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Porsche Design HUAWEI Mate 9 hands on: the dream machine

We go hands on with the Porsche Design HUAWEI Mate 9: the 1400 Euro, limited edition high-end variant with a QHD display, 6 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage.

Published onNovember 4, 2016

What happens when a luxury car manufacturer teams up with a Chinese smartphone maker? You get a phone that’s both very sexy and awfully familiar. Huawei and Porsche Design teamed up to produce a phone that is as desirable as it is expensive. The result is the Porsche Design Mate 9 and if its looks don’t knock your socks off, its price will. Join us for a quick unboxing and first impressions of the Porsche Design HUAWEI Mate 9.

HUAWEI Mate 9 & Porsche Design Mate 9 review

Unboxing a Porsche

The box the Porsche Design Mate 9 comes in is pretty hefty, and you’ll soon see why. Lifting the lid reveals the beautiful Porsche Design Mate 9 with its curved 5.5-inch QHD display alongside a certification card emphasizing Porsche’s involvement in the design process.

Porsche's influence, at least in terms of making a high-priced object of desire, is clear. But it's all HUAWEI underneath.

Porsche’s influence, at least in terms of making a high-priced object of desire, is clear. But it’s all HUAWEI underneath. Sharing a specs sheet and software layer with the regular HUAWEI Mate 9, the Porsche version steps things up in a couple of critical areas.

The Porsche Design Mate 9 has a smaller, higher resolution display than the Mate 9, which delivers Full HD resolution on a 5.9-inch screen. The Porsche variant also adds additional few gigs of RAM for a total of 6 GB and comes in one storage option: 256 GB.

The other big visual difference is the relocated finger scanner, which has migrated from HUAWEI’s familiar location on the back below the camera to the front where everyone else puts it. Barring those few hardware changes mentioned above, looks are the main difference between the regular Mate 9 and the Porsche-designed version. Both run the exact same software and all other specs are identical.

In the box there’s some nice Porsche-branded ear buds equipped with a traditional 3.5 mm jack rather than a USB Type-C connection. There’s a little microUSB to USB-C adapter in case you want to keep using your existing USB cables and there’s a couple of power bricks included, both a European version and one for the UK.

Huawei's new SuperCharge adapters will get you a fully charged battery in just 90 minutes.

These are both the new HUAWEI SuperCharge power adapters capable of 3.5-5V/5A charging that’ll get you a fully charged battery in just 90 minutes and a day’s battery in just 30 minutes, according to HUAWEI.

There’s also a nifty leather case with a darkened transparent window included in the box. It’s very nicely put together, made of leather with a cutout on the back for the camera lens to peek out. It has a Porsche Design stamp on the front below the window and the HUAWEI branding gets relegated to the rear. As far as cases go it’s one you might actually want to use if you buy this phone.

If you’ve already seen our Mate 9 hands on and EMUI 5 article you’ll know exactly what to expect from the software on the Porsche Design variant, so we won’t cover that here. The good news about the hardware differences is that this phone’s size is a bit more manageable, although despite the smaller screen size it’s not all that much smaller than the regular Mate 9.

The Porsche Design Mate 9's display curve is much less pronounced than it is on the Galaxy S7 Edge.

One of the most noticeable differences between the Porsche Design and the regular Mate 9 is of course that curved display. But it’s worth noting that the curve is much less pronounced than it is on the Galaxy S7 Edge: to such an extent that its not even that noticeable.

HUAWEI hasn’t included any edge specific software features either but there’s no denying the added clarity is noticeable when coming from the regular Mate 9.

Below that screen is the new solid state capacitive finger scanner and home button. It works just as quickly as all HUAWEI scanners and the lack of physical click is a welcome change from Samsung’s physical button (at least if you’re me).

Navigation buttons are tiny illuminated dots, with recent apps on the right and back on the left. You can change this in the settings or remove the capacitive keys and handle navigation through gestures on the home button alone. On-screen buttons aren’t an option.

