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Meet Huawei Mate 9, The Next Premium Smartphone To Take On Samsung (And It Comes With A Dual-Lens Camera)

Forbes logo Forbes 04-11-2016 Aaron Tilley, Forbes Staff

huawei-mate-9-camera © Photo credit: Huawei huawei-mate-9-camera

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 fire debacle has opened up a rare opportunity for premium smartphone players to grab market share. And Chinese smartphone maker Huawei is wasting no time in jumping in.

On Thursday, Huawei announced that it’s launching the latest premium smartphone, the Mate 9. It will launch initially in 12 countries (including China and some parts Europe, Middle East and Asia) for €699 (or $776). The Mate 9 will likely launch in the United States in January, according to the Wall Street Journal, which cites an anonymous source.

The phone features a big 5.9-inch, 1080p screen and a unibody metal frame. The most noticeable feature on the back is a dual-lens camera codeveloped with Leica, a big German camera maker. The two cameras are arranged vertically instead of horizontally (like the iPhone 7 Plus). The camera has a 12 megapixel RGB sensors, and a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor. The auto-focus feature on the camera can detect faces.

There’s a big 4,000 mAh battery in the phone with fast-charging technology that can power up the device in 20 minutes, Huawei claimed.

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The new phone is equipped with Huawei’s own high-end mobile processor, called the Kirin 960. The Kirin chip has eight cores running four ARM Cortex-A73 and four A53 CPUs. The chip also has an integrated graphics processing unit, the ARM Mali G71.

Huawei said it’s tailored the Android user interface to make it more intuitive for users. The custom user inference is called EMUI 5.0. Huawei said that 50% of the phone’s features can be accessed with only two clicks.

Because Huawei builds its own chip and has tinkered with the operating software, the company said it can more finely tune the phone’s performance. According to the company, it’s using a machine learning algorithm to learn the user’s behavior to optimize management of the phone’s central computer. 

“The device can understand what is the likely next action,” said Michelle Xiong, the vice president of Huawei’s US mobile business. “CPU management is based on what’s the most often used app.” 

For example, if you run YouTube a lot, the phone will dedicate more system resources to the app, so it’s ready to launch when you click it.

The Mate 9 is designed to be Huawei’s big push into the premium mobile market dominated by Samsung and Apple. The company has said it wants to become the world’s largest smartphone maker within five years. But it’s going to be tough getting there.

Huawei is looking to grow globally as it faces increasing headwinds in its domestic market. Earlier this year, it stole first place in China’s hyper-competitive smartphone market from Xiaomi. But now Vivo and Oppo have jumped into first. Counterpoint Research’s third quarter numbers show Huawei’s smartphone shipments declined 6% year-over-year in China. That’s not as bad as Xiaomi, who experienced a massive 22% year-over-year decline for smartphone shipments in China.

Huawei has had some presence in the US phone market. It produced Google’s last Nexus phone. But now that Google appears to want more control over phone hardware with the recently-launched Pixel phone, Huawei is going to have to step up without Google’s help. And without any name recognition in the US, its got a lot of work to do.

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