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Huawei Mate 20 Pro Review: really the best smartphone of 2018?

Unveiled last week, the Mate 20 Pro has what it takes to appeal to just about anyone…at least on paper. But does it really bring together all of the qualities that the best phone of the year is expected to have? You’ll find the answer in our test of Huawei’s newest technological marvel.

Verdict
Bolstered by the success of its P20 (released 6 months ago), Huawei has released an ever better-looking and more powerful smartphone. The Mate 20 Pro is a good investment if you can afford it: this smartphone can be relied on for playing games, framing photos, and performing many other specialized tasks. Basically, it is our favorite end-of-year smartphone.

What we liked:

  • Excellent design and extremely comfortable to hold
  • Kirin 980 processor has good performance characteristics
    great
  • Photo shooting abilities
  • Bonus features (IP68, fingerprint reader integrated into its display, etc.).
What we didn't like:
  • Proprietary Nano SD card
  • High price

With its new Mate 20 Pro, Huawei intends to stir up the smartphone market in the same way that Xiaomi did with its inexpensive Pocophone F1. However, it’s not its price that makes Huawei’s smartphone so attractive but rather its technological innovations. Contrary to Xiaomi, Huawei pays little attention to the price of its products (we’ll speak more about this later). With its Mate 20 Pro, Huawei has made a clear departure from the other products in its Mate line, taking an entirely new direction. Benefiting from a new design, a new processor and a triple sensor array (on its rear side), the Mate 20 Pro really has what it takes to appeal to just about anyone…at least on paper. In reality, does this smartphone live up to its expectations? What’s our final opinion of the Mate 20 Pro (which retails for close to 1000$)? Will its price and performance be convincing enough to steal some of the iPhone X’s thunder?

Huawei Mate 20 Pro

We really liked its design

The first thing we noticed was that the Mate 20 Pro differs from anything Huawei has created up until now. It is a 6.39-inch smartphone with a 19.5:9 display ratio and an OLED QHD+ (3120 x 1440 pixel) 538 PPI display. It is rather large (differing from the iPhone XS only by a millimeter or so). That having been said, its stretched layout and curved edges prevent it from looking like some of the other large “brick” type smartphones on the market. Its design is similar to that of Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S9 – which isn’t a bad thing.

Huawei Mate 20 Lite Huawei Mate 20 Huawei Mate 20 Pro Huawei Mate 20 RS
Size 6,3″ 6,53″ 6,39″ 6,39″
Percentage total size / screen size 81,7% 88% 87,9% 87,9%
Ratio 19,5:9 18,7:9 19,5:9 19,5:9
Dimensions 15,83 x 7,53 x 0,76 cm 15,82 x 7,72 x 0,83 cm 15,78 x 7,23 x 0,86 cm 15,78 x 7,23 x 0,97 cm
Weight 172 g 188 g 189 g 187 g
Resolution 1080 x 2340 px (409 ppi) 2244 x 1080 px (381 ppi) 3120 x 1440 px (538 ppi) 3120 x 1440 px (538 ppi)
Processor Kirin 710 Kirin 980 Kirin 980 Kirin 980
RAM 6 Gb 4 Gb 6 Gb 8 Gb
Storage
64 Go 128 Go + nanoSD 128 Go + nanoSD 256 ou 512 Go + nanoSD
Rear Photo Sensors 20 MP (f/1.8) +
2 MP
12 MP (f/1.8) + 16 MP (f/2.2) + 8 MP (f/2.4) 40 MP (f/1.8) + 20 MP (f/2.2) + 8 MP (f/2.4) 40 MP (f/1.8) + 20 MP (f/2.2) + 8 MP (f/2.4)
Front photo sensors 24 MP (f/2.0) + 2 MP 24 MP (f/2.0) 24 MP (f/2.0) 24 MP (f/2.0)
Battery 3750 mAh 4000 mAh 4200 mAh 4200 mAh

While it would be easy to claim that Huawei copied everything from Samsung, that statement would be false. The Mate 20 Pro distinguishes itself from the Samsung Galaxy S in two key ways. Contrary to Samsung’s smartphones, Huawei’s device has a notch on its front side which houses the phone’s selfie camera – among other things. The second main difference between these smartphones is that the Mate 20 Pro has done away with the conventional fingerprint reader usually found next to a smartphone’s rear-facing camera. The Mate 20’s fingerprint reader is integrated into its display which endows this smartphone with better ergonomics and allows it to have a better screen/phone size ratio. Above all else, we really enjoyed the Mate 20’s design and how comfortable it is to hold. All the more so since Huawei has also taken the trouble of developing different colored backs for its device: Black, Midnight Blue, and Twilight (the same highly popular colors that were offered for the P20 Pro; Twilight is our personal favorite).

