WHAT IS THE HUAWEI MATE RS?

What happens when Huawei’s P20 Pro and Mate 10 Pro get spliced together in a nasty teleportation disaster? Beam me up a Mate RS, Scotty.

Okay, maybe it’s not quite that simple – the Mate RS does have a couple of tricks up its Porsche Design-tailored sleeve, but there’s a lot of P20 Pro DNA in here.

That’s no bad thing, though, as Huawei’s flagship is one of the best Android phones around right now, with a triple-lens camera array that’s among the best around, as well as smooth performance and all-day battery life. The Mate RS inherits all of that and more.

One of the biggest unique selling points of this Porsche Design special is its in-screen fingerprint scanner, although that proved to be utterly useless. The WQHD+ OLED display is a bigger success, thankfully, and the storage options are a massive 256GB or 512GB.

The asking price is the real kicker, though. It starts at €1550 and goes up to €2095 for the extra storage. And there’s no titanium, platinum or genuine certified moondust in sight.

HUAWEI MATE RS – DESIGN

The Huawei Mate RS looks an awful lot like the Samsung Galaxy S9+. It’s got a similar mixed-metal-and-glass chassis, a centre-mounted rear-facing camera and an equal amount of dead space at the top and bottom of the 2.5D curved screen, instead of a notch.

The 6-inch OLED display even has the same 18:9 screen ratio as the 6.2-inch AMOLED on the S9+.

But the camera on Mate RS has a trio of lenses, just like the one on the P20 Pro. There’s also no 3.5mm headphone socket here – you get a UCB-C-to-3.5mm adapter in the box, as well as a pair of USB-C in-ear headphones.

It feels lovely to hold, with those gracefully curved edges helping it to nestle into the hand and make light work of that 6-inch screen. It also feels solid without being cumbersome. It makes the Mate 10 Pro seem rather old-fashioned already. Personally I could live without the shouty Porsche Design logo emblazoned across the front, though.

On the left-hand edge is a dual-SIM slot, but no space for a microSD card. When you’ve got 256/512GB inside, however, you shouldn’t need to expand the storage.

Supplied in the box is a leather folio case. Given that no third parties are likely to make cases for the Mate RS, this will almost certainly be the only case you’ll ever have for it – which is a shame. It’s a bit naff and actually feels more like faux leather. The folio flap also doesn’t quite bend right back on itself, so it tries to spring back a little as you hold it. It doesn’t act as a kickstand for setting the phone on a desk and watching video, either.

On the plus side, the clear panel running down the case’s right side does enable you to get a neat monochrome mini-display by pressing the power button while the case is closed. You get time, date, weather and steps walked. You can also accept or decline incoming calls simply by swiping up or down on the panel.

HUAWEI MATE RS – SCREEN

The 6-inch OLED display is one of the best around. It’s bright and clear, with fantastic viewing angles and excellent black levels. Text comes through beautifully sharp, and watching movies and TV shows on this phone is a joy – except for the case not allowing it to stand freely.

I’d even go so far as to say this is the best screen I’ve seen on an Android phone so far. Running some identical video next to the Galaxy S9, the Mate RS had better contrast that kept colours and highlights punchy without sacrificing detail in the darker areas of scenes.

Resolution can be set to HD+ (1440 x 720), FHD+ (2160 x 1080) or the full-fat WQHD+ (2880 x 1440), although using the Smart Resolution mode means the Mate RS will automatically lower the pixel count to save battery life when the extra resolution isn’t necessary.

If you’re not satisfied with the colour balance, the Mate RS also enables you to tweak endlessly. It’s set to Vivid by default, which maybe pops a little too much, while the Standard mode is a tad dull, so it’s nice that you can easily get to somewhere in between. Most people will no doubt leave it in Vivid and be perfectly happy.

The Quick Setting pulldown menu gives easy access to the Eye Comfort mode, which reduces the blue in the display. If you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep, it’s worth using this mode in the evening, as I’ve found these blue-light filters to be very effective at allowing my brain to shut down.

HUAWEI MATE RS – PERFORMANCE

If you’re paying over a grand for a phone, you wouldn’t expect anything other than slick running. And that’s exactly what you get. I haven’t experienced any lag or stutter, with every app opening when it should and operating as it should. Multi-tab browsing wasn’t a problem, either. That combination of an octa-core Kirin 970 processor and 6GB of RAM should be enough for anything you can throw at it right now.

Power-intensive games such as Real Racing 3 ran without any sign of CPU throttling, and the Mate RS never got super-hot. Porsche Design worked with Huawei to develop a state-of-the-art aerospace microcapsule cooling system – a world first for a smartphone – that stores heat generated by the internal components, releasing it periodically to maintain a consistent operating temperature, rather than dispersing of it right away. It seems to work.

Running our usual benchmark tests showed that it’s pretty much on par with its Huawei siblings, although it’s not rocking the same scores as competing 2018 flagships. This disparity hasn’t shown up in real-world use, however. You can see the full scores below.

Single-Core Multi-Core AnTuTu 7
Huawei Mate RS 1913 6777 209311
Huawei P20 Pro 1921 6837 209658
Huawei Mate 10 Pro 1906 6740 178091
Galaxy S9 Plus 3720 8890 251205
iPhone X 4257 10364 235607
Pixel 2 1917 6312 184336

Sound quality from the dual speakers is on the brash side compared to the Galaxy S9, but at least the Mate RS goes impressively loud.

