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Chinese smartphone giant Huawei has not been shy about its ambition to dethrone Samsung and Apple to become the top smartphone vendor in the world. While Huawei is still seen as a bit of an outsider, particularly in the U.S., its new flagship Mate 10 Series smartphones could change the game for the company.
Huawei provided me with a review unit of the Mate 10 Pro smartphone for a week. Launched in October and made available earlier this month, the phone is the higher-end version of the flagship Mate 10.
There were certain features I really liked, and that particularly goes for the long battery life, which means you probably won't have to carry a power bank on you to get through the day.
There were also a few things I didn't like, but more on that later. Let's start with what you should know about the Mate 10 Pro, if you're shopping for a new smartphone this Christmas.
The Mate 10 Pro looks and feels like a solid high-end phone with a dual glass body around an aluminum frame that feels great in your hands. But the back and front glass makes the phone very prone to fingerprint smudges — so having a microfiber cleaning cloth is handy.
It is also a pretty big phone, featuring a 6-inch screen. One-handed navigation was an issue for me because I have small hands. But Huawei provides a way around it: If you swipe your finger over the navigation bar at the bottom, it activates a mini screen that allows comfortable, one-handed browsing. To go back to full screen mode, you'll need to tap on the gray area again.
If the feature isn't automatically activated, it can be accessed under settings and inside the smart assistance tab.
Because of the thin bezel on the phone, Huawei followed the Samsung route and built the fingerprint scanner on the back, just below where the camera sits. That took some getting used to since my current phone has a fingerprint scanner on its front.
There were two major negatives about the phone's body.
First, the Mate 10 Pro does not have a headphone jack. Instead, Huawei provides a pair of USB Type-C earphones. That means you can't use the headphones when you're charging the device.
Secondly, the device does not have a MicroSD slot for additional storage like Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 does. I tend to have a lot of photos, videos and screenshots that take up considerable space. So having expandable storage is a must-have for me. That said, the Mate 10 Pro provides 128 gigabytes of storage space in the standard model, which should be sufficient for most users.
The device is also water and dust resistant — a feature that is now expected in most high-end phones — meaning it can probably survive a bit of rough handling outdoors. Ingress protection (IP) is a way to measure how durable a phone is against water and dust, and the Mate 10 Pro has a IP67 rating. That's the same rating as the newer iPhones, while Samsung's Galaxy Note 8 has slightly better water resistance.
The phone has a resolution of 2,160 by 1,080 pixels on a 6-inch screen and comes with an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) panel. That means sharper, more vibrant colors, and the screen's 18:9 aspect ratio makes watching videos very enjoyable. When you stream something on Netflix, as you can see below, the video covers up most of the phone.
The device is also HDR10 compliant, which means in the future it'll be possible to stream high dynamic range (HDR) content from Netflix or YouTube. Currently, Netflix only supports a handful of devices for that level of streaming.
However, the screen resolution is a step below what Huawei's competitors like Samsung or Google are pushing out. Even the Mate 10 has a higher resolution of 2560 by 1440 pixels but it uses an LCD panel with a traditional 16:9 aspect ratio. That said, the differences in image quality are very subtle.
The Mate 10 Series comes with the Kirin 970 chipset, an internally developed artificial intelligence processor from Huawei. The company claims the processor's machine learning algorithm adapts and understands behavior patterns, and that it is able to stop the devices from losing their speed and responsiveness over time. Given the time constraints of a review model, CNBC was unable to test out those claims.
Apple also put an AI chip into its latest iPhone X handset.
That said, the Huawei AI works mostly in the background to optimize the phone for the users, but one area where you can test its functionality is with the camera.
Both smartphones have a dual camera from Leica, which have sensors and image stabilization that pick up sharp, focused images with a wider breadth of colors.
One aspect I really liked was the Mate 10 Pro's ability to recognize scenes and objects when shooting in the auto mode. That feature is powered by the AI running inside the device and it can recognize up to 13 different subjects including food, selfies, sunsets and landscapes.
