Huawei's partnership with Porsche Design has yielded some interesting results. And the latest collaborative smartphone from the two brands carries a rather long and prestigious name - Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS, no less - to play on Porsche's prominent motoring heritage. That's "RS" for "Racing Sport", if you're wondering.
The Mate RS is positioned as luxury phone; it's a device choc-full of feature firsts and future-facing exciting ideas, such as the under-the-display fingerprint scanner, and space suit-inspired cooling mechanism. It even delivers features not in Huawei's new flagship P-series devices, such as wireless charging.
The Mate RS is clearly a phone gunning for pole position, then. But with a hefty €1550 asking price to go with that iconic Porsche Design branding, are its aspirations greater than its realisations? We've been playing with the phone for a couple of days following its announcement to get a taste of what it's all about...
Luxury design... that's a little bit Samsung
- Metal and glass design
- 152.9 x 72.5 x 8.5mm; 183g
- Curved edge display
- IP67 waterproofing
If the phone looks familiar, that's because it looks rather a lot like the Samsung Galaxy S9+. We said much the same about previous Porsche Design handsets - the Porsche Design Mate 9 ,for example - and in many ways with the Mate RS that's dictated by the curves of the glass to the front and back.
We're not sure how Apple will take this: while Huawei's new P20 Pro flagship looks like the iPhone X, Porsche Design clearly thinks Huawei's Korean competitor is onto something. Being at the pinnacle of design, however, PD has elevated the curved edges in the Mate RS: they're smoother, more refined and rounded than you'll find in any current Samsung phone.
The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS will come in two colours when it arrives in May 2018: black and red. The latter we've only seen at the launch event, as this rare iconic coat is likely to only be available in China, so tuck your credit card away a while longer. The model we've been playing with for a couple of days is dressed in black, which is what the rest of the world will get.
Curiously, the Mate RS is a lot like the Porsche Design Mate 10, albeit evolved. The physical design, front-on, isn't dramatically different between those two devices. In some senses we prefer the older device, with its etched-on rear panel, rather than the pulled-from-P20-Pro trio of cameras aligned to the centre (the cameras are absurdly good, however, on par with the best you'll find in any phone to date).
Oh, and there's also IP67 waterproofing so if you drop it off the side of your yacht than all will be just fine. Maybe.
Another point of note is just how packed with goodies the Mate RS box is. It includes one two-prong European and one three-prong UK plug, with USB-C cables for each, plus a leather Porsche Design Huawei flip cover, and Porsche Design in-ear headphones. Fancy.
Porsche Design Mate RS specs
- HiSilicon Kirin 970 processor (4x Cortex A73 2.36GHz & 4x Cortex A53 1.8GHz, i7 co-processor, Mali-G72 MP12 GPU, 6GB RAM)
- Cooling micro capsules, adopted from space suit technology, for the ultimate high-tech cooling
- Rear physical fingerprint scanner, front under screen fingerprint scanner
- 256GB storage (512GB option also available), no microSD card slot
- 4,000mAh battery with fast-charging, wireless charging too
On the face of it, the Mate RS has similar innards to the Huawei P20 Pro; there's a Kirin 970 platform with 6GB of RAM, but it gets 256GB of storage at a base level (you can opt for 512GB of storage, but that puts the price up to €2095... choices, choices).
But there's more to the Mate RS than meets the eye. Porsche Design being Porsche Design, the company has gone all-out when it comes to high-end tech, adopting cooling micro capsules - the kind you'd find in an astronaut's space suit, according to a spokesperson - that help to disperse heat from the processor. When these capsulesadsorb heat their form changes to aid dispersing of heat, to cool the device that much quicker. How well this cooling technology actually works, however, seems to be a bit of a mixed bag. We've seen a number of PD Mate RS devices and not all of them have stayed cool by any measure. Likely just pre-launch teething problems.
There's a similar sentiment to the dual fingerprint scanners: the physical one on the rear is typical of Huawei Mate convention, sat in the perfect spot for easy handling, and without wiping a stray finger all over the cameras either, which is helpful. The under-the-display scanner is something new; but it's also a somewhat strange arrangement, because its function is one and the same, so it's doubling-up the feature in a different location - which doesn't seem very Porsche Design in terms of design logic.
Furthermore - and this is the clincher - the under-the-screen fingerprint scanner just isn't nearly as responsive as the one on the rear. And as it's placed so centrally in the screen, too, its use feels strange and unnatural. When it does work, it's also not nerly as fast as the traditional scanner on the rear.
So on the one hand we love the future-facing boldness of this second scanner, how it alludes the the future tech of smartphones. But, here and now, the technology just isn't up to scratch with what people will expect. Perhaps we should think of it as a precursor to similar inclusion in a future handset - perhaps the Mate 20? - but for a Porsche Design product to include it in this state feels like it's over-reaching.
Where the Mate RS continues to looks to knock it out of the park is with its 4000mAh battery. This is the same capacity as the Huawei P20 Pro and it lasts really well - although we don't think quite as long as its Huawei cousin, largely down to its screen, we suspect. Nonetheless, that large capacity certainly converts to lots of use time, fear not.
So while there's space age tech aplenty, there's no microSD card slot or 3.5mm headphone jack. In high-end flagship phones these features seem to be a common absence in 2018, so you'll need to use the Type-C USB port for audio as well as charging (unless you opt for wireless charging), although the onboard speakers and connected headphones also support Dolby Atmos for an immersive and loud audio experience.
Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS display
- 6-inch 18:9 AMOLED display
- Quad HD+ (2880 x 1440 pixels, 538ppi)
- No notch, curved edges
Where the Mate RS again sits a little closer to Samsung and other top-drawer flagships is in its display. With a 6-inch 18:9 aspect ratio AMOLED panel, it's only a touch off the resolution of the Samsung Galaxy S9+ (with 2880 x 1440 pixels).
Sure, on paper the resolution outsmarts its Huawei P20 Pro cousins, but in reality we prefer the OLED panel in the P20 Pro than the Mate RS. The reason is pretty simple: the curved edges see contrast fall off, while viewing angles are unusually limited for a panel of this type, with a purple-ish tinge sometimes visible.
The Porsche Design panel also is not especially bright, which puts it a peg behind Samsung in our mind. Having wandered the sunny streets of Salzburg, Austria, with the PD phone in hand, first impressions are that reflections certainly show and that brightness could do with an extra kick for when it's really needed.
What's rather interesting about the Mate RS is that it appeared in tandem with the Huawei P20 Pro, but the Mate hasn't adopted the "notch" (the black-out dip to the top centre of the screen). Speaking with the Porsche Design team at the company's design studio in Austria, it became clear that this was never even a contemplation for this device: the Mate RS is all about symmetry; its top and bottom bezels are near matching in size, to give it a certain aesthetic appeal. An interesting stance indeed, and one which shows this is ultimately a Porsche Design phone - not just a rebadging exercise.
Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS triple cameras
- Same triple Leica camera system setup as the Huawei P20 Pro
- 40MP colour RGB, 1/1.7in size, f/1.8 aperture
- 20MP monochrome, f/1.6 aperture
- 8MP 'telephoto', f/2.4 aperture
- Phase detection and laser autofocus
Having spent a lot of time with the Huawei P20 Pro, we believe its camera arrangement - which is co-engineered with Leica - is the best currently on the market. And the Mate RS takes that exact same camera system, flips it on its head (literally, the lenses and sensors feature in reverse), and plants it slap bang in the upper centre on the phone's rear. The Mate RS is a little more subtle about its Leica partnership than its P20 Pro cousin, but we like that subtlety.
There's no doubting the capability of these cameras. They work in harmony to help capture the best possible image. Indeed, a lot of the specs will go amiss. Open the PD Mate RS's Camera app and it'll default shoot at 10 megapixels (not the headline 40MP), utilising the colour and monochrome sensors together to benefit the best possible amounts of data for clarity, sharpness and colour. All this happens without you needing to so much as think. And if you want to use the 3x or 5x zoom - which is where the 8MP tele lens comes to the rescue - you'll also get great results from that.
It's in use where the cameras really show their worth though. One thing Huawei is pushing hard is the artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities of its Kirin chipset. The Mate RS, like the P20 Pro, benefits from machine learning: it can pull on a database of nowledge to recognise, say, a portrait from a blue sky shot, or a dog from a person having a portrait taken. When the camera detects these prompts - and all automatically - it'll auto-select the optimum shooting mode (of which there are 19 in total) to make for the best-looking final image.
Well, that's the idea at least. It generally works really well: Night Mode kicks in for handheld night-time shots, which are like unreal HDR shots; Portrait mode kicks in when there's a face, using the software to blur the background for a pro-looking shot; while some scene modes enhance colours and saturation... but sometimes just that bit too much (Greenery, for example, takes green grass and makes it look rather putrid in its over-saturated form).
What's extra clever about this AI tech, however, is that if you don't like something the camera is doing then it will learn. Let's say Greenery kicks in - which displays in words on the screen after a small delay - but you don't want it, then simply hitting the "x" to the corner of the auto-selected mode will disengage it. Better still, if this happens a lot for a given mode the device will learn that you don't appreciate the mode and begin to not use it in all given scenarios. Clever stuff.
We've said that the P20 Pro has the best current phone-based camera arrangement that you can buy. Well, the Porsche Design Mate RS matches it exactly. It's very impressive indeed, whatever the shooting conditions.
The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS arrives at a really interesting time. With little to no "luxury" phone brands in existence - Vertu has fallen by the wayside - and a true focus on design and technology innovation (that doesn't depend on 24 carat gold or 150,000 Swarkovski crystals), there's a lot to impress.
That said, from our two-day experience with the device, we feel the Porsche Design device bites off a little more than it can handle. The under-the-screen fingerprint scanner, for example, sounds technologically incredible (because it is) - but it doesn't work that well at present, and it duplicates a feature also found on the rear on the phone. The screen might have all the resolution, too - but the curved edges don't produce the cleanest or brightest image from all angles to make it class-leading.
Then there's the inevitable high price point. Yes, the Mate RS is expensive. It's meant to be. But it's a phone that's more advanced than a regular Huawei handset, has some advanced and inevitably expensive tech within (space suit-like cooling and unde-the-screen fingerprint scanner, anyone?) and sort-of justifies that cost beyond just the brand badge.
Overall, we love the Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS for its boldness. If this was a race, this phone would be the odds-on favourite to win. On the day, however, it'd be the one to crash out in an explosive, expensive and memorable collision. Which might well be the most exciting outcome possible.
The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS is available for pre-order now, before going on sale in early May 2018.