Huawei Mate 8: A whopper battery with a weird launcher

It is not the glitziest handset you've ever seen, but Huawei's Mate 8 might do just enough to warrant a second look.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

One of the undeniable benefits of the trend towards bigger and bigger phones is the increasing battery life that accompanies the physical gigantism. And regardless of what else the Huawei Mate 8 does or doesn't do, its ability to keep going is admirable.

Coming in at a hefty 4,000mAh, the battery in this handset is an absolute whopper. Officially, Huawei claims the device can do 2.4 days for "regular" use, and 1.7 days for heavy users, and over the time I've used it, getting a day and a half of usage has been the standard without needing to get into any energy-saving tricks.

After almost a decade of ritualistic charging of handsets each and every day, having something that can survive an entire day if you forget to plug it in one night is a welcome change.

The battery life of the Mate 8 is its main weapon, as the display is not the best in the market; the camera is good but not great; and as USB-C begins to roll out, micro-USB remains the port of choice.

For the Australian release of this handset, the ability to use a second SIM card in place of a microSD card is missing, and it took half a year longer to reach this market.

Despite being reasonably priced at AU$900, the phone is not in wide release, with Australians limited to the likes of Vodafone or Harvey Norman to grab one locally, or to trust various overseas resellers on eBay to bring one in.

Hardware-wise, the device is a solid foundation, but the software is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.

Over the top of Android, Huawei chooses to use its Emotion UI overlay, otherwise known as EMUI, which adds a few features while also removing some. For instance, the standard app drawer has disappeared in favour of adding all installed apps onto the home screen, entirely similar to how the iPhone does it.

Meanwhile, EMUI is laden with undocumented features and Easter eggs, which while nice to have, can leave the user wondering how a feature was invoked. As an example, dragging down on the homescreen with a single finger produces a search overlay -- however, I only worked out how to correctly invoke it after accidentally finding it, trying for 10 minutes to reproduce it, and finally having to ask Dr Google what I did.

EMUI is a curious mixture of advanced features and limitations, which means there is too much going on for the lay-person, and too different for advanced users to head off and install their preferred Android launcher.

Beyond the launcher, the stock apps from Huawei are consistently adequate, which, given what design and usability crimes other Android phone makers allow themselves to do, is a reasonable result.

Huawei has done a good job of embracing the new Android permissions model used in Marshmallow; however on the device we used, its latest Android security patch date remained stuck at March.

Thankfully, almost all grievances with the software can be fixed by using alternative apps or launchers, but unless you intend to replace Android itself, you will be left with a device that is more vulnerable to Android security issues than it needs to be.

In the end, this is a six-inch phablet that you need to love for the battery life and the slightly cheaper price compared to other flagship devices. There are prettier, more modern devices available for purchase, but you will struggle to find one that last longer than this Mate.

Check out Charles McLellan's more thorough, more scientific Huawei Mate 8 review.

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