The Huawei Mate 8 is finally here. The successor to the Ascend Mate 7, the battery miracle of 2014, has joined the race. But has Huawei once again delivered a long-distance runner with solid performance? In this Huawei Mate 8 review, we’ll investigate where this phablet outpaces the competition – and whether it really is a compelling purchase.
- ✓Great battery life
- ✓Very good performance
- ✓Fast fingerprint sensor
- ✓Great design
- ✕Poorly placed speakers
- ✕Mediocre camera
Huawei Mate 8 release date and price
Huawei took its time in releasing the Mate 8. This 6-inch phablet was originally expected to make an appearance at IFA 2015 in Berlin, but unfortunately, the schedule was delayed. The reason for this lies inside the Mate 8, with its Kirin 950 processor. The new high-end processor from Huawei's own chip manufacturer wasn't actually ready until early December, and thus delayed the launch. Initially, the Mate 8 was only available in China; an international launch was announced at CES 2016 in Las Vegas in January.
In China, the Mate 8 comes in three different versions: a 32 GB version with 3 GB of RAM, a 64 GB version with 4 GB RAM and a 128 GB version that's also equipped with 4 GB of RAM. All other technical data and features, however, are the same for all three versions. In Europe, the Mate 8 price ranges from around 450 euros, for the smallest version, to 520-620 euros for the 128 GB model.
Huawei Mate 8 design and build quality
When the Mate S was introduced at IFA 2015, it also revealed Huawei's new design language, which the company has also used for the Mate 8. While the Mate 7 was largely made of plastic, the Mate 8 is made entirely of metal. There are only two narrow strips of plastic, at the top and bottom of the device.
A closer look reveals additional design differences between the Mate 8 and the Mate S. The camera lens cover is now round, not polygonal, and the fingerprint sensor is also round.
The edges of our Chinese review unit's metal housing are roughened, making it a little grippier than the Huawei Mate and less likely to slip from your hand.
It’s quite easy to identify keys that are found on the side of the device too. While the volume rocker has a smooth surface, the power button is textured, to help you distinguish between them.
The Mate 8 feels like a well-designed phone – quite the opposite of the plastic-laden Mate 7. There is a significant jump in overall quality, too.
Huawei Mate 8 display
The Huawei Mate 8 display is a 6-inch IPS Neo screen that offers a Full HD experience, comparable to that of the Huawei P8. The only difference lies in the size of the display.
Huawei has consistently avoided using 2K resolution displays. The Mate 8's 6-inch screen packs 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, which gives it a pixel density of 368 ppi. This is far less than a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+, for example, which offers 518 ppi.
The IPS panel of the Mate 8 shows no weakness in the production of colors. But you'll notice the difference between it and the Mate S's AMOLED display, which offers fuller and better contrast.
There are advantages to the IPS panel used in the Mate 8, most notably when it comes to brightness. The maximum brightness setting of the Mate 8 outshines the AMOLED display of its sister model.
The Huawei Mate 8 uses Gorilla Glass 4 to protect the display and its rounded edges. To use the technical jargon, these edges are referred to as 2.5D Glass.
Huawei Mate 8 special features
The Huawei Mate 8 has, as would be expected, a fingerprint sensor on the back, just as the Mate S and Ascend Mate 7 do, but it's now round rather than rectangular. Apart from the shape of the sensor, little else has changed.
The fingerprint sensor does more than just unlock the smartphone. Additional functions can be found in the settings, such as triggering the camera, handling calls, or stopping the alarm.
Huawei Mate 8 software
Huawei ships the Mate 8 with Android 6.0 and 4.0 EMUI from the factory. It’s the first Huawei smartphone to deliver Marshmallow.
At first glance, nothing much has changed compared with Android 5.1.1 and EMUI 3.1. There is no app drawer, instead all apps are distributed on the home screen after installation. You’ll need to order and drop them into folders yourself.
If you dive into the system a bit deeper, you’ll see numerous small changes. First of all, I noticed that the Huawei Mate 8 has a landscape mode for the homescreen. This makes a lot of sense given its 6-inch screen.
In the settings of EMUI 4.0, and thanks to Android 6.0, you’ll find a new calling feature called Huawei Authorization Manager. This grants or restricts various permissions for the apps you use.