Huawei Mate 20 Pro

We also liked its performance characteristics

The Mate 20 Pro is the first smartphone to take advantage of Huawei’s Kirin 980 processor which is equipped with a 7nm SoC and a Cortex A76. We used the Mate 20 Pro for “gaming” over a number of days and we were pleasantly surprised by its stability and processing speed. Furthermore, we didn’t notice any slow-downs when using its Web, GPS, video and photo applications. The Mate 20 Pro was able to run even the most resource-intensive games (with details set to maximum) without showing any signs of weakness. The results obtained using Geekbench and 3DMark speak for themselves: this smartphone has nothing to envy from the Snapdragon 845 – the processor equipping almost every high-end Android smartphone.

Huawei Mate 20 ProAs far as memory is concerned, the Mate 20 Pro is equipped with a comfortable amount of RAM (6 GB); in terms of storage space, it is equipped with 128 GB (which can be expanded by inserting a Nano SD card). The Mate 20 is also equipped with a Nano SIM slot. In terms of connectivity, it features a USB 3.1 Type-C connector which, thanks to Supercharge 2.0 technology, can be used to charge the phone’s battery to 70% in 30 minutes. Given that the Mate 20 uses a 4 200 mAh battery, it is almost certain to set new records for battery-life. Is its battery-life good enough to allow it to compete with the Pocophone F1? The answer is yes. For normal usage (internet, social media, camera, video camera, GPS, phone), the Mate’s battery is (easily) able to last for 2 days – beating out Xiaomi’s smartphone (which had been our reference up until now) by a matter of hours.

  Geekbench 4 Multicore 3DMark Slingshot Extreme
Huawei Mate 20 Pro (Kirin 980) 9718 3578
Xiaomi Pocophone F1 (Snapdragon 845) 9033 4000
Xiaomi Mi 8 (Snapdragon 845) 9025 4275
OnePlus 6 (Snapdragon 845) 9022 4668
Samsung Galaxy S9  (Exynos 9810) 8756 3256
Huawei P20 Pro (Kirin 970) 6793 3009

We liked its triple sensor array

On the Mate 20’s rear side can be found three sensors (manufactured in conjunction with Leica): one 40 Mpx (f/1.8 aperture) sensor, a second 20 Mpx sensor (aperture: f/2.2), and a third 8 Mpx sensor (f/2.4 aperture). It is also worth remembering that this smartphone is equipped with a 24 Mpx (aperture: f/2.0) sensor on its front side.

As far as its triple sensor array is concerned, there are two notable differences between the Mate 20 Pro and the P20. First of all, the Mate 20 has abandoned the black and white sensor found on the P20 Pro in favor of a color version. Moreover, the Mate 20 Pro is equipped with an ultra wide-angle sensor. The first of these two innovations may come as bad news to anyone interested in taking hardware-based black and white photos (instead of applying a software filter). However, the quality of the Mate 20’s wide-angle sensor is excellent: it is able to capture highly detailed photos with excellent color rendition.

Huawei Mate 20 ProOne of the Mate 20’s major innovations is unquestionably its ultra wide-angle sensor.

How does this smartphone behave when it comes to low-light photography? Once again, the answer is: flawlessly. Thanks to Leica, in the space of a few years, Huawei has become a world leader in the smartphone industry; the Mate 20 Pro is proof of this fact. Its night shots are of excellent quality: highly detailed and with very good color rendition. What more could you ask for?

photo comparison

Samsung Galaxy S9 +

photo comparison

Huawei Mate 20 Pro

On a more anecdotal note, Huawei has also beefed-up its phone’s AI system, allowing it to better recognize objects when focusing – thereby taking better photos.

