The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is a fantastic phone that pushes the limit where it matters: amazing battery, advanced camera, performance, and display

Highs

  • Excellent industrial design
  • Exceptional battery capabilities
  • Extremely Fast battery charging
  • Overall Most Powerful Camera Features

Lows

  • Not officially available in the U.S
  • No 3.5mm audio port
  • Android EMUI layer is different

Rating and Price

  • Rating: 10/10
  • Price: ~$615
  • Available on Amazon

Huawei has just launched the Mate 20 Pro and Mate 20 in London, UK. Both handsets share the same industrial design, with the Pro version having extended capabilities.

The Huawei Mate 20 (4GB + 128GB configuration) will have a MSRP of EUR799 and the HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro (6GB + 128GB configuration) will have a MSRP of EUR849 from October 16th, 2018.
Both devices will be available in countries including the U.K., France, Italy and United Arab Emirates soon, according to Huawei.

This article will focus on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, and we will dedicate another article to the Mate 20, to highlight all differences. Let’s take a closer look at Huawei’s new flagship phone.

Note: This initial “hands-on” review of the new Huawei Mate 20 Pro is based on the time we spent with pre-release devices. We will update this page with our full review, based on tests and measurements as this device goes through the Ubergizmo Lab. Bookmark it now, and follow Ubergizmo on FB to get notified.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro
Display6.39” AMOLED Display (3120×1440)
Cameras
  • Primary: 40 MP , f/1.8 aperture
  • Telephoto: 8 MP, f/2.4
  • Ultrawide: 8 MP
  • Selfie: 24 MP, f/2.0
ProcessorHiSilicon KIRIN 980 platform 6-8 RAM, 128-256 GB of Storage
Battery4200 mAh battery capacity, fast-charge
OSAndroid 9.0
Advertising

Industrial Design

Left: Mate 20, Right: Mate 20 Pro

Built using a “Thin Hairline Design,” the Huawei Mate 20 family looks thinner and more elongated than last year’s model. And it’s a very good thing, because that makes the phone more comfortable to hold because the width is not excessive, and expand the screen slightly higher vertically.

The glass now curved into the edges, an extremely difficult (and probably costly) manufacturing technique and aesthetic that has been popularized by Samsung. It makes the phone feel more comfortable and thinner when held.

Huawei has its own twist by having a textured glass in the back. It might sound crazy, but the glass feels relatively normal, but if you strike it with your nail you can distinctly feel the texture, and even hear it. Huawei calls it “Hyper Optical Pattern,” and it’s a cool surface treatment that provides a bit more “grip” and makes the glass feel a bit softer, less slippery. It is also more resilient to fingerprints because it is slightly matte.

Extra-grip is indeed needed because several studies, and common-sense, have shown that curving the glass onto the edges of the phone increases the chance of experiencing a cracked glass in case of a drop on a hard surface. You can refer to our reference article about how phones could be built to avoid breakage on impact: How the LG V20 Was Designed To Survive Drops.

Talking about the edge, the Power button is getting a red accent that gives it an extra touch of style this year. The Huawei Mate 20 Pro has an IP68 Rating. Here’s what the IP68 rating means: Dust-tight, no dust can penetrate. Up to 3-meter immersion waterproofing. In some cases, waterproofing means that “some” water can penetrate, but without harming the device.

The design of the camera module is iconic and very pleasing in my opinion, but you decide. From a technical design perspective, the amount of battery capacity that Huawei is able to cram into this chassis is extraordinary, and our data shows it:

Battery capacity (in mAh) per Cubic Inches of internal space

Display : OLED + 3D Face Scan + In-screen fingerprint reader

With a 6.39-inch diagonal size and a resolution of 3120×1440, the OLED display of the Mate 20 Pro makes it a large-screen phone which is close in size with the handful of high-end 6.5-inch competitors.

The display looks very nice, as you would expect from a high-end phone, but we will need more time and information to see how it competes against the displays of the Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone X that are the two leading ones when it comes to Display Quality. Most people would probably not consider any difference to be a sway factor, but at this level, any advantage is worth looking at.

