Huawei Mate 20 Pro Review

The Indian smartphone market might be one of the fastest growing worldwide, but it’s also one of the toughest to survive in. Just ask Huawei, which despite being the second-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, is still struggling to find its footing here.

In addition to building a strong online presence for its sub-brand Honor, the company plans on aggressively tackling the offline market adding more localised content and features, and launching more of its premium products in the country. Just a week ago, Huawei finally brought its flagship Mate series to India, with the Mate 20 Pro.

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro has Huawei’s custom silicon, a custom software experience, and an incredible camera setup thanks to the company’s ongoing partnership with Leica. It has pretty much everything one could ask for from a flagship phone. However, in our opinion, Huawei’s biggest challenge will be capturing the mindshare of the Indian customer. Is the Mate 20 Pro the phone that changes this? Only time will tell, but for now, let’s see if it makes sense spending nearly Rs. 70,000 on it.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro design

The phone ships in a very unassuming black box with nothing but the its name and some Leica branding on it. Inside, we’re greeted by the typical accessories such as a USB Type-C headset, data cable, charger, SIM eject tool, Type-C to 3.5mm adapter, and some instructions. The Mate 20 Pro feels incredible from the moment you pick it up. The exposed metal frame along the sides offers very good rigidity, and the glass front and back taper at the sides, blending seamlessly with the metal so you barely feel any of the edges. In fact, the design is reminiscent of Samsung’s Galaxy S9 (Review) and Galaxy S9+ (Review).

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro comes in two new colours, in addition to Pink Gold and the classic Twilight shade. One of them is Emerald Green, which we have. It features a new ‘hyper-optical pattern’ on the glass which is said to result in better grip and fewer fingerprints. The fine diagonal stripes can be felt if you run a fingernail along the body, and this is definitely less slippery in the hand than plain glass. It doesn’t pick up too many fingerprints either. However, leave this phone on a couch or any uneven surface, and it will happily slide all over the place.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro back ndtv HuaweiThe new ‘hyper-optical’ pattern on this Emerald Green variant makes more resilient to fingerprints

The display is massive, measuring 6.39 inches diagonally, and has a suitably high QHD+ resolution with support for HDR (Dolby Vision isn’t supported). Huawei lets reduce this if you want, or you can set it to scale automatically based on what you’re doing. It’s an OLED panel, which means blacks are deep, colours are punchy, and you get little conveniences such as an always-on mode. The phone has an incredible screen-to-body ratio, as the display curves to the left and right sides, and the chin at the bottom is very small.

The notch on the top isn’t too deep but it is wide, to accommodate all the sensors. There are multiple display customisation options including colour mode and colour temperature. All of this combined, makes the Mate 20 Pro look absolutely stunning and it’s easily one of the best smartphone displays in the market. The Mate 20 Pro also has Gorilla Glass protection although we’re yet to get a confirmation from Huawei about the version it’s using.

The Mate 20 Pro features an in-display fingerprint sensor, which is placed closer to the middle of the display rather than towards the bottom. It’s quite ergonomic, as your thumb lines up with the sensor easily, without having to reach for it. It works fairly well, although we did face a few instances when it had a bit of trouble recognising our fingerprint. Like all in-display sensors, there’s a slight but perceptible lag before it can read your fingerprint.

When you lift the phone, a little fingerprint symbol appears, telling you where to place your finger. You get a little animation when it’s being recognised. Other than unlocking the phone, you can use your registered fingerprints to access locked apps, and a private space. You can even program a specific fingerprint to launch the Paytm app directly from the lock screen.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro ports ndtv HuaweiThe IR emitter (left) is on the top and USB Type-C port, which is also the speaker outlet, is placed at the bottom

The volume and power buttons are placed on the right of the phone, and they have a good clicky feel to them. We also love the contrasting red colour given to the power button, which adds to the phone’s style. On the top, we have an IR emitter for controlling infrared electronics, while at the bottom we have a USB Type-C port and a dual Nano-SIM tray. The phone supports dual 4G with VoLTE, which is nice.

The Mate 20 Pro also supports Huawei’s custom NM card format for storage expansion, which is a smaller version of the microSD standard and can fit in the second SIM slot. The company unveiled this format at the global launch of the Mate 20 Pro, and has promised capacities of up to 256GB. However, we don’t have any details as to when this will be available or how much the cards will cost.

