessment
We’ve seen some big numbers coming out of Samsung and LG in our most recent benchmarks, and we were really hoping that the Huawei would prove to be as good for play as it is for work.
The Mate 8 and its Kirin 950 chipset seems to be geared at being a workhorse though, achieving the highest score we’re yet to see in the PC Mark Workbench but falling short in the graphics department in the Antutu benchmark.
This isn’t a bad thing at all, especially when you consider that this phone is aimed at business people. Performance while browsing the web, installing apps, and a bit of light gaming is actually really good.
However, you do start to notice a bit of lag while using multiple graphically-intensive apps like Maps, or games such as Injustice: Gods Among Us. If you’re the type of person that religiously closes apps after you’re done with them though this won’t be that big of a problem, but for us it was.
While we’re on the topic of the innards, we must applaud Huawei on the fingerprint scanner in the Mate 8: it is quite superb.
As with the LG G5, you don’t need to press a button and then scan your finger. Instead you simply place your finger on the scanner and the phone unlocks. The process takes less than a second and you do have the option to use a PIN code instead.
Like the LG, the Mate 8 has its fingerprint scanner at the back of the handset, which is fine while you are holding it but a chore to use when the handset is mounted to a car cradle or on your bedside table.
Thankfully you can use your fingerprint as well as a numeric code or a pattern to unlock the phone in a more traditional way.
Huawei Mate 8 review: The bigger picture
The 6inch display is huge but its Full HD (1920×1080) resolution is really nice and keeps things sharp. We also like the fact that you can change the colour temperature of the handset making it warmer or cooler depending on your preference. Out of the box the Mate 8’s colour temperature is somewhere in the middle, but a bit closer to the cooler side of things.
The display does have a very small amount of backlight bleed which does tend to washout the colour of images that stretch from bezel to bezel.
The bezel around the display is nearly invisible and while we like that, it does present a problem when using the phone one-handed. My hands are quite large, and I found it tricky to stretch my thumb from the bottom of the display to the top corner.
Thankfully, you can shrink the display down to a smaller size by swiping from the left button to home or the right button to home.
Huawei Mate 8 review: The face of the company
Finally, we come to the camera and surprisingly for a business phone, it’s actually quite good. At the back there’s a 16MP sensor with an f/2.0 aperture for really great photos in the dark.
The camera bump is not as large as it was in the Note 5 or the Galaxy S6 but we did notice it catching on the edge of our pockets a few times though this might be because the rest of the phone is rather sleek.
The front camera is an 8MP affair with an f/2.4 aperture. As is the norm these days, the front camera has a beauty filter but this one actually adapts to your face when you first set it up.
The app scans your face and applies tweaks to your visage where it thinks it needs it. You can restart, or re-calibrate the setting at any time if the filter starts annoying you.
From there you can vary the intensity from no filter to the full, caked-on make-up effect that photos taken with a beauty filter so often have.
Huawei Mate 8 review: Business bits
Being geared toward business means that the Mate 8 has to keep up with the demands of a business person. The call quality is incredible, and you’ll pick up LTE anywhere around the globe.
As to Wifi, the Mate 8 supports all the usual 802.11 standards including the newer AC (gigabit) standard. The Wifi works well and we never encountered a problem; in fact we struggle to think of a reason you would ever need wireless connectivity that’s faster than 1000Mbps on a smartphone. Except for, of course, bragging rights.
There’s also a nifty conference call feature. During a call you can select an icon which engages all three of the Mate 8’s microphones and gives you some semblance of an omni-directional microphone.
The results are better than using the speaker phone, making for a quick solution if you need to have multiple voices on a call at once during an impromptu meeting.
Huawei Mate 8 review: Conclusion
There isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking here like Samsung’s virtual reality, LG’s modular design or Apple’s Live Photos, but we would be doing a disservice to you if we said that the Huawei isn’t a viable option as a replacement phone for whatever you’re using now, because it is.
The battery life is great, performance on a day to day basis is more than substantial and the screen is really beautiful.
Huawei’s snappers are high quality as always, and the user interface is friendly and easy to navigate through if this is your first Android.
In fact, if you had to put another big screen smartphone, the Galaxy Note 5, next to the Mate 8 we would have a very hard time choosing one.
However, now that we have the Galaxy S7, the LG G5 and even the forthcoming Huawei P9 the Mate 8 is on the back foot a bit.
With that said, if you’re looking for a phone that will last you two days, has great specifications and none of the other offerings currently on the market tickle your fancy, the Mate 8 might be for you. We certainly enjoyed our time with it.