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Everything you need to know about the Huawei Mate 9

Porsche Design's glorious, expensive version of the Mate 9 is up for pre-order, but with a catch

Huawei is known for a wide range of phones that run from the very big and powerful to the elegant and small. Now Huawei is taking on the phablet market with the Mate 9. It’s the follow-up to last year’s Mate 8, which boasted a super-fast fingerprint sensor, gorgeous all-metal build, and great battery life. It’s a tough act to follow, needless to say, but the Mate 9 and Mate 9 Pro make impressive strides in those areas and others.

Where to buy it?

Huawei Mate 9 review
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Huawei Mate 9 is available in black, space gray, moonlight silver, champagne gold, mocha brown, and ceramic white. In the past, Huawei hasn’t sold its flagship phones in the U.S., and while the Mate 9 still can’t be purchased through a carrier, it can be bought officially through several online stores.

More: Read our review of the Mate 9

From Friday, January 6, it is available in the United States as an unlocked phone on Huawei, plus it’s sold for the same price through Amazon, Jet, NewEgg, and B&H Photo.

There’s good news in the U.K. too, where the Mate 9 has been snapped up by the Three network, and sold either with a contract or on Pay As You Go. On the latter the phone is yours for 550 British pounds, plus a fee for the SIM card, or you can choose between a selection of plans. Pay 100 British pounds up front, and you’ll get the phone plus a 1GB data plan with minutes and SMS for 36 British pounds each month, over two years. The network stocks only the 64GB Mate 9 in space grey.

At launch, Huawei said the Mate 9 would also sell in China, Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, and a few other countries. The price quoted was 700 euros.

If you want the Porsche Design Mate 9, it’s up for pre-order through Porsche Design’s own online store, with shipping expected to start on January 31. Huawei already said the phone would have a limited release, and Porsche Design’s store only ships to the U.K. and certain other European countries. A U.S. release isn’t expected.

Huawei Mate 9

Huawei Mate 9 review
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

There are several versions of the Mate 9 available. The standard Mate 9, the Mate 9 Pro only available in China, the Mate 9 Lite, and the limited edition Mate 9 Porsche Design. Here are all the differences, starting with the Mate 9.

If you’re familiar with the Mate 8, the first thing you’ll likely notice about the Mate 9 is just how many design cues it takes from its predecessor. From the front, the two appear to be cut from the same cloth: they pack the same earpiece, sensor array, and even logo placement. The dimensions are nearly identical, too. The Mate 9’s aluminum body measures roughly the same height (156.9mm on the Mate 9 versus 157.1mm on the Mate 8, width (78.9mm versus 80.6mm), and depth (7.9mm versus 7.9mm) as the outgoing Mate 8.

Related: The wait is over: the dual-lens, big-screen, Leica-tuned Huawei P9 Plus is yours to buy

The commonalities don’t stop there. The Mate 9 also sports a 5.9-inch Full HD (1,920 × 1,080 pixels) IPS screen with sloping 2.5D shielded glass. It sports the same 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and 8-megapixel front-facing camera. And it has the same 4,000mAh battery, which Huawei said should last about two days with light usage and 20 hours on 4G.

Two camera lenses

However, when you flip the Mate 9 on its back, you’ll see a big change. Huawei added an upgraded second-generation dual camera module tuned by Leica, following on from the one on the P9 smartphone. It’s made of one f/2.2 12-megapixel color camera and one f/2.2 20-megapixel monochrome camera that produces black and white images. The monochrome lens can be used separately, too, to take black and white shots.

The second rear-facing camera doesn’t come at the cost of the first’s quality. It features what Huawei calls “4-in-1 hybrid focus”: a combination of laser, phase detection, depth, and contrast focus, and it’s capable of both wide aperture and bokeh effects, plus up to a 2x optical zoom effect. The two lenses work together to make “bokeh” shots normally only available on expensive DSLR cameras simple.

The Mate 9 sports upgraded internals in the form of Huawei’s new octa-core Kirin 960 processor paired with a Mali-G71 MP8 graphics chip and the company’s proprietary i6 co-processor. It’s a package that altogether performs “180 percent” faster than the 950, Huawei claims, and as much as 40 percent more efficiently in terms of power consumption.

