The Huawei Mate 9 comes with specifications that are in many ways very similar to the slightly newer P10 model. However, as the Chinese manufacturer's current flagship phablet, the Mate 9 offers a Full-HD display that is, at 5.9", quite a lot larger than the P10's 5.1" equivalent and is overall a chunkier and heavier device.

Like on all recent Huawei high-end models, the Mate 9's dual-camera was co-developed with German camera manufacturer Leica. It comes with a 20MP monochrome sensor that is combined with a 12MP RGB chip to achieve better image results than conventional cameras. Both lenses feature an F2.2 aperture, complemented by a 6-axis optical image stabilization system and a 4-in-1 hybrid AF that combines contrast detection, phase detection, laser time-of-flight measurements and depth information. The Mate 9 can also record 4K video and has a front camera features an 8MP sensor and F1.9 aperture.

In terms of imaging features, the Mate 9 offers everything you would expect from a true high-end smartphone. The camera app's Pro mode gives you manual controls and DNG Raw capture. There are panorama and HDR modes and some dual-cam based features, such as a portrait mode with a simulated shallow depth-of-field effect. 

The Mate 9 camera app allows you to adjust all essential shooting parameters using virtual sliders.

The rest of the specification is all worthy of a flagship model as well. Android 7.0 and Huawei's EMUI 5.0 launcher are powered by the in-house Kirin 960 chipset and the large 4000mAh battery comes with Huawei's own quick-charging system.

Key specifications:

  • Dual-cam with 12MP RGB sensor and 20MP monochrome sensor
  • F2.2 apertures on both lenses
  • Optical image stabilization 
  • Hybrid AF with contrast detection, phase detection and laser measurement
  • 4K video
  • Manual control over shutter speed
  • DNG Raw capture
  • 8MP / F1.9 front camera
  • 5.9" LCD IPS display with 1080p
  • Android 7.0
  • Kirin 960 chipset
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB storage and microSD-slot
  • 4000mAh battery with quick charging

Image quality in good light

In good light the Mate 9 camera captures images with good exposure and pleasant colors that are vibrant but still natural. The dual-cam setup is also capable of maintaining better highlight detail than many competitors, making the Huawei a good choice for shooting in high-contrast situations. 

The Leica lenses provide very good sharpness across the frame and into the corners. When viewing the Huawei's low-ISO image output at a 100% there are no artifacts such as chromatic aberrations, color bleeding or moire but blue skies show noticeable luminance noise. Fine low-contrast textures, such as distant vegetation, are a little smeared by noise reduction but overall the Huawei captures very good detail. 

 ISO 50, 1/1751 sec

In the scene below the Mate 9 camera maintains very good highlight detail in the bright sunshine.

 ISO 50, 1/1307 sec

The Huawei Mate 9 colors are vibrant but not quite as punchy and unnaturally saturated as on some competitors.

 ISO 50, 1/1715 sec

In the portrait scene below the camera does a very good job at balancing exposure between in the bright sunlit background and the shaded subject.

 ISO 50, 1/428 sec

Image quality in low light conditions

In low light the Mate 9 camera performs very well across the ISO range. Color response and white balance are good, even in mixed light situations, and the camera produces good exposures down to very low light levels. 

Noise and the effects of noise reduction become more intrusive as the ISO value goes up but the Huawei always maintains a good balance between noise reduction and detail retention. Chroma noise is well under control and grain tends to be fine and less intrusive than on some competitors. Even shots captured in very dark scenes still show some finer textures and decent edge detail. Overall the Mate 9 camera performs very well in low light, letting the Huawei compete with the very best in dim conditions. 

At ISO 100 a very minor reduction of detail is just about noticeable but you have to zoom in to a 100% view to see. Color and exposure are very good. 

 ISO 100, 1/100 sec

The ISO 250 shot below was captured in a tungsten-lit interior. The white balance system is doing a good job at producing a fairly neutral color response that preserves some of the scene's warm atmosphere. At full-size view luminance noise becomes visible but the grain size is very small and much less intrusive than the smeared 'noise blobs' on some other cameras.