The phone doesn’t have a headphone socket but it’s also missing a speaker grille. That’s because Huawei actually uses the USB Type-C port as an outlet for sound. The drawback of this solution is that the sound gets muffled when you’re charging the phone, but this wasn’t a major inconvenience for us. The Mate 20 Pro also uses the earpiece for audio playback, thereby giving you a stereo effect. It’s not entirely balanced though, as the earpiece’s volume is noticeably lower than that of the main speaker.

Blocking the earpiece doesn’t actually make a big difference to the sound. Dolby Atmos is enabled by default and cannot be switched off when using the speaker. You can set it to auto-optimise sound based on the content being played, or manually choose between the Film and Music presets. With Atmos-encoded videos, the surround effect isn’t too noticeable when playing audio from the speaker but headphones deliver better results.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro earphones ndtv HuaweiThe bundled USB Type-C earphones that ship with the Mate 20 Pro

Finally, we come to the back of the phone, which has three camera sensors and a dual-LED flash in a distinctive four-point layout. The camera module doesn’t sit flush with the rest of the body, due to which there is a slight bump. In the week that we used this phone, it didn’t pick up any scratches.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro specifications and software

Hidden inside this exquisite body is yet another triumph for Huawei. The Mate 20 Pro is powered by the first 7nm mobile SoC, which was unveiled during the IFA trade show in Berlin earlier this year. A few weeks later, Apple also launched its first 7nm SoC called the A12 Bionic, which technically was the first 7nm SoC to ship in a product, inside this year’s iPhone trio. Coming back to Huawei, the Kirin 980 is the successor to the Kirin 970, and promises better performance and efficiency across the board. It’s also the first SoC to feature ARM Cortex-A76 cores, the new Mali-G76 GPU, and dual NPUs (Neural Processing Units) for more efficient AI processing.

  Huawei Kirin 980 Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (Google Pixel 3 XL) Apple A12 Bionic (iPhone XS)
Geekbench 4      
Single-core 3,340 2,371 4,776
Multi-core 9,901 8,388 11,321
AnTuTu 2,71,607 2,42,899 3,06,912
GFXbench      
T-Rex 59fps 60fps 59.4fps
Car Chase 27fps 20fps 46fps
Manhattan 3.1 49fps 34fps 54fps

Benchmarks reveal pretty good performance. The Kirin 980 is still behind the Apple A12 Bionic in single- and multi-threaded performance of Geekbench 4, but is considerably faster than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 as seen on the Google Pixel 3 XL (Review). In AnTuTu, the Mate 20 Pro doesn’t score as high as the iPhone XS but it’s still better than what the Pixel 3 XL manages.

All phones managed to max out the T-Rex OpenGL gaming test in GFXbench. However, in the more advanced gaming tests, the A12 Bionic was able to pull ahead comfortably. Qualcomm also just announced the Snapdragon 855 processor, which could close the performance gap once it makes its way in phones in 2019. But like we always say, benchmark numbers should be seen as mere performance guidelines and not a metric for actual day-to-day usage. 

There is a ‘Performance mode’ in the battery section claims to “optimise device settings for maximum performance.” With it enabled, we saw a jump in scores of some benchmark suites like AnTuTu, PCMark and 3DMark but graphics tests in GFXbench showed little to no difference.

In India, the Mate 20 Pro is only available with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Connectivity features include dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5, NFC, USB-OTG, support for five satellite location systems, a Hall sensor, a barometer, a temperature sensor, and a laser sensor, in addition to the usual sensors. The Mate 20 Pro is also dust and water resistant with an IP68 certification. FM radio is one thing that isn’t present.

In addition to the new hardware, the Mate 20 Pro is also one of the first devices to get Huawei’s new EMUI 9.0 skin, which is based on Android 9 Pie. Visually, it looks similar to previous iterations, and many of the of the customisation settings are the same too. Huawei has made a few new additions, some of which are specific to the Indian market.

