Huawei Mate 20 Pro Smartphone Review
If photography is important to you, this phone is one of the best on the market
What is the Huawei Mate 20 Pro?One of the most innovative and striking phones to emerge in the last months of 2018, with a strong design and genuinely ground-breaking features. It comes from Shenzhen, China, from the giant Huawei.
Technology upgrades include a 7nm processor - more compact than the 10nm processors found on all other phones apart from the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR. Also included is an eye-catching new security feature: a fingerprint sensor actually buried in the display instead of near it.
And then there's charging. The Huawei has wireless charging, and what's more, has a two-direction charging feature. In other words, not only can you charge your Mate 20 Pro by placing it on a wireless charging pad, you can also use the Mate 20 Pro as a wireless charging pad to give some of your battery power to another wireless-capable handset, not just another Huawei. Genius.
At £899, it's also cheaper than some rival flagship phones. Specifically the Apple iPhone XS (from £999) but more expensive than the other new iPhone, the iPhone XR (from £749).
DesignHuawei used to make phones which looked good but, the more you studied them, they revealed less than optimum build quality, elements of design which weren't well thought-through or came in uninspiring colours.
That's all changed, and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is one of the most beautiful phones yet made, by any manufacturer. Build quality is superb, with smooth edges between the glass back and front and the metal chassis edges. The display slopes down at the edges, like on the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and Nokia 8 Sirocco.
This design is attractive and like nothing else out there
But the real design standout comes when you flip the phone over to look at the back. Where the previous Huawei flagship, the P20 Pro, had three camera lenses in a row, here, they are gathered together in a square, with the fourth of the rounded corners occupied by a flash. Huawei calls it iconic. I think that's an overused word but it's certainly true to say this design is attractive and like nothing else out there. Note, also, how the curves on the corners of the square match perfectly the rounded corners of the phone itself. The edges between front and back are rounded, too, making for a large phone that's a perfectly comfy fit in the hand.
Huawei has really pushed the boat out when it comes to colours on this phone, too. Two of them, Twilight and Emerald Green, are particularly appealing. They shimmer as you turn them in the light, changing colour with a pleasing effect. The other colour is black, handy if you prefer a quieter look to your handset.
It has a notch in the top of the display where the camera sits. It's a wide gap across the top, not dissimilar to the iPhone XS.
As an aside, it comes with a screen protector in place when you buy it, which is a nice touch. And because it’s been applied professionally, there's nary a bubble in sight.
Waterproofing is a big thing with smartphones these days, and the Huawei is IP68 rated, promising protection to a depth of 2 metres for 30 minutes.
DisplayThe Huawei has a 6.39in OLED screen with a resolution of 1440 x 3120, which is 538ppi. Where the Huawei really looks superior to comparable phones is when there's HDR content on view. The Mate 20 Pro is compliant with HDR10.
You can disguise the notch so that it almost vanishes. This is done by software, of course, and works by shading the bits of display sitting left and right of the notch black, so the display appears to have a straight top edge with just information like time, signal strength and so on appearing in the upper area.
This visual change was created because it was imagined that nobody would like the shape the notch created, though in fact now these cut-outs are commonplace on phones, everyone seems to have embraced the irregular shape and not minded. Still, it's nice to have the option.
Fingerprint displayThis is one of the main, and undeniably cool, benefits of this new phone. Where phones used to place the fingerprint sensor directly next to the screen, or on the back, or even, in the case of Sony, in the power button, these phones break ground by putting it right in the display. You actually press the screen to unlock the phone.
The advantages are several: fingerprint sensors on the back of the phone are awkward if you just want to unlock the screen without picking the phone up. It's true that if you only want to see the time, then the arrival of always-on displays has reduced the need to unlock the phone in many cases. The Huawei has this capability.
The arrival of a sensor mounted underneath the display is especially convenient
Another advantage is that when the sensor is on the phone's rear, it's very easy to smudge the camera with your finger as you fumble for it.
So, the arrival of a sensor mounted underneath the display is especially convenient.
I found setting up the fingerprint took care and a little time to get it right. The sensor on the Huwaei sits about a third of the way up the screen which is arguably less useful than having it lower down.
