Slowly but surely, Huawei has spent the last few years building Android smartphones that became progressively better, but didn't truly stand out to average consumers. That all changed with the Huawei P20 Pro earlier this year, featuring the world's first triple camera system and it was the first time that I truly felt Huawei was capturing the attention of average people around the world.
Fast forward six months, and the company's next flagship looks to build on the success of the P20 Pro as it bids to build on its second place in the market. The Mate 20 Pro brings an updated triple camera system, but also a range of features we're likely to see on flagships next year. On paper, it offers all the features you could want in a flagship smartphone - and then some - but with a steep price tag in excess of $1,000, it's one of the most expensive mainstream smartphones there is.
Is it worth splashing the cash and buying? There's many reasons you'll want to buy it, but also a few reasons you may not. Let's find out!
- Stunning hardware
- Great 3D face unlock
- Excellent camera
- Super fast 40W charging
- Outstanding display
- Incredible battery life
- No headphone jack
- Steep price tag
- You have to import it
- Software isn't for everyone
About this review
Alex and I have been using the Mate 20 Pro since it was announced more than two weeks ago. Initially, we used it on the weeks-old B113 update, which had a few software quirks, but we've now spent a week on the B122 update, which is expected to be the final retail software. This review summarizes our full experience with the Mate 20 Pro, but removes mention of the bugs in the initial software that were fixed with the latest update.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro Video review
Prefer moving pictures instead of the written word? Well, Alex has been using the Mate 20 Pro since the launch and published the first part of our video review last week. Check out the video above, and then scroll down to find part 2 of the review!
Huawei Mate 20 Pro Hardware and specs
The Mate 20 Pro is the smaller of Huawei's Mate-series flagships. The regular Mate 20 offers a 6.53-inch LCD display with 18.7:9 aspect ratio, while the Mate 20 Pro gives you a 6.39-inch curved OLED display with 19.5:9 aspect ratio. Quite surprisingly, there's also a third device for select markets - the monster Mate 20 X has a 7.2-inch AMOLED display with 18.7:9 aspect ratio. Smaller and more comfortable in the hand, the Mate 20 Pro also brings a new feature to Android devices — a 3D face detection system that's similar to Face ID on the iPhone (more on that below).
|Huawei Mate 20 Pro
|157.8 x 72.3 x 8.6mm
|Huawei FullView Display
6.39-inch curved OLED
3120 x 1440
|Android 9 Pie
|Rear camera 1
|40MP Wide Angle
|Rear camera 2
|20MP Ultra Wide Angle
|Rear camera 3
|8MP 3x Telephoto
40W Huawei SuperCharge
The 2k+ OLED panel boasts all the characteristics that make OLED displays a joy to use and offers excellent color reproduction and brightness. The Mate 20 Pro narrowly beats the Pixel 3 - which has one of the best displays ever - in daylight visibility, and produces colors that are punch but not excessively saturated like certain smartphones. If you're coming from an older OLED smartphone, you might find the display a little less vivid that you're used to, but there are options to adjust the tone and even the hue in the settings menu. Huawei also has its own version of Apple's TrueTone display tech - called Eye Comfort - which adjusts the white balance to match the surrounding light temperature in a bid to make whites look natural regardless of the time of day, and it works pretty well.
The display houses the new in-display fingerprint sensor, which is significantly better than the one in the Porsche Design Mate RS earlier this year. Before you get excited, however, you should know about a few quirks. We've all grown so accustomed to one-touch capacitive sensors that the in-display sensor does require some adjustment — it's just a bit slower. That is largely down to the way it works; you need to press firmly on the display in the exact center and if you just try to tap it, you'll trigger a failed read. That said, it does work really well most of the time and it's a sign of things to come from all smartphones in the very near future.
Fortunately, you won't need to use the fingerprint sensor most of the time as Huawei's face unlock is just that good. I've used the iPhone X for the past year, and the iPhone XS for the past few weeks, and Huawei's face unlock is significantly faster than Apple's Face ID. It features its own infrared projector, meaning it works well even in dark conditions and, unlike the iPhone, it works when your phone is in landscape mode. For the past two weeks, I've found the face detection unlocks the phone before you can try to register your fingerprint and combined, they represent one of the most complete biometric solutions on a smartphone.
