The next big thing in phones: high-end handsets that harness artificial intelligence to drive advanced features like smart photography, machine translation, and predictive behavior.
While we’re waiting for the Pixel 2 and the iPhone X to show up in the stores, Huawei has joined the AI fray with its new handset, the Mate 10 Pro. This is the company’s first smartphone with a chip tuned to power artificial-intelligence software. Inside the phone’s new Kirin 970 processor (which Huawei designed and built itself) is a component the Chinese manufacturer calls the Neural Processing Unit, and it’s this corner of the phone’s brains that fuels the machine-learning features.
I spent some time with the new Mate 10, and the function where I could most clearly spot some intelligent behavior is the Translate app, which offers offline translation between different languages. Point the camera at some text written in another language, and a translation appears on-screen in a matter of milliseconds. It’s fast, even with bulky, overstuffed paragraphs. Impressive? Of course. Accurate? Mmm, not so much just yet. But it will learn.
There’s AI also in the camera app. Huawei previously partnered with Leica to make the mobile camera hardware for the Mate handsets. The Mate 10 Pro has a dual-lens Leica camera that’s excellent, and the addition of AI makes it simpler to catch complicated shots more quickly. For instance, when you point the Mate 10 at different subjects, the camera automatically switches into the appropriate mode for whatever it recognizes in the frame. A flower, a meal, a person, or a sweeping panorama will all trigger different settings. The camera also adjusts its capture parameters to suit the occasion, fine-tuning exposure, contrast, saturation, and shooting modes to help you produce the best possible picture. The promise is that if you put the camera in Auto and start shooting, everything else will take care of itself.
It’s in the notifications, though, that the Mate 10 Pro gives you a hint of how AI can really change the way we use our smartphones. Whenever a notification appears, the system recognizes if the notification is going to require you to interact with an app. It offers to launch that app, and it can open it just on half of the display if the split-screen mode is supported by the app itself. An alarm going off won’t trigger the option, but a text message will, as will a Skype video call. By understanding the behavior of the owner over time, the Mate 10 will soon be able to better manage this app launcher according to the owner’s taste. If you never use the split-screen mode with a particular app, the smartphone will stop suggesting it on that app.
Specs and Stuff
The Mate 10 Pro has no bezels, and Huawei took the opportunity to place a bigger screen in a smaller body than the previous Mate 9, offering a 6-inch OLED screen with a stretchy 18:9 aspect ratio. The fingerprint sensor is on the back, right below the dual-lens camera. Just like the Mate 9, the two lenses are still aligned vertically, combined with a 12-megapixel RGB sensor and a 20-megapixel monochrome sensor, both with improved f/1.6 aperture and faster response time.
There’s also a smaller version (called simply Mate 10) with a 5.9-inch LCD display that has a fingerprint sensor placed directly beneath it. It even offers a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is missing on the Pro. Other differentiating features: the Mate 10 comes with 64 GB of internal storage, 4 gigs of RAM and a microSD slot, while the Mate 10 Pro offers 128 GB of memory, 6 gigs of RAM, and no expansion slot. Both the Mate 10s have a 4,000 mAh battery. It’s supposed to grant over two days of uninterrupted performance on both smartphones, and the SuperCharge feature can pump the cells full of electrons in just 90 minutes, with a more-than-half charge in just 30 minutes.
Both handsets will come with Android 8 Oreo on board, customized with the latest version of Huawei’s interface skin, Emui 8. This version introduces a floating dock in place of Google’s notifications bar. The dock lets you access notifications and a multitasking mode by just swiping one finger anywhere on the home screen—not just at the top or on the software keys. And with the Easy projection mode, a simple USB-C-to-HDMI cable will allow you to approximate a desktop experience on any monitor.
The handsets will be available in November in four different colors: Midnight Blue, Titanium Gray, Pink Gold and Mocha Brown. Pricing should start around $799.