The first one is tighter integration for local digital wallets such as Paytm, which as we mentioned before, can be accessed directly from the lock screen. Next, the Calendar app now has calendars including a Hindu Panchang and one for Islamic prayer timings. If you dig through the Calendar settings, you’ll also find an ‘Indian National Calendar’ which will show you regional holidays.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro EMUI new features ndtv hueSome of the new features (from left to right) in EMUI 9.0 include Password vault, App Assistance, and regional calendars

HiVision is Huawei’s answer to Google Lens and Bixby Vision. It can be accessed through the camera app or from the universal search field on any home screen. It does a decent job of identifying objects and even attempts to “identiy” the calorie counts of food items. In Shopping mode, you can point it at objects and it will try and find similar items from local online retailers. It can read QR codes too, and there’s a Translate option that lets you auto-translate text in realtime. This overlays the translated text over the object itself, and it can can be hard to read at times. Local languages aren’t supported as of now, so this feature is not particularly useful in India.

According to Huawei, EMUI 9.0’s main focus is “keeping things clean and accessible,” and to an extent, it has made good on that promise. It’s based on Android 9 Pie, which is good but our unit was still on the slightly older October 2018 Android security patch. The interface is snappy and it’s relatively easy to find what you’re looking for in the Settings app. You can always search for something if you need to find it quickly. EMUI is a single-layered interface by default, but it can switched to the app drawer style. The traditional navigation buttons can be ditched for gestures, but we don’t recommend this as it’s not implemented very well. For example, opening the app switcher requires you to perform a long swipe-up gesture and to go a step back, you have to swipe inwards from either sides of the display, which interferes with the functionality of some apps like Slack.

You have the option to mask the area around the notch permanently or for individual apps. There’s a variety of good themes to choose from, and you can enable a dark mode for the system menus. HiTouch is a feature that lets you do an Amazon search for any image on your screen by simply using a two-finger press. This requires the Amazon Assistant app to be installed, and in our experience, getting accurate results is really a hit or miss.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro Hivision ndtv HuaweiHuawei’s HiVision feature in action on the Mate 20 Pro

The Mate 20 Pro has Android Pie’s Digital Wellbeing feature too, which is renamed to Digital Balance in EMUI 9.0. Similar to stock Android Pie, it lets you monitor your app usage habits and gives you a report on a daily basis. Wind Down is called Bedtime here, and it turns the screen grayscale after the set time. However, one annoyance is that there’s no shortcut to turn this off if you need to, like you can on the Pixel 3 XL. Password Vault saves your login credentials for apps. Huawei says that the login details are encrypted and saved locally on the device.

There’s an updated version of Huawei’s GPU Turbo feature in EMUI 9.0, which promises lower touch input latency and better performance in supported games. A few new titles have been added, which include NBA 2K18, Arena of Valor, and Rules of Survival. The new App Assistance menu lets you block incoming notifications and enable “game acceleration”, for titles that aren’t supported by GPU Turbo. The list of supported games is still limited, and in our experience, we didn’t notice any major visual difference in some of the supported ones like PUBG Mobile.

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro doesn’t come with a lot of preinstalled apps. Apart from the usual suspects from Huawei, our unit had Facebook Messenger, Netflix, and Camera360. These aren’t permanent so you can uninstall them if you want.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro performance, cameras, and battery life

In day-to-day usage, the Mate 20 Pro works very well. At roughly 189g, it’s on the heavier side and this is noticeable with one-handed use. EMUI has a gesture that shrinks the size of the entire UI so everything is within a thumb’s reach. We got used to the weight after a couple of days, so it’s nothing to really worry about. The display stays crisp and bright, even when viewed outdoors under sunlight, and touch response is excellent. The oleophobic coating on the display doesn’t attract many fingerprints and smudges either so it’s easy to keep clean.

The new Kirin 980 SoC handles multitasking and heavy apps, especially games, with ease. We managed to get smooth framerates in PUBG Mobile, with the graphics set to ‘HDR’ and the ‘Ultra High’ framerate setting. Battery drain was around 9 percent for a 30-minute run, which is quite good. Other titles such as Asphalt 9: Legends and Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade also ran smoothly at the highest settings. Unlike the Kirin 970 SoC, which was notorious for heating up rather quickly, the Kirin 980 didn’t seem to have this issue. The phone does get a bit warm with prolonged gaming, but it doesn’t feel uncomfortable.

One feature that we haven’t mentioned yet is 3D face recognition, which is amazingly quick. It worked well in pretty much any lighting condition, including pitch darkness. This is thanks to a combination of a dot projector, IR camera, and flood illuminator. It works even if you’re wearing sunglasses, and you can force the camera to only unlock the phone if your eyes are open.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro camera module ndtv HuaweiThe three-camera setup on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro offers good versatility

The bundled Type-C earphones sound a lot better than the USB-C earbuds that ship with the Google Pixel 3 phones. They don’t leak too much sound and produce decent levels of bass given their design, but we found it it’s impossible to get them to stay put in our ear as there are no ear hooks.

