The Huawei Mate 8 Reviewby Andrei Frumusanu on January 5, 2016 1:00 PM EST
- Posted in
- Cortex A72
- Kirin 950
- Mate 8
- CES 2016
Conclusion & End Remarks
As we come to the end of the review I’m rather pleased with what Huawei was able to do with the Mate 8. Design-wise this is still very clearly a Mate device and fully embraces the form-factor and industrial design established by the Mate 7. This is clearly a large phone as the 6” screen is of the biggest on the market, and certainly one of the only devices of its size competing in the very high-end segment.
The small improvements that the Mate 8 design did bring were all beneficial. The move of the speakers to the bottom enables the phone to have better sound output, and we also saw improvement in build quality as the plastic top and bottom side-panels of the Mate 7 were replaced with aluminium ones. Although not sure if this affects other colour variants, I found the finish of the Mate 8 to be quite of a double-edged sword as while it offers very good grip for a metal phone it also is prone to collect smudges and due to the coarse anodization being hard to clean.
The screen of the Mate 8 has seen the least improvements over the Mate 7 as we’re still seeing usage of a JDI IPS-Neo 1080p panel with the same DDIC as last year’s model. It actually seems that this year’s display shows lower luminance efficiency which can slightly impact battery life. Display calibration has only seen slight improvements, although Huawei fixed the green tint that was present on the Mate 7, the Mate 8 still shows a calibration that favours a large colour gamut that exhibits more vivid and saturated colours.
Huawei continues to embrace dual-SIM capability in all of its phones and the Mate 8 is able to take advantage of this as well – although you have to sacrifice the microSD slot for the second nanoSIM. Coming in 32, 64 and 128GB variants with expandable storage the Mate 8 should offer plenty of space for even most avid power users.
Having discussed the Kirin 950 with HiSilicon during the November launch, I had sort of high expectations of the SoC as on paper it was able to show a lot of promise. Fast-forward to today and not only did the chipset fulfil the expectations and all of its promises, but it actually managed to exceed them as I hadn’t imagined that HiSilicon would be able to reduce CPU power consumption this much. This bodes well not only for the Kirin 950, but for what I hope is an indication of what other vendors with A72 silicon will be able to show. I’m now eagerly looking forward to testing the Snapdragon 820’s Kryo and Samsung’s Exynos 8890’s M1 to see if the two new CPU architectures will be able to match or beat the Cortex A72 implementation in the Kirin 950, as HiSilicon now sets the new bar in terms of power efficiency.
Performance of the Mate 8 was also extremely good. This was not only due to the 2.3GHz A72 CPU cores but also to what seems to be targeted software optimizations and improvements to Android. The Mate 8 is currently the fastest Android device on the market and should be able to perform very well against the upcoming generation of flagships.
On the GPU and 3D performance side Huawei and HiSilicon were able to show very large improvements compared to last year’s models. The new Mali T880MP4 at 900MHz enabled the Huawei device to showcase much needed performance boost. Although we saw large improvements, it’s unlikely that the Mate 8 will be able to compete against upcoming devices with new generation SoCs as the smaller Mali configuration of the Kirin 950 sacrifices power efficiency in favour of die size and thus when looking at overall power efficiency at the same TDP levels, the Mate 8 currently falls behind the competition. Nevertheless I applaud HiSilicon for balancing out the GPU in such a way that thermal throttling is not an issue, thus enabling the Mate 8 to be able to always operate at near its maximum performance, something we can’t say of many of today’s devices.
Through the efficient SoC and the large battery the Mate 8 is able to sport one of the best battery performances among today’s smartphones. It seems that the device is actually being held back by high RF power consumption, something especially visible in the LTE web browsing test where Mate 8 only narrowly manages to outperform the Nexus 6P. This skews usage patterns in favour of high CPU loads as that’s where the Mate 8’s strength lies, vastly outperforming the competition in terms of efficiency.
Still speaking of connectivity, Huawei has finally managed to equip one of its own devices with a competitive WiFi solution that is able to check all the feature boxes such as the much needed 5GHz band and 802.11ac compatibility. Performance is also good although we noticed some odd behaviour in the upstream bandwidth in the 5GHz band.
Lastly, there’s the Mate 8’s camera. In its current state with the B116 firmware version that the device was reviewed on the only way to accurately describe it is as a complete disaster. Huawei has promised that we’ll be seeing a software update in the near future that will be able to correct the problem – so until then we’ll hold out on a definitive conclusion. The Mate 8 did show promise in low-light photography so once and if the focus issue is alleviated and the camera sensor will be able to perform at its full potential, it should in theory be able to compete well against other flagships. Check back in the future as we’ll be updating the review for a complete camera evaluation.