 ISO 250, 1/33 sec

The camera does a good job in the difficult light conditions of the indoor scene below. The optical image stabilization usually keep things steady but, like on most smartphone cameras, at slow shutter speeds even minor subject motion leads to slight softness.

 ISO 640, 1/17 sec

For the night scene below the camera's auto mode selected ISO 1250. In these difficult conditions noise is visible even at smaller image sizes and a lot of fine detail has been eradicated by noise reduction. However, in comparison to many competitors the Mate 9 is still doing a very good job. Some low-contrast textures are preserved and noise levels are comparatively low. The auto exposure system is also doing an excellent job at balancing the bright portions of the scene against the darker elements. 

 ISO 1250, 1/4 sec

Flash

The Mate 9's dual-LED flash performed well in our testing. When using the flash the camera tends to keep ISO pretty low, allowing for good detail and low noise levels. Exposure is good with subjects across the table but can get a little too dark at slightly longer distances. Auto white balance usually ensures natural skin tones, even in mixed light situations. 

 ISO 320, 1/25 sec

Front camera

The Mate 9's front camera comes with an 8MP resolution and resolves good detail in bright light. It also offers better dynamic range than most front cameras we have seen and deals very well with bright backlit scenes, such as the one below. As you would expect, image quality starts suffering as light levels get lower but a display flash function allows for self-portraits even in very dark situations.

 Front camera, ISO 50, 1/1427 sec

Panorama mode

The Mate 9's panorama mode works in the same way as on other recent Huawei high-end models. You can capture both vertical and horizontal panoramas and a guide line helps you keep things as straight as possible during recording. 

At usually just over 10,000 pixels wide the Mate 9's panorama images are quite a bit smaller than on recent iPhones or Samsung Galaxy models and only cover a 180 degree angle of view. However, image detail is pretty good, there are only minor stitching errors and the mode deals well with moving subjects in the scene. 

Vertical panorama, 11274 x 3072 pixels

DNG Raw capture

When shooting in its Pro mode you can set the Mate 9 camera to save DNG Raw files in addition to JPEG images. 

Out-of-camera JPEG, ISO 50, 1/1000 sec

The Raw sample below was converted in Adobe ACR. We applied some negative digital exposure compensation and slightly lifted the shadow areas for an overall more natural tonal distribution and applied some small-diameter sharpening. If you click through to the full-sized version you can see that by doing so you can achieve noticeably better detail and reduce highlight clipping on some of the brighter elements in the scene (though the better highlight roll-off has as much to do with being able to access ACR's cleverness as anything the phone is contributing). 

DNG Raw file, converted in Adobe ACR

Video

The Huawei Mate 9 can capture video in up to 4K resolution and 120 fps slow motion clips at 720p. The 1080p Full-HD sample below shows good color and detail but panning is not quite as smooth as the best in class. The quality of the stereo sound recording is good in most situations. 

Conclusion

The Huawei Mate 9 comes with high-end components that are wrapped up in a solid metal body with a premium look and feel, a comprehensive imaging feature set, a well-structured camera app and very good image quality across all light levels. In bright light the Mate 9 camera lags very slightly behind the best in class in terms of image detail and noise but delivers excellent dynamic range, making it a great camera for shooting in high-contrast situations.

In lower light the camera maintains an excellent balance between noise reduction and detail retention at all light levels and even images taken in very low light still show some fine textures, making the Huawei an excellent choice for mobile photographers who like shooting in dim conditions. Panning in video mode is not quite as smooth as on the iPhone or Google Pixel devices but if video is not too high up your list the Huawei Mate 9 is a very powerful tool for mobile photography.

If you prefer smaller smartphones you should have a closer look at the Huawei P10, which offers very similar all-around specifications in a noticeably smaller package. 

Huawei Mate 9 sample gallery