Fresh off the back of news that the Huawei Mate 20 series won’t be made available in the United States comes our review of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. Personally, I think it is a massive shame that the device won’t be officially available in the US, as this device could be a serious contender for smartphone of the year. Huawei could be criticized for trying to throw all the ingredients into a smartphone and hope that it sticks, but in practice, there is so much here to love.
Whilst there are a few ideas taken from other manufacturers and smartphones, the net result is a device that does have a few downsides, but with so many features that enthusiasts will welcome. It would be wrong to say the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is the ‘complete’ device’ but there are so many extras that make this one of the most fully loaded devices out there.
For years we’ve seen Chinese manufacturers and especially Huawei try to replicate or take design cues from the iPhone. However, this is a fusion of the Samsung Galaxy S9+ and the iPhone XS, but with a little bit of Huawei thrown in for good measure.
At the front, you can see that exactly what I’m talking about with the copycat iPhone X notch shape — which includes a replica Face ID 3D-depth sensor — and the rounded rectangle shape with curved glass display that clearly mimics the Samsung Galaxy S9+. Despite the clear influences, it doesn’t detract from the overall experience. Although the addition of EMUI 9 might, more on that later though.
The display is simply superb. I’d say that I prefer the display on the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 in all honesty, but with that said, this is bright, rich and vibrant. Throughout my testing phase, I have been happy with the phone at 1080p (for battery testing purposes) but once you up it to 1440p you get the ‘true’ viewing experience. How does that affect the overall battery life? Again, more on that slightly later on.
So the display is exceptional, easily on par with the top-tier devices currently available on the market. Viewing angles are great and you get deep rich blacks as well as accurate colors. I like the rounded edges as it makes it way more comfortable to swipe and scroll from side to side. They also make the edges bleed away and provide a beautiful wrap-around effect for wallpapers and all fullscreen applications.
Overall, the front of the device is a great experience, but I have to say that the back of the phone is much more appealing than it seems in press renders. The camera bump and layout definitely reminds me of a stove, but I’ve had people ask about what phone it is and I must admit it has grown on me quite a lot. I think it is a shame there is a camera bump at all, it would have been much better if it was flush and the entire back filled out with extra battery, but I wouldn’t say this is major issue.
I love the Emerald Green colorway and the textured back finish so nice to hold, rub your fingers over and generally just feel. I’ve not felt the need to wear a case, but I imagine I will with an extended portion of time with the phone. The back glass is also equally tapered like the front glass for a uniform feel when gripped.
The stereo speakers sound okay, I think the overall audio experience is acceptable at best, but I do like the fact that the USB Type-C port doubles as a downward-facing speaker. It funnels the sound in a different manner to a standard down-firing grilled speaker — with no speaker grill you end up with a better overall frame aesthetic.
Side volume buttons provide a good clicky tactile feedback with not too much travel and enough audible feedback so you know you’ve pressed them. The red power button looks good, but feels mushy by comparison.
In no way does the Huawei Mate 20 Pro have perfect hardware. Notch aside, it’s a very attractive somewhat-samey handset that does look and feel good when held and used. The display is most definitely the highlight though, especially when set to 1440p. The back is where the real design innovation is taking place, with that camera array at first being an eyesore and then growing on you.
Looking beyond the hardware, the Mate 20 Pro benefits from shipping with Android 9.0 Pie, albeit with the heavy EMUI 9 fused into every orifice. I personally can’t say that I like it whatsoever. The software aesthetic design choices are sometimes a little confusing, and border on the downright ugly, but that doesn’t detract from how smooth the software is in action. The phone will come with gesture navigation set to ‘on’ as standard, but the implementation is often frustrating and poorly thought out to say the least.
Unlike with Stock Android, the back action is the root cause of all of my frustrations with the Mate 20 Pro. To exit to your homescreen is a simple swipe up from the bottom edge, swiping in and holding from the bottom edge gives you all recent apps — much like iOS 12. Now for the back action, to go back you swipe in the from the left edge of the curved display. This poses a problem when in an application or even on your homescreen as that it’s often where you find side menus or secondary application screens.
It became such an annoyance that I opted to re-enable the three-key navigation method. I found it much better, faster and just more enjoyable in day-to-day usage. It would be nice to see the gestures evolve or literally just take the standard Stock implementation.
Elsewhere EMUI 9 does have that awful single Apple-esque everything-on-the-homescreen layout which means you have to swipe between every page to get to apps — if you don’t organize screens after install. Then there are the unnecessary duplicates and extra applications you simply won’t use. Health, Huawei App Gallery, HiCare, Huawei Calendar and Huawei Music just to name a few.