The Mate 20 Pro has a large notch to accommodate the selfie camera, but also a secure 3D depth sensor for face unlock. It works like the iPhone X/XS FaceID, but it is not as reliable or even as fast (on average) as Apple’s.

When it works, it is faster than the iPhone because you don’t even need to swipe to unlock the phone. However, sometimes, the face unlock doesn’t come on, probably because the motion sensor was not triggered and we fall back to the fingerprint unlock.

You can think of these 3D face sensors as a small version of the Xbox Kinect. They work by projecting a pattern via Infra-red and depending on how the pattern is deformed by the receiving surface (your face) a 3D map can be computed. This technique is called Structured Light.

Last, but not least, the display features an in-screen fingerprint reader. Although such sensors started to appear at CES 2018 with OEMs like Vivo, the first implementations were a bit slow (see Vivo V11), probably due to a combination of software and display that face a challenging task. Things seem to have improved, and the technology seems ready for prime-time. We have no doubt that in-screen fingerprint reading will proliferate next year.

"BETTER THAN THE APPLE FACE UNLOCK WITHOUT FINGERPRINT"

I love having the fingerprint sensor in the front – no question about it. However, the in-sensor isn’t as accurate and reliable as classic sensors. The average failure rate is slightly higher, and the unlock time is also a bit higher.

Overall, it’s a really good thing that Huawei has paired the 3D face unlock with the in-screen sensor, because neither is better than legacy solutions, but together they make the experience better than Apple’s face unlock without fingerprint, and better than other Android phones fingerprint-only solutions. We don’t recommend using 2D face unlock if you care about security.

Cameras: three rear cameras for exceptionally versatile photographic abilities

LG may have fired the first salvo in the ultra-wide + zoom war with the LG V40, but it surely won’t be the last. Samsung has announced a four rear cameras phone in the mid-range (4+1), and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro has three cameras in the back, including an 80mm (3X) telephoto, and a 16 mm ultra-wide lens which is also a macro lens.  That’s in addition of the primary

We welcome this new setup very much as we have been saying for several years that ultrawide was used more often than zoom or portrait. You will love it. LG has been the first OEM to introduce ultrawide with its LG V20 phone and has been promoting it ever since. They were right all along. As an aside, LG also introduced the fingerprint reader located in the back, and the 2:1 display ratio.

All our sample photos have been shot without A.I, which should be the topic of another series of test, if time allows. If you wonder, the Mate 20 Pro has seen (software) image quality improvements over the P20 Pro, despite similarities in the camera specs.

Mate 20 Pro Camera Photo Quality

3X zoom in the street, a great photo outcome

In broad daylight, the photos from the Huawei Mate 20 Pro are generally very good and agreeable. The colors are vibrant and the images look great, especially when viewed on a phone’s display, or via social media. Here are some examples (captions at the bottom of the screen):

The ultra-wide shots look very good as well, and the shot in the street with the zoom was particularly nice. Huawei has without a doubt the most powerful zoom capabilities, thanks to its 3X optical zoom lens (~80mm) which works great in bright light.

The only criticism that I would point to is that by default the auto mode (called “photo”) has too much image processing (sharpening, artificial color vibrancy, sometimes HDR) in my opinion. It’s really hard to know if you haven’t been on the scene, but it something that is noticeable when you take photos.

Some level of filtering isn’t bad, and can even be desirable, but too much of it runs the risk of annoying the user, and more importantly it removes the control and freedom of the photographer in the artistic choices. For example, this red meat photo if way more red than normal. In fact, I had to de-saturate it before posting to Insta, but could not get it to look like the actual meal.

Low-light photography

In low-light photography, Huawei has made a name for itself with the P20 Pro, and the Mate 20 Pro behaves more or less like it. It captures very bright images. Here are some examples:

That said, the shots often are unnaturally bright and tend to lose the mood because the color hue quickly goes towards white or light grey. Again, this is due to slightly over-processing the images, something that Huawei does in fact not need to do.

In night shots, the ability to preserve both the colors and the general mood of the scene is really important. It’s not just about “making everything brighter”.

