Huawei Mate 9

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Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus – Part 1

If I had to name one characteristic of the Huawei Mate 9 that’s both great and also annoying at the same time, it’d be its rear fingerprint sensor. The sensor is located at the camera’s back and where one’s forefinger naturally rests. It hasn’t been just unfailingly accurate in recognizing my fingerprint, it’s also extremely sensitive – to the point that lightly brushing my finger over the sensor will instant-unlock the phone. The Mate 9 frequently unlocks in this fashion without my being aware, with all manner of functions also accidentally also triggering from the touchscreen as a result.

My phone plan was up for renewal this month, so I took the opportunity to not just continue with a new 2 year contract, but also migrate over to Singtel’s Corporate Individual Scheme – one of the nice perks of working where I’m at. The new plan approximately bumps up the tier of my current mobile plan to the next higher tier at no cost. Even better, there was also a hefty seasonal discount during the first week of July for selected phones – including SGD200 off the Samsung Galaxy S8+. So, the Huawei Mate 9 goes back in exchange for Samsung’s current top-of-the-line phone plus a small top-up fee.

The S8+, and before the trade-in value of SGD300 for the Mate 9, and another SGD30 discount for an online order.

And my comments after several days of usage of the new Samsung Galaxy S8+:

The S8+ has an usual aspect ratio, and the relatively skinnier girth of the S8+ also makes it slightly easier to hold than all three of my last phones – the Huawei Mate 9, Mi Max, and Samsung Galaxy Note 5. The taller than normal screen, coupled also with the QHD+ screen resolution and 6.2″ of screen estate, lets you see more web page content – though the ratio is also less effective for viewing photos and videos.

The phone feels very dense, and as is the current fashion for many top-line phones coming out of manufacturers these days, no creaks and joints are observed in the phone’s chassis. Like the Mate 9, the S8+ is begging for a case. Not having one is going to mean a high chance of the phone slipping from your grip and kissing concrete.

The phone’s thumbprint sensor has been widely criticized by many gadget reviewers, but I didn’t find it that bad. Sure, a larger fingerprint sensor and also one that’s not quite so close to the camera lens would had been better, but putting the phone in a case helps my forefinger feel where the sensor is.

The S8+ comes in different colors: black, blue, gold and grey. Unlike other Samsung phones, the front plate is a generic black in color regardless of the back plate color one chooses.

The phone supports PIN and iris recognition too. The face-recognition works so well though that that’s my default method of unlocking this phone now. Unlocking isn’t quite as instantaneous as the Mate 9, but a second lost from delay in exchange for not having the phone unlocked from accidental finger brushes is a good trade-off.

Many reviewers have remarked that the S8/S8+ super AMOLED screen is the best screen there is for smartphones, and I wholeheartedly agree! The Mate 9’s screen is no slouch, but the S8+ combination of color rendition, resolution, and contrasts in its screen – blows it right out of the water, and not even the current gen iPhones, good as they are, can match the S8/S8+. Like the Note 5, the maximum brightness level on the S8+ makes the display legible even in direct sunlight.

I really rather a bezel-less but flat display screen like on the Mate 9 and Note 5 than the curved one on the S8+. But oh well.

Samsung’s much talked about Bixby – their Google Assistant/Siri personal voice assistant equivalent – is gimped at the moment, as the voice client hasn’t been activated yet for local users LOL. But the image recognition module is lots of fun to play with. Basically, you use the phone’s camera to scan an object, and Bixby will attempt to recognize it and then produce a list of web sites that are related to that object. Pretty cool!

The S8+ beside still one of my most favorite phones ever, the S5 Note.

The Samsung Galaxy S8+.

Next post here!

Western Australia – Equipment Comments

Just a few more posts in our WA series – honest! And this one is for tech junkies – comments on how various gadgets and toys fared during the trip!

The Olympus E-M1 continued to perform admirably on it’s third major overseas outing. Oddly though, the camera occasionally required a few seconds to power-up from a cold-start. Might be something to do with the age of the battery – one of the two BLN-1 battery is about 5 years old now, and its internal circuity might be starting to fail.

The Panasonic GX85 did amazing well in its first major overseas trip! The GX85 was mostly coupled with the 40-150mm f2.8 with 1.4x converter throughout the trip, and I was able to get pretty good picture retention rates, with the C-AF modes able to track moving subjects. There was some minor annoyances though: the camera seems to have its own mind sometimes by selecting its own aperture against what I really want to shoot at. Specifically, I can set aperture on the Olympus m4/3 bodies set on Aperture-Priority and don’t ever worry about it again. But the GX85 will sometimes change f-stop on its own even on Aperture-Priority. I’ll have to read up a bit more about how Panasonic m4/3 bodies treat A modes.

