Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

Huawei had a tumultuous start to 2018: the Chinese manufacturer was looking to expand its presence in the U.S., but a growing rift between the two nations that has since ballooned into a trade war effectively put an end to those ambitions. With the U.S. market out of reach, Huawei stepped up its efforts in other regions as it looked to consolidate its position as the second-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world.

Along the way, the company launched incredible devices that allowed it to compete effectively against the likes of Samsung. The P20 Pro showcased the advances Huawei made on the imaging side of things, and the Mate 20 Pro continues that effort.

It's clear that Huawei is positioning the Mate 20 Pro as an alternative to the Galaxy Note 9. It shares a similar design aesthetic, has excellent cameras, and offers an exhaustive list of features. While EMUI's software quirks were one of the reasons to not pick up a Huawei phone in previous years, the manufacturer went to great strides to eliminate most of the issues on this front. EMUI 9.0 feels modern and is thoroughly optimized for the Mate 20 Pro.

In short, the Mate 20 Pro is one of the best phones I've used all year.

Twilight does it right

Huawei Mate 20 Pro

The best of the rest.

The Mate 20 Pro has a gorgeous design and top-notch hardware in the form of the 7nm Kirin 980. Add an excellent camera, a vibrant AMOLED panel, and class-leading battery life to the mix and it's easy to see why the Mate 20 Pro is one of the best phones of 2018.

Pros:

  • Exquisite design
  • Vibrant AMOLED screen
  • Excellent performance
  • Two-day battery life
  • Stellar cameras

Cons:

  • Limited global availability
  • No 3.5mm jack

About this review

I (Harish Jonnalagadda) am writing this review after using the Mate 20 Pro for three weeks in Hyderabad, India. The device was running the latest EMUI build (9.0.0.113) and did not receive any updates throughout the review period. Huawei India provided Android Central with the review unit.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro Hardware

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

With its dual-curved screen, the Mate 20 Pro looks a lot like the Galaxy S9+ at first glance. And like the S9+, it has matching curves at the back that create a symmetrical design. That said, the phone is marginally shorter and narrower than the S9+ while offering a larger 6.39-inch display.

While the design itself isn't new, the Mate 20 Pro does have a few standout features. Huawei made the switch from a traditional capacitive fingerprint reader to an in-display solution, so the design is more seamless. The Twilight color option is back, and it is just as stunning as what we've seen on the P20 Pro.

The color gradient shifts from various hues of blue to black as you progress from top to bottom, and the red power button adds a little bit of flamboyance to the design. Interestingly, Huawei offers the Mate 20 Pro in green and blue hues, and these variants come with a textured finish that makes the device less slippery.

The Mate 20 Pro has stereo sound, but in a curious move, Huawei put the main loudspeaker inside the USB-C charging port. Huawei says it wanted to amplify the sound coming from the speaker, so inserting it in the port offers a way of doing just that. As you'd imagine, there is a noticeable decrease in the audio levels when you plug in the phone for charging.

The 6.39-inch AMOLED display is just as good as the panels Samsung uses on its phones, and while Huawei isn't sourcing the panel from Samsung, the display has vibrant colors and excellent sunlight readability. It also offers the DCI-P3 color gamut and works with HDR10 content. Huawei provides a set of tools to tailor the display to your liking, including the ability to change the color tone and temperature, and a natural tone setting that automatically tweaks the color balance based on the ambient lighting.

The Mate 20 Pro marries a gorgeous design with powerful hardware.

There's also an eye comfort mode that's essentially a blue light filter. The feature is standard on most phones these days, and you'll be able to adjust the intensity of the filter and set up a custom schedule. In a move reminiscent of Samsung, Huawei offers a smart resolution feature that automatically lowers the screen resolution to conserve power. There's also a manual toggle to switch the screen resolution, and thankfully the default resolution out of the box is WQHD+ (3120 x 1440).

Huawei also offers an option to disable the notch from the settings, and given just how wide the cutout is, you're better off doing so. Rounding out the features is an always-on display that shows the time, date, and battery level when the screen is off.