Turn the Mate 20 Pro over and you'll get a familiar, yet unique experience. The Mate 20 Pro features a very similar twilight gradient as the Morpho Aurora P20 Pro with a gradient shift from blue to black. Let me just say this — this is an incredibly beautiful smartphone, especially when the color shifts depending on how the light hits it.
The design has been slightly updated from the P20 Pro with the addition of a matching gradient pattern to the metal trim, and the symmetry and curves make it incredibly ergonomic and comfortable to use. There's also a new Hyper Optic Patterned version of the Mate 20 which drops the gradient for a subtle patterned etched into the surface. This version provides extra grip and also detracts from fingerprints, but the twilight version is the one you'll want to buy.
Huawei's approach to design here isn't new - Samsung got here much sooner with curved OLED, rounded sides and minimal bezels - but good design is good design. The Mate 20 Pro oozes good design in buckets, and this is a phone that stands out amongst the homogenous designs on the market.
The Huawei Mate series has always been about power and performance, and the Mate 20 Pro delivers this in abundance. Huawei's new Kirin 980 chipset lies at the center, and is the more powerful and efficient than any other chipset in an Android smartphone. The launch schedule of Kirin vs Qualcomm's Snapdragon chipsets means this is the first of the 2019-class flagship processors and will go head-to-head with Android smartphones powered by the upcoming flagship Snapdragon chipset.
The Kirin 980 is the first chipset - outside the iPhone at least - to use a 7nm manufacturing process, with billions of transistors packed in for good measure. It's also the first to use the new ARM Cortex A76 cores and the new Mali-G76 GPU. The result is impressive power and performance - the Mate 20 Pro is an absolute beast. Aside from the most intensive games however, you won't really notice the differences in day-to-day usage, although the overall experience does feel smoother than on the P20 Pro.
The Mate 20 Pro features 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which is standard fare for an Android flagship in 2018. If you really want more RAM or storage - even though you don't need it - Huawei's partnership with Porsche Design serves up the Mate 20 RS with 8GB of RAM and up to 512GB of storage. You'll have to pay a hefty premium for it though, and it's ultimately unnecessary.
If you do want to bump the storage, you can. At least, kind of. Among all the more noticeable features is one that could have wider ramifications for the smartphone industry: Huawei has created a new kind of storage method. Several years ago, micro SIM cards were quickly replaced by the smaller nano SIM card, but expandable storage didn't follow. Until now, that is. The Mate 20 Pro is the first smartphone to support the new Nano Memory technology, which Huawei hopes will become an industry standard. Huawei is the only manufacturer to make or support the Nano Memory, but the company's CEO, Richard Yu, told us they've had several discussions with other companies in a bid to make this the new standard. We don't know how much Nano Memory cards will cost but they'll likely take several years to reach mass adoption and be as affordable as micro SD cards.
The Nano Memory card fills the second slot in the SIM card tray, and this remains one of my favorite features on Huawei devices. Since the Honor 6 Plus five years ago, Huawei flagships have offered dual SIM cards as standard - although regional and market-specific variants often disable the second SIM due to carrier pressure - and as I have four active numbers, having two SIM card slots helps reduce the number of devices I carry. In particular, the dual 4G feature means both SIMs can support active data connections - most dual SIM devices limit data to one of the two SIMs - and particularly useful is being able to forward calls from the inactive SIM to the active SIM when you're on a call.
Like most Huawei devices, the Mate 20 Pro has stellar hardware and excellent cell reception. I've been using it with my EE SIM card while roaming in the US on the T-Mobile and AT&T networks, and I've had no coverage issues. In fact, where the Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone XS often dropped service, the Mate 20 Pro always seems to have a connection. In theory, the Mate 20 Pro supports up to 1.788Gbps on WiFi connections and 1.4Gbps thanks to the world's first Cat 21 LTE connection. In other words - it supports really fast data connections and you'll have no problems.
As a wireless headphones user - mainly out of convenience - the lack of a headphone jack doesn't bother me on the Mate 20 Pro. if it bothers you, the sad fact is the writing is certainly on the wall for 3.5mm connections, at least without a USB-C audio dongle.