Two batteries accompanied each of the bodies, and on most days, the one battery apiece for the E-M1 and GX85 was able to last for an entire day of shooting on most days. That is, excepting the really heavy days during the day tours, though the batteries were also routinely nearly drained by the day’s end. Sill, the weather in WA wasn’t cold enough at usually between 18 to 7 degree Cs for either the E-M1 and GX85’s batteries to discharge faster.

Shooting sunsets with the E-M1 and Sirui T-24X @ Margaret River.

The number of exposures I triggered on the E-M1 and GX85 was about 3,250 and 2,251 respectively, about 227 using the Samsung 360, and another hundred or so using  Huawei Mate 9 – a total of about 5,828 pictures. And of that, I processed and finally kept about 3,331 of them – a keeper percentage of about 57%. This WA trip goes well past the 5,013 exposures I took for the 23 day New England trip in 2010 (still the most memorable trip ever!) but I kept 4,327 of them then – or a much higher 86% retention. A huge number of shots for this WA trip were on burst mode – particularly the animal feedings – while the ones in New England were of a lot of scenery, which don’t require shooting on drive modes.

Three lenses came along for the trip: the 12-40mm f2.8, the 40-150mm f2.8 with 1.4x teleconverter, and the 17mm f1.8. The approximate picture distribution was 65% 12-40mm, 34% 40-150mm, 1% 17mm. Yep – just a small handful of pictures taken using the prime!

I was really happy with the videos taken on the Huawei Mate 9, despite the initial trepidation before the trip. Between that and Ling’s Samsung Note 5, we took about 79 videos, most about a 1 to 3 minutes long each. The 4K videos coming out of the Huawei Mate 9 did take a bit of processing though as the Dell XPS 13 wasn’t able to handle the 4K videos well. A comparison between the 2K videos taking in Melbourne using the Samsung Note 5 against the 2K downsized from 4K videos on the Huawei Mate 9 showed that despite the lower frame/s – the Note 5 can shoot at 60fps – there was simply a lot more visible resolution and detail for videos taken using the Mate 9, and less obvious jello-effect too when panning the phone around.

Sirui T-024X CF tripod/C-10S Ballhead: were instrumental in enabling some of our family photos and doubled-up also as the tripod for the Samsung Gear 360. It was light enough also for our 8 year old daughter to help carry around. Call me a traditionalist – but I simply don’t think smartphones take very good wefies!

Samsung Gear 360 (2017): already posted separately on this. The pictures were so-so, videos disappointing – but I got perspectives that traditional cameras simply cannot obtain, and the camera was purchased on the cheap.

But the most valuable item that accompanied us this trip was:

Best camera bag ever – the Billingham Hadley Pro.

Hank – our guide at Margaret River – was quite interested in this camera bag too. Despite it being more than 4 years old now, it still looks as good as it did on the first day. Dirt simply rolls off it!


Huawei Mate 9 – Part 4: Final Notes

Last couple of posts of the Huawei Mate 9 here, here and here.

Many of the larger Android phone manufacturers routinely load up their new phones with a lot of bloatware. Sometimes, it’s useful – like additional storage space on Dropbox – but a lot of other times, it just isn’t. The difficulty becomes even worse when you can’t actually remove those built-in apps from your phone. Attempting to Uninstall the app will fail. At most, you can replace the app with factory version, so these apps will remain on your device and likely also an eye-sore.

Huawei isn’t different from Samsung in this regard; the Mate 9 came with several of its own apps that I didn’t have a use for, except for one: a Truecaller program that I’ve not seen before. A check showed what this app is about: it’s a cloud-based solution to that attempts to check the IDs of all incoming calls. In other words, CallerID on steroids! Truecaller doesn’t just display the phone number, but searches in crowd-contributed databases where the phone number really is from.

Here’s a case in point. For several months now, I’ve been getting calls persistently from a local mobile number, and – as a creature of habit – I routinely ignore numbers that I do not recognize and when I’m not expecting a call either. But after using the Mate 9, the Truecaller was able to identify the number as coming from a Piano Tuner:

The Tuner’s full phone number masked out in this picture of course.

That’s real neat! Our Yamaha U30BL piano package comes with two free piano tunings in the first year, and I reckon the fellow has been calling to try to make appointments for it.

