An improvement on the P20 and packed with clever features, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is a serious contender for best smartphone of the year
- Fantastic camera quality
- Fast performance
- Good battery life
- Kirin 980 not optimised for all games yet
- Recent revocation of Android licence means future is uncertain
UPDATE: The US Government has taken measures to revoke Huawei’s Android licence. As a result, we urge readers to hold off on purchasing a new handset from the Chinese manufacturer; Google has reassured existing customers that they will notice no disruption of services, but the future remains uncertain, particularly as the next iteration of the Android OS will likely skip Huawei devices.
Since the ban, however, Huawei has revealed that it will be bringing the Android Q update to the Mate 20 Pro, in addition to “popular current devices”, despite the ongoing trade ban. There’s no word yet on when this update might drop, but you can see the full list of Huawei phones that are set to receive the Android Q upgrade in our dedicated Huawei ban article.
Our original Huawei Mate 20 Pro review continues below.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro review
Huawei is making the buying decision pretty difficult for flagship 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 technical mumbo-jumbo, but it’s important. Chips built on a 7nm process should be more power-efficient than those, such as 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 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, improved triple camera array.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: Price and competition
The trouble is that all of these sparkly new features mean a sparkly new price: the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is £899, which puts it on a par with the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, makes it £50 more expensive than the Apple iPhone XR and £30 more than the Google Pixel 3 XL, which starts at £869. Whether it’s worth splashing out depends on your priorities but if you are keen it might be worth waiting for the price to drop a little, or considering the Huawei P20 Pro instead. The P20 Pro also has a triple camera array but has fallen in price to £599 since launching at a much higher price.
Best Huawei Mate 20 Pro contract and SIM-free deals:
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 on 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 a 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 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 is the 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 up close without using panorama mode.
This is fun to use and similar to the wide-angle camera on the LG G7 ThinQ. Beware, though: optical distortion does creep in noticeably at the edges of the frame, meaning 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 a 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 in 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 creates 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
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.
Initially, in everyday use, I was less than bowled over, but after a couple of updates the performance issues in everyday use have subsided and it now feels as responsive as any other phone in its price bracket. It still doesn’t run PUBG Mobile at anything higher than “Medium” frame rate – that’s a measly 25fps, by the way – but I assum that will change once Tencent puts the proper optimisations in place.
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 shut down background tasks that are deemed unnecessary, battery life comfortably lasts a day and a half and longer with moderate use.
More interesting than this, perhaps, is that the Mate 20 Pro comes with 15W wireless charging that, 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, the Mate 20 Pro can act as a Qi wireless charger in its own right. And, if you want to charge even faster, the phone supports Huawei’s new 40W SuperCharge. I haven’t timed how quickly it charges the phone 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 it ensures the screen is readable in most conditions.
It’s worth highlighting one further key new feature. Remember the Huawei Mate 10 Pro’s desktop mode? This let you 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 allows you to do exactly the same but over a wireless connection. All you need is a screen that supports Miracast.
Huawei Mate 20 RS Porsche Design
But wait, before I get to the wrap-up, there’s one more thing. Yep, Huawei is revisiting producing an RS Porsche Design version of the Mate 20 this year again. What’s different? Not much, aside from a little more RAM and storage (up to 8GB and 512GB respectively), the branding and a combination leather and glass rear that, in the red and black, looks like something out of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Oh and, of course, it’s even more expensive than the regular Mate 20 Pro at €2,095 for the top spec model (8GB RAM, 512GB storage) and €1,695 for the version with 256GB storage. Seriously, though. Two grand for this?
Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: 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 that 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 Specifications
|Octa-core Kirin 980 (2×2.6GHz, 2×1.92GHz, 4×1.8GHz)
|6GB or 8GB
|1,440 x 3,120
|Triple: 40MP, f/1.8; 20MP, f/2.2 (0.6x wide angle); 8MP, f/2.4 (3x telephoto, with OIS)
|128GB or 256GB
|Memory card slot (supplied)
|Nano Memory (up to 256GB)
|4G, Cat21 (1.4Gbits/sec DL; 200Mbits/sec UL)
|72 x 8.6 x 158mm
|Android 9 Pie (EMUI 9)