Huawei is making the buying decision pretty difficult for flagships smartphone connoisseurs in 2018 and its Mate 20 Pro looks as if it’s set to continue that trend into 2019. Like its predecessor, the P20 Pro, the Mate 20 Pro has three cameras at the rear. Like that phone, it’s a pretty great camera.
Unlike the P20 Pro, though the Huawei Mate 20 Pro has Huawei’s latest Kirin 980 processor on board, making this the first Android Phone to employ a chip built using a 7nm fabrication process.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: What you need to know
That might sound like so much technical mumbo-jumbo but it’s important. Chips built on a 7nm process should be more power efficient than those, like the Snapdragon 845, built on 10nm or larger processes, and contain more transistors for the same size of chip. The upshot should be faster speeds and better battery life.
That’s not the only improvement in the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, though. It’s also Huawei’s first phone with a curved display, its fingerprint reader is beneath the screen, it runs Android 9 Pie with Huawei’s latest EMUI 9 software launcher on top and it comes with a new and improved triple camera array.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: Key specifications
6.39in 1,440 x 3,120 AMOLED
2.6GHz octa-core, 7nm Kirin 980 processor
Dual NPU (neural processing unit)
Triple rear camera: 40MP, f/1.8 primary; 20MP, f/2.2 ultra wide-angle (16mm equivalent); 8MP telephoto, f/2.4
In-screen fingerprint reader
Front facing, infrared 3D depth sensing camera
15W wireless charging with reverse charging feature
Price: 916,57 dollars at Gearbest
Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: Design and key features
Aside from the headline features, the one thing you’ll notice straight away about the Mate 20 Pro, certainly compared with the Huawei P20 Pro, is that the cameras at the rear have moved from their odd, Morse code style arrangement to a more elegant 2 x 2 square, with flash in the top-left corner.
What’s less apparent about the Mate 20 Pro is that the finish on the blue and the green models is lightly textured in fine diagonals all across the rear. It’s still a glass panel at the rear but if you run your fingernail across it, you can hear slight, zither-like noise, as if you were running your finger across a vinyl record. Not that I’d recommend you do that, of course.
It’s a very nice-looking finish and it has the benefit of not showing up fingerprints as badly as a plain gloss rear. Alas, it’s not available across all colours; the black and two-tone pink gold and twilight finishes, just like those on the P20 Pro, are gloss only and they do pick up unsightly fingerprints rather quickly.
Whichever finish you choose, though, the Mate 20 Pro is every bit as modern and sophisticated looking as any other flagship smartphone. In fact, with curved edges at the front and the rear, it’s more than a little reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus. The phone is also IP68 dust- and water-resistant and houses a sizeable 4,200mAh battery.
Possibly the most interesting thing about it, though, is its fingerprint reader. This isn’t on the rear or the side, or the below the screen on the front. It’s built into the fabric of the display itself, just below the centre. This in-screen reader uses pressure sensors to detect the presence of your thumb or finger and works, just like a regular fingerprint reader, to unlock the phone.
It’s quick and largely reliable but enrolment does take significantly longer than it does with a “normal” fingerprint reader. That’s if you use the fingerprint reader at all. You might find it quicker and more convenient to use the front-facing “3D depth sensing” infrared camera to unlock the phone with your face instead.
This uses similar technology to the iPhone Xs and Xs Max: there’s an infrared dot projector facing forwards at the front and an infrared camera that picks how those dots distort as they hit your face. Using this data, the Mate 20 Pro is able to unlock the phone almost instantaneously, in all types of light. I’ve tested in the dark, with my face backlit and in conditions more conducive to face unlocking tech and it worked flawlessly every time.
There are a couple of things about the design that I do take issue with, however. There’s no 3.5mm headphone jack and no microSD storage expansion. It does support nano memory cards, but they're pretty tricky to find. The Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus has both of those features, making it the more flexible choice.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: Camera
The P20 Pro’s triple camera array was a revelation when we tested it earlier in the year and in the Mate 20, Huawei has refined it even further. The phone still has three cameras on the rear. The primary snapper remains an incredibly high-resolution 40-megapixel snapper with a bright aperture of f/1.8. Even the telephoto camera has the same specifications: 8 megapixels with an aperture of f/2.2 and an optical zoom of 3x.
What’s new is that, instead of the third camera being just for black and white snaps, the Mate 20 Pro has an ultra wide angle camera. Activated by tapping the zoom control in the camera app until you reach “0.6x”, this shoots at the full frame camera equivalent focal length of 16mm, which means you can shoot large groups of people from right up close without using panorama mode.
This is great fun to use and similar to the wide-angle camera like on the LG G7 ThinQ. Beware, though: optical distortion does creep in noticeably at the edges of the frame so you might not want to get too up close and personal. The new lens also unlocks a new macro mode, which allows you to shoot your subjects from a mere 25mm away.