The three-camera setup on the back is another big highlight of the Mate 20 Pro. Unlike the Huawei P20 Pro’s setup, the Mate 20 Pro ditches a dedicated monochrome sensor in favor of a camera with a wide-angle lens. This lets the phone shoot standard, wide-angle, and telephoto images — which is a much more useful combination, in our opinion. Going anti-clockwise, we first have a 40-megapixel sensor with an f/1.8 aperture, followed by a 20-megapixel sensor with a wide-angle lens and f/2.2 aperture, and finally, an 8-megapixel sensor with a telephoto lens, OIS, and an aperture of f/2.4. The phone also supports laser, PDAF, and contrast detection autofocus systems.

The default setting for the primary sensor combines four pixels into one, thereby giving you a 10-megapixel image. This interpolation of pixels ensures more manageable file sizes and better quality photos. You can shoot at the full 40-megapixel resolution if you like. In daylight, the Mate 20 Pro focuses quickly and is pretty consistent at getting the exposure right. It has the same 4D predictive autofocus as the P20 Pro, and a toggle switch to enable or disable Master AI. We found the latter feature a bit too aggressive on the P20 Pro, but here, it wasn’t so bad. It automatically detects objects and scenes and will switch modes or adjust colours accordingly. The sky looks bluer and the grass is greener, but we never found shots looking artificial. Point either front or rear camera at a person, and the app automatically switches itself to Portrait mode. The latter works well but there’s no option to adjust the blur before or after you’ve taken the shot.

Shot using the primary 40-megapixel sensor

Shot using ‘Super Macro’ mode

Shot using the 20-megapixel wide-angle sensor

Tap to see full-sized Huawei Mate 20 Pro camera samples

In landscape shots, details in distant objects were handled well, with pleasing colours and good dynamic range. If you zoom out, the app switches to its 20-megapixel wide-angle camera, which lets you capture more of any scene in one frame. A few things worth noting when shooting with this sensor are that it doesn’t always get the white balance right, and pictures shot in low light lack the same levels of brightness and detail as they would have with the primary sensor. It is however, very useful for shooting ‘Super Macros’. With AI Master on, point the camera very close to any subject, and the wide-angle camera is automatically activated, to, give you a much shorter focusing distance.

Hit the 1x button in the viewfinder, and the app switches to the 8-megapixel telephoto sensor, provided there’s sufficient light. At night or when there’s inadequate light, the camera will simply do a digital zoom using the main sensor, just like most other smartphones. At 3x zoom in daylight, the Mate 20 Pro produced sharp images with excellent details and colours. Compared to the 2x zoom on the iPhone XS and the equivalent Super Res Zoom on the Pixel 3 XL, the Mate 20 Pro clearly has the best image quality. To achieve a 5x combined zoom, the Mate 20 Pro does a digital zoom while using the telephoto sensor. Once again, the Mate 20 Pro delivers the best level of detail, with little noise and better white balance compared to the competition.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro zoom test ndtv huaweiOptical zoom test (Images are cropped for comparison)

In low light, the Mate 20 Pro continued to impress us. Brightness was excellent, there was plenty of visible detail even in distant objects, and exposures were balanced nicely even with multiple light sources in a frame. We wouldn’t recommend using Portrait mode in low light, as even though it gets the edge detection right, the resulting image might be too dark. This is true for people as well as objects. The main camera reproduces excellent depth of field thanks to its large aperture, so we just ended up using that most often. Focusing speed was equally good in low light, thanks to the laser autofocus.

Shot using Night Mode on the Huawei Mate 20 Pro (Tap to see full-sized image)

Huawei Mate 20 Pro night mode ndtv huawei100 percent crops

When shooting landscape shots in low light, Master AI will automatically switch to Night mode. This is similar to Night Sight on the Pixel 3 XL in principle, but the mechanics are slightly different. With the Mate 20 Pro, the shutter is actually kept open for three to four seconds (depending on how dark your subject is), which at times resulted in blurry shots because our hands naturally shook a little. Google’s Night Sight on the other hand takes a series of shots with higher shutter speeds to avoid blurring. When compared side by side, the Mate 20 Pro managed impressive detail and colours. Certain textures and edges appeared a bit jagged when compared to Night Sight on the Pixel 3 XL, but was still not bad.

