Huawei Mate 20 Pro full review

Last year, Huawei unveiled the Mate 10 Pro which had not only the new Kirin 970 processor but also a noticeably different design from the Mate 9 which preceded it. The Mate 20 Pro continues that trend with another completely new design, a next-gen CPU and the camera setup everyone wants: standard, wide angle and telephoto.

Huawei has obviously listened to our wishes, ditched the monochrome camera and replaced it with an ultra-wide angle colour camera which means you can now go from an effective 0.6x zoom right the way through to a 5x hybrid zoom.

With other new features such as the innovative in-screen fingerprint sensor, 3D face scanning unlock and reverse wireless charging, it's a very tempting 2018 flagship to add to your shortlist.

Mate 20 Pro: Price & availability

The Mate 20 Pro is available from EE, Vodafone, Sky MobileO2 and Carphone Warehouse. It costs from £899 or 1,049 Euros. If you want a dual-SIM version on contract, you can get one from Three.

There's also a regular Mate 20, a Mate 20 X (exclusive to Asia currently) and a Mate 20 Lite

Due to political issues, Huawei phones aren't available to buy in the US, so if you want a Mate 20 Pro, you'll have to import one.

Mate 20 Pro: Design and build

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

If the Galaxy S9+ had a notched screen, the Mate 20 Pro would be a dead ringer for it. That’s because Huawei has used similar curved edges, both back and front, so the phone is thinner on its sides than at the top and bottom.

It looks and feels fantastic in the hand, though as with any glass-sandwich phone, you’ll have a constant fear of dropping it and smashing the front, back or both. See our round up of the best Mate 20 Pro cases here.

Huawei provides a clear silicone case in the box, just as with other Mate phones, but there's no screen protector this time around, possibly because of the curved screen and in-screen scanner. So you'll have to take extra care not to scratch it and invest in a curved glass screen protector if you can. Huawei hasn't yet said whether these will affect the fingerprint scanner.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

Although the Twilight gradient finish (above) makes a welcome return, there’s a new glass finish which is preferable. It’s akin to a vinyl record with fine lines running diagonally across the back of the phone and adding a tactile finish which is both resistant to fingerprints and a bit grippier than standard glass. You can just about make out the lines in the photo below.

The ‘hyper optical’ pattern is only available with the Midnight Blue and new Emerald Green (far left, above), but the latter is the one we’d pick: it looks unusual and with the quadrangle camera arrangement, it’s certainly distinctive.

Your other two colour options are Black and Pink Gold.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

Water resistance gets a bump from IP67 on the Mate 10 Pro to IP68. This means you can leave the new phone submerged at a depth of  2m for 30 minutes, and there’s a new underwater camera mode. (There's also an underwater case, though this won't be sold in the UK.)

Since the sides are much thinner, the SIM tray has been relocated to the bottom edge next to the USB-C port. There are tiny holes on the top and bottom which emit surprisingly loud stereo sound.

Volume and power buttons are on the right-hand side and the power button is a fetching red colour on all models (some people hated this in our office poll, and some don't mind it).The 6.39in screen takes up the entire front of the phone with a sizeable notch that houses the face unlock camera, the selfie camera and the earpiece for phone calls.

Mate 20 Pro: Specs and features

  • Reverse wireless charging
  • In-screen fingerprint scanner
  • 3D face unlock

Note: our test phone was running pre-release software so performance (including cameras and screen) may improve once this is updated for final release.

It isn't the first phone to have an in-screen fingerprint scanner, but it's likely to be your first one. Since it's impossible to see where the scanner is located, a fingerprint icon appears on the lock screen and whenever the scanner can be used so you know where to press.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

Registering a finger is no different to a normal scanner, although you have to press a little harder and longer to get it to accept the edges of a finger.

We're not quite sure why the fingerprint scanner is necessary at all because you can unlock the Mate 20 Pro using the new 3D face scanner. This does the job in a fraction of a second when you pick up the phone. Enrolment is exactly the same as on an iPhone X: you roll your head around so it can scan around it.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

During our testing it worked quickly and reliably. In complete darkness the success rate is slightly lower, but we've had the same experience with the iPhone X and XS.

Screen

  • 6.39in OLED
  • 3120x1440 pixels, 537ppi
  • HDR: DCI-P3

Love it or hate it, the screen has a notch in the top edge. As you might expect, the screen is OLED just as with the Mate 10 Pro. It has a resolution of 3120x1440 which is a decent increase over the Mate 10 Pro and gives it an aspect ratio of 19.5:9, close to the cinema standard of 21:9. It supports HDR, and covers the DCI-P3 gamut.

Huawei doesn't any figures for brightness or contrast, but it looks similar to the Mate 10 Pro and P20 Pro’s screens. It certainly has the same vibrant colours, wide viewing angles and high brightness.