The Mate 20 Pro has introduced another innovation (regarding its video taking ability): this smartphone will attempt to guess exactly what subject you are trying to film and will bring it to the fore automatically. In other words, when filming a person, the Mate 20 is able to record that person in full color while filming the background in black and white – in real time and without having to apply a software filter. The result is quite stunning provided that the person you are filming is sufficiently distinguishable from the background. However, when filming several people wearing similarly-colored clothing, the Mate 20 loses all control and doesn’t know what element of the shot it should leave in color and which elements to film in black and white.

We also liked its additional functionality

This smartphone is full of interesting features. As far as security is concerned, the Mate 20 can be unlocked via facial recognition, but also via a fingerprint reader. It is hard not to notice that the Mate’s fingerprint sensor is located within its display (which makes recording a new fingerprint somewhat more laborious than with a conventions rear-facing fingerprint reader). Once a fingerprint has been properly recorded, its recognition is almost instantaneous. While Huawei advertises a 20% increase in recognition speed, we were unable to verify this claim. In reality, we didn’t notice any difference in speed at all. However, the placement of the Mate 20’s fingerprint sensor within its display is undoubtedly a positive thing in terms of the phone’s overall aesthetics and ease of operation.

Another of this phone’s bonus features is its ability to wirelessly transfer images to an external display – transforming the Mate 20 into a tiny laptop. Clumsy people are also sure to appreciate this smartphone’s IP68 certification which guarantees its resistance to dust and water (up to a depth of one meter).

One final point of interest: the Mate 20 Pro is supposedly able to capture any object in 3D by recording it from different angles. While this feature was not yet available on our test device, we will be sure to try it out once it becomes operational.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro

All of these positive characteristics come at a price

If this smartphone has a fault, we would say that it lies with its EMUI overlay (now in its 9th version). While Huawei’s interface has been improving with time, we are not big fans of the Mate 20’s overlay (although there are even worse overlays, like Xiaomi’s for example). If you are accustomed to using Android, there is no need to worry: it is possible to transform the Mate 20 Pro’s interface into something resembling Google’s interface – either by playing around with the phone’s settings or installing the excellent Nova Launcher application.

Another (small) problem with this smartphone is that it uses a new storage card format: Nano SD. Identical to Micro SD in terms of capacity and transfer speed, Nano SD distinguishes itself mainly by its small physical size (close to the size of a Nano SIM card). Since the Mate 20 is not equipped with any Micro SD-compatible slots, you will be required to purchase a Nano SD card in order to expand this phone’s storage. What’s more, the Mate 20 Pro is only equipped with a single Nano SIM slot.

Huawei Mate 20 ProThis smartphone uses a new storage medium: Nano SD.

Despite its few shortcomings, we were won over by Huawei’s flagship smartphone which will undoubtedly find itself under a good number of Christmas trees this year. The Mate 20’s only real downside is its price: it retails for 1000$ (a price that is, nevertheless, justified by its quality). By charging so much for its smartphone, Huawei has placed itself in direct competition with the industry’s two most prominent manufacturers: Samsung and Apple – a risky gamble since Huawei doesn’t (yet?) have the same kind of popular appeal as its competitors. What will the Mate 20 Pro retail for in one year’s time? Will it retain most of its resale value like the iPhone? I’m not so sure… While it would be easy to claim that Huawei copied everything from Samsung, that statement would be false. The Mate 20 Pro distinguishes itself from the Samsung Galaxy S in two key ways. Contrary to Samsung’s smartphones, Huawei’s device has a notch on its front side which houses the phone’s selfie camera – among other things. The second main difference between these smartphones is that the Mate 20 Pro has done away with the conventional fingerprint reader usually found next to a smartphone’s rear-facing camera. The Mate 20’s fingerprint reader is integrated into its display which endows this smartphone with better ergonomics and allows it to have a better screen/phone size ratio. Above all else, we really enjoyed the Mate 20’s design and how comfortable it is to hold. All the more so since Huawei has also taken the trouble of developing different colored backs for its device: Black, Midnight Blue, and Twilight (the same highly popular colors that were offered for the P20 Pro; Twilight is our personal favorite).

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