The Mate 20 Pro has to be the highest-spec phone I have used to date, with its new Kirin 980 7nm processor, 6GB RAM, a huge Quad HD display, massive battery…and the triple camera on the back. The Mate 20 Pro really does scream top end specs.
A quick disclaimer that I feel is really important before covering this review fully, especially after seeing some comments on social media around the launch event.
Huawei invited me along to the launch and have arranged this review device for me to use, however at no point have I been swayed to give a positive or negative review by anyone in the company, nor has getting a device early made me look any differently at the Mate 20 Pro than I would any other smartphone.
The review device was a loan only and will be returned when requested, which means at no time have I been tempted to give positive comments in exchange for a free device.
I review every device the same no matter if was loaned it, or purchased with my own money, as I believe that is the best way to be as a respectable writer and someone you can feel you trust to give accurate information at all times. I put my own SIM card in, I use it as my sole device and I report back.
Design and display
OK, let’s start at the top. In that notch you’ll find the front-facing 24 megapixel camera which can record 1080p video. I will talk more about the picture and video quality later, but let’s just say it is still very good (as you would expect from a large sensor) and allows for the AR Lens feature found on the Mate 20 Lite.
Next to that you have the front facing speaker which is very clear and very loud during voice calls. It also acts as part of the stereo sound setup using the speaker at the bottom. Audio was very clear, very loud, especially music – this was a joy to listen to.
You also have a load of hidden sensors – very much like the iPhone X – they all have a good reason to be there. There’s an illuminator, IR Sensor and Dot projector allowing for 3D face recognition. This provides a really speedy face unlock, in fact it’s the quickest I’ve ever seen on a smartphone, and itialso allows you to authenticate payments using Google Pay.
To fit all this technology into a small space Huawei had to include that now-infamous notch cutout up top. On this Pro model it is quite wide, although you really just learn to ignore it pretty quickly. It’s by no means as thick as the Pixel 3 XL.
The screen is a very impressive 6.39 inch Quad HD HDR panel, which is really one of the best I’ve ever seen and on par with the Sony XZ3, it is simply stunning to use, even in sunlight conditions.
Colours are bright and clear, full of contrast thanks to the HDR technology, it really does bring your content to life.
The screen also hides one of the newest features on the Mate 20 Pro, this is an on-screen fingerprint reader. Whilst the Porsche device, launched alongside the P20 Pro, had this too, the Mate 20 Pro had an improved version, and is the first in a mainstream consumer device from Huawei.
So you no longer have a dedicated fingerprint reader on the front or back taking up space – or standing out like a sore thumb. Instead Huawei managed to put the fingerprint reader into the display, and even whilst using a screen protector it works perfectly every time.
I have had no problems with it, and it’s really really impressive to see this technology improvement come to a device such as this.
Because there’s need for a fingerprint reader, the bottom chin is actually quite small, and makes viewing videos a much nicer experience.
Looking up at the top you have one of the two microphones used for capturing audio in video as well as noise cancellation. There’s also an IR blaster which is really handy if you ever lose your remote control. It is also quite funny to play around with other people’s TVs if you’re feeling a little bit bored.
Down at the bottom you have the other microphone which is used for voice calls and again capturing audio when in video mode, you also have a SIM card tray. The tray pulls out and allows you to use two SIM cards at same time. However you can also use it as a single SIM device and put it in a memory card.
However… the bad news is this phone does not take normal microSD cards, instead the company have gone with their own nano memory card format. It’s not widely available at present and is expected to cost more than microSD, but it does take up less space at least.
Just something to note, my device was supplied from Huawei and had dual SIM support, Three UK will range this model, however it seems other networks will stock a single sim version so be sure to check first.
If you look at the bottom and wonder where an earth is the loudspeaker has gone, this is due to some clever technology and was explained during the announcement. It’s now built into the charging port. The speaker is inside the charging hole and is actually very loud. It works in tandem with the top speaker to produce stereo sound.and does allow for stereo playback using this speaker at the top as well.