Call quality was particularly stellar on the Mate 20 Pro, and Huawei offers a toggle to change the orientation of the microphones when you switch to the speaker or use hands-free mode. You'll be able to select between omnidirectional — which will pick up sound from both the mics — or focused, which mutes the mic at the top of the device. Wi-Fi and cellular data performance was similarly outstanding, and Huawei's expertise in networking shines through here.

Finally, the Mate 20 Pro comes with IP68 dust and water resistance, which is the same as what Samsung offers on its phones.

Performance

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

Huawei is ahead of the curve when it comes to performance, and that's all down to the fact that the company is using HiSilicon's 7nm Kirin 980 chipset. The Kirin 980 offers next-gen performance thanks to ARM's Cortex A76 cores, and the shift to the 7nm node allows for sizable gains in efficiency and performance.

Or to put it another way, the Mate 20 Pro is the fastest Android phone in the market today. Of course, a large part of what makes a device feel speedy is the software — as anyone that has used a OnePlus phone will attest — and Huawei has done a remarkable job making sure that EMUI doesn't slow things down.

The Mate 20 Pro features an octa-core design with two main cores: the Cortex A76 and the Cortex A55. The Cortex A76 does most of the heavy lifting, with the A55 cores mainly used for energy-efficient tasks. As is increasingly becoming common, the two cores are used in a tri-cluster design: the A76 is configured with two frequencies, with the main cluster consisting of two A76 cores clocked at 2.6GHz and the secondary A76 cluster at 1.92GHz. The four A55 cores are clocked up to 1.8GHz.

The Mate 20 Pro is the fastest Android phone available today.

With the new cores and the more efficient tri-cluster design, HiSilicon is touting a massive 75% increase in performance from the Kirin 970 with 60% better energy efficiency.

HiSilicon also switched things up on the GPU front, with the Kirin 980 featuring ARM's Mali-G76. The G76 is the latest to feature the Bifrost architecture, which was introduced back in 2016. While initial offerings in the series — like the G71 — were underwhelming, the G72 showed that ARM could build a GPU that could take on Qualcomm's Adreno lineup, and the G76 furthers that belief.

At a high level, ARM has doubled the number of lanes in an execution unit to eight, which results in a decent uptick in performance. ARM is touting a 30% increase in performance from the G72 and a similar 30% uptick in efficiency.

With the Kirin 980, we're getting an early look at the hardware that will power 2019 flagships.

The G76 will be available with up to 20 cores, and while that's down from the 32-core configuration that was available with the G72, the increase in threads more than offsets the change. We didn't see any solutions utilizing the full 32 cores on the G72, and with Huawei offering an MP10 version with 10 cores in the Mate 20 Pro, it's unlikely we'll see a 20-core G76 either.

Interestingly, the Exynos 9820 — which will power the global variants of the Galaxy S10 — shares a lot of the same characteristics as the Kirin 980. It also uses the tri-cluster design with Samsung LSI's custom M4 cores that are likely based on the A76, and it also features the Mali-G76, but with 12 cores.

With on-device AI gaining momentum, the Kirin 980 comes with dual Neural Processing Units. Huawei is offering a slate of AI-assisted features, including automatic scene detection for the camera and faster load times for popular apps like Instagram and PUBG.

When it comes to real-world usage, the Mate 20 Pro is an absolute beast. I never saw any slowdowns, and the Mate 20 Pro is one of the fastest phones I've used to date. The device comes with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage as standard, and there's a new Nano memory slot instead of the ubiquitous MicroSD slot.

Everything from day-to-day tasks like messaging, browsing, and video calls to more intensive tasks like gaming ran without a glitch, and with HiSilicon setting the bar high, it'll be interesting to see what Qualcomm and Samsung LSI come up within this area.

3D face unlock

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

Huawei offers two biometric authentication options on the Mate 20 Pro: an in-display fingerprint sensor that's reliable most of the time, and 3D face unlock. The in-display solution is like any other you'll find on a phone today — you'll need to press with some force on the screen for your fingerprint to register, and the authentication itself takes over a second.