CameraThe P20 Pro was already a brilliant cameraphone and the capabilities have been refined here. The P20 Pro included a 40MP sensor, a 20MP monochrome sensor and an 8MP one with a focal length three times the others, creating an effective 3x optical zoom.
This time, there’s the identical 40MP wide-angle camera with f/1.8 aperture, as before. Then there’s a 20MP sensor, bottom right of the square, but where previously this was monochrome, to grab as much light as quickly as possible for sharp pictures in low light, here, it's colour. And this time the focal length is different: it's an ultra-wide lens with an f/2.2 aperture. Huawei says this is because sensors are now so good, so fast, that the light-grabbing purpose of the monochrome sensor is no longer necessary.
The third sensor, bottom right, is the 8MP telephoto lens, like on the P20 Pro.
It’s a clever set-up and it means that the phone has effectively three different ways to shoot with no digital zoom. If the wide-angle lens is your 1x zoom, then the telephoto lens is 3x while the ultra-wide is 0.6x. Or, to look at it another way, the telephoto gives 5x optical zoom compared to the ultra-wide.
The results were exceptional on the Huawei
The advanced Artificial Intelligence on the Huawei claims to be able to spot whether you're photographing your cat or dog and can enhance the eyes or the fluffiness of the fur respectively.
Let's also remember that the Huawei cameras are made in conjunction with Leica. This is arguably the most important relationship any phone manufacturer has with a camera company, apart from the long-standing tie-in between Nokia and Zeiss.
Overall, the results were exceptional on the Huawei. If photography is important to you, this phone, alongside the Huawei P20 Pro, Google Pixel 3 and Apple iPhone XS are about the best on the market.
Performance and softwareSoftware on an Android phone is all the same, give or take a few icons and different bloatware, right?
Not really. The software here is very different from vanilla Android. Huawei has its EMUI software which has improved massively in recent years but it's still not to everyone's taste. Although the AI smarts used in the Huawei camera are also employed to recognise patterns of behaviour in order to improve performance, the design is still not quite as good as that which, say, HTC or Sony offer. In many situations it's more than elegant enough. Note that there's no app tray as there is on most Android phones.
That may not be a deal-breaker. After all, there has never been one on Apple iPhones, either.
The processor on the Mate 20 Pro is built by Huawei, called the HiSilicon Kirin 980 and it's very fast indeed. Not least because of that 7nm architecture. Huawei has a "Born fast, stay fast" mantra which aims to keep everything running nippily for the life of the phone and the company's latest evidence is that the built-in power management and optimisation features are working well.
BatteryThe Huawei manages a charge from zero to 70 per cent in half an hour and on a full charge gave me a full day's use with plenty of juice to spare. You can get some way through the second day, too, but you will need some charge to carry you through so, as ever, nightly charges are de rigueur. But in terms of peace of mind, you can have confidence that these phones won't run out of energy.
Wireless charging is slower but works well on the Huawei. And the facility to share your charge with another wireless-chargeable phone is just fantastic. Turn on the feature (it's only live for three minutes and then turns off if you're not using it) and press the Mate 20 Pro against the back of, say, an iPhone XR and the Apple phone buzzes in acknowledgement that it's charging. It feels slightly magical and it's a feature I'd like to see every manufacturer try and master.
- Great design
- Outstanding innovation
- Unbeaten camera
- Great battery life
- Strong performer
- EMUI will divide opinion
Huawei Mate 20 Pro Smartphone Review
The Huawei Mate 20 Pro was reviewed against the OnePlus 6T and you can read the comparison review here.
Both smartphones are brilliant. The Huawei is the more accomplished, has a bigger battery, better cameras, smarter processor, cooler look and extra features. But don't think that means it trounces the OnePlus.
For many, the OnePlus is more than good enough. And here's the killer difference: the price. The Huawei is 80 per cent more than the OnePlus. Is it that much better?
Probably not, though I'd still recommend the Huawei if you want the best photographs, the slickest design and the most innovative features.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £899.99
Call and Signal Quality9
Email, Browsing, Calandar, Contacts7
App support and functionality9
Value for Money8
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