When Leica decided to partner with Huawei to make lenses and components for the later’s smartphones, Leica’s Roland Wolff told us it was all about covering its photographic bases. The company had not only embraced mobile photography, but instant cameras alongside its more traditional offering of rangefinders, mirrorless cameras and lenses.
The Mate 10 Pro is the first product from the Huawei/Leica pair up. However, much has changed since that partnership was announced in 2016. For one thing, the U.S. government is none too pleased with Huawei (to put it mildly).
In February, the directors of the CIA, FBI, NSA and several other intelligence agencies told Congress that Huawei devices posed a security threat to the United States and that U.S. consumers should stay away from them. The warning was enough to scare off AT&T, Verizon and Best Buy, which all dropped the Mate 10 Pro. Other retailers, such as NewEgg, Wal-Mart and Amazon, however, have stuck with the Mate 10 Pro.
For its part, Huawei told us through a spokesperson that the company has “a proven history of delivering products that meet the highest security, privacy and engineering standards in the industry and are certified by the Federal Communications Commission for sale in the U.S. Our smartphones are widely acclaimed – both among critics and consumers – for their innovation in areas like battery life, processing power, build quality, and camera capabilities. We have won the trust and confidence of individuals and organizations in 170 countries around the world and are committed to earning that same trust with U.S. consumers and making our products accessible in as many ways as possible.”
As for the Phone…
The Mate 10 Pro is significant not simply because of its Leica optics or geopolitical difficulties. It’s packed with a sophisticated neural-network processing unit (NPU) that can run artificial intelligence algorithms locally, on the phone, instead of in the cloud. The NPU, dubbed Kirin 970, plays many roles in the Mate 10 Pro–it tracks your behavior and anticipates what apps you’ll use, the better to conserve power. It also powers image recognition so that the camera app can select the appropriate settings before you hit the shutter.
We used the Mate 10 Pro over the period of four weeks. As a smartphone, it’s beautifully designed. Its 5.9-inch full HD display is larger than the iPhone Plus models but the bezel is thinner and it doesn’t feel ungainly in your hands. More high-quality screen real-estate is great for framing your shot, and the Mate’s 499 ppi-resolution display bests the iPhone 8 Plus in the pixel department.
The Mate 10 Pro is equipped with two cameras: a 20-megapixel monochrome camera and a 12-megapixel RGB camera with optical image stabilization. The two cameras combine to enable a shallow depth of field look when shooting portraits.
The stock camera app is fairly basic, but quite responsive. The object recognition system proved quite reliable and highlights what it thinks you’re about to capture in the lower right hand corner. (This screen-grab was captured during a live preview, hence the blur.)
The stock camera app captures JPEGs but several third-party Android apps will unlock RAW (DNG) file support and yield a more malleable image. Out of the camera JPEGs were crisp and color-accurate.
The Mate 10 Pro focuses quickly, though we sometimes had trouble up close.
The base model of the Mate 10 Pro offers 64GB of internal memory and there’s a microSD card slot on hand for extra storage.
We were less impressed with the video capture, which came out without the detail we were expecting and plenty of artifacting.
As a smartphone, the Mate 10 Pro is a great device for its $800 price tag (unlocked). It’s not necessarily the best Android phone or best smartphone camera you can buy though–we’d tip the hat to the Google Pixel 2 on that score–but it’s quite capable.
Whether you should ignore the advice of U.S. intelligence and buy the phone is another matter. We’re not able to determine whether Huawei devices are a trojan horse for Chinese espionage (sorry). But, when you consider that the U.S. has been caught conducting its own extensive espionage with the cooperation of U.S. tech firms, it’s certainly not an implausible worry.