If you’re wondering how loud the volume is, don’t worry – it’s very clear, very crisp and is very enjoyable when watching videos back in landscape mode. Something missing though is a headphone jack. This seems to be the way in 2018 flagships now, and has made way for a larger battery and other internal bits and bobs. So instead you get a USB-C charging port and a set of USB-C heaphones in the box that I personally found a little uncomfortable to use.Thankfully the addition of a small dongle lets you plug in your existing headphones to enjoy, just make sure you remember it. It’s in the box but keep an eye on it.
To be honest, now is the best time to start looking at a decent pair of Bluetooth headphones and go “dongle-free”.
Turn over to the left there’s actually nothing there at all, all the buttons are on the other side.
Moving to the right you have the volume rocker for up and down volume control. There’s also a power button which, on the Twilight phone I have, is actually a shade of Red. This stands out from other devices and it’s the little details like this that make a good phone a great one.
Moving over to the back and you can see the key feature of the recent Huawei flagships – the camera.
It’s a square camera setup near the middle this time, instead of up the side and in the corner as we saw on the P20 Pro.
You still get a dual LED flash, which is very handy if you need to take photos that require a flash, and also can be used as a flashlight. You also still keep the 40 megapixel primary sensor from the P20 Pro. This allows the fantastic and very detailed photos that are spreading all across the internet right now. It allows a lot more detail into the the captured photo without losing quality.
You also keep the 8 megapixel telephoto lens which is really good for zooming in. You can get far closer to your object than you ever did before.
There’s also a 20 megapixel super-wide angle lens. This has a few benefits over the other lenses but, as a team, the lenses work really well together. Not only can you get more of your subject in the photo because of the super-wide angle, it also allows for super-macro photos at just 2.5 centimetres from your subject. If you are into your macro photography, this is easily the phone for you. Check out some of the sample camera photos taken below.
The cameras really are impressive, and I’ll go into a lot more detail later on in this review.
The black and twilight versions of the Mate 20 Pro look great, but do attract a lot of fingerprints so be sure to pick up a case to use (no case comes in the box now), or head over to Xtremeskins who make some great skins for the device. I love the clear matte one as it shows off the beautiful twilight whilst adding fingerprint and scratch protection.
The other colour coming to the UK is a little different, the Green colour has a special vinal like texture applied on the glass that makes is less slippery in the hand, and helps keep fingerprints away.
The camera was the main talking point on the P20 Pro announced back in March, and the trend continues here in the Mate 20 Pro, albeit with a slight change of camera focus and technology improvements. Starting with the front facing camera, you now get an improved 24 megapixel sensor that captures some impressive detail and quality. This is because it uses HDR for some great shots.
Whilst it may lack the two front-facing setup that the Lite version of this phone has, the single lens does a great job and has a good amount of settings to play about with too.
However, it is that new triple-camera setup over on the back that grabs most of the attention.
The new square design is more central on the phone and means that the phone not only looks better, but the lenses are best position possible – no more fingers getting in the way.
Once again you get a dual LED flash which helps the camera in very low light conditions, or as most of us will do, use your phone as that important flashlight / torch when you drop something at night. Now, we’ve touched upon the cameras already but let’s take a look at them in detail.
As mentioned before, the company has kept their very impressive 40 megapixel camera, which has the highest number of megapixels in any Android phone. However, it’s not just about how many pixels it’s got, it’s also how the software handles the information captured.
Next, the 8 megapixel telephoto camera gives an impressive 3x optical zoom with no loss of quality, and also 5x lossless zoom with all the cameras working together to get this.
It is the new third camera that is the most interesting, dropping the iconic monochrome camera found on so many Huawei devices. Instead there’s a new 20 megapixel super wide-angle lens that works amazingly well when you have the right scenario and use for it.
This new wide-angle camera not only lets you get far more of your subject into the frame for a better photo, it also gives the added bonus of a simply amazing super-macro mode. This is where you can get within touching distance of your subject for a clean and clear macro shot.
With all these sensors to work with, you get some amazing results, including some super wide-angle night photos – a first from a Huawei device.
The camera on the Mate 20 Pro leans heavily on the AI experience, with the software taking the decisions on what to boost or change when you have Master AI switched on. This does have some interesting results with over 1500 scenarios now being recognised and adjusted to give what they believe is the best overall photo.