The face unlock feature is more interesting as it uses a depth-sensing module to take an accurate picture of your face, with the sensor able to map 30,000 points. There's also an infrared module that works in conjunction with the depth sensor, and Huawei's solution is more secure than the camera-only option offered by the likes of OnePlus. Thankfully, it works just as fast, so for a majority of customers face unlock will be the default way to unlock the phone.

I had a lot of issues with the feature initially as it failed to work half of the time. This isn't the first time I faced problems with face unlock, however, so I attributed it to my beard. Sure enough, the feature started working much more reliably once I was clean-shaven. I had to register my facial data again, but it did fare much better at authenticating my features.

Battery life

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

When it comes to battery life, few devices come close to the Mate 20 Pro. The 4200mAh battery is more than adequate to deliver two days' worth of use consistently, and I averaged screen-on-time of over six hours spread over the course of two days.

That's considerably more than what I normally see on a flagship, and while I've used Xiaomi phones in the past that delivered similar battery life, the Mate 20 Pro is in a league of its own when it comes to fast charging. Huawei's own fast charging standard delivers up to a 40W charge, and the bundled charger can top up the phone from flat to 70% in just over 30 minutes.

That's astounding, and it completely changed how I used the device. Unlike most other phones, I didn't have to leave the Mate 20 Pro charging overnight as I was confident that a 30-minute top-up would deliver more than adequate battery life to last an entire day's worth of usage.

Of course, the Mate 20 Pro also offers wireless charging over the Qi protocol, with the phone able to charge at 15W. Then there's reverse charging, a feature unique to the Mate 20 Pro. The device has a Qi coil underneath the glass back, and it allows the phone to wirelessly charge other devices. I was able to charge the Pixel 3 XL and the Note 9 in this fashion, and while it isn't a feature that will see a lot of usage, it shows just how confident Huawei is with regards to the battery life on the Mate 20 Pro.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro Software

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

Huawei sells well over 100 million phones yearly, and as a result, EMUI has 350 million users globally. The latest version of the skin, EMUI 9.0, solves a lot of pain points and makes the UI much more palatable to a Western audience.

EMUI 9.0 is based on Android 9 Pie, and Huawei is rolling out a slate of new features. There's a new gesture-based navigation system that's akin to what OnePlus offers with OxygenOS, and Huawei is leveraging its AI smarts to boost app load times.

Like all Chinese skins, EMUI is loaded with customization options. Huawei has a dedicated theme store that offers a variety of options to choose from, and if you select a dark theme, you'll see a corresponding change in the color scheme of the stock apps as well as the notification shade and the settings.

Huawei is also rolling out a series of knuckle gestures for tasks like taking a screenshot or launching multi-window mode. Knock twice on the screen with one knuckle to take a screenshot, and do so with two knuckles to set up screen recording. You'll also be able to take a screenshot of a particular part of the screen by rounding out that area with your knuckle.

EMUI finally feels ready for a global audience.

You can also launch an app by drawing a particular letter — if you want to open Chrome, for instance, you could draw the letter C with your knuckle. Similarly, you'll be able to launch split-screen mode by drawing a line across the middle of the screen with your knuckle. There are other gestures as well — you get a flip to mute option that silences incoming calls and alerts when the phone is laid face-down, and you can pick up the phone to wake the screen.

The settings menu in EMUI 9.0 is much more intuitive to use, but there are a few lingering issues. If you want to enable the gestures, you'll need to navigate to the Motion control section within Smart assistance — searching for gestures will take you to navigation gestures.

While the interface as a whole is much more polished, EMUI still has a few quirks. Like most Chinese ROMs, it is very aggressive at memory management, and I had to manually change background limits to get a few apps to work. For instance, for the first week I didn't get any notifications from Slack when the screen was off. I had to disable the automatic app management (which is enabled by default for all apps) and set Slack to auto-launch and run in the background. I had to do the same for WhatsApp and Allo to get them to work as intended.

Overall though, EMUI 9.0 is significantly better than earlier iterations of the skin. Huawei has ironed out most of the bugs, and if you're not a fan of the interface, putting a launcher like Lawnchair solves 90% of the problems with the skin.