What is impressive is the way that Huawei is doing on-device audio. There's no visible bottom speaker and instead the sound is projected out from the cavity around the USB port. It's a little quieter when you plugged in, but for the most part, it works as well as any other bottom-firing speaker in a high-end smartphone. The bottom "speaker" handles the bass and volume, while the earpiece tweeter supports the higher frequencies and it delivers a much better audio experience than you might imagine.
As far as specs go, the Mate 20 Pro stands out as it seems to have everything. 2018 has been a year of incremental upgrades - which is understandable given we're expecting 5G to be the new spec race in 2019 - yet the Mate 20 Pro has all the features we expect in a flagship next year. Rather than follow the current industry trend, Huawei seems set on blazing its own path and for good reason; if they're ready now, why wait a year for new features to suit arbitrary product cycles?
Everything you could want
Huawei Mate 20 Pro Battery and Charging
If you've used Huawei's Mate series in the past, you'll be familiar with the premise of the Mate 20 Pro's battery; a big cell and software optimizations result in excellent battery life. At 4,200mAh, the battery inside the Mate 20 Pro is one of the largest on a mainstream high-end Android smartphone and the battery life lives up to its billing. In the initial software, I had varying battery life, but with the final firmware, I regularly achieve six hours of screen-on-time.
Screen-on-time is subjective so I'll say this: the Mate 20 Pro battery goes on forever, and then some. A combination of the extra efficiency provided by the Kirin 980, optimizations in EMUI 9 and the extra battery capacity mean this phone guarantees me at least a day and change between charges. With moderate usage - such as days when I'm mostly at my desk on my computer - this eeks out to two days or more. The only caveat is when I'm out using the camera all day, which is when I need to top up near the end of the day. In over two weeks with the phone, I've only had to top it up before the end of the day once. Whereas I religiously have to charge my iPhone or Pixel 3 every night, I can leave the Mate 20 Pro comfortable in the knowledge it'll probably see me through the next day.
For the times when I do need to top up, Huawei's SuperCharging comes into its own. It's fast and efficient, and at 40W, it's ridiculously fast. So fast that a quick 30 minute top up charged my Mate 20 Pro to 72% from flat. Alex's experience was similar, with the Super Charger boosting his battery from 34% to 65% in just 15 minutes. The full charge time is a little over 90 minutes, which makes this the fastest charging solution on the market right now.
I can hear some of the comments now - fast charging ruins the battery long-term. That might be the case - I'm not saying it isn't - but what is noticeable is that even with 40W super charging, the Mate 20 Pro doesn't get hot. I've seen other smartphones get hot using the much slower Quick Charge 2.0 solution, and Huawei's approach is slightly different as the charging brick and the smartphone communicate constantly to regulate the power supply and prevent overheating.
The Mate 20 Pro also adds Qi wireless charging, making it a breeze to top up overnight. I've been using the Pixel Stand to charge it overnight and it works just as well as you'd expect. The big battery and fast charging make for a winning combination that also allows you to show off a little. Not only does the Mate 20 Pro support wireless charging, but you can also turn it into a wireless charger to top up your other phone.
As every iPhone user will attest to - and I experience on an almost daily basis - the iPhone battery doesn't quite last "all-day", and on more than one occasion, the Mate 20 Pro has come to the rescue for me. Once I hit ten percent on my iPhone, I throw them both on a table and in about fifteen minutes, I can add between five and ten percent battery life. It's not the fastest solution, but when I'm in a pinch - especially late at night on my way home - using the Mate 20 Pro as a wireless charger is a crude, yet effective, solution.
Triple the cameras, triple the fun
Huawei Mate 20 Pro Camera
Three cameras, plus one on the front, make for a lot of fun. Since the P20 Pro was announced, I used it as my daily driver — until it met an untimely death in a river — for one reason: its amazing triple camera. The P20 Pro made taking photos fun again, and the Mate 20 Pro does this but with one key difference; it drops the monochrome sensor in favor of a a regular sensor with an ultra-wide lens, and it's proven to be an excellent decision.
