It’s been over a year since we reviewed the Huawei Ascend Mate 7 and Ascend Mate 2. For many people and including ourselves at AnandTech these were among one of the first experiences with Huawei as a smartphone device manufacturer. Ever since our review of the Honor 6 I kind of fell into the position of being the main editor in charge of Huawei device reviews and thus experienced first-hand the company’s efforts in the high-end as well as their increasingly visible expansion into western markets.

The Mate 8 is the successor to the Ascend Mate 7, and in a similar fashion to the P8 last spring the phone drops the Ascend name in favour of better establishing the Mate brand for Huawei's large premium phablet models. The Mate 8 is in a lot aspects an evolutionary design over the Mate 7, but at same time comes at the moment of a generational shift brought forth by the adoption of the new Kirin 950 SoC. With help of the new chipset and other improvements we’ll see that Mate 8 not only manages to raise the bar for Huawei but also to deal blows to competing devices in several aspects, making the phone a worthy candidate in the upcoming 2016 smartphone generation battle.

Introduction & Design

So let’s dive in for a comprehensive look at what Huawei has managed to bring this year for the Mate series and determine its strengths and possible weaknesses.

Huawei Mate 8
SoC HiSilicon Kirin 950
4x Cortex A53 @ 1.8GHz
4x Cortex A72 @ 2.3GHz
Mali-T880MP4 @ 900MHz
RAM 3-4GB LPDDR4 @ 1333MHz
NAND

(NXT-AL10)
32GB / 64GB / 128GB NAND
+  microSD
Display 6” 1080p JDI IPS-Neo LCD
Modem 2G/3G/4G LTE Cat 6 
(Integrated HiSilicon Balong Modem)
Networks


(NXT-AL10)
(NXT-L29)
(NXT-L09)
TDD LTE B38 / B39 / B40 / B41
FDD LTE B1 / B2 / B3 / B4 / B5 / B6-B6 B7 / B8 / B12 / B17 / B18 / B19 / B20 / B26 / B28
UMTS 850 / 900 / AWS / 1900 / 2100
( B19 / B8 / B6 / B5 / B4 / B2 / B1)
GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
Dimensions 157.1 (h) x 80.6 (w) x 7.9 (d) mm
185g weight
Camera Rear Camera w/ OIS
16MP ( 4608 × 3456 )
Sony IMX298 1/2.8" w/ 1.12µm pixels
F/2.0 aperture, 27mm eq.
Front Facing Camera
8MP ( 3264 × 2448 ) 
Sony IMX179 1/3.2" w/ 1.4µm pixels
F/2.4 aperture, 26mm eq.
Battery 4000mAh (15.2 Whr)
OS Android 6.0
with EmotionUI 4.0
Connectivity  802.11a/b/g/n/ac dual-band 2.4 & 5GHz
BT 4.2, microUSB2.0, GPS/GNSS,
DLNA, NFC
SIM Size NanoSIM +
NanoSIM (w/o microSD)
(NXT-L09 is single-SIM)
MSRP 3GB + 32GB China: ¥2999-3199 (USD~479, ~449€) - Europe: 599€
4GB + 64GB China: ¥3699 (USD~591, ~554€) - Europe: 699€
4GB + 128GB China: ¥4399 (USD~703, ~659€) - Europe: N/A

At the heart of the Mate 8 we find HiSilicon’s new Kirin 950 SoC. We were lucky enough to be one of the few western media outlets able to attend the SoC’s launch event in Beijing earlier in November and deliver an in-depth look at what the new chipset promises in terms of improvements over past Kirin generations. As a short overview, the Kirin 950 is a big.LITTLE SoC with the first mobile implementation of ARM’s Cortex A72 cores in a quad-core configuration clocked in at 2.3GHz, accompanied by a quad-core Cortex A53 at 1.8GHz acting as the little cluster. Graphics is powered by a Mali T880MP4 GPU with a frequency of 900MHz. Past Huawei devices’ major weak-points were related to the choice of SoC and as we’ll see shortly in the dedicated SoC section we’ll see that HiSilicon was able to fulfil and even exceed some of our expectations of both ARM’s new Cortex A72 as well as the Kirin chipset as a whole.

In terms of memory the Mate 8 comes in either 3 or 4GB RAM variants, depending on whether one chooses the 32 or the larger 64GB and 128GB NAND storage models. Expandable storage is par for the course as we have a combo-dual SIM slot with the choice of either employing a second (2G only) nanoSIM or to use the slot as a microSD card expansion.

Going over the design we see a front exterior that doesn’t change all that much when compared to the Mate 7, with only subtle details being able to give hints that this is a new model. Keeping the same form-factor, the Mate 8 maintains a fairly large size coming in at 157.1 x 80.6 x 7.9mm. Even though the device is large, it’s able to sport a very good screen-to-body ratio for the large 6” 1080p JDI Neo-IPS screen. The top and bottom bezels particularly make the Mate 8 quite short compared to other devices of similar screen size.

 
Mate 8 vs Mate S - Mate 7 vs Mate 8

A rather disappointing continuation of the Mate 7 design is the reintroduction of a ~2.5mm thick inactive black border around the screen that is found on all colour-variants of the phone. This creates a quite distracting window-frame effect on the lighter coloured models. I wish Huawei had been able to get rid of the distracting feature or at least chosen to keep the front all black for all colour models.