Battery technology and software

The Mate 9’s battery sports Huawei’s “Super Safe 5-gate protection,” a power design which delivers real-time voltage, current, and temperature monitoring to “eliminate safety hazards” and “safeguard battery life.” And it supports SuperCharge, Huawei’s fast charging standard. The company said it’ll juice up 50 percent faster than the Mate 8, and reach as much as 58 percent capacity — enough for a day’s use — in 30 minutes. The Mate 9 also packs a USB Type-C connector, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, dual SIM slot, four noise-canceling microphones, and MicroSD card slot that’s expandable up to 256GB.

In terms of software, the Mate 9 has Android 7.0 Nougat with Huawei’s updated EMUI 5.0 user interface over the top. The software represents the biggest change to EMUI in Huawei’s history, and it’s considerably cleaner, easier to use, and more convenient than ever before. Cleverly, Huawei has added machine learning algorithms to ensure the phone maintains its speed over time — specifically by learning which apps you use most frequently and compressing low priority apps. It packs an array of useful tweaks including a miss-dial prevention feature, personalized themes, and privacy tools. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg: EMUI can recognize gestures made with your knuckles against the screen, which quickly launches apps, can capture screen images, and plenty more.

Huawei Porsche Design Mate 9

Huawei Mate 9 Porsche Design
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Alongside the Mate 9, Huawei launched a very special edition of the new phone: a limited-edition, super stylish collaboration with the well-respected design house Porsche Design. The Mate 9 Porsche Design looks completely different from the regular Mate 9, and comes with upgraded hardware and a higher price tag.

More: Read our first-take impressions of the Mate 9 Porsche Design here

Huawei says it’s among the “thinnest smartphones in the world,” and it’s certainly a sleek, attractive device. It more closely resembles the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge than the Mate 9, and looks gorgeous in the shiny black color scheme. The screen is smaller at 5.5-inches, and is an AMOLED panel with a higher 2,560 × 1,440 pixel resolution.

The internals are the same as the normal Mate 9, meaning it has the Kirin 960 processor, 6GB of RAM, 256GB of internal memory, and a 4,000mAh battery. It also has the dual-lens camera on the back, but the fingerprint sensor is in a physical home button on the front.

Not that any of this really matters. You’ll want this because of its looks and exclusivity, rather than its technical prowess. How much will you have to pay? It’s a hefty 1395 euros, or about $1,600. The Porsche Design Mate 9 can be purchased through Porsche Design’s own online store, with shipping to start on January 31. Sadly, the store only delivers its products to the U.K. and various European countries, and no U.S. release is scheduled for the device.

Huawei Mate 9 Pro

Several weeks after the Mate 9 was revealed, Huawei quietly pushed the Mate 9 Pro onto the market, but only in China. It’s essentially the same phone as the Mate 9 Porsche Design, but without the Porsche Design branding or beautiful black bodywork.

More: Hands on: Huawei Honor 8

This means it closely resembles the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, with a double-edged curved glass cover over the 5.5-inch, 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution AMOLED screen, and a centrally mounted physical home button with a fingerprint sensor inside, under it. The processor is the same Kirin 960 as in the Mate 9 itself, along with a choice of either 4GB RAM/64GB storage or 6GB/128GB configurations.

The other specifications are also identical to the Mate 9, including the dual-lens Leica-tuned camera, the 4,000mAh battery, and EMUI 5.0 over Android 7.0 Nougat. Interestingly, the Mate 9 Pro is certified for use with Google’s Daydream virtual reality platform. In China, Huawei sells its own Daydream-spec headset for use with the device.

International release plans haven’t been confirmed.

Huawei Mate 9 Lite

It may be part of the Mate 9 family, but the Mate 9 Lite can’t match the others in terms of technology. The screen is 5.5-inches and has a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution, mounted inside a curved metal body, but the processor is a less powerful 2GHz Kirin 655. A choice of 3GB or 4GB of RAM is available, depending on whether you opt for 32GB or 64GB of internal storage space.

Two camera lenses sit on the back, but they’re not Leica tuned and have a lower megapixel count than the other Mate 9 phones, plus the operating system is Android 6.0 Marshmallow, with the inferior EMUI 4.1 user interface installed. It’ll likely be on sale in China, but international release plans haven’t been stated.

Article originally published in August 2016. Kyle Wiggers, Christian de Looper, Andy Boxall, and Malarie Gokey have all contributed. Updated on 01/26/2017 by Andy Boxall: Added in release details for the Porsche Design Mate 9.