Our most in-depth smartphone review ever — because 5 out of 5 rated Huawei Mate 20 Pro has so many features
Arriving just months after the globe-conquering P20 Pro handset, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro flagship is the most feature-packed phone of 2018.
The P20 Pro’s triple camera system revolutionised smartphone photography, and the new device builds on that and adds lots of extras.
Many great handsets have one or two flaws that grate, but that’s not the case here.
Its main rivals are Apple’s iPhone Xs Max and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9, which is a measure of how far the Chinese tech gargantuan has come in just a few short years.
Design and build
Like many of this year’s flagships, Mate 20 Pro has a glass front and rear with aluminium on the sides holding it all together.
The gorgeous, elegant, super-slim handset resembles Samsung’s S8+ and S9+ thanks to its curved edges. But that’s no bad thing.
It has a distinctive rear, where you will find the three Leica crafted lenses and a flash housed in an appealing square design.
The unit measures just 157.8 x 72.3 x 8.6 mm and weighs just 189 grams.
The in-screen fingerprint scanner is one of Mate 20 Pro’s unique selling points. An optical sensor sitting behind the screen lights up when it senses a finger approaching.
There is a knack to how you place your finger or thumb on the screen, and it’s not the fastest unlock feature on the block. But it does work most of the time.
If you enable Mate 20 Pro’s IR-assisted face ID scanner too, your device will often be unlocked before your finger gets anywhere near it.
The Huawei Mate 20 Pro’s face ID tech is similar to Apple’s. According to Google it is the first Android device with a secure enough face ID set-up to use for payments.
This dual unlock option is typical of how much tech Huawei has crammed into Mate 20 Pro.
There is a notch similar to many other 2018 flagships.
On the whole, the phone feels good in the hand, like a really well-crafted premium device should.
Mate Pro 20 has a stunning 6.39in AMOLED screen with 3120 x 1440 resolution. This is higher res than both the Pixel 3 XL and Galaxy Note 9 which are 2960 x 1440.
The bezel-free panel is manufactured by Samsung. Images are crisp, colours have plenty of saturation and blacks are deep. HDR stills and video look exceptionally vibrant.
Huawei’s Eye Comfort tech adjusts the white balance to match the surrounding light temperature. This attempt to make whites look natural at any time of day works well.
The screen is brighter than the Pixel 3 XL but not as bright as the Note 9, so you may need to tweak your settings.
And while you are in there, note that Huawei’s default resolution is set to FHD+ (2340 x 1080) and not the maximum WQHD+ (3120 x 1440).
I’ve been perfectly happy with FHD+ which consumes less battery juice. You can always change the resolution to WQHD+ if you are viewing a movie or TV show.
Pixel peepers note that the wide angle 19:5:9 aspect ratio display has an incredible 538ppi pixel density.
Launched seven months ago, the Huawei P20 Pro was the first phone with three Leica crafted lenses and artificial intelligence (AI) prowess.
It has been the class-leading standard in Ireland and Europe although globally Pixel 2 was raved about more by critics. Many American tech journalists ignored P20 Pro, presumably because it can’t be bought there. (In a similar way, most Irish tech journalists ignored Google’s Pixel 2.)
Mate 20 Pro’s main camera uses the same 40MP sensor and 8MP telephoto lens as P20 Pro. But it has ditched the monochrome sensor and replaced it with a 20MP wide-angle lens.
It is a clever move.
The new system supports autofocus, laser focus, phase focus, contrast focus and artificial image stabilisation. It also has dual-tone flash. The selfie camera also has 3D depth sensing.
You get lovely bokeh, light trails, time lapses and superb monochrome shots like you did on the P20 Pro. But you now get added wide angle shots and 2.5cm-depth macro images too.
There is minor distortion from the wide-angle lens, but it is only noticeable when you zoom in really closely or view the shots on a large screen.
On the whole, I’ve had lots of fun with this addition to the phone’s armoury.
One thing to note: the macro mode cannot be controlled manually.
By default, the phone shoots in 10MP resolution and combines four sensor pixels to make one sharper image pixel.
You can still shoot in 40MP resolution if you want, however.
The 3x optical zoom is as excellent as before, while the 5x hybrid zoom can impress but not always. Sometimes on 5x there is noticeable noise that you would get with all digital zooms.
Selfies from the 24MP front camera are among the best you will get on a smartphone, but Pixel 3 XL’s dual 8MP lenses are in my opinion superior.
Huawei’s Night Mode is as impressive as it was when introduced on the P20 Pro. This is computational photography at its best.