The same goes for the Notification Shade. Overall it looks disjointed and the design reminds me of the late 90s internet. I made it a priority to stick a third-party launcher and notification shade manager on the Mate 20 Pro.
So the software design is a little disappointing, but the implementation of features such as the Face Unlock and the in-display fingerprint reader are handled really well. The fingerprint registration is a little slower than it would be with a standard fingerprint reader, but in practice — once you have registered your digits — it’s pretty quick. It isn’t quite as fast as a standard fingerprint reader and nor did I expect it to be.
Now for the Face Unlock feature, the face registration process is eerily similar to the iPhone X and iPhone XS, right down to the dial tracking when you move your face at various angles. It is yet another area that Huawei has taken iOS features as core inspiration and it doesn’t help with the iOS-clone criticism levelled at the brand.
Once registered, the face unlock speed is actually impressive. It’s much faster and manages to unlock in darkened or poorly lit conditions with absolutely zero issue.
This is one of the very best portions of the entire Huawei Mate 20 Pro experience. To say the battery life is good is an understatement. I often saw screen on time close to double digits, anywhere from 7 and a half to 9 hours was expected, not the exception. I just can’t seem to kill the 4,200mAh battery in a 24 hour period — I managed to watch 3 hours of YouTube on top of a full day usage and still maintained over 30% battery and have a SoT of almost 7 hours.
That was using the Smart Resolution in the display settings, which adjusts between WQHD+ to HD+, but I got much closer to the far end of 9 hours when I kept the resolution at FHD+ / 1080p. You will get slightly lower battery life if you keep it at WQHD+, but you will see the best combination of battery and screen quality by enabling the Smart resolution mode in settings.
No flagship device can even claim to get close to this battery life. With my Samsung Galaxy Note 9 I get anywhere from 6 to 7 hours of screen on time for comparison — even with a 4,000mAh capacity.
In terms of camera hardware, you are given one of the most interesting setups for all around photo-taking capabilities. Huawei partnered again with Leica — I don’t see anything that leads me to believe that Leica has had a huge amount of input —and the net result is a main 40-megapixel main sensor, 8MP 3x telephoto lens and arguably the best addition, the 12-megapixel wide-angle lens.
Ditching the monochromatic sensor in favour of the wide-angle lens was a great move, and it is just so fun to use. It gives you a good array of options to get the shot that you want and rewards photo experimentation.
As for image quality, it’s another area in which the Huawei Mate 20 Pro excels. Is it the best camera system on the market? I’d have to say no, judging by what the Google Pixel 3 and Google Pixel 3 XL are capable of, but it really does stack up well against all of the best cameras on the market.
At the core of this is the enhanced Night Mode, which was equally impressive on the Huawei P20 Pro. It enables insanely detailed night photos, all it takes is a steady hand and a few seconds to get some of the best night time photos on any smartphone. I’m looking forward to pitting the device against the Google Pixel 3’s Night Sight to really see how it stacks up.
The 24-megapixel front-facing camera is good, offers a good Portrait Mode, skin-tone adjustments and skin smoothing for the real selfie taker. I’m not one to take many selfies but found the face detection to be very good, in part thanks to the AI-system using the Face ID information to track you.
That leads me to the camera AR modes, which were mighty impressive at the live London keynote. The AR Lens mode enables you to create 3D Qmoji, which are the best Animoji rip off on the market. It is still a massive gimmick and not something you’ll use more than once or twice.
Overall, the camera setup is a beast. You get some serious grunt, I love the flexibility that it offers. Huawei is upping its own camera game and whilst it isn’t perfect, it’s moving the ball faster than some of the chasing pack — and that’s what matters here.
My gut instinct was to be sceptical of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, but since the release of the Nexus 6P, the brand has shown that they can make what we in the West consider flagship devices — not that I didn’t experience some teething issues with the Nexus 6P.
I am honestly shocked at how much I have enjoyed this device, Huawei has tried to throw everything but the kitchen sink inside, with almost no compromises — EMUI is most definitely a compromise — but the net result is easily one of the most impressive packages on the market right now.
The biggest crying shame is that this device is not reaching US shores. Is there an audience in the United States for the Huawei Mate 20 Pro? I personally think there is more than enough intrigue and interest. Huawei is now doing too much well that it would be silly to simply dismiss them. That said, buying online is an option if you want one of the real candidates for smartphone of the year, just expect to pay a real premium to get hold of one.
Still want to check out the Huawei Mate 20 Pro?
At present only the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is available direct from Amazon UK — there are other online retailers offering the device.