The lead image of this section is a picture of the Shibuya scrambling. It looks quite good and it’s fair to say that your friends will be impressed if you share this on social media. The building on the center right with the green lighting has had too much sharpening while it didn’t need it. It seems a bit “noisy”, and that’s true for other things such as the tree’s orange leaves as well.

In the image below, the Note 9 does a much better job at preserving a natural rendering of the scene “as my eyes could see it”, with some processing. The Mate 20 Pro processes much more and alters the lighting and hue considerably.

comparison image Acomparison image B

The ultra-wide lens also struggles in low-light, and this shoot against the LG V40 demonstrates it well. The V40 is better at preserving the overall visual nature of the scene, while the Mate 20 Pro photo almost becomes monochromatic, with a blurrier image and less details.

comparison image Acomparison image B

Long-exposure: Night Mode

Phones are starting to have a new tool in their low-light arsenal: the Night Mode. Whatever it is called, the Huawei P20 Pro, The Pixel 3 and the Xiaomi Mi Mix 3 (and perhaps more phones) have this mode which records a bunch of photos for 3 to 5 at various exposures before creating a final image.

We’re not sure how much people will use it, so we don’t lump it into “low light photo”, but it is a very interesting tool to have for static scenes. The results are sometimes unpredictable and you will just have to test it, but in some extreme cases it can save the day.

The Mate 20 Pro captured the mood perfectly in this photo (5s exposure, Night Mode)

Photo quality conclusion

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro delivers an astonishing array of camera features, and expands its hardware to cover the entire footprint of what we consider to be the mobile photography pillars : bright-light, low-light, ultra-wide and zoom photos.

"OVERALL, THE MOST POWERFUL MOBILE CAMERA"

We do not consider it to be the very best at everything, but a relatively high level in every category,  associated to the depth of the feature-set earn the Mate 20 Pro our title for the most powerful mobile camera to date.

The Galaxy Note 9 remains the overall best low-light shooter and the LG V40 has the best ultra-wide camera, there is no doubt about it from our test data. The Mate 20 Pro has the best 3X Optical zoom, but can be challenged in bright light photo because of its image processing. Perhaps the Pixel 3 can dislodge the Note 9 in low-light, we’ll see.

Camera technical analysis

Huawei has pushed the ultrawide concept farther with this implementation, allowing the ultrawide lens to be used for macro photos as well, with subjects as close as ~2.5cm! It’s made possible by having an auto-focus, while other ultrawide lenses only have a fixed focus.

The zoom capabilities of the Huawei Mate 20 Pro remain like the P20 Pro, with a 3X optical zoom that seems similar in every way, and therefore should remain unchallenged in good lighting conditions. 3X optical zoom lenses are hard to integrate because the camera module may require more depth, and the sensor size has to be reduced to accommodate the longer focal length.

The primary camera seems identical to the P20 Pro, and we expect a similar photographic outcome, with perhaps some improvements in metering (Ai-driven?) and software processing. We’ll know more when we take the retail version of the phone through our photo tests.

It is interesting to see how Huawei’s camera has not only progressed vertically with each feature getting better and better over time, but also horizontally by adding capabilities such as ultra-wide, macro and 3X telephoto.

While the Mate 20 Pro might not win in every single category, It does land in the top 3 in nearly every aspect. The breath of the Mate 20 Pro camera capabilities and the depth of its performance could make it the best overall mobile camera on the market.

Camera AI

We mentioned camera software improvements, and a lot has to do with artificial intelligence. Huawei and Honor are using remarkably advanced AI techniques such as multi-layer image segmentation, a technique that consists of being able to differentiate several key elements of scenes such as people, but also background elements such as trees and road – all at the same time.

Each sub-scene (a “segment”) can then be processed with the most appropriate algorithms to ensure that faces get enough HDR, vegetation get a little boost in green and urban concrete get an extra dose of detail sharpening.

Since Kirin 980 can achieve a lot more AI image processing in Real-time, the Mate 20 Pro can apply cinematic effects such as keeping people in color, while converting the background to black and white during video recording. Huawei calls this AI Cinema, and it’s actually pretty hard to do with a classic video editor. Now, it has been made effortless with AI.

