Chinese smartphone maker, Huawei, pulled an impressive surprise in Munich recently with its collaboration with Porsche Design on a special edition of the new Huawei Mate 9 smartphone. With its sleek brushed metal back coupled with a curved display, this Mate 9 is easily Huawei’s best-looking smartphone ever.
Unfortunately, it is a limited-release device that will only be produced in limited quantities globally. Malaysia is in the list of countries where it will be available, but with a European price tag of 1,395 Euro (about RM6,500), this won’t be a smartphone you’ll see in many stores.
This smartphone isn’t the first smartphone designed from the famous design firm, however. BlackBerry has quite a number of special edition Porsche Design collaborations, and the company is even working on a 2-in-1 Windows 10 convertible.
But it is largely seen as a coup from Huawei with this collaboration, and it’s a symbol of the company’s aggressive ambition that it’s able to pull in partners such as Leica and Porsche Design.
Speaking of which, the Mate 9 (both normal and Porsche Design) sports a second-generation Leica dual-lens camera. Both companies took extra measures to tell the world that their collaboration is an “engineering partnership”, and not merely a marketing one which stamps the German camera company’s logo on Huawei phones.
This new camera features a 12MP RGB sensor paired with a larger 20MP monochrome sensor, allowing for new features such as Hybrid Zoom. At a media Q&A session, a Leica engineer noted that the company found that it was better for the RGB sensor to remain at a smaller megapixel count due to the various colour filters in the sensor, and opt for a larger MP monochrome sensor instead (where there are fewer parts).
Thus, Hybrid Zoom allows for colour information from the RGB sensor to be coupled with depth and detail data from the monochrome sensor to create a single image when the camera is zoomed in.
Both sensors in the regular and Porsche Design Mate 9 are the same, and we will be exploring the camera much further as we complete our review of the regular Mate 9. Here are some sample shots we took with the Mate 9:
In Auto mode, the camera has a hard time getting the correct exposure until you tap on the subject. The absence of Auto HDR (coupled with the rather small f/2.2 aperture) usually results in slightly under-exposed images.
Another example of the sensor’s hardware limitation. Low-light shots are a hit-and-miss affair, but the f/2.2 aperture means the camera does not absorb as much light as, say, the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge’s f/1.7 lens, which had no trouble capturing this image (though slightly brighter than in real life).
But one would not simply pay the price of an entry level MacBook Pro just for a powerful smartphone camera. I’d say the highlight of the Porsche Design Huawei Mate 9 is, of course, in the design.
In our latest podcast episode, I mentioned that Huawei has generally crafted smartphones with practical, fuss free designs that never really caught the eye. This special edition phone casts that identity aside: the Porsche Design Huawei Mate 9 is easily one of the most handsome smartphones released this year.
Sporting a sleek brushed metal back with a dual-curved display, it exudes a level of class the regular Mate 9 simply does not have. It helps too that the Porsche Design edition is smaller overall, with a 5.5-inch display that makes it a lot more comfortable to hold.
Now, about that display. Yes, it is dual-curved like what we’ve seen on Samsung’s “Edge” phones, but the curvature is a lot more subtle – it’s even less pronounced than the Galaxy Note 7, which had a subtle curved display.
It leads me to believe that the curved display was more of a design decision, rather than one that offers useful features or even to shave off its width. If that’s the case, then really, I have zero complaints because it achieves exactly that: when placed side by side with the regular Mate 9, the Porsche Design edition immediately catches the eye.
Huawei may have intended the Porsche Design Mate 9 to be a statement product (similar to Xiaomi’s recent Mi Mix) as a symbol of its ambition and capabilities, but it’s also caused an unfortunate side effect where the regular Mate 9 looks and feels dated and less premium when it really isn’t the case.
The Kirin 960 SoC under the hood is capable of some serious power, while 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage (6GB and 256GB on the Porsche Design edition) will keep things buzzing as fast as any flagship device today (and next year, if Huawei’s new machine learning algorithm works as advertised).
In any case, the regular variant of the Mate 9 will be on our shores this month, while the Porsche Design edition to come some time later. We’ll be working on the regular Mate 9’s full review for the coming week, but in the meantime, here are some more photos of the best Huawei smartphone ever made.