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Huawei Mate 20 X review: Making it big in China (perhaps too big)

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
799
inc VAT

Powerful and with an excellent set of cameras, but the Mate 20 X will be a tough sell thanks to its ludicrous size

Pros 
As powerful as the Mate 20 Pro, but cheaper
Best in class camera performance
A battery that goes on and on
Cons 
Too big, even for a fan of big phones
1080p resolution, despite the screen size
Recent revocation of Android licence means future is uncertain
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UPDATE: Given that Google has revoked Huawei's Android licence on orders from the US Government, the Chinese firm's future is in question. While Google has reassured existing users that services will continue to function on Huawei and Honor handsets without issue, it is unclear at this time how devices will be affected in the long run. As a result, we advise that you avoid purchasing a new handset at this time. 

Since the ban, however, Huawei has revealed that it will be bringing the Android Q update to the Mate 20 X, 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 X review continues below

Huawei Mate 20 X review

Some smartphones you just want to review. The Huawei Mate 20 X was one of those for me, although the fact that none of my colleagues were clamouring for a shot should have been a warning sign.

Still, I’m a big phone aficionado. To paraphrase Sir Mixalot: “I like big phones, and I cannot lie.” I owned a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 when all my friends were adamant no handset should ever have a screen larger than 4.5in. But it turns out I have a limit and, reluctantly, the 7.2in Huawei Mate 20 X is it.

Huawei Mate 20 X review: What you need to know

This phone has a 7.2in screen. It’s about the same size as a Nintendo Switch, minus Joy-Cons. Yes, that includes the bezels. That’s really all you need to know.

...

Okay, okay, a bit more information, then, since you insist. The Huawei Mate 20 X is the largest (obviously) of the Mate 20 series. It’s bigger than the Mate 20 Pro (6.39in), the Mate 20 (6.53in) and the Mate 20 Lite – which lives up to its name with a comparatively svelte 6.3in screen.

With the exception of the mid-range Mate 20 Lite, all the Mate 20 models contain the same chip: Huawei’s own 2.6GHz octa-core Kirin 980 processor, which is the first Android CPU to be manufactured with a 7nm process and among the fastest, most efficient mobile processors around.

Huawei Mate 20 X review: Price and competition

Despite the similarities, there are substantial differences in the pricing of the big(ger) three, mainly down to camera fidelity and the screen technology. The Mate 20 is the cheapest at £699, then the Mate 20 X at £799, and finally the Mate 20 Pro at £899.
So, at £800, what is the Mate 20 X’s main rival? There’s really not too much competition any more, chiefly because big phones are all the rage. The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is the best comparison, though. It’s not as ludicrously large but it does have stylus support. It costs more, though, at £899.

In theory, the Mate 20 X’s stylus is an optional accessory. Our review model didn’t come with one. But most places seem to be selling it with one thrown in free of charge. Shop around.

With a display measuring 6.5in, the iPhone Xs Max is also worth mentioning, although if you thought the prices around here were getting implausible, you ain’t seen nothing yet. That phone starts at £1,099 for the model with a paltry 64GB storage.

It’s worth mentioning the OnePlus 6T. Not just because it’s our go-to cheap phone with excellent specifications but also because at 6.4in it’s has the same size screen as the Note 9 and Mate 20 Pro. It’s still nothing compared with the Mate 20 X.

I suppose at this size, you could even begin comparing it to smaller tablets. The iPad Mini 4 is a little long in the tooth now, but is 7.9in in size and starts at £399. Huawei has its own small(ish) tablets too: the MediaPad M5 starts at £300 and packs an 8in screen. 

Best Huawei Mate 20 X contract and SIM-free deals:

Huawei Mate 20 X review: Design

The Mate 20 X is a handsome handset. Available in just one colour – Midnight Blue – the glass back is a crowd-pleasing share that glitters in the light, while also repelling fingerprints.

Just as well, because there’s an awful amount of it to enjoy.