For example, if you point the camera in front of a potted plant, a tiny leaf icon would appear on the bottom right hand corner of the screen, indicating the phone understands it's looking at something leafy. The camera settings adjust automatically to take the best shot possible for whatever's in the frame.
The auto mode is great when you need to capture a moment where there isn't enough time to adjust the camera settings to compensate for either too much, or too little, light. But I prefer having more control over my photos, so there's a manual option that lets me manually adjust the camera settings.
Another thing I liked about this phone is its ability to take good photos in low-light conditions, due to the larger aperture lenses and dual sensors that can capture more light.
Here's an example of Singapore at night:
One area where Huawei is well ahead of the competition is in battery life. The Mate 10 Pro comes with a massive 4000 mAh battery that lasted me more than a day on a single charge.
I mostly use my phone to check emails, browse social media, respond to messages on various apps, stream a few YouTube videos and play a few games. On my personal phone, those games consume a fair amount of battery when I play for more than 30 minutes at a stretch. When I'm not using a phone, it is usually in sleep mode and my screen brightness is always set at 30 percent.
After the first day of using the Mate 10 Pro, and doing all of the usual stuff, the battery was still at about 40 percent. That was without using any of the power saving features the phone comes with.
That said, the Mate 10 Pro, despite having a glass body, doesn't have wireless charging like its other high-end rivals. Instead, it uses Huawei's Supercharge technology to power up the phone pretty quickly.
I charged the review unit from a 20 percent battery to full power in a little over an hour. But the fast charging doesn't work if you're using a USB port on your computer to charge the device.
The Mate 10 Pro has the latest version of the Android operating software. Like most smartphone makers, Huawei put its own proprietary Android skin, called EMUI 8.0, on top and that comes with a few useful features.
For example, you can take screenshots by tapping the screen once with your knuckle. To split the screen, tap and drag your knuckle once horizontally across.
Another useful feature is the phone's ability to instantly translate text into several dozen languages using Microsoft Translator. For example, by holding the phone over a block of English text, I could instantly translate it into Japanese. That works even when there's no internet connection so getting work done on the road is a lot easier.
I also liked the Mate 10 Pro's Easy Projection feature, with which you can turn the device into a full desktop. Samsung already offers that functionality with its DeX Station, but that requires the separate purchase of a dock.
For the Mate 10 Pro, all you need is a USB Type-C HDMI cable, or an adapter, and an external monitor. Once you plug in the cable, your phone turns into a trackpad while the monitor displays all of your apps in a special desktop mode. You can add peripherals like a keypad and a mouse. Meanwhile, the phone runs normally in the background and switching between either mode is easy.
When I tried to test the feature, I had to go hunt around for the right cable and it took a few tries to get it right. But the end result was worth it.
The downside, however, is that you can't charge your phone at the same time, whereas, according to Samsung, the DeX also acts as a phone charger.
The Mate 10 Pro is one of Huawei's top offerings — it is a solid, high-end phone with several very useful features.
In terms of price, the Mate 10 Pro is considerably cheaper than its competitors, at least in a market like Singapore. Huawei has yet to announce a starting price or availability for the U.S. market. (For its part, the company says it does not comment on "future roadmaps.")
The device costs 1,098 Singapore dollars (about $811) for the 128GB storage model, while a special designer unit, with 256GB memory, is priced at S$2,298 ($1,699).
But if you're in the market for a smartphone that has all the best features available, and price is not an issue, then devices from Samsung, Google and Apple are probably still better options.
The Mate 10 Pro's lack of wireless charging and the absence of a headphone jack might put some people off — especially, if you're used to having those features in your current smartphones.
That said, if you're looking for a high-end phone that gives a great battery life, has a very good camera, is integrated with AI and has interesting features like the Projection Mode, you could give this phone a try.