The Huawei Mate 8 Android Phone Review

While Dan and I were at CES, we attended the Huawei press conference; at the end, they gave each attendee the choice of their new flagship, the Mate 8, or their Nexus 6P. Based on my positive experience with the Huawei Mate S Dan and I lined up for the Mate 8. Did we choose wisely?

15-Huawei Mate 8.54

Judie: Huawei uses simple packaging that presents their flagship in an elegant and striking way. Available in space gray, mocha brown (which is gorgeous in person), champagne gold, and the moonlight silver I received, the 6.2″ long by 3.2″ wide by 0.3″ thick metal unibody smartphone has a bit of heft at 6.5 ounces.

Dan: I know the days of focusing on the unboxing experience are long past. Still, there is something powerfully visceral about opening a premium product and being greeted by something as simple and elegant as the Mate 8 presentation. It immediately screamed, “We put everything we could into this phone!” And they did.

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Judie: Accessories included are a microUSB cable and European charger, a quick start guide, a pair of in-ear headphones, a frosted plastic shell-style case, and a SIM tray tool.

The Mate 8 is solidly built with no creaks or loose parts; it feels and looks expensive. The front of the phone is kept very clean; it’s dominated by the 6″ FHD 1080p (1920 x 1080) screen which has “unique 2.5D diamond cut glass” and minimal bezels all around. In fact, the bezels on the side are almost non-existent. At the top of the screen is the ear speaker, front-facing 8 megapixel camera, and a light sensor. The bottom of the screen simply bears the Huawei label, as the buttons only appear when the screen is turned on; I like this clean look.

Dan: I’ve been looking forward to the day when a smartphone would really look and feel like it was simply a piece of glass. The Mate 8 gets as close to that as any phone I have used. It’s simple and refined. But don’t let that outward appearance fool you, there is nothing simple about this powerhouse of a phone.

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Judie: So back to those soft buttons I mentioned,  you can customize them to one of four settings; my favorite is back, home, all open apps, and notification tray (you press this instead of swiping down from the top of the screen).

4-Huawei Mate 8 Nav Bar Custom

On the right side, there is a power button and a volume rocker. The volume rocker can also be set to zoom, focus, or snap a photo when in camera mode. You can also take screenshots by pressing the power and volume-down button at the same time, but why do that when a double-tap with your knuckle will accomplish the same thing? See, the Mate 8 comes with party tricks!

Dan: Judie, I don’t know about you but most of those party tricks were fun for a day or two and then… Irrelevant. Had the company put effort into those tricks but not other aspects of the phone I would complain. But they went the extra mile with the phone AND added the extras so who I can’t criticize the extras? Okay… I can… “Knock Knock…” “Who’s there?” “Won’t”, “Won’t who?” “Won’t be using the knock knock feature”

Judie: Spoil sport! 😉 I tend to take a lot of screenshots, so I found the double knuckle tap faster than having to grip the down volume and power button at the same time. Half the time when I was taking a screenshot the traditional way, I’d catch a screenshot with the volume levels showing; this particular party trick is much more efficient.

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At the top, there is a 3.5mm headphone jack and the secondary (most likely for noise canceling) microphone.

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On the bottom, there is a microUSB sync/charge port flanked by a microphone on the left and a speaker on the right.

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On the left side, there is a single slot which is released with the included SIM tool. The Mate 8 has an interesting feature in that it can be a dual-SIM phone (with two nano SIMs), but when you are using just your home SIM, the tray can also hold a microSD card. This is one of those features that seems super convenient at first, but it produces a quandary when you need to remove the memory card to pop in a second SIM. What if all of your music is on the memory card? What if you’ve installed apps to the card? While traveling in Spain, I found that it was easier to just pop in a local SIM with my loaded memory card and carry a second phone that had my home SIM and a KnowRoaming sticker.

Dan: Dual SIM… Love it. This will come in handy when I head to Israel this summer!

Judie: The sandblasted (which creates a lovely fingerprint resistant two-tone effect) metal back of the Mate 8 has a slightly protruding 16 megapixel F2.0 camera with a dual LED flash, and a circular fingerprint reader underneath (as opposed to the squarish one on the Mate S).

I’ve found the fingerprint reader to be excellent — it opens the phone for me every time. The fingerprint reader can also be set to answer the phone when it’s ringing, stop an alarm when it’s going off, or it can be used to take photos or video when the viewfinder screen is open.

Dan: I love the positioning of the fingerprint reader. I too find it works every time and the fact that they implemented it in a manner that lets it be more than a fingerprint reader is pretty amazing. I would love to see totally customizable functions in the future. Imagine being able to tap on it three times to open email?!?

Judie: The camera can also be quickly accessed by swiping up from the camera icon on the initial screen without unlocking the phone. Speaking of things you can access without unlocking the phone — if you swipe up from the bottom of the lock screen, you’ll find the option to record, use the calculator, use the flashlight, or take a picture.

1-Toggle options on Mate 8 homescreen

One thing that I’ve found odd about the camera, versus other phones I use regularly, is that I have to wipe the camera lens more often than not; if I notice pictures taken have a haze or that they seem a bit blurry, a quick wipe of the lens with my shirt solves the problem.

Dan: Funny you should mention this. Unless I am using a case that makes the lens a bit recessed I tend to find this happening more and more regardless of the phone I using.

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Judie: In hand, the Mate 8 is a bit too wide for easy one-handed use. Can it be done? Sure, but my hands aren’t large enough to easily accomplish it.

