Huawei is no stranger to innovation, but the Mate 20 Pro feels like a definitive step forward. With an in-screen fingerprint scanner, the ability to function as a wireless charging pad, and improved focus for its three-lens AI camera, the company is bringing a number of features unavailable in other Android phones to the mainstream. Along with speedy performance and a sleek design, that makes the Mate 20 Pro one of the best phablets on the market right now. Sadly it won’t be coming to the US, but we took a look at it for our sister site, PCMag UK.
Design and Features
The Mate 20 Pro is possibly Huawei’s best-looking smartphone. The top of the display is home to a wide notch, approximately the same size as the one on Apple’s iPhone XS Max. It incorporates an infrared camera for using Face ID without much light. At the bottom, meanwhile, is a pleasantly small chin.
The device itself measures 6.2 by 2.9 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 6.7 ounces, making it slightly smaller than the Google Pixel 3 XL (6.2 by 3.0 by 0.3 inches), the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (6.4 by 3.0 by 0.4 inches), and the Apple iPhone XS Max (6.2 by 3.0 by 0.3 inches). Its bezels are small, as the 6.4-inch screen takes up most of the body, but pushes the device more toward the phablet end of the size spectrum. Reaching up to pull down the notification menu screen is a stretch.
Helping to keep those bezels slim is the fingerprint scanner, which has been moved under the screen and, to its credit, works quite well. Huawei is the first company to do utilize this technology in the UK market, and it’s a feature we hope to see more of in the future.
The back, meanwhile, is made of reflective glass that lets the phone be charged wirelessly or charge other devices wirelessly, which is a unique and useful feature. You can always disable it if the 4,200mAh battery gets too low, but battery life is quite solid. I managed to get through two days of near-constant use without worrying that the phone was going to die.
As far as buttons and connections go, it’s business as usual. There’s no 3.5mm headphones jack, with a lone USB-C port for fast-charging and headphones. The power button and volume rocker on the right are responsive. The only difference is the introduction of Nano Memory card support, instead of the more traditional microSD card. Huawei makes the cards itself and says they’re 45 percent smaller than microSD, with a 90MB/s transfer speed.
The Nano Memory card goes in one of the two SIM slots, so you have to choose between extra storage or a second SIM. How useful this new memory format is, or whether it’ll come to other manufacturers, remains to be seen, but it’s something to consider if you rely on microSD.
The Mate 20 Pro touts a 3,120-by-1,440 OLED display with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio and HDR support with up to DCI-P3 color gamut. There are a couple of color settings available, changing the intensity of the colors from Normal to Vivid (which is the default), or the color temperature from Default to Warm or Cool. There are a few other toggles to change the color temperate based on ambient lighting, and the expected blue light filter for comfortable night reading, but I found that the factory settings provide the phone with its best picture. It’s easy to view under bright light, and while there’s a noticeable fade in color when looking at it from an angle, it doesn’t detract too much from the overall image quality.
And Huawei has definitely improved screen quality compared with the P20 Pro. Watching Doctor Who via the iPlayer app, the way that the shadows fall across the Doctor’s face when she’s on the arid planet of Desolation is significantly more nuanced on the Mate 20 Pro, giving a stronger sense of dimensionality and depth to the scene.
However, in comparison with phones such as the iPhone XS Max, the Mate 20 Pro looks a little muted. The yellow punch of the desert world doesn’t come across with the same intensity. The Mate 20 Pro makes white skin under a yellow light look, well, white; The iPhone, meanwhile, keeps the hue more natural. And when the scene ends, and all that’s visible is the BBC logo, the contrast is much more striking on the XS Max than it is on the Mate 20 Pro.
Granted, the iPhone XS Max is more expensive, and most people won’t be comparing the screens side by side. But if you’re an avid photographer or videographer and want to ensure your photos look accurate on the fly, it’s something to consider.
Speaking of photography, let’s tackle what is possibly the most interesting element of the Mate 20 Pro—its camera. The combination of a 40MP f/1.8 wide-angle lens, a 20MP f/2.2 ultra-wide angle, and an 8MP f/2.4 3x telephoto lens makes for a powerful sensor that can pick up tons of detail. Walking around the Tower of London, the Mate 20 Pro managed to capture the nuance of the old brickwork and the movement in the spurting water from a nearby fountain to an impressive degree.
The AI component, which detects scenes and adjusts saturation and contrast accordingly, also works quite well. Flower petals look punchy and a blue sky gets a slightly bluer tint so that it’s ready for Instagram (#nofilter). For those who prefer a more natural image it can be disabled, but Huawei seems to have made its smart camera more intelligent in comparison with the P20 Pro, so the results aren’t as brash.
However, when held next to the iPhone XS Max, the Mate 20 Pro’s handling of contrast could do with some tweaking. Darker areas of photos tend to merge together, giving the impression that the iPhone’s camera is more detailed. Moreover, the Mate 20 Pro has a tendency to make photos look overly bright, crunching the colors somewhat. The 24MP front-facing camera, while supremely detailed, has a similar issue.
This isn’t a deal breaker by any stretch. The AI intends to make photos look better than they are (for a given value of better) and beauty is, I suppose, in the eye of the beholder. You might prefer a lighter touch when it comes to the color palette, while others might think the compromise of detail for color is worthwhile. I don’t think that Mate 20 Pro’s camera is the best, but it’s definitely better than many others out there.
Performance and UI
With 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage (or 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage), running Android 9.0 Pie, the Mate 20 Pro is seriously speedy. Apps load quickly, and in testing notifications appeared on the Mate 20 Pro before they got to any of my other devices.
As with the Google Pixel 3, Android 9 means the Mate 20 Pro has gesture controls and Digital Balance tracking that tells you what apps you’ve been using, how often you unlock your phone, and so on. You can set a daily screen time limit, specific app limits, or a Bedtime mode that turns the screen gray during sleeping hours.
See How We Test Phones
However, unlike the Pixel 3, the Mate 20 Pro comes loaded with bloatware from Huawei. Most people will spend the first few minutes either uninstalling various booking apps, the Mirror app, Tips, and so on; or placing them all into a folder never to be seen again. The integration with the new notch isn’t quite as seamless as it could be, as icons occasionally drift into it and appear to be cut off.
Every new Android phone has its gimmicks, but few employ them as well as Mate 20 Pro does. It’s commendable to see Huawei push the envelope of hardware features without breaking £1000. The fact that its price tag undercuts the Galaxy Note 9, while having an arguably nicer design and a more sophisticated face unlock feature, makes it even better value for the money. And although some (myself included) prefer the pure-Android OS appeal of the Google Pixel 3 XL, the Mate 20 Pro has a larger display, a less obtrusive notch, and a bigger battery.
The smaller Pixel 3 remains our Editors’ Choice, because its size makes it the easiest to use for the most amount of people. Ultimately, Huawei has made a really impressive phone and, if the company can tighten up some of the niggles mentioned above, I can easily see its devices challenging Samsung and other manufacturers for top-dog Android status. Once it gets back into the US, that is.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro
Bottom Line: Packed full of innovative features that challenge more conventional Android phones, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is one of the best phablets the US will never see.
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