Using the AI is not for everyone though, and thankfully a single switch in settings can turn this off if you prefer a more natural feel to your photo.
Video has been improved and offers better stabilisation when at 4K resolution, it also takes advantage of the new Kirin 980 processing power to offer some fancy live filters including one for AI Colour which looks great.
The software is very easy to pick up and use if you’re familiar with Huawei devices. The best part is that AI mode is switched on from default. This means that even those who’ve never used a Huawei camera before can just take out of the box and snap a beautiful photo. The device does most of the work.
The simple vertical slider switches between modes and the default ones you see are….
This mode works very much like the Portrait option, it shows a slider that lets you adjust the amount of background blur. You can also choose which part of the photo gets blurred, even after you have taken the photo.
Great for anyone who wants to get some interesting photos and play around with them after.
Night Mode is the very cool camera preset that lets you take amazing low-light photos handheld, whilst keeping the quality and colours so that it really stands out.
This was launched with the P20 Pro and has to be one of the most used modes from that device. It will be one of the most popular modes here on the Mate 20 Pro no doubt.
You can capture some amazing photos in low light with this. No tripod needed.
Check out some examples in the gallery later on to see why this phone is one of the best at low light photography.
Portrait mode is great for anyone who likes capturing photos of their subject, with a subtle – yet noticeable – background blur. This makes your photos really stand out and look almost like paintings.
Whilst Portrait is not a new mode for a lot of people, using on the Mate 20 Pro works really well. The camera properly shines in this mode.
This is the normal camera mode and will be what most people want to stay in. Here you get the AI features and this will detect what you’re snapping and alters the balance and settings of the camera depending on what you’re snapping. This is why it is the best mode for simple photography – just point and shoot.
Video mode really stands out from the competition thanks to the processing power of the new Kirin 980 chip. You have a wide range of live filters in the camera app. These include a background blur option, which is really cool to test out, I must say. However, the key mode to try is called AI Colour.
This mode turns the viewfinder into a monochrome mode, with your subject being the only item in colour. This would normally take an age to do in video editing after the clip was recorded in colour, yet the Mate 20 Pro can handle it on the go. Live.
Pro mode is where those users who are really into their cameras can get the best photo possible. You have access to a wide range of adjustable settings for things such as ISO, Shutter speed, White balance plus focus point. You can really get creative with these cameras.
If those were not enough to play with, there is a More tab which lets you pick between Slow-mo, Panorama, Monochrome, AR Lens, Light Painting, HDR, Time lapse, Filter, 3D panorama, Watermark, Documents and Underwater. There is also a Download option where new presets can be downloaded free to improve your camera even further.
There really are so many different uses of this camera setup, with all these modes, paired with the new 0.6x, 1x, 3x and 5x zoom features, it is easily the photographer’s dream device.
Performance and battery
Performance is one of the key features pointed out by Huawei during their keynote presentation. They compared it with the iPhone XS Max as well as the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. The Mate 20 Pro won on all key areas.
With the brand new Kirin 980 processor built with 7nm technology, there is an amazing amount of power and performance in such a small chip. It is the key to unlocking all the great potential the Mate 20 Pro has to offer.
There’s a massive 6GB of RAM too, so you never need to worry about the device slowing down, even with the graphic-heavy games that are available these days.
Huawei use a phrase about “staying fast”, and the device show no signs of slowing down during my testing.
The battery is another great selling point of the device. A huge 4200mAh packs a few key improvements over the previous model. First of all is the fact you can now wirelessly charge the new device, and not just a normal “slow” speed. Oh no. Huawei have included a new 15w faster wireless charging feature that will be great for anyone who likes topping up battery on the go. Second, you have the fastest wired charging on a phone… ..ever! With a super-fast 40w charger included in the box, you can get from 0% to 70% battery in just 30 minutes. This is unheard of in a smartphone. Even with existing quick charge technology on other devices.
When you use the new charger, you see the battery jump up in seconds, it was so fun to see and impressive too. Really impressive.
Huawei even added the decimal place in the percentage, so you now see things like a 53.56% jump up every second. A huge battery, speedy charging, wireless charging and wired charging.