Otherwise, image quality is every bit as good as it was with the Huawei P20 Pro. It’s exceptional in both good light and poor and if you select the default 10-megapixel mode, the camera uses the extra resolution from the primary sensor to allow seriously impressive in-camera zoom of up to 5x. This isn’t strictly optical zoom but it outperforms the digital zoom of the iPhone Xs Max and the Pixel 3 XL at 5x.
Of course, Huawei is also keen to tout the increase the efficacy of its Master AI mode, which is also available on other handsets the company produces. This identifies the things we typically point our smartphone cameras at – “overcast”, “clouds”, “sunset”, “dogs” or “portrait” – and applies the settings most appropriate for that scenario. With the phone’s dual NPU (neural processor) setup it can even do this with video now.
The identification process works reasonably well. I even saw it identify bicycles correctly in one shot, but the corrections it applies are occasionally a little suspect. If it detects “overcast” conditions it oversaturates in compensation and created artificially bright images. Fortunately, it is possible to disable this: just tap the X next to the scene/object identification label and the “corrections” are removed.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: Performance, battery life and display quality
We haven’t been able to benchmark the Mate 20 Pro just yet but first impressions of the phone are of a mixed performance. On the one hand, it’s quick, slick and as responsive as any other smartphone. And it puts in a blinding performance in the benchmarks we use. In fact, on paper, it looks like the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is the fastest Android phone around.
In everyday use, though, especially when playing the most demanding games goes, I’ve been less than bowled over and it's a long way behind the level of a Snapdragon 845 phone or the current generation of iPhones. PUBG Mobile, for instance, is only playable at “Medium” frame rate and “Smooth” currently and the phone simply feels less snappy and responsive. Hopefully, this is due to the Kirin 980 being a very new chipset and the situation will improve with a software update or two. For now, though, it's a mixed picture.
Battery life is, thankfully, a little more impressive. In our regular video rundown test, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro put in the best performance I’ve yet seen from a Huawei handset, lasting 15hrs 21mins. That’s not as long as the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 or the OnePlus 6 but, coupled with Huawei’s aggressive battery management techniques, which essentially proactively shuts down background tasks that are deemed unnecessary, I can see battery life extending out to two days with regular, moderate use.
More interesting than this, perhaps, is that the Mate 20 Pro comes with 15W wireless charging which with the right wireless charger will charge the phone at a similar speed to plugging it in. It can even be set up to “reverse charge” other devices. Flip the switch in the battery settings, place the phone back to back with another phone or device that supports Qi wireless charging and, hey presto, Mate 20 Pro can act as a Qi wireless charger in its own right. And, if you want to charge even quicker the phone supports Huawei's new 40W SuperCharge. I haven't timed how quickly it charges the phone just yet but Huawei is claiming 70% charge in 30 minutes, which is faster even than OnePlus' Fast Charge scheme, which can charge a phone to 60% in 35 minutes.
Display quality is pretty good, too. The phone has a 1,440 x 3,120 AMOLED screen with perfect contrast and, in “Normal” mode it was reasonably colour accurate, able to reproduce 95.4% of the sRGB colour gamut. Peak brightness is 466cd/m2, which can’t quite match the best that Samsung or Apple can produce but ensure the screen is readable in most conditions.
And, before I round things off, it's worth highlighting one further key new feature. Remember the Huawei Mate 10 Pro's desktop mode? This enabled you to plug a USB Type-C to HDMI cable directly into the phone's USB Type-C port and turn the phone into a desktop PC, complete with an Android-powered windowed UI and the ability to hook up a keyboard and mouse via Bluetooth. Well, the Mate 20 Pro lets you do exactly the same but over a wireless connection. All you need is a screen that supports Miracast.
Oh and, of course, it's even more expensive than the regular Mate 20 Pro, at 2,095 Euros for the top spec model (8GB RAM, 512GB storage) and 1,695 Euros for the version with 256GB storage. Seriously, though. Two grand for this?
Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: Early verdict
Still, stick with the regular Huawei Mate 20 Pro and you'll be absolutely fine because it's everything the P20 Pro was and more. It has a bigger screen, a faster chip, better battery life and a more flexible triple camera arrangement than before. It’s a great smartphone and one that looks and feels refreshingly different to the usual crowd of flagship, glossy glass smartphones, especially with its subtly patterned glass rear.
The question remains is whether or not punters are going to be willing to stump up this much for a phone that doesn’t come from the stable of one of the more established names. In my opinion, they absolutely should, because the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is shaping up to be – with a couple of caveats here and there – a stupendously good phone.
HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro 4G Smartphone Global Version