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Porsche Design Huawei Mate 9: Our first take

Porsche Design puts its name on a stunningly attractive, very high-spec smartphone that costs way more than it should.

Huawei calls the Porsche Design version of the Mate 9, “the best smartphone ever made,” and Huawei certainly made it clear the relationship between the two firms would never have gone ahead if that wasn’t the end goal. It’s a bold claim, but is it little more than bluster on Huawei’s part, or is the Porsche Design Mate 9 really something special? After all, it costs 1,400 euros, or at least $1,600, so it’s got to be more than a crass branding exercise, right?

It’s definitely more than that. Yes, Porsche Design’s name is emblazoned above the display and its PD logo is stamped centrally on the back, but it’s attached to a beautiful, eye-catching design, filled with some superb technical specifications.

Related: Our first impression of the Huawei Mate 9

It’s a huge relief. The last time Porsche Design got involved with smartphones, it teamed up with BlackBerry. The resulting phones certainly stood out, but in the same way as a big, nasty wart does on the back of your hand. Although, we’d say this was more about who Porsche Design was trying to work with, than Porsche Design’s own abilities.

Huawei? Or Samsung?

The Porsche Design Mate 9 doesn’t look like the regular Mate 9, a phone that could actually do with a more eye-catching design, but instead, it really resembles the Galaxy S7 Edge. In reality, it feels more like the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus in the hand, thanks to sharper, more angled sides. It’s not uncomfortable to hold, but it doesn’t match the smoothness we love about the S7 Edge. The curved screen doesn’t take on any special purpose like the S7 Edge, either. It’s just there for looks.

It’s matched to a curved rear panel, and the phone only comes in a brushed, almost matte black finish. The finish gives the phone a mature air, so it doesn’t look like a flashy trinket, and you’re going to feel pretty special every time you pull it out of your pocket. If the last time you saw a Porsche Design phone you recoiled in surprise at its unattractiveness, this time you’re going to be drawn in for a closer look by the subtle style.

Related: Huawei’s Mate 9 is what high-end smartphone dreams are made of

The display measures 5.5-inches, smaller than the Mate 9’s huge 5.9-inch screen, but has a higher 2,560 x 1,440-pixel resolution. It looks great, filled with color and detail, and even in the short time we spent staring at it, we’d consider it a step beyond the Mate 9 and likely equal to Huawei’s other 1440p screen on the Nexus 6P.

It’s not uncomfortable to hold, but it doesn’t match the smoothness we love about the S7 Edge.

It’s running Android 7.0 Nougat with Huawei’s new EMUI 5.0 user interface over the top, which has a cleaner, simpler design to previous versions. Huawei is also talking up its long-term speed benefits too, saying it won’t slow down over time. It’s certainly speedy thanks to the new Kirin 960 processor and a whopping 6GB of RAM.

The Mate 9 Porsche model has the same 4,000mAh battery with SuperCharge technology, Huawei’s fast charger that rushes to 58 percent capacity in just 30 minutes. You won’t run out of storage quickly either, as there is 256GB built in.

Leica camera

What sets the Porsche Design Mate 9 apart from the visually similar Galaxy S7 Edge most is the dual-lens Leica camera on the back. Like the Mate 9, it’s the second-generation setup, which improves upon the dual-cameras on the Huawei P9. The Mate 9 boasts a 12-megapixel color lens and a 20-megapixel monochrome lens. It takes bokeh shots (that’s pictures with a blurred background) in both still and video mode, it’s easy to use due to Leica’s involvement with the software, and in the early tests we’ve performed, it’s a real winner.

Huawei Mate 9 Porsche Design
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

If we stopped here, it’s hard to refute Huawei’s trumpeting of the Porsche Design Mate 9’s greatness. After all, it looks great, has plenty of power and storage, a super camera, and software smarts that should keep it performing well even after 18 months use.

Expensive

However, we can’t stop here. One can’t help but think that without the Porsche Design branding, this is a phone that would cost the same as the Mate 9, which is half the price. The Galaxy S7 Edge is basically the same otherwise, and although the camera isn’t a Leica twin-lens job, it’s not like snapping pictures with a flip phone from 2005.

Related: How to use the Huawei P9’s superb dual-lens camera

Owning the Porsche Design Mate 9 is more like owning the TAG Heuer Carrera Connected smartwatch. TAG Heuer’s watch is internally identical to many other Android watches, such as those from Fossil, yet costs four times as much. You’re paying for the pleasure of owning a TAG Heuer, with all the Swiss design heritage that comes with it. With the Mate 9, you’re paying more for Porsche Design’s sleek look and inherent coolness.

It’s not a mass-market phone. Most will take a look at the pictures, appreciate what it is, but won’t ever actually consider buying one. Even if you are tempted, finding one isn’t going to be easy. We understand it’s not coming to the U.S., and there’s no release date or confirmed regions of availability yet either. We imagine Porsche Design boutiques will be selling the phone, much like De Grisogono boutiques carry the designer version of the Samsung Gear S2, though.

Conclusion

Does the silly price tag mean the Porsche Design Mate 9 should be dismissed as a plaything? A phone only for those dripping in disposable cash? No. It’s technically very capable, remember, so purchasing one doesn’t mean compromising on performance. Plus, it makes us genuinely excited for the future. Will the next Huawei Watch have a Porsche Design version? Will we get a non-Porsche Design branded edition of the phone with a more reasonable price tag? How will the stunning looks and spec influence future fashion-forward phones from Huawei, such as the inevitable P10? We can’t wait to find out.

Ultimately, don’t let a desire for the Porsche Design version lessen your interest in the regular Mate 9. The bigger screen may have a lower resolution and no slinky curves, but all the other tech is present and correct, at a much lower price. If the money is there, waiting to be spent on something a bit frivolous that will make you smile, then the Porsche Design Mate 9 will be worth seeking out.

Highs

  • Beautiful design
  • Stunning high-res screen
  • Leica dual-lens camera
  • Lots of storage space
  • Fast processor
  • Latest Android version

Lows

  • Really expensive
  • Limited release
  • Design could be seen as derivative