Dan: This is why I left the iPhone 6 Plus and opted for the iPhone 6S option last fall. It’s one of those no-win situations- larger phone can’t be used with one hand easily- smaller phone doesn’t have the screen-estate. Oh the first world problems…

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Judie: Luckily, there is an option to make the screen more manageable with one hand. To access it, you go to Settings>Smart Assistance>One Hand UI>turn mini screen view on. In order to activate the mini screen, you swipe your finger from left to right across the navigation icons at the bottom of the screen. To make the screen full size again, swipe across the navigation icons from right to left.

Dan: This works but the phone is still a bit too big to comfortably hold AND navigate for me. And I have large hands!

1-Mini screen in effect on Mate 8.39

Judie: The screen is sharp and it looks good, but I can’t help but be disappointed that for being larger than the iPhone 6S Plus, at 1920 x 1080 it isn’t higher resolution. If you are used to using an iPhone 6S Plus, as I am, moving to the larger screen of the Mate 8 might at first seem to mean that you have to give up two rows of icons or folders (there are only 5 app or folder rows including the fixed row at the bottom, versus the iPhone’s 7 rows including its fixed bottom row).

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But that’s not the case! You can go into Settings>Display>View Mode, and you’ll find that the default is set to large. Set it to small, and all of a sudden you’ll have the ability to have six rows of 5 app icons or folders including the fixed row of four apps on the bottom. Perfect.

1-Huawei Mate 8 with small screen view setting - more apps

There’s also an option for an overly simplified built-in launcher which might come in handy while driving or if you wind up eventually giving the phone to your child or grandparent.

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Dan: To the person who opts for this last option… I have a flip phone with your name on it!!! 🙂

Judie: Amazingly enough, the Huawei Mate 8 has a 4,000mAh battery. This is the largest I’ve had in any of my mobile phones, and I can easily get a full day with heavy usage out of it. That’s more than I can say for any other phone I currently own.

Dan: I went back to my iPhone 6 after a bit, largely because of iMessage and Facetiming with Raina, but I really miss the amazing battery life of the Mate 8. My iPhone 6S doesn’t come close to it!

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Judie: Even so, it is possible to set up one of three power profiles to help you get the best battery performance possible; as you can see, there’s a lot to gain if you are willing to give up some performance power. You can reach this screen by going to Settings>Advanced Settings>Battery Manager>Power Plan and then make your selection.

Dan: They really seem to have thought of almost everything, didn’t they?

1-Huawei Mate 8 Power Management 1

Judie: Pretty much!

You can also see a real-time estimation of the battery life you have left along with tips on which apps are secretly (or not so secretly) eating your battery.

The Huawei Mate 8 runs Google Android 6, and it has an in-house Huawei Kirin 950 (64-bit,16nm FinFET+), Octa-core (4 x 2.3 GHz A72+ 4 x 1.8 GHz A53) + i5 co-processor. Try saying that five times fast!

For the most part, the phone seems blazing fast, and there are no lags. The only app I’ve had an issue with is the Kindle app; opening it can create a lag that lasts for minutes, which seems ridiculous. Perhaps it’s an issue with the app, as it’s the only app that ever gives me an issue.

So let’s talk about the camera, starting with the front-facing 8 megapixel camera. If you are used to taking a basic “what you see is what you get” selfie, you’ll be surprised by the options present, the biggest one being a setting called Beauty. If you’re used to seeing exactly what you look like when you take a selfie, then this setting is going to seem a bit weird. It softens your flaws and makes you look like you’ve been playing with one of those post-editing apps like Perfect365 or Facetune.

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I’m cute, but I’m not this cute. Check out my flawless skin, courtesy of the Huawei Mate 8 camera.

Here’s a picture of Helena Stone and me in poor light and using no automatic beauty filters.

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The camera isn’t perfect, but I think that it is pretty good! I used the Huawei Mate 8 as my primary camera for photos at Mobile World Congress, and it didn’t let me down.

Here’s a picture of Sasha Sagan in crap light at one of the MWC press events.

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Is the Huawei Mate 8 perfect? Of course not. It’s just a little bit wider than I’d like, and there’s a weird lag when opening the Kindle app that may or may not be the phone’s fault. But on the other hand, the Mate 8 has so many tricks and features (without it being overly complicated) that it is a joy to use. The screen is large enough that it’s almost phablet size (that’s a good thing for reading and playing games!), and most of all — discovering what the Mate 8 is capable of is half of the fun of using it.

Dan: For me the Mate 8 is probably the best Android phone I have tried. I agree it’s just a bit too wide for my taste, but if you want a powerhouse phablet you can’t go wrong with this phone. From the dual SIMs to the amazing battery life, to the power to all the little refinements, Huawei baked into this phone this is a winner. It’s pretty amazing that Huawei, a company most in the US hadn’t heard of until recently, has brough something like this to market. The Mate 8 is their current flagship, and it proves the fact that Huawei is a true contender that can play with th big boys… And perhaps win in the process.

The Huawei Mate 8 is not a US-based phone, but it is available on Amazon for around $680 or so and from other resellers.

Source: Manufacturer supplied press conference sample

What I Like: Fantastic build quality; Camera is pretty good in all light; The phone is exceptionally fast (minus the Kindle app for some reason); Amazing battery life; Huge 6″ screen with option to get quite a few apps or folders on launcher; Lots of built-in Huawei tricks like double knuckle tap to take screen shots

What Needs Improvement: Just a tad too wide (personal preference, of course)

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.