But Huawei has done just that with a new flagship smartphone, the Mate 10 Pro – although the company would rather you didn’t call it a smartphone. Instead it (commendably optimistically) wants you to think of it as an “intelligent machine”.
Huawei has pushed this phone’s AI-capability to make it stand out but, at first glance, can it really wow new users?
The Mate 10 Pro certainly looks more impressive than last year’s Mate 9.
The 6in screen is packed into a 150 x 75 x 8mm bezel-less body – making it a little larger than an iPhone 8, but with a notably bigger screen. It also has a much higher pixel count (2560 x 1440) at an 18:9 ratio, and a claimed contrast of 70,000:1.
On the back, you’ll find a dual-camera set-up and a lightly coloured band across them. Huawei calls that the company’s ‘signature’ - it's meant to be reminiscent of the beam you see when looking directly at a light.
Some might prefer the neatness of having the back one uniform colour. Others may prefer this touch of personality.
Below that is the fingerprint scanner. Huawai has opted for this over Face ID, claiming it’s a faster way of unlocking your smartphone. At the bottom of the phone is a USB-C jack for charging, and to connect the bundled headphones.
It’s also waterproof to IP67 rating, which means guaranteed protection for up to 30 minutes submerged – as we only have a limited time with the Mate 10 Pro, we opt not to plunge it into any pools.
There are a couple of screen settings to go through before the Mate 10 Pro is up and running the way we like it.
We alter the colour temperature setting to ensure it isn’t interfering with the picture, and change the Colour Mode to ‘normal’ from its ‘vivid’ default - which we feel is a little overblown.
Streaming the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery on Netflix, the Mate 10 Pro starts well. We only have an iPhone 6S with us for direct comparison, but the moment the streaming service’s red and white logo pops into view, it’s clear the Mate 10 Pro has a better handling of whites.
The glint of the light against some of the more orange decals on the metal makes for a relatively nuanced look. But while Huawei says the Mate Pro 10 supports HDR, as yet it’s unclear whether it has support from Netflix and other streaming services.
Nevertheless, first impressions are still solid. There’s a good deal of detail on Klingon armour, and when the camera moves in for a close-up you really get a sense of the texture to their skin.
More after the break
On the audio side, bundled with the Mate 10 Pro are a pair of USB C-connected headphones (as well as an adapter for those who prefer to use their own). Our initial impression is that they are acceptable – not particularly detailed or refined, but fine by freebie standards.
But it’s still quite tinny by most standards – the sound is forced out of a single mono-speaker at the bottom of the phone – and its ability to organise falls short when up against dense tracks like Neutral Milk Hotel’s Holland, 1945.
As a general rule we’d recommend a good pair of headphones rather than using the in-built speakers – and the Mate 10 Pro is no exception. If your budget allows it, consider Beyerdynamic Byrons (£50) for quality on-the-go sound.
On the bright side, the digital-to-analogue converter will support files up to a 32bit/384kHz resolution, so it is possible to pack the phone full of hi-res files (although naturally we prefer a dedicated portable music player instead).
Still, we look forward to seeing how the Mate 10 Pro properly handles music.
The Mate 10 Pro’s camera is capable of going down to f/1.6 for use in low-light conditions, but it’s the built-in AI that is really interesting.
Point the camera at some food - a little knife and fork will appear in the bottom left corner of the screen. Point it at a dog - a little pooch will show up. Point it at a cat… you get the idea.
The Mate 10 Pro can recognise what it’s looking at, and adjust its camera accordingly. For cats and dogs, for example, the camera changes sharpness to highlight the different kinds of fur, and also adapts the depth of field, as the camera has been ‘trained’ to know that cats are smaller than dogs.
Likewise, if you’re taking a picture of food, the camera takes a punt the photo will end up on Instagram, and so boosts saturation and contrast.
It’s an interesting feature, and it’s easy to see the benefits. With the popularity of photo-editing for social media, a smartphone that can handle some of the processing automatically will appeal to some. We look forward to trying it out properly in more testing environments.
The Mate 10 Pro also features foreign language translation through the Microsoft Translate app. Huawei claims it runs 300 per cent faster on the Mate 10 Pro than on other Android smartphones, and can translate a conversation in real time.
In a noisy demo-room it proves difficult to test this properly, but it illustrates Huawei’s vision of how ‘AI-smartphones’ should be used.
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From the short amount of time we spent with this phone, it’s clear Huawei is taking it in a different direction to other smartphone manufacturers - though what bearing that will have on performance remains to be seen.
If you already have the Mate 9, this is certainly a worthwhile upgrade – but we’d say it’s worth waiting for more detail about how this phone performs in everyday life before rushing to buy it. Huawei’s big claims need to be put to the test.
Read all our Huawei reviews