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First Look: Huawei’s Porsche Design Mate RS, new king of smartphones, now in Singapore

We review the phone aimed at high-flyers, available in Singapore beginning May 26.

I once worked off a $15,000 Vertu smartphone for a fortnight. Ruby concierge button, gull-wing flaps, ringtones by the LSO, fancy leather everywhere. All very posh. It also weighed as much as a small brick, overheated at random intervals, and sported average specs. The British luxury phone manufacturer wrapped production a year later.

Few sincere attempts have been made since to capture the well-heeled segment since, outside of some perfunctory recolouring or “high-security” phones that were never realised. The gumption just wasn’t there from the big players, with one notable exception: Chinese brand Huawei, eager to shrug off the stubborn stigma of being MIC (as if all our phones aren’t).

To that end they enlisted hallowed lensmaker Leica and design wizards Porsche Design to lend expertise and credence to their expanding product ranges, with the latter only roped in to style the brand’s top-of-the-line models. Huawei itself was stepping up on the hardware and software front, often delivering more power at less cost than many of the industry’s more established names.

That stacked trifecta has swung its hardest with their latest entrant, the Porsche Design Mate Huawei Mate RS, and after a work week with the phone, we’re calling a home run.

The PD Differential

The Mate RS’s name itself breaks away from convention. Prior Porsche Design variants simply inherited nomenclature from its base model (“Porsche Design Huawei Mate 10”, for example); the RS is instead named as a tribute to the cars, leaving no indication it’s based off the groundbreaking P20 Pro. This deviation is more than justified. The RS packs some pretty significant departures from the P20 Pro, on top of the usual facelift (more on that later), Porsche Design badging and minor bumps in storage space.

Check out our first impressions (and some technical specs) of the phone:

Fast wireless charging on a Huawei makes its long-awaited debut here, as does the world’s first in-screen fingerprint reader (which frees up precious screen real estate). The first may feel superfluous to seasoned Huawei enthusiasts, as the brand’s proprietary SuperCharge technology makes every other option feel sluggish. It is still incredibly handy for, say, drivers who want to pop the phone into their wireless charging bay and jet off without fiddling with cables.

Fast wireless charging means topping off the battery up to a supposed 30% faster than an iPhone X.

The usefulness of the in-screen fingerprint reader, however, is highly situational. In almost every instance, the snappy face unlock function (fastest of all phones we’ve tried in 2018) will work its magic before you so much get to lay a finger on the screen. The rear reader may take some getting used to for first-timers, but its reliability and speed (even in wet-weather situations) will likely cement it as numero uno for those skittish about trusting facial recognition algorithms.

We’re hard-pressed to think of a use case for the front scanner, when the other two biometric options are class acts already.

The in-screen reader, on the other hand, requires considerable pressure from the finger to pull off an unlock, and sometimes leads to fingerprinting on the pristine, curved edge Gorilla Glass 5. We imagine it’s great for discreetly checking on updates without having to lift the phone off a table surface – but not much else. Perhaps Huawei is anticipating e-commerce or government-led services that deal only with prints from the thumb and not the index finger. One thing’s for sure: it helped the brand do away with the unsightly rectangular scanner at the bottom of the P20 Pro screen, returning the frontal view to the form of a pristine black slab.

Third Time’s a Charm

Place a P20 Pro side-by-side with a RS and some stark design differences become apparent. The first is the deliberate absence of a “notch” at the top of the screen (a la the iPhone X), a controversial design feature that found its way into the P20 Pro but was reportedly ejected from the RS designs for not being up to snuff.

The second: camera placement. The RS eschews the lopsided camera configuration on the P20 Pro, in the name of symmetry and beauty. The designers instead opted to have them down the centre of the phone, in keeping with the rest of the Mate range. The firm choice adds a degree of elegance and sophistication to the phone.

Back to back: the P20 Pro (left) and most modern phones have their cameras in a corner; the RS prioritises symmetry and has them lined up and centralised.

There’s also only one obvious speaker grille on the RS as opposed to two on the P20 Pro. No, the part wasn’t reclaimed to make space for a headphone jack.  One speaker was simply moved up top so sound would be perceived as being richer (due to a more even distribution of waves). Minor details like these elevate the one product from the other.

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Then there are the grand gestures that handle premium clientele right. A leather case comes right out of the package, sparing you the hassle of having to shop for one (it’s non-magnetic, though). A certificate of authenticity congratulates you on your purchase. There are two separate charger heads, gratis, both primed with SuperCharging tech – a generous boon for the jetsetter or those constantly on the move.

Considering its impressive technical spec sheet, a svelte yet sturdy body, one of the best cameras performances yet and  disbelief-inducing night photography, it’s never been easier to shell out double for this status symbol.

Available at the 2nd floor of the Porsche Centre, 29 Leng Kee Road, or selected telcos, beginning May 26. Only black is available to the Singapore market – and a while-stocks-last offer of a Porsche Design quick wireless charger applies.

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