Mate 7 vs Mate 8

It’s on the back and sides where we see the Mate 8 diverge from the Mate 7’s features as there are several design language changes for the various components. First of all the square trio of camera lens, LED flash as well as fingerprint sensor have now become circular. The finger-print sensor saw the biggest design change as the is no longer a visible metal rim around it and is now similar to the one found on the Mate S and Nexus 6P. Previously the feature on the Mate 7 was described as being used to detect one’s finger while the device and fingerprint sensor were asleep, something the new models either are able to camouflage away or outright no longer require. The Mate 8 also was able to dispose of the small gap above the camera which served as an antenna line for the NFC coil, all while still keeping NFC funtionality.

The main camera is now powered by a Sony IMX298 16MP sensor module with OIS and an F/2.0 aperture optical lens system. This is a normal Bayer RGB sensor as opposed to last year’s main usage of the RGBW IMX278. Huawei also drops the usage of an external Altek ISP and instead relies on the Kirin 950’s new ISP capabilities. The front camera remains the same IMX179 F/2.4 8MP module as found on the P8, Mate S and Nexus 6P which I found to take excellent front-facing shots.

The top and bottom of the phone is no longer wholly composed of plastic covers that go over the sides of the device, but is now composed of aluminium separated by antenna lines on the sides and with a plastic lid on the back side. In a sense this design stands out less than the antenna lines on the Mate S and may be the rationale behind the choice. On all sides we find a coarse brushed metal finish (actual brushed metal) that gives the device much firmer grip than other devices but is also harder to clean if dirtied by fine elements.

The speaker is moved from the back of the phone onto the bottom, much in the same layout as found on the P8 and Mate S. Also the same as the previous designs who introduced this new layout, there’s only one speaker to be found as the other grill only serves for aesthetical symmetry and the main microphone.

A large ergonomic improvement is found on the sides of the device as the new 2.5D glass screen is no longer surrounded by a raised plastic edge but instead uses the same hard compound filling between the glass and metal body. The back also has a curvature of a larger radius, which together with the 2.5D glass gives the impression of a thinner device although the Mate 8 isn't any thinner than the Mate 7 at its maximum thickness.

My sample was a 32GB silver variant, so I can only comment on the finish of this model; I found that the new anodized aluminium finish to be quite hard to clean as dirt was very easy to stick to the grain of the metal. The positive side of this characteristic was that the device was much better to grip than the comparatively smoother finish of the silver Mate 7, with the gunmetal grey of the Mate S representing a happy medium between both designs.

Software UI - EmotionUI 4.0
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  • Ethos Evoss - Wednesday, January 06, 2016 - link

    Problem with ipones is that prices DOESN'T go down quickly.. For this Mate 8 it will soon be cheaper .. Mate 7 released in october or november 2014 and in december I bought it just for £300 on ebay
    So it will be the same with mate 8 but forget iphone 6s to be cheap man..
    Reply
  • s.yu - Saturday, January 16, 2016 - link

    Haha they say the same about Huawei in China, except they meant it the other way around, "prices go down so slow so Huawei must be good~ look at that crappy Samsung that drops 1/3 of its price in a few months~" Reply
  • jasonelmore - Wednesday, January 13, 2016 - link

    it is quite a bit cheaper, your $700 figure is for a 128GB model, and a 128GB 6S Plus is a Grand dude. Look at the lower storage models, they are still cheaper than a iphone by 25% (even beats your toyota/hyundai comparison) Reply
  • MaxIT - Monday, February 15, 2016 - link

    I mostly agree about your pricing point, a Huawei can't be so pricey , but your cars analogy is very poor: Hyundai and especially Toyota / Lexus (Japanese cars !) are making very good cars, even better than American's... Reply
  • jjj - Tuesday, January 05, 2016 - link

    Mentioned this before, the SoCs memory score in Geekbench is all over the place, you haven't noticed anything off there?
    Other than that the SoC does ok , a bit of a pity that they don't use better NAND and WIFI since it would make a rather big difference in actual usage. Power is not ideal since it does throttle and you could have pushed further and load all 8 cores. The product should work at advertised speeds , anything less should be clearly disclosed to the consumer but considering how bad things are elsewhere , this is great.

    The phone is a bit pricey, the screen is just 1080p and not quite ok colors. Too bad since it's one of the most compact designs and almost nobody is doing that now, except maybe LeTV.

    Any clue on die size? Hope we see the SoC in better offerings, assuming it's not too big (and costly).
    Reply
  • lilmoe - Tuesday, January 05, 2016 - link

    "the screen is just 1080p"

    shhhhh, just shhhhhhhh
    Reply
  • jjj - Wednesday, January 06, 2016 - link

    I wouldn't complain about that if it was 200$ but it's not. There is a reason 1080p screens are in 120$ phones (even rather good displays like the one in the Meizu m2 Note). And it is 6 inch so you get about 367ppi vs 577 ppi in something like the S7. Reply
  • lilmoe - Wednesday, January 06, 2016 - link

    You also get amazing battery life.....

    You believe that they need to add a "premium" screen to justify the asking price, when the "cheaper" parts are in fact better for the experience. I'd rather have them spend the savings on other components, like better flash, audio amplifiers with a better DAC, and a general better internal layout of components for easier repairability.

    If all parts are optimum and they still save a good buck on their BoM, then good for them.
    Reply
  • s.yu - Saturday, January 16, 2016 - link

    They're selling them to presbyopic middle-aged men on the verge of retirement who only need the phones to make calls, they can't see so clearly close-up in the first place so they need huge screens and not a lot of DPI. Don't count on a better DAC, it doesn't fit their positioning, especially in China, their main market. Reply
  • lucam - Tuesday, January 05, 2016 - link

    ..and what about the iPad Pro? Reply

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