Another quirk of the Mate 9: the phone’s rear fingerprint sensor works a little too well. It’s responsive and instantly unlocks the phone. And I’ve never had a single instance of print rejection over the two weeks I’ve had the phone. Totally unlike the iPads and Samsung Note 5 which can take a couple of tries for the phone to unlock. But the Mate 9’s fingerprint sensor is also so sensitive and responsive to touch that even lightly brushing the sensor with my finger – e.g. something as innocuous as just holding and not using the camera in my palm while I’m walking – is enough to unlock the phone.

Many of the top-tier phones from manufacturers today also use slightly curved glass along the long sides of the display screen. The Mate 9 isn’t different from the Note 5 nor the Mi Max in this regard: all three have the same screen characteristic. While this makes for a more premium product, finding tempered glass protectors that cover the entire screen edge to edge is annoyingly tough, as it’s not easy to, well, manufacture at low price points thin glass pieces that are slightly curved along edges. Most tempered glass protectors deal with this difficulty simply by not covering the entire screen. Alternatively, the protector might come with black borders that run along its edges – which will cover the entire phone screen, and at the same time mask the fact that the protector doesn’t actually curve neatly along the display screen edge. The down side of this is that you’re likely to lose a tiny bit of display area – but for many users, including myself, it’s the best of what essentially are non-ideal situations from a design limitation.

Still. The 4000 mAh battery is absolutely incredible in making me assured that I don’t have to be near a USB Type C cable and charger every half-day. Part of this I suspect is the hardware and Android 7.0’s ability to sparingly sip power when the phone is in standby mode. It’s not unusual for the phone to be disconnected from the charger at 11PM before I turn in, and 7 hours later – battery power has dropped by only 1% or at most 2%.

All in; the Mate 9 isn’t the best phone I’ve had – that honor still sits safely with the Samsung Note 5 – but it’s ‘good enough’ for the moment. Until the real successor to the Note 5 comes along. :)

Huawei Mate 9 – Part 3: Imaging

I don’t think I’ll ever feel entirely at ease with the smartphone as a handy camera. A large part of it has to do with handling and ergonomics. Smartphones as a direct result of their form factor simply do not permit you to have a good hand-grip when you’re trying to compose a picture, so much so that I’m constantly fearful of accidentally dropping the phone while taking a shot. With the exception of my two Mi phones – which don’t produce very good pictures to begin with – the smartphones we’re using routinely cost upwards of $600-700; a lot more than cheap compact cameras. $600-$700 is a lot of money to throw away if phones kiss concrete!

Still, the old adage tells us that the best camera there is is the one you have with you at that moment. I carry my m4/3 cameras whenever we’re out with the kids, but that’s not all the time – while our phones are always with us. And beyond convenience, smartphone cameras also offer a whole bunch of other neat features, including:

Full-screen viewing with easy pinch in-out zooms to check focusing points and composition. Those 3″ LCD screens on compacts are no match for 5.5″ screens on phones! At high resolutions of 1920×1080 pixels and more too.

USB charging. No need to bring around an external battery charger for the camera.

Filters, picture modes, and decent image editing baked into firmware. And if that’s not enough, you can easily install Adobe Photoshop Express on the phone to get your pro-tweak fix.

Connectivity. Most entry-level compacts won’t include the kind of connection possibilities you’d find in smartphones, while even the cheapest smartphones will have these features. They include picture postings to social media sites, or backing up to cloud services if your data plans permit it. And if you’re on a 60 day vacation across the length and breadth of Europe, auto Geotagging would be really helpful too. You’d need to move up to pricey premium compacts to get all those fun connection options.

Though then again, compacts have got more than a couple of tricks:

Better image quality if you’re willing to spend a bit more to get compacts with 1″ sensors. I’m still hoping to get a 1″ compact camera at some point this year.

Optical stabilization and zooming, though we’re also increasingly seeing the top-tier smartphones offer these features too. And no current smartphone is going to get you good quality zoomed-in pictures when you’re on vacation. Some smartphones can go up to 5-6X, but only through digital zoom – and you really don’t want that.

Handling in odd weather and conditions. Most of us won’t take our cameras to shoot in extreme conditions (ever), but if you want to take pictures in the swimming pool of kids swimming, you’re out of luck with the majority of smartphones. On the other hand, there are waterproof compact cameras abound, and even underwater casings – like the waterproof case for the Canon Ixus, a combination we use to take pictures of our kids swimming.

Better ergonomics and handling. You can easily attach a wrist strap to your camera. Not your 2017 smartphone, unless you get a smartphone case with eyelets for such.

All that said though, the general feeling in the photographic industry is that entry-to mid level compacts are a twilight market segment now. In fact, long-standing photography sites like DPReview and DxOMark have also been including smartphones in their product reviews. I reckon the premium and travel-zoom compacts will still continue to hold their own for at least several more years, since it’s a lot harder to build larger than normal imaging sensors into dense smartphones already jam-packed with fragile electronics, let alone the requisite glass elements that’d permit you to do long optical zooms.