Other superficial changes between the Porsche and regular Mate 9’s are a redesigned bottom edge, with one following the familiar Mate pattern while the Porsche assumes an iPhone 6 layout with a headphone jack on one side and speaker on the other. The sensor layout at the top of the screen is a little different too and the earpiece is a little wider than on the normal Mate 9. There’s also an IR blaster up top in case you were wondering.

Sometimes it's hard to tell if these were conscious design choices or simply about making things different to the normal Mate 9.

On the back, things are different again, with the fingerprint scanner replaced by a Porsche Design logo and the dual LEDs and sensors sitting on top and below the camera array rather than on either side like on the Mate 9. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if these were conscious design choices or simply about making things different to the normal Mate 9.

The Porsche Design version does away with the plastic antenna caps found on the Mate 9 and has antenna bands running horizontally across the phone instead. Just like a real Porsche, you’re going to find yourself cleaning this thing all the time, because it collects finger smudges like a boss and they’re much harder to wipe away fully than on a glass backed phone.

Just like a real Porsche, you'll be cleaning this thing a lot.

The only other differences are that huge 256 GB of internal storage, which negates the need for a microSD card slot and the addition of 6 GB of RAM.

Interestingly, the Mate 9 has a little over 11 GB of firmware and the Porsche Design version has a massive 24.6 GB used up straight out of the box. Considering the software experience on both phones is identical, this is pretty bad. But it must be noted this is a pre-production sample and things may change in the final version.

To give you the specs roundup, the Kirin 960 chipset and 4,000 mAh non-removable battery power the whole thing. EMUI 5 sits atop Android 7.0 Nougat and the entire interface has been cleaned up and simplified with over 90 percent of settings available with just three taps and 50 percent with just two.

The 20 MP grayscale sensor and 12 MP RGB sensor are the second generation of HUAWEI’s collaboration with Leica and according to HUAWEI, the new Mate 9s have superior edge detection and depth measuring capabilities for that Bokeh effect. OIS is on board too and the Mate 9 variants have hybrid auto-focus, 4K video capabilities and a clever trick that allows lossless 2x zoom.

There’s no denying the Porsche Design Mate 9 is desirable: it looks great, performs great, has the display we wish the regular Mate 9 had and delivers all the same benefits you’ll find on the normal Mate 9, like fast charging, on-board machine learning to keep your phone running faster for longer, dual Leica cameras with 2x lossless zoom, 65 scenarios of accidental touch rejection and 50% smaller 4K video files.

Did HUAWEI really need to partner with Porsche Design to basically come up with a Galaxy S7 Edge? I don't think so.

But did HUAWEI really need to partner with Porsche Design to basically come up with a Galaxy S7 Edge? I don’t think so.

The other problem is that by setting out to make the Porsche Design Mate 9 the absolute best of the best, it also has an astronomical price tag. At 1,395 Euros it’s double the price of the regular Mate 9 and will only appeal to a very limited group of people.

But that’s exactly the point. It wasn’t made to be a mass consumer product, just as Porsche cars aren’t. It’s an object of desire, no doubt, but by scooping features like a QHD display and 6 GB of RAM, it also sort of gimps the regular Mate 9 by comparison, making it less desirable in the process. The problem with that is that the Mate 9 is meant to appeal to the masses.

The Porsche Design Mate 9 is an expensive object of desire, but it also kind of gimps the regular Mate 9.

But if someone gifted you this phone I expect you’d be very pleased. It’s just as much fun as the new Mate 9 but in a slightly smaller package. Smudges and fingerprints are a nightmare just like they are on many other phones, but that’s a small price to pay for something this gorgeous. If it didn’t cost so much it would easily be the most popular Mate 9 variant. But unfortunately, like Porsches generally, it’s simply not an option for everyone.

What are your thoughts on the Porsche Design Mate 9? If you had the cash would you spend it on this?

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