The third hidden gem with charging is something that really does stand out, and it’s really handy to have if you use multiple devices on the move.
Reversible Wireless Charging
It’s a simple switch on the battery settings that makes your Mate 20 Pro an actual wireless charger! Simply place another wireless chargeable device on the back of your Mate 20 Pro and you start charging that using your Mate 20 Pro and the large 4200 mAh battery as the charger.
I found this really handy when reviewing multiple devices at the same time, snapping away photo after photo really hit the battery on my Samsung Galaxy Note 9, so being able to give it a boost using the Mate 20 Pro in my other pocket was very handy.
Of course, you also have the option of charging your friends or family devices if out for a meal and they are running low too.
The Mate 20 Pro runs on Android 9 Pie out of the box. This is great news as it is the latest version offered by Google, and comes with a load of improvements and security over older devices that still launch on Android 8 Oreo.
Huawei have also updated their EMUI skin to version 9.0, and that brings with it some handy additional tools not offered from other manufacturers.
The company also use AI throughout the OS to optimise the overall experience, and they have managed to get a 25.8% increase in application loading. There’s also an overall system improvement of 12.9% thanks to using AI and EMUI9.
GPU Turbo 2 really helps your gaming on the move with some great enhancements. Games will run much smoother and your device will be cooler too thanks to some clever AI adjusting the system performance to optimise gaming over other services.
Connecting your device to a monitor to use as a portable computer just got a lot easier too, before now you had to take a USB-C to HDMI cable with you to plug in when you need to connect. However, now this has been made wireless – very handy for anyone who travels and wants to use their TV as a monitor in a hotel or to power a presentation.
Unfortunately I don’t have a monitor I can connect this to show, however Garry has a device of his own and will be covering that separately.
Huawei Share has been upgraded and now allows for much faster sharing of your content, now it gives you the option to share to a computer or a wireless printer, so no need to setup a separate application to print your work.
There are a whole heap of other options that EMUI9 brings you, from additional backup options, a password vault, Screen Time Management for anyone worried about how much they use their phone. There’s also a new gesture-based navigation option so you get the most out of the large display without any unwanted touch screen buttons taking up space.
Anyone interested in what EMUI has to offer can check out the official page here
When I first got hands on the Mate 20 Pro at a briefing session I was excited to try out the new and improved camera setup, especially considering that I am a big fan of mobile photography.
My initial hands-on thoughts were good, but it was only once I actually got a review device here in the real world that I really started to appreciate what Huawei had made here.
Some may be wowed by the numbers. Yes, 40 megapixels means it’s the best camera in resolution-terms, however it is what the lenses do together that really makes the Mate 20 Pro stand out from the rest of the crowd.
The biggest issue with the camera seems to be the severe edge enhancement it uses when taking normal photos, zoom in even a little and you will notice them right away. It seems the way around this as found by Steve Litchfield is to enable the 40MP mode and shoot in RAW, which also produces a clearer JPEG at the expense of a massive 80MB file size for the RAW.
The in screen fingerprint reader was very enjoyable to use and worked nearly every time I needed it. This was my first time using this type of fingerprint reader and will find it hard to go back to a more “traditional” reader now.
The battery life just kept going and going. That huge 4200 mAh battery lasted for ages, but I was most impressed when I needed to charge the thing. The crazy 40w supercharge gives you 70 percent charge in just half an hour, and watching the number jump up second after second was mind-blowing. I never had to worry about the battery, even with all this new technology running through the day.
The device is not perfect, but was definitely one of the best I have ever used when it comes to the total package offered.
So now onto the price. Unlocked here in the UK a Huawei Mate 20 Pro will cost you £899. This sounds a lot (and it is), however we are in a time when flagship devices set you back near on £1000.
Considering the 64GB version of the iPhone XS Max, unlocked, will cost you £1099, the Mate 20 Pro does seem like a great alternative if you are into Android.
You may look at devices such as the OnePlus 6 and compare their £500 price and think the Mate is overpriced, but with the Note 9 and XS Max being it’s direct competition, you really do get great value for your money here.
A thank you to Huawei for the invite to the announcement and for a review device to cover.
Want one? Head to Huawei.com.