The Huawei Mate 8 has a HiSilicon Kirin 950 SoC, which consists of a quad-core Cortex A72 running at 2.3GHz and a quad-core Cortex A53 running at 1.8GHz, along with a Mali-T880 MP4 GPU. HiSilicon is a subsidiary of Huawei, which doesn’t mean much for potential buyers, but it does show how deeply Huawei is entrenched in the mobile market.
The 32GB Mate 8 ships with 3GB of system RAM, while the 64GB Mate 8 ships with 4GB. Expect to see this option going forward with other smartphones as added capacity is no longer enough to get consumers to spend additional dollars. Android Marshmallow now enables devices to mount microSD cards as internal storage, meaning users can add about 32GB of capacity for as little as $10 (much less than the up to $100 OEMs charge for the upgrade), and cloud storage is both ubiquitous and cheap. Added RAM, on the other hand, offers real performance benefits, including swifter web browsing and app switching.
We reviewed the 32GB/3GB unit, and it hummed along nicely in testing. The Mate 8 was quick, stayed cool, and bug free. This is notable because Huawei applies a pretty thick skin to its version of Android, and our experience has been those tend to muck things up. Not here though. The Mate 8 performed as well as any stock Android smartphone we’ve tested, if not better.
The benchmarks confirm this. Running Geekbench 3, the Huawei Mate 8 scored between 1436 and 1740 on the single-core test, and 4828 and 6257 on the multi-core test. The best performing smartphones from a few months ago (the iPhone 6s, Galaxy Note5), scored on the low end of both those results.
The Mate 8 ships with Android 6.0 Marshmallow along with Huawei’s EMUI tweaks. Things are familiar enough that Android users won’t be lost, but it’s noticeably different. Huawei ditched the app tray and “all apps” button, instead grouping all app icons on the home screens, just like iOS. Notifications are grouped together and presented chronologically, and are accessible via swipe from the top of the display. The settings shortcuts, like Wi-Fi toggle and display brightness, which rest on top of the notifications in stock Android, are accessible via another tap to the “Shortcuts” menu. That it requires an extra tap to access these is only a minor annoyance. But one major annoyance is the fact that email notifications are nearly impossible to read as Huawei uses a black font for the sender and a gray font for the subject line. Since the display darkens when accessing notifications, this makes them nearly impossible to read even with a light wallpaper.
Users can also tweak the transition animations, font size, battery settings, on-screen buttons, and more. Huawei gives users more granular control of the device than any other official Android partner, and that’s a good thing. Minor quibbles aside, we like EMUI. And if we didn’t, the Google Now launcher is available in the Google Play Store, which brings things much closer to stock Android.
Both EMUI and the hardware bring additional features to the Mate 8, and we like them all. First and foremost, the Mate 8’s rear fingerprint sensor is the most accurate and quickest we’ve tested on an Android device (sorry Samsung). It’s also conveniently located on the center back, making it easier to access with one hand.
In addition, the Mate 8 supports knuckle gestures. For example, a quick knuckle double tap snaps a screenshot with the option for a scrolling screenshot, a feature we loved on the Note5; a swipe left to right calls up multi-window mode, which unfortunately only works with a handful of Huawei apps (video, gallery, notepad, files, email, themes, calendar, and calculator); and users can draw a circle or other shape for a “smart crop” screenshot, capturing whatever is highlighted inside the shape.
The Mate 8 can also receive FM signals, which should be standard on all smartphones, particularly for emergencies. And there’s more, including a business card scanning feature in the contacts app that we loved, and a harassment filter for blocking unwanted messages and calls. Between the hardware features and software tweaks, the Mate 8 does more than your average Android smartphone, and it’s better for it.
The Huawei Mate 8 has a large 4000mAh battery that Huawei claims powers the device for “1.65 days of use for heavy users.” In addition, it has battery and power management features to extend the life of the smartphone between charges.
In moderate to heavy use, the Mate 8 battery lived up to Huawei’s claims, no doubt aided by the software. We were about able to get a day and half of full use out of it between charges. Streaming Netflix over Wi-Fi continuously with the display brightness maxed out, the Mate 8 lasted 7 hours and 21 minutes. This is about the bare minimum you can expect from the battery, and it’s a good result, matching other Android flagships from late 2015. The Motorola Droid Turbo 2 is the recent standout here, lasting 10 hours and 10 minutes.
Thankfully, the Mate 8 ships with a fast charger, and can charge fully in 2.5 hours, providing a full day of use after only 30 minutes, according to Huawei. Fast charging is fast becoming a favorite feature here at NotebookReview, so its inclusion is a huge plus for the Huawei Mate 8.
Huawei Mate 8 works with most major LTE bands, with AT&T and T-Mobile customers having the most coverage on both 4G and 3G networks. Sprint and Verizon customers will likely run into connection issues due to the fact that the standard Mate 8 does not support CDMA networks, and only few of each carriers’ LTE bands (though a deep dive into Chinese market reveals a CDMA version for China Telecomm that aligns better with Verizon’s network). We tested the Huawei Mate 8 with an active Verizon SIM and were able to get a weak LTE signal in Boston for data, but no voice or call ability. This is because the aforementioned lack of CDMA, and the fact that the Mate 8’s VoLTE doesn’t function in the US.
Otherwise, the Mate 8 supports dual-band 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi direct, NFC, Bluetooth 4.2, and BLE. It has a dual-SIM card slot, which should please international travelers.
The Huawei Mate 8 has a 16-megapixel rear shooter (f/2.0, 1/2.8-inch sensor) with phase detection autofocus, dual-tone flash, and OIS. It also has an 8-megapixel selfie camera (f/2.4). While the megapixel counts match most current flagships, the lens and image sensor are just a hair below the best of the best. Some other smartphone also distinguish themselves with laser focus systems, which are quicker than the Mate 8’s phase detection. But overall, Mate 8 owners will the pleased with the smartphone’s picture-taking abilities.
The camera app is one of the more robust we’ve seen on a smartphone, with unique and somewhat bizarre filters and settings, including Huawei’s “beauty” filter, which smooths out skin and increases eye size. Other features include a series of preset watermarks; a mirror mode, which “fogs up” when you breathe into the mic; and “document readjustment,” which crops and snaps pics of documents. For other filters, Huawei wisely shows off all the effects simultaneously in a grid, making it easy to choose the perfect setting.
“Professional” mode is the standout here, with manual controls for focus, exposure, shutter length, and the like, all about as easy to use and access as is possible on a touch-screen device. We also like the fact that users can snap selfies via the fingerprint sensor. It’s just so much easier than awkwardly tapping the display.
Video mode is limited to 1080p at 60FPS, along with more standard and lower resolutions. There is no 4K video option as there is with other flagship smartphones, but video looks great nonetheless.
The Mate 8 takes impressive photos. The camera does a great job bringing out colors that other cameras might mute, like the purples in the road and river shot. Looking at the Riverside sign, the greens really pop, with just the right amount of saturation. Also notice the cracking visible in the whites around the paint. A lesser camera would blow that section out and that wouldn’t be visible. Even in low light, colors are visible, though camera noise is a bit high for our liking.