Huawei’s new flagship phones, the Mate 10 and the Mate 10 Pro, are like a typical Hollywood blockbuster — polished in all areas, but entirely void of originality.
This has always been the case for Huawei, which is still struggling to get significant traction in the U.S. despite being the world’s second-largest smartphone manufacturer. I’ve given up waiting for Huawei to wow me; instead, I’d like to see the company produce a phone that’s really, really good at everything.
With the latest duo of large-screened flagships, Huawei still hasn’t done it, but it came really, really close.
The biggest problem with Huawei Mate 10 Pro is that it’s worse, in some regards, than the cheaper, Huawei Mate 10. The two phones share the same cameras and the same Huawei-designed Kirin 970 processor, but they’re different in several key areas.
The Mate 10 Pro has more storage than the Mate 10 out of the box, but it doesn’t support memory cards. It has water resistance, but no headphone jack. It has a beautiful, 6-inch OLED screen, but it has lower resolution, and — due to the different aspect ratio — the display actually smaller than the Mate 10’s 5.9-inch LCD.
The bottom line: Whichever of these two phones you choose, it’ll be a compromise.
I’ve used the Mate 10 Pro as my main phone over the last two weeks, and I’ve used the Mate 10 alongside it for comparisons. Let’s start with the traits and features that are the same on both devices.
Performance and battery life
Huawei uses its own Kirin chipset for its phones, and I’ve never had complaints about it. These two phones are powered by the octa-core Kirin 970 coupled with a Mali G-72 GPU, and it’s been blazing fast in day-to-day use. The Pro variant has 6GB of RAM compared to the regular Mate 10’s 4GB, but I haven’t noticed a difference there — and in my previous experience, anything over 4GB in a smartphone is mostly overkill these days.
However, the Mate 10 Pro came with an unpleasant surprise: Bugs. I’ve gotten accustomed to Huawei’s phones being very polished and bug-free, but here I’ve had problems with Facebook, which crashed intermittently (and often). This could’ve been due to the third-party keyboard I use (I don’t like SwiftKey, which comes by default); once I switched to a different keyboard, the problems stopped.
The Huawei Mate 10 Pro consistently produces attractive photos.
Both phones have a huge, 4,000mAh (milliamp-hour) battery that charges very fast, and that’s their biggest strength. Just like previous phones from the Mate series, these two go on forever. They’re better than any flagship I’ve recently used, including the LG V30 and the iPhone X. The battery easily endured a day and a half of intensive use; only once, when I was traveling and really bashing the Mate 10 Pro with tasks all day, did the battery come close to 20% at the end of the day. If battery life is important to you, either phone will satisfy you — though keep in mind that neither model supports wireless charging.
The Mate 10 Pro’s stereo speakers sound great. They sound is just a little bit tinny compared to the iPhone X (which has the best speakers I’ve heard on any smartphone), but they’re far better than the sound coming from LG V30’s crummy speaker.
Huawei is especially proud of the Mate 10 Pro’s AI chip. Other than a few camera tricks, described below, I didn’t notice any benefit of this chip in daily use.
The camera that mimics everyone
For the Mate 10 Pro (and the Mate 10, which has the exact same cameras), Huawei seems to have decided to throw in every feature present on competing flagships. The Leica-branded rear dual camera has a 20-megapixel, black-and-white sensor coupled with a 12-megapixel color sensor, both with a stellar f/1.6 aperture (same as LG’s V30). On the front, the 8-megapixel camera has an f/2.0 aperture.
The dual cameras, coupled with the phone’s AI smarts, allow Huawei to do neat tricks like the faux-bokeh Portrait mode, a feature popularized by the iPhone Plus models. Huawei’s version works surprisingly well — even on the single front camera — and sometimes it produces photos that are just as good, or better, than the “portrait” photos taken by the iPhone X.
However, Huawei has also stuffed in some features that simply don’t make sense. For example, the “lossless 2x zoom” — again, a feature nicked from the iPhone — means the phone takes a photo at 20-megapixel resolution and then digitally zooms it, which is why the feature isn’t available when you’re already taking photos in 20-megapixel resolution. Worse, even the 20-megapixel resolution photos aren’t exactly that, as the phone combines the information from the black-and-white 20-megapixel sensor and the color 12-megapixel sensor to create a 20-megapixel photo.
But here’s the kicker: The Huawei Mate 10 Pro consistently produces attractive photos. They’re not always perfect, and anyone who knows photography will probably dislike the overprocessing that sometimes turns photos into something that resembles a painting, but I’ve been able to catch a good-looking shot on the first try almost every time, which cannot be said for all Android phones. The cameras, both rear and front, were also reasonably fast and performed well in all light conditions — even in dark rooms and during late-night strolls.