As usual, you have control over colour temperature and whether you want vivid colours or natural colours. Unfortunately neither setting is the one we'd pick: it would be better to have a third option somewhere in-between or a saturation slider for choosing any value in between. Or, simply do what Apple does and offer no control at all and ensure the screen produces accurate colours in all light conditions. 

You can enable Natural tone to adjust white balance automatically, but colours were never quite 'right'. It was most noticeable in games where contrast seemed to be boosted and colours were a few shades darker than they should be. 

Overall, this is still a great screen but if you want absolute accuracy, you might prefer the iPhone.

Like Natural tone, another setting that's disabled by default is always-on display which shows the time, date and notifications when the phone is in standby. That's something you won't find on the iPhone, despite its OLED screen.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

We’re big fans of the new curved sides. Just as on the Samsung Galaxy S9, content appears to wrap around the edges when you scroll. But there are no ‘edge’ features in EMUI 9.0 as you’ll find on the Galaxy, so they're not useful per se. 

When you enable the new full-screen navigation, it's comfortable to swipe in from the edges, but swiping down from the top must be done in the centre where the notch is, otherwise you'll bring up Huawei's HiSearch instead of the Android control panel.

Processor, memory and storage (includes benchmarks)

Powering the Mate 20 Pro is the Kirin 980, paired with 6GB of RAM. The new chip was announced a while back, but the Mate 20 Pro is the first phone to get it.

Compared to the Kirin 970 in the P20 Pro and Mate 10 Pro it’s claimed to be about 70 percent faster overall and 40 percent more power efficient. That’s largely down to the new 7nm manufacturing process, the same as Apple uses for the A12 Bionic in the iPhone XS.

In Geekbench 4, the Mate 10 Pro managed 1920 and 6725 for single- and multicore tests. The P20 Pro's scores were virtually identical as it has the same processor.

The Mate 20 Pro scored 3320 and 9862, which is almost exactly 70 percent faster for the single-core test and 47 percent quicker in the multicore test. This makes it the fastest chip in an Android phone yet, but not by a huge margin. The Snapdragon 845 isn't too far behind, and the 2017 iPhone X is still a little quicker.

Just as with Apple's A12 Bionic chip, the Neural Processing Unit has been given a significant boost in the Kirin 980. There are now effectively two NPUs, with one dedicated to regular tasks such as image and scene recognition. The other deals with real-time natural language processing and real-time video processing.

Huawei says it’s 134 percent faster compared to the NPU in the Kirin 970 and 88 percent more power efficient. It can scan through your photo library at 4500 images per minute, identifying faces, objects and more. It's also used to create highlight reels from your videos. Tap on a person's face and you'll get an auto-generated video featuring the person you chose.

The GPU hasn’t been overlooked: the Mali G76 is said to be almost 50 percent faster than the G71 in the Kirin 970. It’s also about twice as power-efficient, so you should be able to game for longer. We saw around a 20 percent increase in 3D performance in GFXBench's Manhattan 3.1 test, with the Mate 20 Pro managing 47fps compared to the P20 Pro's 39fps. In other tests, such as Car Chase, the increase was much less, just 3-4fps faster.

Check in the Settings app under Battery and you'll find a Performance mode which you can enable to squeeze every last drop of speed out of the phone at the expense of battery life. In this mode we saw an average of 1fps more in games, and these figures in Geekbench 4: 3363 for single-core and 10,059 in multi-core.

Internal storage is 128GB, and we applaud Huawei for continuing to put a decent amount of storage in the flagship model rather than forcing people to pay more if they want more than 64GB. Now, though, you can insert a 'nano memory card' to add an extra 256GB. These cards are new to us, and we're unsure when they will go on sale: they're certainly not around yet.

Connectivity and audio

The Kirin 980 is the first chip to build in Cat 21 LTE, for theoretical download speeds of up to 1.4Gb/s. Of course, this will remain theoretical at least in the UK where no mobile operator can yet offer such speeds.

There's no support for 5G, which means the Mate 20 Pro won't be able to take advantage of the new tech when it launches later in 2019 (but neither will any of its rivals apart from possibly the Galaxy S10).

You'll find the SIM tray in the bottom edge. It will accept a nano SIM on each side, but as we mentioned, you'll forfeit one of these if you use a nano memory card. Be careful when buying, because most Mate 20 Pros sold in the UK will be the LYA-L09 model which is single-SIM. If you want dual-SIM you need the LYA-L29 model. Double-check this when you see listings claiming to be dual-SIM: all Mate 20 Pros have the same SIM tray so could appear to be dual-SIM, but are restricted in software. One place you can get the dual-SIM version is from Three

There's Wave 2 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC built in. And, as mentioned, the speakers are arranged like the Mate 10 Pro's which has one front-firing and one bottom-firing speaker. Cunningly, this uses the USB-C port to emit sound, but it also means the speaker is blocked if you plug in a USB-C cable. 

