The phone that Huawei hoped would carry it into the US market is its flagship Mate 10 Pro, released in other parts of the world last fall. The Mate 10 Pro has been the focus of all Huawei’s marketing efforts in Western markets, from influencer partnerships to billboards to ad placements on popular websites (including The Verge, which our editorial team has had zero involvement in). Though Huawei lost its carrier partnerships and clearly doesn’t have any fans in the American government, it started selling the Mate 10 Pro unlocked in the US this week, and it can now be purchased for $799 from Amazon, Best Buy, and other retailers.
The Mate 10 Pro is a flagship phone with flagship specs and flagship pricing. But there are a lot of flagship phones with flagship specs and flagship pricing here in the US, which means that the Mate 10 Pro is playing in an intensely competitive field. Without a large carrier partner and its massive marketing budget and retail footprint, it’s not likely that the Mate 10 Pro will be a popular phone in the US. But it got me wondering: now that Americans can buy it, is the Mate 10 Pro a phone anyone should buy, regardless of what the government says? Even if Huawei had been able to get it on AT&T or Verizon or any other US carrier, would anyone have bought it?
In terms of hardware, the Mate 10 Pro has almost everything you’d expect from a flagship phone launched within the past six months. Its metal-and-glass body has excellent build quality, polished finishes, and tight tolerances. It’s water resistant. Its display has a now-fashionable wider 18:9 aspect ratio, with minimal bezels. It has stereo speakers and a dual rear camera system.
Inside is Huawei’s own top-of-the-line Kirin 970 processor, 6GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. There’s a huge, quick-charging 4,000mAh battery that can keep it going all day and then some. The phone even has an IR blaster so you can use it to control your TV or other electronics.
Like many high-end phones, it doesn’t have a headphone jack, though Huawei does provide both EarPod knockoff headphones and a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box. It also doesn’t have wireless charging, despite the glass back.
But those are fairly minor complaints. If there’s a hardware feature you want, the Mate 10 Pro probably has it.
For the most part, that hardware works really well. I found the Mate 10 Pro to be as fast as any recent Android flagship. The hardware is nice to hold, and thanks to that enormous battery, it has terrific battery life. I didn’t find any obvious annoyances, like a poorly placed fingerprint sensor, an extra button for a voice assistant you’ll never use, or a notch that covers up part of the top of the screen, either.
The 6-inch display has a lower resolution than many of its peers, at “only” 1080p, but I don’t think it’s a cause for concern, as both text and images are sharp. It’s OLED, which provides deep blacks and vibrant colors. It has excellent viewing angles and gets bright enough for use outdoors while I’m walking to the office. And, like a lot of newer Android phones, it has an always-on mode that will show you the time and date without having to pick up the phone.
Perhaps my favorite feature is the Mate 10 Pro’s speakers, which are loud, clear, and automatically switch from mono to stereo when you turn the phone from portrait to landscape orientation.
What often separates top-tier phones from the rest are the cameras, and while the Leica-branded dual rear camera isn’t as good as a Pixel 2 or an iPhone X camera, it’s certainly a capable shooter. It has fast focus and performance, preserves a good amount of detail, and produces pleasing, if a little bit oversaturated, colors.
The camera app has a ton of features and options, including manual controls, various portrait and fake blurring modes, and automatic scene functions that attempt to optimize the camera for whatever your subject is. Point the camera at a person, and it quickly switches to portrait mode; point it at a plate of food, and it switches to the food preset, and so on. It’s certainly easier to use than manually changing modes for each subject.
My favorite camera mode is the monochrome option, which uses data from one of the Mate 10 Pro’s camera sensors to produce some of the nicest black-and-white images I’ve ever seen from a smartphone. Unlike the iPhone X’s studio lighting mode, it doesn’t overreach and try to duplicate a studio effect; it just produces nice-looking black and whites. The images are rich and contrasty, with lovely tones that I find hard to replicate with even my dedicated stills camera.
The Mate 10 Pro runs Android 8.0 Oreo with Huawei’s EMUI user interface on top of it, and it’s wildly different from the version of Android you find on a Pixel or other modern phones. The best way I can describe it is a poorly made knockoff of iOS.
Huawei has customized almost everything about Android, and often, not in a good way. For example, you can’t expand notifications on the lock screen, so deleting an email or marking a to-do complete can’t be done without unlocking the phone. The settings menu, messaging app, and share sheet have been lifted right out of iOS and shoehorned onto Android. For some reason, most of the apps in the share sheet are hidden by default, forcing extra taps and swipes just to see them all.
Sure, you can change some of these things by downloading a different launcher or messaging app, but you can’t change things like the quick settings menu that doesn’t match the rest of the notification shade or that awful share sheet. You can’t turn on an option to make notifications on the lock screen more useful. On top of that, there are frustrating bugs — even when I downloaded another launcher and attempted to use that, the Mate 10 would frequently reset itself to Huawei’s own launcher.