Night Mode stitches together an array of images taken at different exposure levels that increase dynamic range and decrease noise when combined.
It now only takes four seconds and offers the best lowlight photos you can get from a phone without using a tripod.
And it can be used with the zoom and wide views, giving you fantastic versatility.
Even without Night Mode, the camera produces great images in lowlight.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The AI onboard can automatically find the best shooting mode for you in up to 1,500 scenes. I like playing with the manual settings and Pro Mode so I don’t use Master AI mode often. But aside from sometimes over-saturating the colour in shots, it does an impressive job.
On the Mate 20 Pro, the enhanced AI can help you count calories in your food.
Another neat feature is 4D predictive focus, which snaps images before and after you press the shutter. It’s similar to Pixel 3 XL’s Top Shot and Apple’s Live photos.
Video captured on the phone is generally great quality but 4K capture is not as sharp as some phones such as Sony Xperia XZ2 Premium.
Mate 20 Pro can also shoot at full HD and can capture slow-mo video at up to 960fps.
Huawei’s famous colour splash for stills has now been added to video for what has been dubbed the Sin City effect. This can be activated using AI colour mode.
You can focus on a person and make everything else in the video monochrome even as your subject moves around. It works most of the time very well and is a great bit of wow factor to show friends.
So is the 3D Qmoji feature which enables you to map your facial features on a series of cartoon animal avatars.
Another exciting addition that is coming to the Mate 20 Pro soon is a 3D-scanning mode. This will let you animate objects and place them in AR videos in real time.
Mate 20 Pro is powered by the first 7nm chipset that was announced. However, Apple’s iPhone Xs and Xs Max were the first phones with a 7nm chipset to hit the Irish market.
But Mate 20 Pro is the first to use the new ARM Cortex A76 cores and the new Mali-G76 graphics processor (GPU).
And what matters most is Huawei’s Kirin 980 processor is noticeably zippier than its predecessor Kirin 970. And it is coupled with a generous 6GB RAM.
Apps load quickly and the phone is superfast when multitasking which makes it a great handset for working on the go.
It breezes through the most demanding games.
Geeky benchmark scores see it perform better than many other flagship Android phones, but Apple’s A12 Bionic processor still leads the way with its Xs, Xs Max and Xr phones.
The Huawei Mate 20 Pro runs its own Emotion EMUI over Android 9.0. You can customise it to your own needs. You can have an iOS styled app layout or an Android app drawer.
There are some clever time-saving gesture controls introduced that are superior to those on Google’s own Pixel 3 XL device. These are not activated by default, perhaps wisely, as many consumers prefer the old style navigation buttons.
Audio quality is average from the top speaker and bottom-firing speaker which is hidden in the USB-C port. The set-up creates a stereo effect but it’s not proper stereo. Dolby Atmos is available.
There is 128GB of onboard storage. You can expand it using Huawei’s new Nano Memory cards.
Like most Huawei devices, Mate 20 Pro has a dual sim tray.
And it has excellent call reception quality and fast data connections.
The 4,200mAh battery is larger than the P20 Pro but its endurance is about the same in everyday use. I suspect this is because the more powerful processor and slightly larger screen use more juice.
However, battery life is still the best in class.
The Mate 20 Pro also supports wireless charging and reverse wireless charging. The latter feature means you can charge another QI-enabled handset just by placing it back to back with your Huawei handset. It’s clever and unique.
Fast charging is better here than on any other handset on the market. The Mate 20 Pro comes bundled with a 40w super charger. This can boost your device from zero per cent to 70 per cent in 30 minutes.
A full charge takes only 90 minutes.
The Mate 20 Pro is the perfect device if you use your smartphone for work, if you are an ardent gamer or if you like taking lots of photos.
Both the Pixel 3 XL and iPhone Xr work wonders with their single lens systems and are up there with the best smartphone cameras.
But overall, the Mate 20 Pro has one of the most complete camera set-ups ever included on a smartphone.
This is a five out of five rated device and one of the best three smartphones of 2018, if not the best. I bring it everywhere.
The Huawei Mate 20 Pro costs from €199 on billpay and €899 on prepay on Vodafone, Three and Carphone Warehouse. It costs €1,049 sim-free from Harvey Norman.
So what are the key specs of Huawei Mate 20 Pro?
Dimensions: 157.8 x 72.3 x 8.6 mm
Weight: 189 g
Display: 6.39in, 19.5:9, 538 ppi (1,440 x 3,120)
CPU: Kirin 980
Battery: 4,200 mAh
Cameras: 40MP + 20MP + 8MP rear / 24MP front
OS: Android 9.0 Pie, EMUI 9.0