So – onto the Mate 9. Here is a sample for pixel-peepers. Taken on a hot, humid and very sunny Saturday just before noon at our parents’ place. JPG compression was set to 90% quality level.

You can probably feel the sizzling heat just by looking at this picture. Click on the image to get the full-sized JPG image (ISO50, f2.2). Click on the above for the full 5120×3840 pixel image.

A 800×600 pixel crop at 100% of the upper left corner.

A 800×600 pixel crop at 100% at about the image center.

I reckon many people will be happy with these pictures – the Mate 9, like many of the other top-tier phones from manufacturers, take decent pictures. The outdoor pictures only don’t look so good when you’re peering at them at 100%. But really, only pros and gear heads seeking absolutely perfection in their optical equipment will do that, ever. The real challenge is in low-light, and on that, the laws of physics governing small image sensor prevails – the Mate 9 isn’t so great in low-light, and the output differences compared to m4/3s is pretty visible.

So in summary. Is the Mate 9 dual-camera setup any good? It’s pretty OK if you’re comparing it against compact cameras, and/or are taking pictures outdoors and in good light. But it’s also not going to replace my m4/3s anytime.

Next and also last post in series here.

Huawei Mate 9 – Part 2: Usage

Continuing from the last post. Well:

It’s Huawei’s current flagship, and it especially shows through its choice of processor and camera functions. The Mate 9 feels well-built, dense and of good heft without any creaky joints. I doubt if it’s of the same level of construction as the Note 5 – whose sturdy frame makes me never worried about stuffing the Note in my back pocket and sitting on it – but the Mate 9 doesn’t look as though it’ll break into two any time from normal usage.

Three of the four phones we use: from left to right, the new Mate 9, XIaomi Mi Max, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 5.

For those of us who do not use protective cases with our phones, the Mate 9’s matte surfaces will keep your fingerprint smudges at bay. Though then again, there are many others who prefer the all metal and glass premium builds of the Note 5.

The phone comes with a pre-fitted film screen protector and also a thin phone case in the box. The film screen protector is the clear type. It doesn’t seem to have a smudge-resistant coating, so attracts fingerprints easily. The thin plastic case is fine protecting the phone from scratches when when you have your keys, coins and the like alongside the phone in your pocket – but it doesn’t look nearly sturdy enough to protect the phone if it gets dropped. Either omissions wouldn’t have bothered me too much, since the film protector will come off as soon as the tempered glass protector I purchased arrives. But these inclusions are an awfully nice gesture on Huawei’s part, and are helpful for people who don’t intend to buy any additional  accessories for it, or would like to use these as placeholders while they (slowly!) decide what accessories to buy after getting the phone first.

The 64GB built-in memory is useful, and it’s also fast becoming the standard amount of storage in new smartphones. And if you need more than 64GB, the second SIM card slot dual purposes also as a micro SD card slot. I can finally bring my entire 223GB collection of classical music MP3 files on the go now LOL.

It’s the first device I’ve used with Android v7.0 Nougat. This new version of the Android OS includes better task switching and multi-tasking, though if you primarily use the phone for just mobile communications and browsing, most of these new features might not mean much to you. A couple would definitely though: bundled notifications where users who receive incoming messages across apps non-stop will appreciate, and a new data saver utility for those of us on who’re heavy data users on stingy mobile data plans.

The Mate 9’s fingerprint scanner is like Xiaomi’s – more reliable and quicker than either the Samsung Note 5’s, the iPad Mini 4 or iPad Air 2. Having experienced my two Mi phones’ rear fingerprint scanner and now this Mate 9’s, I’m now convinced that the fingerprint scanner belongs to the back of the device and not the front.

It’s touted machine learning feature is interesting, but any benefits won’t be seen until you’ve used the phone for a while. Morever, I’m doubtful if it’ll improve my personal experience of the phone: my usage of the phone will be fairly low-intensity (basically mobile communications and web browsing), and the phone is already quick enough as it is.

Type C charging and data port. Certainly the way of the future – just maybe not now.

Fingerprint sensor right where it should be – at the back of the phone.

The Mate 9 (left)’s screen is visibly larger than the Note 5’s – but once you take on board the space occupied by the row of on-screen buttons, the actual physical display area between the phones is about similar. And once you consider also the lower resolution screen, the Mate 9 simply does not display as much info on the screen as the Note 5.