HUAWEI MATE RS – SOFTWARE

Huawei’s EMUI reskinning of Android has taken a right kicking over the years, but it’s improved and been cleaned up to the point that, I’ll admit, I actually like it now. However, I had a rather annoying issue with EMUI on the Mate RS.

The particular flavour used here is based on Android 8.1, and repeatedly told me it needed updating – to the same version. I kept accepting the update, hoping at some point it would stick. But no. I’ve now updated to the same version of EMUI four or five times, and still it tells me there’s a new software version available. Hmm.

Ignore that and it’s all pretty slick, with an excellent pull-down menu and some useful settings – particularly the ones for battery saving. Should you wish to have an app drawer, the option is there.

One thing that’s as far from slick as you can get is the in-screen fingerprint sensor. I enrolled two different fingers – one of them three times – and the Mate RS still refused to acknowledge them 99% of the time. For a phone costing over £1000, that’s embarrassing.

Thankfully the rear fingerprint scanner is super-quick and reliable, and the facial recognition is fairly dependable, too.

HUAWEI MATE RS – CAMERA

As mentioned, the Huawei Mate RS sports the same tri-camera setup as the Huawei P20 Pro. This combines a 40-megapixel telephoto sensor (f/1.8), a 20MP monochrome sensor (f/1.6) and a standard 8-megapixel image sensor (f/2.4). All three were co-engineered by German optics titan Leica.

Each sensor fulfils a different role when snapping a photo. The 40-megapixel sensor captures the colours and basic detail in a scene; the 20-megapixel monochrome sensor builds on that by harvesting more detail, as well as texture and depth for a bokeh effect if desired; and the 8-megapixel sensor is used exclusively for zooming.

The setup also offers 3x and a 5x optical zoom, so you can get up close and personal with a subject that’s a considerable distance away without sacrificing any detail.

The camera app offers ‘Master AI’ assistance, which automatically recognises the subject of your photo and applies an appropriate filter, such as ‘Blue Sky’, ‘Greenery’, ‘Flowers’, ‘Beach’ and ‘Portrait’. The accuracy of the recognition is really impressive, but the filters are less so. Almost invariably they oversaturate the colours, while the Portrait mode can overly smooth out skin. It feels built more for Instagram than for capturing lasting memories.

You can’t revert to an unfiltered version after the shot either – but at least, while framing, it’s easy enough to see the effects of the filter on the screen and just give a single tap to remove it. You can, of course, also turn off Master AI altogether, which leaves you with a very good phone camera that still gives the option to apply bokeh effects, night settings, etc.

Detail is excellent, unadjusted colours are accurate, and low-light performance is very respectable. The Night mode is particularly handy if you’re only shooting static subjects, taking a series of exposures over a 6-second period.

Here’s a selection of sample images that show both the good and the bad:

The Blue Sky filter at its worst, making the sky and water look supernatural

Even with a stiff sea breeze moving the flower back and forth, the Mate RS managed to catch focus enough for this to be usable

There’s plenty of detail and contrast in this unfiltered scene

…but then the Greenery filter has made that grass look ridiculous

Blue Sky filter added by AI. Certainly vibrant, but way oversaturated

The same scene with the AI’s filter suggestion disabled

The AI successfully recognised the scene and applied a Beach filter, which has livened up the shingle but added an obvious vignette

The sky looks far more realistic with the Beach filter disabled

The Night mode is excellent for largely static subjects in low light

Video recording isn’t too wonderful, though. The super-slo-mo feature, which lets you shoot a 0.2-second burst of slow-motion footage at 960 frames per second, seems to distort the subject, and the lack of stabilisation while filming in 4K is a pain.

HUAWEI MATE RS – BATTERY LIFE

Thanks to a 4000mAh battery, fast-charging support, and some excellent battery-saving settings, the Mate RS has monstrous endurance.

Just as with the Mate 10 Pro, I managed to get through a full working day using the Mate RS with plenty of juice to spare. After one particularly late night out and forgetting to put it on charge before morning, it still got me through half the next day.

One hour of Netflix streaming with the display set to Smart Resolution only chomped 8% out of the life, which compares well with the 20% drop with the Galaxy S9+ in Video Enhancer mode. Of course, you can eke out some more by dropping the screen resolution and using some of the battery- saving features.

There’s also support for wireless charging, but no charging pad is supplied. That seems a bit mean when you’re already opening your wallet this wide.

Next to the Galaxy S9 (left)

WHY BUY THE HUAWEI MATE RS?

As a combination of the best aspects of the Mate 10 Pro and P20 Pro, the Mate RS is largely a success. And its design is nicer than either of them. You get a sublime screen, great battery life, an excellent camera – provided you’re sensible with its AI assistance – and huge storage options.

Unfortunately, you also get buggy software, including an in-screen fingerprint scanner that’s nothing if not consistent in its uselessness. You’re also stuck with a bespoke case that’s a bit nasty and annoying. And that just isn’t good enough at this price.

VERDICT

A largely excellent high-end smartphone that’s let down by gremlins. You should expect better when spending this amount of cash.