The 24-megapixel selfie camera has an f/2.0 aperture. In daylight, images had good detail and colours, and the HDR mode improved exposures when shooting against direct sunlight, something the iPhone XS and Pixel 3 XL fail to do. In Portrait mode, you can choose between different Bokeh patterns and add some interesting lighting effects. You can even record some gimmicky animojis called 3D Qmoji. The dot projector can be used to create animated avatars of objects using a separate 3D Live Maker app. We tried it but couldn’t really get it to work. In low light, the selfie camera didn’t really impress us. Images had less noise compared to those taken with an iPhone XS, and lacked the sharpness and clarity of the Pixel 3 XL.

Tap to see full-sized Huawei Mate 20 Pro camera samples

The Mate 20 can shoot videos at up to 4K at 30fps, with no constraint on clip length. Sadly, 4K at 60fps is no supported. Image quality was good in daylight and stabilisation was solid too, but there was a noticeable ‘wobble’ effect from the sides of the frame. At 1080p, this issue wasn’t noticeable and this was the best balance of quality and stabilisation. The wide-angle sensor isn’t ideal for video as there’s a jittery effect in the footage when you’re walking about. Colours looked a bit too warm for our liking too. You can enable special effects such as AI colour, which only keeps human subjects in colour while turning everything else monochrome. It’s pretty cool and works decently well. Keep in mind that when shooting in these special modes, the resolution tops out at 1080p.

The camera app is simple enough to use. You get a suite of shooting modes including Panorama, Pro, and even Monochrome, just like on the Huawei P20 Pro. The Mate 20 Pro can also shoot slow-motion video at up to 960fps, in small bursts.

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro delivers impressive battery performance, generally lasting for more than a full day on a single charge. For testing this, our usage was deliberately heavy. We forced the resolution to QHD+, enabled ‘Performance mode’ in the battery settings, and used apps such as Google Maps, Uber, and plenty of games. We also used Bluetooth audio streaming and threw in few benchmarks, and we still managed a battery life of roughly 21 hours. In our battery loop test, we got a runtime of 14 hours and 18 minutes, which is very good. Despite its generous 4,200mAh capacity, this battery is also quick to top up with the bundled charger. 

The Mate 20 Pro has a feature called Super Charge, which makes Dash Charging on OnePlus phones look slow in comparison. We were able to take the battery from zero all the way to 96 percent in just an hour, which is absolutely crazy. This phone also supports 15W fast wireless charging using Huawei’s own dock. With other Qi wireless chargers, like the Pixel Stand, the Mate 20 Pro took a little more than three and half hours to charge fully.

One of the unique features of this phone is the ability to act as a wireless charger itself. After flipping a switch in the battery settings, you simply place any Qi compatible device on the back of this phone, and the Mate 20 Pro will begin charging it. We tried this with the Pixel 3 XL and iPhone XS, and it worked fine. If the Mate 20 Pro doesn’t detect any chargeable device for a minute or so, it automatically turns this feature off.

Verdict
The Mate 20 Pro is Huawei’s best and strongest offering yet, and gives users literally everything they could possibly want from a flagship Android phone right now. That Rs. 69,990 price tag doesn’t seem too bad when you consider the kind of features and performance it offers, compared to much more expensive phones such as the Google Pixel 3 XL and the iPhone XS. Unless you absolutely need the stylus of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (Review), we suggest that you throw in a few thousand rupees more and get the Huawei Mate 20 Pro instead, for its better all-round performance.

Between this phone and the Google Pixel 3 (Review), which costs about Rs. 71,000 in the market, the Mate 20 Pro is the obvious choice in our books. Sure, the Pixel 3 is easier to handle, but the Mate 20 Pro offers double the storage and is simply a much better package overall.

If we could change a few things, we would have kept a physical fingerprint sensor, as the in-display one isn’t always consistent. Other than this, it’s really hard to find fault with the Mate 20 Pro. It has excellent battery life, good software, solid app and gaming performance, and an impressive set of cameras.

If you’re one of the few still holding out to upgrade to a new flagship phone, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro comes closest in delivering the complete package.


Is Huawei Mate 20 Pro the best Android phone out there? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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