AI is also used in the live autofocus tracking of subjects according to Huawei. There are also non-AI ways of doing this, and it’s not clear how much AI is in here, but if you want to track a moving subject, it is likely to beat the default non-tracked auto-focus.

Software

Powered by EMUI 9, Huawei’s branch/fork of Android, the interface is a bit different from what’s commonly found with Google, Samsung or LG phones. There is still a definite familiarity with Android, but new users should expect a few days of adaptation. Not a big deal. EMUI has many differences, some visible, and others not, but it’s a bit outside the scope of this review.

For this version 9, Huawei emphasizes Simplification, with some user interfaces being re-thought to reduce friction or increase productivity. The Settings also have 10% less apparent options, as the most advanced (and least used) settings, will be hidden into an “Advanced” sub-menus for the tech-savvy.

Some interface elements that used to be at the top of the screen have been brought down to the lower half, to make the Mate 20 Pro a better one-handed phone.

User Experience Performance

EMUI 9 also has higher software performance, according to Huawei. The company claims that this new phone will launch apps 51% faster and that the system is 41% more responsive than previously. The company measured these numbers by using automated app testing robots with camera precise enough to measure this kind of outcome. There are various ways to make this happen, such as caching the most commonly used apps, or the most probably used apps in memory for example. Machine-learning can help here.

Huawei even says that apps on the Mate 20 Pro will launch on average 400ms faster when compared to a top competitor from Korea. 400ms doesn’t seem like much, but we know from various studies on tactile feedback that users can feel a difference of ~100ms, or 1/10s of a second.

Finally, Huawei continues to promote its effort to keep the phones performing like it did on “Day 1” with an initiative called “Stay Fast.” It is well-known that phones tend to slow down as they are loaded with more apps and data. People broadly agree that this phenomenon does exist even if they may disagree on why it is happening.

Huawei has been using machine-learning and system optimizations to mitigate the slowdown experienced by phones. The company says that a fully-loaded Mate 20 Pro should slow down by only ~5% with the latest EMUI, even after being fully loaded and used for a while. The Mate 9 slowed by about 14%, while prominent competitors slow down by 40% according to Huawei’s tests and estimates.

It is not possible to independently verify these claims in the short term, but so far, the customer satisfaction levels for this feature is high, so perhaps this is yet the best indicator that something is going right.

Backups to your personal storage

EMUI 9 also brings unusual things such as the ability to back up the phone to your local network, to a network storage device or onto a shared directory via SMB. This could be a great alternative for local backups and restores; we can’t wait to try it to see what new possibilities this would offer

System Performance

At this time, the system performance has not been tested, but this will come in our final review. The new Huawei Mate 20 Pro is powered by Kirin 980, the latest high-end processor from HiSilicon, a Huawei subsidiary.

The new Kirin 980 chip was launched at IFA 2018, and it was one of the best announcement we covered at that show. According to Huawei, Kirin 980 is 20% faster and 40% more power-efficient. For example, it should be 134% better in AI performance and can classify 4500 images/mn, a key metric in some artificial intelligence circles.

The faster AI is also 88% more power efficient, according to Huawei. This is often the case when performance is vastly increased, the processor can return faster to a sleep state. Also, the semiconductor process of Kirin 980 (7nm) is fundamentally more power-efficient than Kirin 970 (12nm)

Benchmarks

In real-world tests, we tried to switch the “High-Performance Mode” on and off. Huawei had been criticized recently for its handling of benchmarks and enabled the mode afterwards, this letting users choose if they want to trade battery life and higher heat, for higher performance. By default, that mode is OFF.

During our tests, we found that this mode mainly affects graphics scores (GFXBench/3Dmark), and not CPU-centric ones (Geekbench). Furthermore, while the performance could significantly higher, the results varied too widely and were surprisingly inconsistent.

"FAST, BUT INCONSISTENT PERFORMANCE"

For instance the FPS for GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 (offscreen) with high-per OFF were: 25, 48 and 52 in different runs. When ON we saw 53 and 43 FPS in different runs.