I'm using the Indian retail unit of the Mate 20 Pro, and Huawei has a slate of customization options for the country. The camera can recognize and serve up detailed information on Indian monuments, and EMUI is available in 28 regional languages, a major achievement. I remember when Hindi was first added to EMUI just a few years ago, and Huawei has come a long way in tailoring EMUI for Indian customers.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro Camera

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

Huawei is once again offering three cameras at the back with the Mate 20 Pro, but the modules are now arranged in a square, which is much more pleasing aesthetically. The camera housing is modeled after Porsche's four-point headlights, and adds an extra sense of flair to the design at the back.

Coming to the sensors, Huawei has retained the primary 40MP f/1.8 lens that debuted on the P20 Pro, but the 20MP f/2.2 monochrome sensor is making way for a wide-angle lens. The switch is a welcome one as the wide-angle lens is much more useful in day-to-day shooting scenarios. The monochrome shooting mode is still available; it's just that there's no dedicated sensor for the same. The third 8MP f/2.4 sensor is also unchanged from the P20 Pro, and offers 3x optical zoom with OIS.

Huawei is also touting significant improvements to its Master AI feature thanks to the Kirin 980's dual NPU, and there's a macro mode that lets you shoot objects that are just 2.5cm away. The camera app itself hasn't changed much from the P20 Pro, but you now get the option to toggle between 3x, 5x, and 0.6x (wide-angle) modes.

Although the Mate 20 Pro has the same primary sensor as the P20 Pro, there was a noticeable difference in the image quality. For one thing, Master AI isn't as aggressive anymore, and the images that came out — particularly those shot in greenery or blue sky modes — looked much more natural than those taken with the P20 Pro. Most of the photos I took with the P20 Pro that featured a skyline had a painted-on quality to them, and that thankfully isn't the case on the Mate 20 Pro.

Portrait shots also looked better on the Mate 20 Pro, and while the phone did a fantastic job taking photos of people, it didn't fare as well when I tried out portrait mode on objects — the Pixel 3 is much better in this area. As for the main camera, the 40MP shooter is one of the best in the market today, and the images had plenty of detail and excellent dynamic range.

The night mode is also of particular note, and while it isn't quite as effective as Night Sight on the Pixels, it does a great job bringing out detail in low-light conditions. When it comes to selfies, however, the Mate 20 Pro falls short of the Pixel 3. That's to be expected as Google has done a magnificent job with the front camera on the Pixel 3.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro Bottom line

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

With the Mate 20 Pro, Huawei is showing that it can match the best that Samsung and Google have to offer. The device combines a gorgeous design with an entrancing color scheme and performance that's unmatched on Android today.

Huawei started 2018 on a low, but is ending it on a high thanks to the Mate 20 Pro.

Then there's the excellent camera — the wide-angle lens is a welcome addition, and the main camera is bolstered by the improved NPU. The Mate 20 Pro can hold its own next to the Pixel 3 and the Note 9, and the range of AI-assisted features give it an added edge in a few scenarios.

But what truly sets the Mate 20 Pro apart is the battery life. The 4200mAh battery is more than adequate to last two days, and Huawei's 40W fast charger is an absolute delight to use. It eliminates any battery-related worries, and if you don't want to plug in, the 15W wireless charging is a bonus. Then there's the party trick where the Mate 20 Pro can charge other devices.

With Huawei getting pushed out of the U.S. market, the manufacturer is looking to other markets to sustain growth in this segment. The company is ramping up efforts in the Middle East and the UK — two regions where it has a huge presence already — and it is getting more aggressive in India. The Mate 20 Pro is available in India for ₹69,990 ($1,000), or just ₹2,000 ($25) less than the Galaxy Note 9. It's clearly evident that Huawei is going after Samsung with the aggressive pricing, and with pricing being equal the Mate 20 Pro is an excellent alternative to the Note 9.

4.5 out of 5

Huawei has done a wonderful job with the Mate 20 Pro, and like the P20 Pro, it's a shame that the device isn't available in the U.S. It offers an early glimpse at the hardware that will be a mainstay on high-end phones in 2019, and the combination of design and battery life makes it one of the best phones in the market today. It isn't exactly affordable at £899 ($1,145), but if there's a phone that justifies that price tag, it is the Mate 20 Pro.

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