For one, the Mate 9 feels impeccably solid, with a sloping back, rounded edges and an almost complete lack of bezel running around the sides. Altogether, these flourishes make the Mate 9 feel like a premium piece of kit and a little smaller than you'd expect. That last bit is especially important, since the Mate 9 sports an enormous 5.9-inch, 1080p LCD screen -- it's still big, but surprisingly manageable. It helps that the Mate 9 is light too, so it'll fit into a Daydream VR-compatible headset without straining your neck.
It would've been nice to see Huawei run with an even more pixel-dense display considering that Daydream compatibility, but the screen we got seemed bright and plenty punchy. That more modest resolution probably helps the Mate 9's 4,000mAh battery do its thing too, and the SuperCharge tech Huawei has been working on should get a bone-dry Mate to almost 60 percent in half an hour.
Huawei once again chose a Kirin chipset -- the high-end 960 -- to take on the Exynoses and Snapdragons of the world. It's an octa-core affair paired with 4GB of RAM and an octa-core Mali graphics processor. We'll have to wait to see if the Mate 9 stacks up to the rest of 2016's best phones, but the unfinished models we took for a spin didn't break a sweat, even as we tried to break them. (Note to the Huawei folks reading this: I'm kidding. Sort of.) Now, sheer power is one thing, but applying it more intelligently is a whole other matter. Ever notice how smartphones, like computers, start to run more slowly over time? Huawei says it's using a machine-learning algorithm to prevent that power drain from happening.
To hear Huawei tell it, the algorithm looks for patterns in how you use your device over time. If you like to play Hearthstone immediately after using Twitter, for example, the Mate 9 should pick up on that and optimize available memory and CPU performance while you're still checking tweets. The Mate 9 also uses a specific kind of storage system that keeps your saved bits from getting fragmented for even better performance down the road. This all sounds pretty great, but you should still probably take these claims with a grain of salt. Huawei promises that performance won't suffer over time, but there's no way for us to check those claims right now.