It’s even more dramatic with GFXBench T-Rex with OFF scores of 69, 52 and 41 while ON score were 130, then 49. For the charts, we have chosen to be conservative because even an average would not be representative. We might update this later if there’s a change on the ground.

As you can see, it is not normal to have such scores discrepancy, and we’ll see if Huawei can either update the software or explain why this is happening. However, even in the best case scenarios Snapdragon 845 still wins the graphics benchmarks while Kirin 980 has a slight lead on the CPU ones.

The wireless broadband is also seeing significant gains, with LTE CAT21 (Category 21) available for the first time in a consumer device. LTE CAT21 is capable of achieving peak speeds of 1.4Gbps, in theory.

Wireless networks (3G/4G) performance is often thought as peak download/upload speeds, but it is the average speed that counts. These days 4G/LTE is the primary network of interest, but 5G is coming. The higher the paper LTE performance and the better the average actual performance. Additionally, wireless providers have better and more efficient LTE networks to lower their own costs.

Battery Life

With a battery capacity of 4200 mAh, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro has 5% more capacity than the leading competitors that have 4000 mAh. The difference increases even more with those who have as little as 3300 mAh (+27%). As battery capacity is perhaps the most precious commodity on any phone, such a gap is difficult to ignore.

As usual, Huawei has equipped the Mate 20 Pro with a 40W SuperCharge power supply.

There’s a 15W integrated wireless charging capability, which Huawei says is 2X faster than the latest iPhone. We will put it to the test, but technically, this sounds believable.

The most incredible power-related feature is that the Mate 20 Pro can become a fast wireless charging pad for other Qi compatible phones. As such Mate 20 Pro users can become heroes of the moment and desperate users that are close to running out of battery. At the same time, the extremely speedy charging lets the Mate 20 Pro replenish its charge promptly.

"THE HUAWEI MATE 20 PRO IS BY FAR THE FASTEST CHARGING PHONE WE HAVE EVER SEEN"

Since the initial launch we have been able to confirm this extraordinary charge speed with an Ubergimo Lab run at 102 mAh/mn or 72% of charge in 30mn. The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is by far the fastest charging phone we have ever seen.

At this speed, it would charge 5X faster than the iPhone XS Max, which gets 20 mAh/mn out of the box, as we’ve seen in our iPhone XS review.

"5X FASTER THAN IPHONE XS MAX"

Battery life can be affected by a lot of factors, but the main ones are the central processor (SoC), display and wireless radios (LTE broadband, WiFi, the cell towers location and more). It is impossible to precisely predict through synthetic tests how much energy drain YOUR unique lifestyle will generate. However, two things are surely always good:

  • A larger battery capacity
  • Very fast charging

It is generally not possible to predict real-world battery life by running synthetic benchmarks. Things such as display brightness, (LTE/WiFi) radio usage and distance to access points will change too much. Also, the number of apps on-board and their usage is unpredictable. Battery capacity is the most important battery-life indicator for YOUR usage.

Conclusion

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro is a fantastic phone that pushes the limit where it matters: amazing battery, advanced camera, performance, and display. With the fast in-screen fingerprint and 3D face unlock, users always get the best secure unlock option at any given time.

"AN EXCEPTIONAL HANDSET"

The Mate 20 Pro battery has an extraordinary charge speed and it removed any battery endurance worries for my relatively heavy use case. Truly an amazing experience.

Finally, the excellent Mate 20 Pro Camera extends the Huawei photographic capabilities to new depths, and the overall package is nothing short of an exceptional handset.

The next step is to validate the theoretical data with our own tests, and finalize this review. What do you think of the Mate 20 Pro?

Overall product rating: 10/10

Filed in Cellphones >Reviews. Read more about , , , , and .

6.39"
  • 3120x1440
  • AMOLED
  • 538 PPI
40 MP
  • f/1.8 Aperture
4200 mAh
  • Non-Removable
  • Wireless Charging
6GB RAM
  • KIRIN 980
Price
~$615 - Amazon
Weight
189 g
Launched in
2018-10-16
Storage (GB)
  • 128
  • 256
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