Yet again, the balance isn't quite spot on, with the bottom speaker being louder than the top one. It doesn't sound bad, but it's not quite on a par with the iPhone XS.

USB-C headphones are provided in the box, but Huawei tells us that there won't be a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box, which is a shame.

Cameras

  • Main camera: 40Mp wide-angle, f/1.8
  • Telephoto: 8Mp, f/2.4 with OIS (effective 3x optical zoom)
  • Ultra-wide-angle camera: 20Mp, f/2.2

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

Despite Huawei pitching the Mate series at young entrepreneurs and saying that that the cameras aren’t as important as they are on the P Series phones, we all know that the cameras are important on any phone.

And thankfully the Mate 20 Pro's snappers are very impressive indeed. Even indoors in dim light, we were able to capture sharp photos of people with good colours and minimal noise.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

Noise is certainly evident when you use the telephoto camera in low light, but using the main camera you have access to the incredible Night mode which allows you to shoot long exposures without a tripod and get surprisingly good results. The images below were taken in very low light, yet you wouldn't know it.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

The ultra-wide lens can also be used for macro, allowing you to get as close as 2.5cm. This is great for insects and flowers.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

The photos below, all taken from the same place, illustrate the difference between the 0.6x ultra-wide lens, the standard, 3x and 5x zooms, with the latter being a combination of optical and digital zoom (there's no interpolation because the extra pixels in the 40Mp sensor are used).

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

It's impressive stuff, and it makes the Mate 20 Pro very versatile. It's a slight shame the telephoto lens is paired with an 8Mp sensor rather than 12Mp, which would have offered more detail.

All the images here were shot with Master A.I. enabled, and it looks like Huawei has toned down the oversaturation for more natural-looking pictures.

We're also impressed by the depth sensing, which leads to more accurate subject isolation and therefore more realistic looking bokeh in portrait photos.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

Here's the difference between a standard and a portrait photo. Note that Master A.I. automatically enables portrait mode when it sees a person's head and shoulders in the frame. It will offer to switch to the ultra-wide camera if it detects a landscape, too and give you on-screen buttons for Standard and Wide.Maste

Master A.I. is more advanced now, able to recognise 1500 scenes and it can track the important objects in a scene, such as a child's face, and will help to ensure your photo is in focus when you take it.

But, oddly, there's no automatic HDR. It's still a separate mode under the More section, so you have to manually enable it to benefit from the new software improvements. Not very intelligent.

There's one camera on the front, the same 24Mp selfie camera we've seen before on Huawei phones. It does a great job as you can see below, and there's plenty of detail if you turn off the Beauty mode which is on by default and which smooths out skin. There was clearly an issue with the early software on our test phone because we couldn't get the portrait mode to blur the background at all, but the feature is there.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

Video still tops out at 4K at 30fps, but the big change is that there's stabilisation at all resolutions. There's no longer a tick-box to turn it on and off: it's on all the time. Huawei calls it AIS, or AI Stabilisation because it uses the NPU to analyse and smooth out the jerkiness.

There's a noticeable difference between 4K video shot on the Mate 20 Pro and the P20 Pro / Mate 10 Pro. The latter two were almost unusable with no stabilisation, but that's not the case now.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

The new NPU is also put to use with the AI cinema mode which lets you add filters to your video in real-time. One new mode detects skin tones and will keep your subject - including their clothes - in full colour while making the background black and white.

Battery life

Huawei has increased capacity to 4200mAh, which is the biggest we've seen in one of its phones. To alleviate fears over the safety of packing such capacity into a thin device (and no doubt a reference to Samsung's woes with the Galaxy Note 7) the entire charging system is TÜV certified from the charger to the cable to the battery.

And unlike Apple which bundles a basic, slow charger with the iPhone XS, Huawei includes a new 40W Super Charger which provides a 70 percent charge in 30 mins to an empty battery. It's so fast, the charging percentage runs to two decimal places so you can watch the numbers race as it charges in Super Charge mode. It's very satisfying.

For the first time, there's support for wireless charging, 15W wireless charging in fact. That's twice the wattage and twice the speed of many wireless charging systems in phones.

But while that's good news, there's another new feature. Reverse wireless charging allows you to charge your friend's phone, so long as it supports the Qi standard. Once enabled in the settings, you simply place the other phone back to back with the Mate 20 Pro and it will charge it up. Ideal when your friend's phone is running low, but you have plenty to spare.

In the Geekbench 4 battery test, the Mate 20 Pro lasted an amazing 11.5 hours with brightness set to 120 nits. This translates to a reliable two-day battery life with normal use, and is pretty much what we expected. That doesn't take away from how impressive this is: few phones can last this long.

