Huawei Mate 8 review: probably the best all-round Android phone you can buy
Big screen, big battery, great features, few weak points.
- 6-inch screen but thin bezel
- Good battery
- Well-placed, fast fingerprint reader
- Much cheaper than competition
- Aussie version is overpriced
- Aussie version has no dual-SIM
- Need grey import for best value
A great-value, great all-round Android phone.
The Huawei Mate 7 was arguably the best phone of 2014 – it offered more features and, in some instances, better performance than every other flagship phone on the market while costing hundreds of dollars less. It also came to Australian shores early although its successor has come very late (it was launched in November 2015). It’s still relatively cheap... ish. But is it worth buying?
6in, 1080 x 1920, 368ppi display; 32,3GB RAM; 2 x quad-core processors plus GPU, 16MP/8MP cameras, Android 6.0, 4,000mAh bespoke fast charge battery, NanoSIM, 157 x 81 x 8mm, 185g. Full specs here.
Despite the 6-inch screen size, the thin bezel means this has virtually the same footprint as an iPhone 6S Plus. While the included case initially looks cheap and plastic, it leaves the phone (if not the screen) that bit more protected and sits securely in your hand – other phones feel very slippery these days. What we liked best was the fingerprint unlock button on the back. We were worried at first that this would be annoying but it’s now annoying when finding other phones don’t have it. It works incredibly quickly and is the surely best way of securely locking/unlocking your phone on the market.
The two quad-core processors help everything tick along quickly and apps all open near instantly. It’s rare that there’s a slow-down but that can happen if you don’t allow the automatic clean-up app to run periodically.
The screen gets bright enough for sunny Australian days but dims enough to not blind you in the dark. While there are finer-resolution screens on the market, not everyone will like them due to the smaller text and icons. We found the 1080P screen here perfectly adequate for most functions (precise colour monitoring when dealing with high-end pictures might be a let down for camera buffs), it’s very clear and readable.
Our main gripe is with the airy-fairy pastel colour themes (again). You can change them, but in most cases some (notification especially) icons look very similar and it gets annoying. You can’t separate ringtone volume from notification volume either.
On some occasions, some people kept saying they couldn’t hear us during a phone call, but when call quality was good it was very crisp and clear all round. Where the Mate 8 excels, however, is with conference calls as the loud, internal speakers and multiple microphones work very well.
Unless you really don’t like larger phones in general, it’s hard to imagine anyone having issues with this.
The huge 4,000mAh battery is said to last two days. In our experience it could do that if you didn’t use your phone much. However, this was our go to phone AND CAMERA during Computex when it was expected to take more than a hundred pictures a day, do GPS navigation and be online constantly. It always lasted the full day which few other phones would come close to.
However, the fast charging system uses proprietary Huawei technology and other charges and cables caused issues – some cables reduced charging to a tiny trickle, so if you’ve collected loads of charging accoutrements from over the years, they might not function properly with this phone.
The camera software is essentially stock Android but the front selfie camera has an airbrushing “Beauty” feature which actually works quite well. We used the main camera for the vast majority of our Computex slideshows, which varied from light to dark and awkward lighting situations. The results were all fine, sharp and useable. We’ve seen better colours and better low light performance from the likes of the Samsung S7 phones, but really, we rarely needed the flash and most of our pictures were fine.
The Beauty airbrushing tool had various levels. Turned right down it makes people look grizzled while turned right up made it makes people look like they're related to Barbie. Set half way through, the results were mildly flattering.
Video is limited to Full HD (4K is becoming normal elsewhere) and quality was acceptable if not great. At quiet times you could hear the focusing mechanism grate and things could get indistinct in noisy environments, but ultimately we had no real complaints.
The main thing here is that taking pictures and focusing is incredibly fast and as a result we took a great many photos. The high battery life meant that we could cover the Computex expo for ten hours a day and not worry about running out of battery.
The built-in pedometer is nice to have and we found it to be relatively accurate. An interesting omission, however, is the dual-SIM feature which not available on Australian models... officially. And this is a strikingly silly move.
Price and conclusion
The RRP in Australia is an inflated $899 (the Mate 7 was $699). However, you can get the 64GB version (with 4GB operating memory) with dual-SIM for $700 on grey import. You can get the 32GB version (also with dual-SIM) for $600 the same way. It’s basically silly paying extra for the official Aussie version. Even so, at around half the price of other flagship phones like the Samsung S7 Edge, Sony Z5, iPhone 6S Plus and HTC 10 it’s got to be the best all-round Android phone on the market (even if you are counting the full Aussie RRP). Our only hesitation is that we just used the $799 Huawei P9 and its camera appears to be stunning. Hold out for the full review!
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