Huawei Mate 8 performance
As mentioned earlier, the Mate 8 uses the new HiSilicon Kirin 950 processor. The octa-core processor, is based on ARM's big.LITTLE architecture. The four ARM Cortex-A72 cores of the processor clock to a maximum speed of 2.3 GHz. This quad-cluster only kicks in when power is really needed, such as during graphically intensive gaming and video decoding.
For non-intensive tasks, such as sending SMS, WhatsApp messages or emailing, the four Cortex-A72 can be clocked down and the four ARM Cortex-A53 cores take over the bulk of the computational work. These four cores clock at a maximum of 1.8 GHz.
For our review, we used the basic version of the Mate 8. It has 3 GB of RAM and an internal memory of 32 GB, which is expandable with a microSD card. Our first benchmarks showed that the Kirin 950 is currently one of the most powerful processors on the market. Even Samsung's Exynos 7420, used in the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, is left behind by the Kirin 950. You want evidence? Take a look at the screenshots below:
On Geekbench 3, AnTuTu 6.0 and Vellamo, the Huawei Mate 8 runs very fast. It’s quite different to the benchmark we got from Base Mark, though. This app measures the performance of the graphics unit, and the Mate 8's can't keep up with the Galaxy S6's and those of its edged siblings.
Huawei Mate 8 audio
Don't let the dual speaker design of the Huawei Mate 8 deceive you. Audiophiles might be disappointed to discover that, as with the Mate S, the right speaker grille produces sound, but the left is there only for adornment.
The Mate 8 also has a 3.5 mm headphone jack, but there is an interesting comparison we need to make here with the Mate S. While the Mate S, with correspondingly certified headphones, produces DTS sound as standard, this feature was omitted from the Mate 8. But that is not a huge disadvantage as the difference between DTS and non-DTS sound isn’t especially noticeable.
There isn’t much to complain about regarding the Mate 8’s call quality. I found the sound to be good, even in very noisy environments, as did those I called. But I should note that our test device was a Chinese version which lacks support for LTE Band 800MHz. This LTE frequency is mainly used by network operators to bridge long distances in rural areas.
Huawei Mate 8 camera
The Mate 8 camera is a solid update over the Mate S. Instead of a 13 MP rear camera, the Mate 8 comes with a 16 MP shooter. The image sensor is from Sony and goes by the name of IMX 298. This chip is used for fast focusing, phase autofocus and has an aperture of f/2.0. An optical image stabilizer and dual-LED flash round off the package.
For selfie fans there is an 8 MP front camera, whose IMX 179 image sensor is also from Sony. It’s just a pity that Huawei omitted a front LED flash.
On paper, the specs read well, but in practice, both cameras are only just above average. Our photographer Toni had little enthusiasm for the shots he took with it. You can see those shots in the gallery at the link below.
They pale in comparison to pictures snapped with the Galaxy S6, LG G4 or a Sony Xperia Z5. The Huawei Mate 8 is not a smartphone for avid photographers, but the cameras are adequate for documenting daily life to share on social networks.
Huawei Mate 8 battery
The predecessor to the Mate 8 is a true endurance device. The Mate 7 has a 4,100 mAh battery, which was gigantic at the time of its release in 2014. Although the new Mate 8 battery is ‘only’ 4,000 mAh, it scored a fantastic12,065 points in an initial benchmark with the AnTuTu Tester app. For comparison, the Meizu Pro 5 scored 8,327 points.
In everyday use, the Huawei Mate 8 proves that it can successfully carry on the legacy of the Ascend Mate 7. The battery easily lasts a day-and-a-half with intensive use. This can be increased even further if you aren’t like me and can keep off YouTube or refrain from an extended session of Real Racing 3.
The Mate 8's battery life gets even better with Android 6.0 and its power-saving feature Doze. This Marshmallow feature puts some apps into deep sleep mode while the phone is in standby, consuming less power. In effect, it means that the Huawei Mate 8 can potentially survive for two-and-a-half days on one charge.
Huawei Mate 8 technical specifications
It was good that Huawei took a bit longer to release the Mate 8, allowing for the inclusion of the Kirin 950 processor. The new processor has made a very good impression and lifts the Mate 8 to the frontline of the fastest smartphones. This performance is bolstered by strong battery life, aided in part by Android 6.0's Doze feature, which makes this smartphone one of the true endurance machines.
The biggest weakness I noticed during my review was with the camera. It did not meet my expectations and is mediocre at best. But if you’re not too concerned with having the best camera on the market, then the Mate 8 is a great phablet with excellent performance and battery life.