The Mate 20 Pro is a really fun camera to use, and the ability to flick between wide-angle, the standard zoom, and 3X telephoto or 5X hybrid zoom empowers you to take more pictures. Whether it's to document your vacation, traverse a sunny day in the city or just for capturing every day life, the camera has the features to handle wherever your adventures take you.
It's not perfect as there is a noticeable stutter when switching between lenses, and I do wish the software processing between the 1X and 3X was a little better. As we found in past LG devices where there was a disparity between the megapixel count on the regular and wide-angle lenses, the gray area between the wide-angle and regular 40MP sensors isn't an area you'll want to dive into too often. Quality does seem to take a little bit of a drop in this zone, and you'll be better off picking one of the two options.
I used the Mate 20 Pro camera over the course of a few days in London, as well as at the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Austin, and I can safely say I've never had this much fun with a smartphone camera. Between the ultra-wide camera — which the software reports as 0.6x focal length — and the 5x hybrid zoom, there's so much you can do with it as you can see from the four images below (0.6x, 1x, 3x and 5x zoom):
Or focusing on the race track itself:
The ultra-wide camera can take some simply breathtaking images. In the image below, I never even noticed the cloud pattern until I looked at the image I'd captured.
The camera brings the excellent handheld long exposure mode from the P20 Pro, but it's now supported across all of the cameras, included the 3X and 5X zoom modes offering a lot of versatility. For the ultra-wide angle camera, it provides a great counter to the fact the lens doesn't let in as much light as the main sensor, so it isn't quite as capable in full-auto mode.
The biggest surprise with Night Mode, isn't even on the Mate 20 Pro itself. As we've seen from the Pixel 3 and OnePlus 6T launches, other companies are jumping on the night mode bandwagon. We've had a few questions about whether Google's Night Mode on the Pixel 3 could match the Mate 20 Pro and thanks to the leaked app that can be sideloaded, we kinda have an answer. It's very situational, but as Alex discovered, the Pixel 3 is slightly ahead. In the images below, you can see the Pixel 3 Night Mode shots on the left, and the Mate 20 Pro on the right:
The Mate 20 Pro's cameras can take exceptional low-light pictures especially thanks to the wide-angle and zoom features that are missing on the Pixel 3, and the performance of the Pixel 3's Night Mode isn't a knock on this at all. Instead, it's testament to the software wizardry that Google is pulling off to even be able to compete in extreme low light. That said, the Mate 20 Pro camera remains the better overall camera for me, as it offers the versatility to handle every scenario.
Google isn't the only one using computational photography in smartphones however, as Huawei is using AI in a few video-related features that are, for lack of a better word, interesting. Ever wanted to recreate that iconic Sin City video? AI color lets you do this, keeping a subject - which, sadly, has to be human and moving - in color with the rest of the background black and white. Similarly, there's a background blur feature that allows you to create a portrait-like video. These features are nice-to-haves, and work most of the time, but they're not something you'll look at too often.
What's more apparent is Huawei's master AI feature, which has been improved and tweaked with the Mate 20 Pro. You can easily disable it in the settings but, apart from the odd time where it flips into portrait mode when I'm taking a group shot, I like it. The blue sky mode especially is fantastic, as it boosts the saturation and details to capture stunning images. As with the P20 Pro, you'll either like it or hate it, but if you're the latter, it's easy to turn it off and forget about it.
The P20 Pro set the benchmark for versatility in a smartphone camera for me - mainly because the zoom was so much fun to use - and the Mate 20 Pro pushes the bar further. The ultra-wide-angle camera especially means this is the camera I want in my pocket at all times, and when I do have to resort to the iPhone XS camera, I immediately notice just how much it's missing.
Yes, the Pixel 3 works absolute wonders with a single lens and is up there with the best smartphone cameras. The processing on Huawei's images won't be to everyone's tastes - especially if you prefer more natural images - but overall, the Mate 20 Pro has one of the best cameras ever on a smartphone.
Shudder, or huzzah?
Huawei Mate 20 Pro Software
I've used Huawei smartphones for years and I'll be frank: EMUI used to be terrible. I say used to be because the company has come a long way and while there are some quirks, EMUI 9 is pretty polished overall.
Based on Android Pie, EMUI 9 doesn't change everything in the software like Huawei used to do. I'm not talking about themes and icons which is subjective but more the core features - Huawei used to break a lot of them but aside from a couple of snags that haven't been fixed in the final software, everything works like you'd expect.