You may think that the difference between a 6.4in and 7.2in phone doesn’t sound like much. It is, after all, just 0.8in. But, let me tell you now: that’s a huge difference. Since phones changed their aspect ratio and switched from 16:9 to somewhere in the 19:9 range, bigger screens have become more acceptable. That’s because the extra screen space is taken up in height; in other words, you’ve been getting more screen without you phone becoming harder to grip in one hand.

The Mate 20 X does both. So it still has an 18.7:9 aspect ratio but with a 7.2 screen that means you’re looking at a phone that’s 3.3in wide. Now, I have big hands. I’ve just checked, and my handspan comes to 9in, despite always having made a lousy goalkeeper. But even I find the Mate 20 X a bit of a handful. Using it one-handed, I can just about swipe-type but my thumb at full extension only reaches about three-quarters of the way up the phone. The upshot is you’re going to need both hands to use the Mate 20 X, which makes unlocking it especially tricky, as the fingerprint scanner is located high up on the rear.

If you think you can live with that – and I would seriously advise you try one in a shop before you splash out £800 on a hunch – then the rest is all good. It’s a virtually bezel-free beauty – and the large screen makes what bezels there are seem even thinner than usual. In fact, it’s rather better designed than the Mate 20 Pro in some respects, even if the triple-lens camera array does jut out a fraction more.

First of all, while the Mate 20 Pro has a 3cm rectangular notch along the top, the Mate 20 X adopts the teardrop-style, just wide enough to hold the front-facing camera. It’s a notchlette, rather than a notch and a pretty good example of an inoffensive one. Better still, while the Mate 20 Pro casts the 3.5mm headphone jack on the bonfire of aesthetics, the Mate 20 X keeps it in pride of place.

That consumer-positive move does cause preempt a slight weak spot, though. While the Mate 20 Pro is IP68-rated, which means it can be submerged in two metres of fresh water for up to half an hour, the Mate 20 X is merely IP53-rated. That means it’s merely splash resistant. On the off chance this oversized phone would actually fit in your bath, it’s best not to take it in.

Oh, and you may remember the Mate 20 Pro’s party trick of not just wirelessly charging but also of being able to charge other phones resting on its back? Neither are an option here, nor can you unlock the phone by pressing your thumb against the screen, which is a pity but not a disaster. Although the Mate 20 Pro’s in-screen fingerprint reader is the latest and greatest tech, we’ve not found it to be all that reliable.

While the Mate 20 series does support expandable storage, doesn’t use the cheap and abundantly available microSD cards most other manufacturers back. No, it’s nano-memory. This is both harder to come by and more expensive – although if you can’t find one, you can put in a second SIM instead.

Huawei Mate 20 X review: Screen

So what can you say about the Mate 20 X’s screen, other than that it’s huge? The first thing to note is that, despite its size, the resolution is only 1080p. That’s a surprise given it results in 346 pixels per inch on a 7.2in display.

You might not want to use the Mate 20 X in a VR headset as a result, but for most tasks, 346ppi is still plenty. Text is crisp, and everything looks vibrant with plenty of punch.

Our use of the colorimeter confirmed our gut feelings. While the screen doesn’t get quite as bright as the Mate 20 Pro (409.7cd/m2 to 465cd/m2), it did slightly better on colour coverage, delivering 98.7% of the sRGB gamut in the normal colour setting, compared with the Mate 20 Pro’s 95.4%. The decider would be contrast, except that, as they’re both AMOLED it’s a tie: they’re both effectively perfect.

You’d hope a phone this big would have a good screen to stare at, and the Mate 20 X delivers. Yes, it has fewer pixels per inch than its smaller rival but it still has a pixel density that means most people can’t see the difference at 10in or further from your eyes – that’s good enough for me.

Huawei Mate 20 X review: Performance

The Mate 20 X has exactly the same internals as the more expensive Mate 20 Pro: a 2.6GHz octa-core, 7nm Kirin 980 processor backed up by 6GB RAM. It has 128GB of internal storage which can be topped up with an extra 256GB of nano-memory, if you can find some. Alternatively, you can use that slot for a second SIM card instead.

As you would expect, that means performance is incredibly good, and it goes toe to toe with the best Android has to offer – although it is a little behind the incredible performance of Apple’s own 7nm chip, the A12 Bionic.

