In the Field: Huawei Mate 10 Pro Smartphone

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2018 is barely underway and, already, we've seen what could end up being one of the biggest smartphone stories of the year: the North American release of the Huawei Mate 10 Pro. If you've followed this turbulent tech tale at all, you know there was some eleventh-hour drama between the telecom giant and at least one US carrier that disrupted a distribution deal and left Huawei unfairly in the lurch.

But lost in all that noise—or at least a little muffled—is the fact the Mate 10 Pro is an outstanding smartphone with a great design, flagship-worthy specs, and top-tier camera setup. We got the chance to test-drive the Mate 10 Pro for a couple of days and walked away very, very impressed. Here's why:

Right off the bat, it's important to make one thing absolutely clear: the Mate 10 Pro will work with any GSM carrier that uses frequencies this phone supports. So, if you have AT&T, T-Mobile, or basically any non-CDMA carrier (sorry, Verizon, Sprint, and US Cellular), you're good to go. Don't let any of the political noise distract you.  The Mate 10 Pro is carrier-unlocked, region-free, and ready to party.

Now that we've cleared that up, let's talk about the phone itself. Starting with what you see, the Mate 10 Pro comes in a sleek, all-glass body with a near bezel-less design and 6-inch display. Sharp eyes will notice a bottom USB Type-C port, pair of stereo speakers, a now-uncommon IR blaster up top, and, most notably, the conspicuously branded dual Leica cameras on the back, positioned just above the fingerprint reader. If all that sounds like we're just rattling off selling points from the top smartphones in the world, that's not by accident.

In making the Mate 10 Pro, Huawei borrowed many of the best design features on the market. The OLED full-body display draws comparisons to the Galaxy S8 and Note8, as well as the iPhone X, and the now en vogue 18:9 screen ratio calls to mind LG's lauded V30 and V30+ smartphones. Gorilla Glass encasement, dual rear cameras—the list of popular traits goes on and on.

But just because the Mate 10 Pro emulates some of our favorite features, that doesn't mean it's in any way a derivative device. On the contrary, the Mate 10 Pro boasts several unique highlights that make it uncommon and elite. Let's start with battery life, which, thanks to the 10 Pro's hulking 4,000 mAh capacity, tops every flagship phone on the market. For a comparison, I ran a fully charged Mate 10 Pro and iPhone X against each other on my LTE network and the Mate 10 Pro outlasted my iPhone by almost 4 hours. "Hey, Siri, why is the Mate 10 Pro's battery life so much better than yours? Oh, you can't answer because you ran out of juice four hours ago? So I'm just standing in my kitchen talking to no one? OK, cool."

Second, is the Mate 10 Pro's chipset, Huawei's own Kirin 970, which kept things running lightning-fast and performed nothing short of flawlessly. Supported by 6GB of RAM, the Mate 10 Pro handled every task and app I could think to throw at it, and if there was any lag, I didn't see it.

And finally, one of the features that really distinguishes the Mate 10 Pro is its unique camera setup. I myself am no photo expert, so to give you an accurate rundown of how well the camera performs, I enlisted the help of one of our in-house photo-video experts, Shawn C. Steiner, to break it down for you:

Camera Review

Smartphones are getting good at photography, like really good. They are also doing a lot of interesting stuff when it comes to processing of images to squeeze the best possible image out of the still exceptionally small cameras with which they are equipped. Huawei has an advantage over other manufacturers through its partnership with Leica and the use of an Intelligent Leica Dual Camera that uses Summilux-H 27mm equivalent f/1.6 ASPH. lenses to capture sharp images and video. There is also a neat trick the company uses in the dual-camera setup—one sensor is a 12MP RGB and the other is a 20MP monochrome, which combine information to create highly detailed and noise-free imagery. I was curious about checking this out.

We spent a couple of days with the phone, so I took some quick snaps around the city, and I was impressed with the speed and controls of the Mate 10 Pro. I could be shooting in less than a second with the appropriate settings if I wanted and I never felt lost in the menus—something I wasn't quite expecting, having been using iPhones for the past six years. A Pro Mode is readily accessible, as well, making all my familiar settings available for adjustments, though in practice I didn't end up needing to use them much beyond the occasional exposure compensation shift. The intelligent engine could even handle high-contrast scenes with relative ease and without blowing out the highlights or losing the shadows.

Because this is a phone and meant for quick snaps, I delved into the various advanced modes, namely the Portrait and Bokeh Effect settings. These use the information from both sensors to recognize subjects and create a realistic shallow depth-of-field effect down to f/0.95, and it works very well. Obviously, if you pixel-peep, you may find some unusual edges, but for the intention of quickly taking a photo and sharing it online, it is near perfect. When the bokeh effect is combined with a beauty setting, that is where you will get a portrait mode, and though it may be nice to imagine yourself with perfect skin, I think that this feature tends to go a bit overboard, even at relatively low settings. One last setting I want to mention is the monochrome option; since it uses a purely monochrome sensor, these files show more detail than the other shots.

Raw, Edited Raw (Photoshop), In-Camera JPEG

Finally, I do want to touch on pure IQ, so I loaded up the JPEGs and DNGs from the camera on my computer and took a deeper look. The first thing I noticed was the dramatic difference between the raw files and JPEGs. Raw files, which are only 12MP due to using only the RGB sensor, show all the issues with the lens, notably a strong green-tinted vignette, and severe softening toward the edges. Amazingly, the processing done in-camera cleans these up exceptionally well and uses the 20MP monochrome sensor to bring back some of that missing detail. However, the raw files are going to be your best bet if you are a serious stickler for image quality, because the JPEGs tended to look over-sharpened and seemed to lack some detail. A positive note here is that all the files were good in low light with less noise than I would expect from a camera at higher ISO settings, allowing even ISO 3200 shots to be very usable, since the grain pattern looks quite natural.

I was impressed with the cameras on the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, and if you are looking for a smartphone with impressive photo skills, then this is an easy one to recommend. Also, it can shoot UHD 4K video, which I thought looks good, though I didn't have as much time to delve into the phone's filmmaking capabilities. Now, back to Brett with his final thoughts on Huawei's latest flagship.

To Summarize

The Mate 10 Pro is an exceptional smartphone that comes in a great design and with plenty of unique features—not to mention more than a few highlights we've seen in other flagship devices. Some might argue this "imitation" is a form of flattery, but is it truly imitation if you do it better and for cheaper than the other guys? We'll let you decide on that one. One thing is for certain: the 2018 race for best smartphone is officially underway, and as of right now, the Mate 10 Pro is in the lead.

6 Comments

is that a duck on your wrist lol? nice!!!

from the example shots, this camera is great!  especially the portrait!

Well , the above article writer start by saying that the Phone above is so top of the line , it may be so , but the first reason is kind a lame ,,, he goes on saying that ,,, first of all this Phone works on ANY GSM FREQUENCY THAT THIS PHONE Supports !!! No , really ?

 I thought that  it couldn't be possible !

Thanks for the comment, Raimundo! While I totally agree that pointing out the Mate 10 Pro's  GSM compatibility isn’t exactly head-turning news, we wanted to mention it at the top because there’s been some confusion about whether the phone will work in the U.S.—especially after the whole AT&T fiasco. 

I am interested in the dual sim model...and I assume that this one is just single sim.

Michael, you are correct: The version we reviewed is the North American variant of the Mate 10 Pro, which, as you pointed out, is single SIM. B&H does carry many dual-SIM variants of popular smartphones, though, so I wouldn't be surprised to see it in our catalog in the future. Stay tuned.

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