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Huawei Mate 20 Lite review: Hands on with Huawei’s quad camera smartphone

Price when reviewed : £379

The Huawei Mate 20 Lite is a bit of a warm-up act, but it boasts four cameras and a reasonable pricetag

Despite launching one of the most highly acclaimed smartphones of 2018 in the P20 Pro, Huawei isn’t done for the year. It has three more new smartphones up its voluminous sleeves and the first to see the light of day is the Huawei Mate 20 Lite.

If we’re honest, the Huawei Mate 20 Lite is a bit of a warm-up act for what’s to come in mid October, when the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro are expected to appear. No doubt they’ll be rocking the company’s latest, greatest smartphone processor (the Kirin 980) plus a laundry list of other new features.

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Huawei Mate 20 Lite review: Specifications, price and release date

  • 6.3in, 19.5:9 aspect ratio LTPS display
  • 2.2GHz Octa-core Kirin 710 processor
  • 3,750mAh battery
  • Price: £379
  • Release date: 5 September at  

Huawei Mate 20 Lite review: Key features and first impressions

Despite its reasonable £379 price, the Mate 20 Lite isn’t entirely lightweight. For starters, it has an enormous, 6.3in display that almost fills the front of the phone. A broad notch, housing dual selfie cameras, eats into this somewhat at the top, but with a screen to body ratio of 81%, there’s not much space for anything else at the front of this phone.

There’s nothing particularly special about the way the Mate 20 Lite looks, with its glossy, glass rear, its rounded aluminium edges and corners, and its dual cameras and fingerprint reader, all arranged in a neat line on the rear.

But there’s nothing wrong with it, either. In fact, at first glance, there’s not much separating this from phones costing much more, with its 2.5D glass at the rear and light weight helping the phone sit comfortably in the hand. I particularly like the pinstriped area that surrounds the camera and fingerprint readers at the rear. It’s subtle, and not particularly clear in my photos but in the flesh it adds a subtle hint that this phone is something special.

And despite that huge screen, the phone doesn’t feel particularly large, either. It measures 75.3mm wide, 158.3mm tall and 7.6mm thick – about the same as a OnePlus 6. The only thing I don’t particularly like about the design, and haven’t on other current generation Huawei phones, is the edges surrounding the protruding camera lenses at the rear. They’re too sharp and you’ll have to be careful about putting the phone down on surfaces you don’t want to scratch. Still, at least the phone has a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Those cameras, however, are the first sign that the Huawei Mate 20 Lite is a notable notch down from Huawei’s flagship handsets. Although the phone has four cameras – two at the rear (20 megapixels f/1.8 and 2 megapixels) and two at the front (24 megapixels f/2 and 2 megapixels) – the secondary cameras are not used to capture images. Instead, they’re low resolution and used to measure depth, to help in creating the camera’s blurred background and portrait lighting effects.

I wasn’t initially impressed by the quality of either the front or the rear cameras, especially the stage lighting effect. This uses the depth data generated by the second camera to automatically cut out your face and place it on a black background. At first attempt, however, it cropped off the top of my head.

The sheer pixel count of the front facing camera ought to make for detail-packed selfies, though, and there’s a host of other camera effects to play with, too. These include a list of additional 3D portrait lighting effects, a new “artistic” mode, which turns your photos into cartoon-like drawings, and Qmoji – Huawei’s version of Apple’s Animoji – which capture your facial expressions and transfer them to the visage of animated 3D creatures. Another nice touch is that the phone shows a live HDR preview so you can see how your photograph is going to come out before hitting the shutter button.

Under its skin, the phone is bereft of Huawei’s fastest silicon. Instead of a Kirin 970 or 980, you’re getting the slower Kirin 721, an octa-core processor comprising two quad-core CPUs running at 2.2GHz and 1.7GHz. This is backed by 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. The latter can be expanded by up to 256GB extra via the phone’s microSD expansion slot.

I’ve not tested a phone with a Kirin 721 chip before so it’ll be interesting to see how it fares when we get it in for testing. One worrying sign, though, is that the phone does not appear to have enough power to capture 4K video of any sort. You’re limited to 1080p, which I’d expect from a budget phone, but somewhat of a surprise in a phone costing nearly £400.

At least battery life ought to be pretty good. With a large 3,750mAh battery coupled with Huawei’s aggressive power management software, I expect that this phone will deliver a full day’s use in most circumstances. Indeed, Huawei makes the bold claim that, for the average user, the Huawei Mate 20 Lite lasts 2.31 days, while for heavy users it will last 1.58 days.

Of course, in addition to the phone’s raw specifications, there’s the usual smorgasbord of quirky software features we’ve come to expect of Huawei’s EMUI overlay. Running on top of Android 8.1, EMUI 8.2 offers “360-degree face unlocking” which works whichever way you happen to be holding your phone. It has the firm’s new GPU Turbo feature, which supposedly improves graphics performance (although only in supported games). It also has “smooth switching” between 4G and Wi-Fi, so your online gaming sessions aren’t interrupted, and there are a couple of “smart” shopping features.

With any product on screen, either via the camera preview or the browser, holding two fingers either side of the image performs a search via Amazon and pops up a card with options to buy. It’s a clever feature but one that, I suspect, will be little used by owners, joining EMUI’s myriad other obscure software tools, such as Knuckle Sense screen captures.

Huawei Mate 20 Lite review: Early verdict

The Huawei Mate 20 Lite goes on sale for £379 on Wednesday 5 September, so you won’t have long to wait to get your hands on one.

Should you buy one, though? That’s tough to tell right now without the benefit of full camera, battery, and performance test results, but it does look a tempting buy.

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