The Mate 20 Lite is some way behind as you can see, but that’s really just there to demonstrate that not all Mates are created equal. And that it uses an inferior processor.

As you can see, it’s a similar story when it comes to graphics performance. While the Mate X and OnePlus 6T appear to do best of the Android handsets in the onscreen test (run at native resolution), that’s thanks to the lower resolution of the screens, and everything is duly levelled out in the offscreen test, which is run at a simulated 1080p.

Yes, the iPhone Xs Max is clearly more powerful but given screen refresh rates are capped at 60fps in all but dedicated gaming phones and that few games actually push that kind of performance anyway, you’re paying for bragging rights rather than a smoother experience.

But the Mate 20 X has a final trump card, and it’s a doozie: battery capacity. While the rivals in the list above have cells of between 3,174mAh (iPhone Xs Max) and 4,200mAh (Mate 20 Pro), the Mate 20 X has a whopping 5,000mAh battery. That, combined with an efficient 1080p screen means that this is a phone that runs and runs.

As you can see in the graph above in our battery test – a looped video where brightness is set to a standard 170cd/m2 – the Mate 20 X ran for a staggering 21hrs 5mins. That’s nearly six hours more than the Mate 20 Pro and two hours longer than the Galaxy Note 9. The only fly in the ointment? The OnePlus 6T is even better. Anecdotally, it’s a very strong performer too – in my time with the handset, I didn’t really come close to draining it with day to day use, and as it’s USB-C, you shouldn’t be short of a charger if you are.

Huawei Mate 20 X review: Camera

So far, then, you’re looking at a phone that’s a decent match for its more expensive sibling: a lower resolution screen but that has a larger battery. Given the Mate 20 X has the best camera around, is this the main point of difference?

On paper, no. In fact, the specifications point to all four cameras having identical specifications to the Mate 20 Pro. This means that accompanying the 24-megapixel, f/2 front-facing snapper, you’re looking at a triple-camera array on the back. These cameras consist of a 40-megapixel camera with a bight aperture of f/1.8, an 8-megapixel f/2.2 3x telephoto lens (with OIS) and a 20-megapixel, f/2.2 wide-angle snapper.

Do these perform as well? In a word: yes. The comparisons below are both zoomed to 200% and they still offer huge amounts of detail (Mate 20 X on the left, Mate 20 Pro on the right - not that it matters much as they're basically indistinguishable).

Just like the Pro versions of both the Mate 20 and P20, the Mate 20 X provides sensational snaps in both good and poor lighting. As per usual, you’re best served turning off Huawei’s overbearing AI assistant, which tends to oversaturate images no matter how accurately it detects what it’s looking.

I’d recommend sticking with the phone’s 40-megapixel mode rather than the default 10-megapixel setting, which tends to overprocess images and smear details, although irritatingly that does mean you have to switch out to the default mode to access the wide angle and telephoto modes.

The same solid performance is true of the selfie camera, although as per usual pictures drift into the uncanny valley if you overdo it on the beauty options (right) and the blurred bokeh effect (centre) does weird stuff to the tips of my hair.

There is one slightly weak spot, though: like recent top-end Huawei phones the Mate 20 X can shoot 4K video but only by taking a hit on the number of frames per second it can process, so you’re stuck with 30fps. If you want 60fps, you’ll have to drop to 1080p.

For me, personally, that’s a sacrifice I’m quite happy to make, but your mileage may vary. If you want the smoothest video available, you’re better served with the iPhone Xs or Xs Max, which is simply the best in the business. If you want something almost as good (4K, 60fps, but not quite as smooth with lighting transitions), then the OnePlus 6T does a great job at half the price.

Huawei Mate 20 X review: Verdict

The Huawei Mate 20 X is one hell of a smartphone. It inherits the best bits of the Mate 20 Pro – the camera and power – while improving on already stonking battery life. There’s a slight dip in screen quality but not in any way that should seriously put off anybody trying it out.

But try it out you absolutely must. Reader, I’m like you: I thought I was a big phone fan but Huawei’s latest has proved to me there are limits to how big a phone should be. Reluctantly, the music has stopped with the Mate 20 X.

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