As we arrive to the conclusion, I’m left relatively happy with the Mate 8. Over the last year since I reviewed the Honor 6 and Mate 7 I’ve seen Huawei being able to steadily identify and improve on its weaknesses. In terms of performance and power efficiency the Kirin 950 is able to mark an absolutely enormous jump over last year’s devices as we finally see a proper successor to 2014’s Kirin 920/925. Huawei has said that they’ve been able to gain a lot of software experience while working with Google on the Nexus 6P and it really shows in EmotionUI 4.0, as it showcases exemplary performance.
While this is definitely not a perfect device and Huawei can definitely improve in aspects such as screen quality, I’m tending towards calling the Mate 8 a worthwhile purchase – that is, if Huawei manages to fix the severe camera issues. Until we can revisit that aspect of the device and if the camera is a critical factor in one's purchasing decision of the phone, I’d recommend waiting out on the full evaluation before making a final decision.
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lilmoe - Tuesday, January 5, 2016 - linkCCI (Cache Coherent Interconnect) is basically responsible for connecting and "shifting" load between CPU clusters (, GPU and various other compute blocks) in a big.LITTLE configuration based on compute load needs.
For the rest, Google is your friend.
name99 - Tuesday, January 5, 2016 - linkAndrei, do you always use the same compiler, version, and settings for the SPECInt2000 measurements?
The reason I ask is if you compare these results to the A9 results
things are mostly as you'd expect except 300.twolf and (especially) 175.vpr
The latter in particular is discrepant enough that the only thing that seems like it might have caused it is a substantial compiler optimization like a loop re-ordering.
Andrei Frumusanu - Tuesday, January 5, 2016 - linkOn Android we use the same binaries unless we specify some flag changes which happen over longer periods (Last change was in August). Generally we try to publish a given article with apples-to-apples scores.
For iOS it's impossible to use the same compilers and we have to rely on Apple's LLVM. It's very possible that Apple's scores are higher due to better optimizations. I have in mind to try LLVM on Android (currently it's GCC) but it's something of a long-term project rather than something we can just switch to and even then it will never solve the optimization issue as Apple's LLVM toolchain has additions that we simply can't keep track of.
name99 - Tuesday, January 5, 2016 - linkTo add to my point, compare with
Here the Exynos 7420 SPECInt2000 numbers are sometimes EXTREMELY different (like sometimes over a factor of 2, eg 175.vpr) from the Exynos 7420 A57 numbers you give in this article.
Maybe it would be good form, going forward, to publish this information, just so we can all keep track. (And obviously it is interesting to see when LLVM results differ greatly from gcc results, or even when the LLVM results show a great jump.)
Obviously one can't hope for PERFECT LLVM parity. Certainly Apple are keeping the back-ends of the compiler toolchain (Typhoon and Twister, maybe even the current Cyclone and Swift back-ends) secret; and given that they use a slightly different linker, there may be differences in exactly how, eg, they handle LTO. But one would expect mostly similarity between the Apple and Android LLVM, and rather more difference with gcc.
My point is not some sort of "rah rah Apple"; it's more just a desire to understand. For example, IS it the case that gcc happens to have some sort of (presumably fairly recent) optimization that managed to double the 175.vpr result? (And if so, what's the nature of that optimization.)
I think we'd all be curious to know, for example, whether you use LTO in building these SPECInt2000 binaries. And whether, if you use PGO, you get a substantial boost in performance.
Andrei Frumusanu - Wednesday, January 6, 2016 - linkThere were issues with the 7420 harness that caused us not to immediately catch validation failures and it treated the runtime as if the test were simply faster. SPEC is relatively complex so unfortunately such problems do happen.
RdVi - Tuesday, January 5, 2016 - linkNice improvements from Huawei. If the P9 can keep this up while being no larger than the P8, it might be my next phone.
SHartman1976 - Wednesday, January 6, 2016 - linkNo complaint about the power and volume buttons being on the same side? That seemed to vex you on the Nexus 6P a couple of weeks ago despite it being a recurring design choice.
Andrei Frumusanu - Wednesday, January 6, 2016 - linkMy complaint on the 6P wasn't them being on the same side, it was that the volume buttons were extremely low on the phone and positioned below the power button, an odd positioning that kept one pressing the volume buttons when holding or picking up the phone. The Mate 8 has a traditional layout which doesn't cause any issues.
raghwendra123 - Wednesday, January 6, 2016 - linkWhen should we expect the iPad Pro review?
Piscupescu - Wednesday, January 6, 2016 - linkNice review. Keep up the good work.