Software and apps

It's no surprise that Mate 20 Pro runs Android 9 Pie out of the box. It would be disappointing if it didn't. Of course, you also get Huawei's EMUI interface as well, now on version 9 to match Android.

Overall, this looks no different to previous versions, but it has been streamlined. There are now 10 percent fewer settings items, with some being combined into one setting or menu to reduce the bloat.

We're so used to EMUI that it doesn't take much effort to find what you're looking for, but can understand why some people still don't like it. It's better looking that it used to be, but still isn't the most intuitive around. One niggle is that the small amount of space available either side of the screen notch isn't used efficiently. There's no need for the NFC icon, for example, but there's no way to customise what's shown and what isn't.

But there are also some benefits such as Huawei's use of Android toast messages (the little pop-up notifications) which tell you when, say, the network connection changes from Wi-Fi to mobile data.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

As this is the first Android phone with this type of 3D face unlock, you won't find support for it in many apps. You're more likely to find your banking and password apps let you use the fingerprint scanner, but not your face.. yet. This might happen in the future.

As there's no home button or visible fingerprint scanner you can use full-screen gestures to navigate, just as Google has done with the Pixel 3.

Huawei says much work has been done to improve responsiveness and speed, so the built-in apps now launch over 50 percent faster than on the Mate 10 Pro, and there's a faster response when you tap on something in an app. This certainly rang true using the Mate 20 Pro: it's as slick as you'd expect the latest flagship to be.

One new feature is HiTouch. This is a new icon in the top-left corner of the camera app. It works like Google Lens: if you press two fingers on screen, you'll get information about anything on the screen that is recognised. Similarly, HiVision uses the camera to recognise what it sees and provide more information.

The on-board database has details on landmarks in 15 countries and 10M artworks. You can even point the camera at food to get an estimate of the calories, and it can tell the difference between, say, a large and a small apple or a whole or half-eaten pizza. We found this worked when pointed at an apple, but it couldn't recognise London landmarks such as St Pancras hotel and the Shard at London Bridge. Huawei says that the database will quickly grow thanks to machine learning, but as it stands there are just 80 UK landmarks it can identify.

In shopping mode, show the phone an item of clothing or a product and it can direct you to buy it on Amazon, Debenhams, Harrods or Harvey Nichols. That's the theory, but when we tried it with the Amazon Assistant app installed, it would only recognise the general product type (such as a computer mouse), not the exact item. Not particularly useful.

Of more practical use for some people, HiAI can process photos of screens taken at an angle, straighten them and use OCR to convert them to an editable PowerPoint presentation. 

Thanks to the 3D camera, you can use Huawei's Qmoji which first appeared on the Nova 3. These are similar to Apple's Animoji, but are less expressive and responsive. 

As with the Mate 10, there's a built-in Desktop mode. Except now no cable is needed. You can connect your Mate 20 Pro to any screen with Miracast support. This gives you a Windows-like environment which can be useful for working, but is handy if you need to make a presentation. It's been improved in a few ways including the fact that the on-screen touchpad now lets you highlight portions of the screen being projected.

Finally, there a new app called Digital Balance. This is pretty much a carbon copy of Apple's Screen Time, and gives you a dashboard where you can see how much you're using your phone. You can set time limits for certain apps, and a 'Wind down' option minimises interruptions before you go to bed and turns the screen monochrome.

Some of the new features, such as the ability to scan 3D objects, are coming in later software updates. We're told the 3D Live Object Modelling app and the Touch to Share function will be available in late November, with the former being a separate app available in Google Play.

Verdict

The Mate 20 Pro is Huawei's best flagship yet. It has better cameras and better performance than both the Mate 10 Pro and P20 Pro. Thanks to the power of the Kirin 980 you've not only got a very fast device in your hands, but it can finally stabilise video at 4K, though it's a slight shame that it can't quite manage 60fps given the price.

We hope that issues with screen colours can be sorted via a software update and that app developers will add support for face unlock swiftly. The same goes for the AI capabilities which are mostly limited to the built-in apps: only in China will you find apps which use the power on offer.

The bottom line is that we're happy to recommend the Mate 20 Pro.

Specs

Huawei Mate 20 Pro: Specs

  • Android 9.0 Pie with EMUI 9
  • 6.39in (3120x1080) 19.5:9 IPS display
  • Kirin 980 processor (2x2.6GHz, 2x1.9GHz, 4x 1.8GHz)
  • 6GB RAM
  • 128GB storage
  • Cat.21 4G LTE
  • Dual nano SIM
  • Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth
  • In-screen fingerprint sensor
  • GPS
  • 40MP (f/1.8) + 8MP telephoto (f/2.4) + 20Mp ultra-wide (f/2.2) rear camera
  • 24MP (f/2.0) selfie camera
  • USB-C
  • 4200mAh battery
  • 157.8 x 72.3 x 8.6mm
  • 189g

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