The settings menu has been simplified so it's more user friendly and there's a bucket load of customization options. I was a big fan of TouchWiz back in the day because of the sheer customization options it offered and Huawei has followed in the same mold.
There's a few things that EMUI offers that I personally enjoy - the addition of a nav button to drop the notification shade, the ability to customize the notification icons including adding network speed data and a system wide dark mode you can enable in the battery menu. Dig into the settings menu further and you'll find tons of ways to customize EMUI to make it yours.
Huawei's gesture navigation works well enough but breaks picture in picture mode and I personally am not ready to lose the navigation icons. I use them hundreds of times per day and the muscle memory required to train myself to use gestures doesn't seem worth it to me. Having switched from the Pixel 3, I actually appreciate having regular nav buttons at the expense of a few pixels. Especially as nav buttons make it easy to quickly switch apps in a way that gestures can't, at least not in their current state.
More importantly, as Alex noted in the video, the recent apps menu cycles the app cards in a very unnatural way. When you go into the recent apps menu, the app you were just using shifts to the right which is jarring. It's a small gripe that's easily fixed, but one that you'll notice immediately.
Digital Wellbeing is a big focus for Google in Pie and I've got to be honest, I was worried that Huawei would break it. Yet, they've done the opposite. It's called Digital Balance now but Huawei has added a couple of features to add to Google's own. You can now see how many times you've unlocked your phone and more importantly for parents - and well anyone who's concerned (which isn't me) - you can limit your screen time. Once you hit a certain quota, you're forced to stop using your phone and well, start living life.
EMUI 9 also comes with a lot of the features introduced in EMUI 8. The Private Space feature lets you set up a special zone on your phone that you can access either via a separate pin or a different Fingerprint. Unlike the Note 9 and Key 2 however, you have to access this from the lock screen, which isn't the most ideal but not a deal breaker. There's also the App Twin feature that lets you set up two messenger, Facebook or whatsapp accounts on the same device. I've got two whatsapp accounts for my UK and US numbers and it is nice being able to use them both on the same device (fun fact, this is why I started carrying two phones at first)
Overall EMUI is a mostly polished software experience that still requires some adjusting to. If you're looking for the most polished experience, then it won't be for you. However, if you're willing to put in a little effort to customize and adjust to it, you'll find that EMUI is fast, fluid and easy to use. I personally like EMUI 9 and it's certainly not a deal breaker for me, although your experiences may be different.
The bottom line
Huawei Mate 20 Pro Review
For the past four years, I've switched between the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note flagships every six months as they offered everything I was looking for. Yet, this year, Huawei has occupied my second pocket, first with the P20 Pro and now, with the Mate 20 Pro.
From the design and hardware to the incredible battery life and outstanding camera, there's a lot I love about the Mate 20 Pro. This is a phone that ticks every box for me, and features like reverse wireless charging, in display Fingerprint Sensor, 3D face detection, incredible performance and a battery that keeps on going all help it stand out.
Yes, there's the inevitable polish vs power discussion that is standard with Huawei smartphones. It's not as polished as a Pixel or Note 9, nor will it get updates as fast as other devices, but these are less important to me and the differences are smaller than ever before. If you're looking for pure power and performance, the Mate 20 Pro beats everything else.
4.5 out of 5
In a year of incremental upgrades, Huawei has made huge strides and the Mate 20 Pro is the culmination of all of these efforts. The Mate 10 Pro last year was a really good smartphone, the P20 Pro earlier this year was great but the Mate 20 Pro? Well, this is an outstanding smartphone. It's easily one of the top 3, if not the best, smartphones this year and it's the phone that seems to have everything. Next year will be see some major changes to the smartphone industry, but until the first wave of 2019 phones come around, Alex and I will both be keeping this in our pockets.
Nirave Gondhia has been writing about the mobile industry for over a decade and began his career selling and fixing phones in the UK. He's used every flagship smartphone over the past five years and carries at least two phones at all times - currently, he's using the iPhone 11 Pro, [Samsung Galaxy Fold and Motorola RAZR. Say hi to him on Twitter at @nirave.