And now we have mobile devices using three completely different and non-interchangeable charging connectors – ugh. There aren’t a lot of 3-in-1 adapters in stores. This one from j5Create – works like a charm, thankfully. These are sold at Challenger (with member discounts applying) and also at Popular for example.

The 4K video capture does not seem to benefit much from optical stabilization, and videos come out quite shaky. This will be a real issue in our June trip – it looks like I’ll have to use Ling’s Note 5 now to take videos.

The audio jack produces sufficiently loud sound – important for those of us who listen to music in noisy environments like MRT trains, if slightly muffled at the bass levels compared to the Note 5. Oddly too – there is no built-in graphic equalizer to fine-tune audio, so one will have to go with third party Google Play apps for that.

And on the flip side:

USB Type C charging. The new USB standard might indeed be the way of the future, but I’m not sold on whether it’s ready for mainstream yet. It’d at least mean that I’d have to bring yet another charging cable for our June vacation to Western Australia. That the phone box includes a microUSB adapter is helpful though.

The built-in notification LED is both a little too small and also limited to be of much use. The LED sits on the top right corner of the phone and doesn’t emit sufficient light for one to easily notice it. Unlike the Note 5 too, there doesn’t seem to be any way for the LED to be customized to display different colors to signify different types of events.

I’ve said enough of the Mate 9’s Full and not QHD screen. Color and contrast wise, it’s ‘good’ enough, and like the Note 5, the Mate 9’s maximum screen brightness is high enough for me to see what’s on the screen when outdoors.The default color is very slightly on the warm side, but an equally small shift to a cooler temperature helps. Still, photos still look better on the Note 5 though, no doubt because of its technologically superior Super AMOLED screen.

Using the Mate 9’s color temperature adjuster.

So there we go. The next post on some observations about using the Mate 9 as a cam-phone.

Huawei Mate 9 – Part 1: Decisions

One of the nicest things about living in Asia is access to a wide range of mobile technologies, more so with China’s emergence as a leading tech giant. The large telco providers invariably bundle their subscription plans not only phones from mainstream manufacturers – e.g. Samsung, LG, Apple, Sony – but also from equally large manufacturers that are normally not sold bundled with Western carriers, e.g. those in the US . These manufacturers, often from China and Taiwan, include Asus, Oppo, Huawei, HTC, ZTE, Xiaomi, Leagoo and so on. And that’s not counting the other less-known manufacturers that are sold directly from retail shops, usually without manufacturer warranties but with in-store support instead. It’s as one YouTube reviewer of Huawei’s phones mused: that some of these Chinese manufacturers are capable of producing really crazy good smartphones that are sold much cheaper than the well-known ones. But despite their advertising dollars spent, these phones are still largely ignored by the American consumer sector as they simply aren’t bundled with carrier plans.

I was initially intending to change phones only in June when my current contract makes me eligible for a re-contract without the early termination fee. As luck would have it, Ling’s phone contract had already expired, and after some discussion about what she’d want for her next phone, my Note 5 would go to her. On account that she wanted a phone with a stylus, that she didn’t want to pay much for it, and the phone can’t be larger than her Note 3 (something about not fitting into her handbag pouch LOL).

So, I’d be out of a phone earlier than I thought. Between the couple of phones I listed in the recent post:

Samsung Galaxy A9 Pro: was out of stock.

Oppo R9s Plus: would had been my next choice, were it not for the fact that it does not support NFC – i.e. no Android Pay. Too bad. The relative lack of reviews and commentary about this phone also made me a mite less confident about it.

Huawei Mate 9: reviewed in a lot of sites, and for the most part quite well-received with reviewers noting its decent build, great battery life, brisk processor and speeds, and decent cameras if still slightly under the Note 5 in terms of imaging quality. And on the flip-side, OK screen only and not QHD (not as nice as the Oppo’s or Note 5’s), and on-screen buttons only (matter of personal preference).

Huawei Mate’s Advertising.

So, it was the Huawei Mate 9. And for once, switching to this phone from the Note 5 actually feels more like a downgrade than an upgrade LOL. The Note 5 is superior in just about every aspect that I care about: screen quality, resolution, stylus-support, imaging, build, and that it runs for even longer on its 3000mAh battery despite it being smaller than the Mate 9’s 4000mAh. The only thing that the Mate 9 has going for it in comparison is the very slightly larger screen – and that it’s new LOL.

Still – unboxing pictures for the phone that just arrived, with notes on actual usage to come later!

This is the nicest packaging I’ve yet seen from a smartphone package. Huawei packs the Mate 9 in a premium and oversized gift-styled box.

User guide, a slim translucent case, quick charger, USB Type-C cable, and microUSB adapter. The earphone’s still in the box.

More in the next post.