Thanks to the AI chip, the Mate 10 Pro’s camera can intelligently recognize certain scenes and objects and adjust accordingly. It happens every now and then and is a nice showcase for Huawei’s AI tech, but it’s not something that will make a big difference in the way you use the smartphone.
Generally, the Mate 10 Pro’s camera is both a huge improvement over the Mate 9’s camera and a worthy competitor to the best smartphone cameras out there, which is a huge accomplishment by Huawei.
Rejoice, it comes with Android 8.0
The Mate 10 Pro and the Mate 10 come with Android 8.0 out of the box, covered by Huawei’s EMUI skin. I applaud the former and don’t mind the latter — though it takes some getting used to for first-timers, Huawei’s software has been refined over the years and is generally just as good, or better, than the skins you’ll find on other Android phones.
Huawei’s knuckle gestures feel as an afterthought at this point — I’d accidentally launch one sometimes and only then would I remember that they exist. But there’s an awesome one I consistently use: The double-knuckle-tap to get a screenshot.
Issues still include features that are unnecessarily hidden in the Settings menu, some degree of bloatware and Huawei’s own software which sometimes requires registration, and I’ve thoroughly skipped. I only have patience to do that once on a phone — sorry, Huawei — and I choose Google.
Screen, design, and headphone jack blues
Now we arrive at the confusing part. When it comes to internals, the Mate 10 Pro is pretty much the same as the regular Mate 10. But on the outside, they’re very different. The Mate 10 is a wider, bigger phone. It has a 2,560 x 1,440 pixel LCD screen. The Mate 10 Pro’s screen has a smaller resolution (2,160 x 1080) and a different aspect ratio (18:9), but it’s an OLED and its contrast and blacks are better. For me, the Mate 10 Pro wins this one, but some will prefer the Mate 10’s wider format and bigger screen estate.
Design-wise, the Mate 10 Pro is far more elegant thanks to smaller bezels and a slimmer frame. The Mate 10 looks is more phablet-like and offers more screen real estate, both in terms of resolution and surface size.
On the back, a stripe that’s slightly darker than the rest of the phone extends from side to side and over the vertically positioned cameras. It’s a nice touch that gives the phone a dash of originality. As is typical of Huawei’s high-end phones, both are incredibly well made and feel solid in the hand.
Then there’s the question of the headphone jack. The Mate 10 has it, the Mate 10 Pro doesn’t. It’s a big deal for some users, me included, since phones without a headphone jack offer no clear benefits at this point. But then again, the Mate 10 Pro is actually water resistant, while the Mate 10 can only withstand a splash.
I prefer the Mate 10 Pro’s screen, look, format and fingerprint sensor placement, but the Mate 10 wins in other areas.
The fingerprint sensor (which is blazing fast, by the way), is located on the back of the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, but it sits on the front of Mate 10, below the screen. I like the sensor on the back, but some may prefer it the other way around.
The lack of memory card support on the Mate 10 Pro is especially troubling. I keep all my music on an SD card which I ferry from phone to phone as I change them (which, admittedly, I do far more often than a typical user). I cannot do that with the Mate 10 Pro. Its 128GB of included storage (there’s also a special variant with 256GB of storage) is generous enough, but this is still an issue. The Mate 10, on the other hand, will happily accept a microSD card up to 256GB in capacity.
All these differences make the choice between these phones quite tough. The price difference, which I’ll talk about in a second, is important, but it’s not just that. For me, neither phone gives me everything I want — I prefer the Mate 10 Pro’s screen, look, format and fingerprint sensor placement, but the Mate 10 wins in other areas. Worse, there are phones out there that offer everything in one package: LG’s V30, which I’ve reviewed, has the headphone jack, water resistance, memory card support, and an OLED screen.
Price and availability
Huawei prices its flagship phones comparable or just a little bit cheaper to Samsung and Apple’s flagships, and it’s usually hard to justify that price.
This applies to the Mate 10 Pro and the Mate 10 as well. At 799 euros ($955) in Europe, the Mate 10 Pro costs more than the Pixel 2 XL or a LG V30, and roughly the same as the Galaxy Note 8. The phone isn’t available in the U.S., but at that price it would be a tough sell.
The Mate 10 is significantly cheaper at 699 euros ($835) and is actually a better buy, all things considered.
Still, I can easily recommend any of these two on two features alone: great camera and amazing battery life. If these are important to you — and I’d say they’re very important to most everyone who owns a smartphone — Huawei’s latest flagships are both a good buy.
Huawei Mate 10 Pro/Mate 10
Amazing battery life • Great cameras • Very good performance
Neither of the two phones has all the features a top flagship should have • Price could be lower • Some bugs
The Bottom Line
Huawei’s latest duo of phones are a good buy if you want a good camera and great battery life. For a more complete set of features, there are better options out there.