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October 30, 2018

Huawei Mate 20 Pro Initial Review: This camera is a phone, too

by John_A

A very promising smartphone


The Huawei P20 Pro was a bold statement for a smartphone, featuring the world’s first triple camera system, and it helped Huawei stand out earlier this year. Fast forward six months, and the company’s next flagship looks to build on the success of the P20 Pro. The Mate 20 Pro brings an updated triple camera system, but also a range of features we’re likely to see on flagships next year.

About this initial review

While we wait for the final software update, which is expected to address some of the software issues and camera processing we’ve seen with this weeks-old B113 update, we wanted to share our initial impressions. Features such as battery life, camera, performance and software will likely change so we’ll be leaving them out of this initial review, and instead focusing on the areas that are unlikely to change such as hardware and design. Of course, the triple camera is one of the things that makes the Mate 20 Pro stand out so we’ll be looking at our experience so far, with the caveat that final camera performance may change.

Moving pictures

Huawei Mate 20 Pro 5 Things

Alongside our first impressions below, Alex has shared his five things to know about the Mate 20 Pro after a week with the device. You can check out that video above. You’ll also find MrMobile’s impressions of the Mate 20 Pro at the bottom of this initial review.


Simply gorgeous

Huawei Mate 20 Pro Hardware

The Mate 20 Pro is the smaller of Huawei’s Mate-series flagships. The regular Mate 20 offers a 6.53-inch LCD display with 18.7:9 aspect ratio, while the Mate 20 Pro gives you a 6.39-inch curved OLED display with 19.5:9 aspect ratio. Quite surprisingly, there’s also a third device for select markets – the monster Mate 20 X has a 7.2-inch AMOLED display with 18.7:9 aspect ratio. Smaller and more comfortable in the hand, the Mate 20 Pro also brings a new feature to Android devices — a 3D face detection system that’s similar to Face ID on the iPhone (more on that below).

The display houses the new in-display fingerprint sensor, which is significantly better than the one in the Porsche Design Mate RS earlier this year. Before you get excited, however, you should know about a few quirks. We’ve all grown so accustomed to one-touch capacitive sensors that the in-display sensor does require some adjustment — it’s just a bit slower. That is largely down to the way it works; you need to press firmly on the display in the exact center and if you just try to tap it, you’ll trigger a failed read. That said, it does work really well most of the time and it’s a sign of things to come from all smartphones in the very near future.


Fortunately, you won’t need to use the fingerprint sensor most of the time as Huawei’s face unlock is just that good. I’ve used the iPhone X for the past year, and the iPhone XS for the past few weeks, and Huawei’s face unlock is significantly faster than Apple’s Face ID. It features its own infrared projector, meaning it works well even in dark conditions and, unlike the iPhone, it works when your phone is in landscape mode. For the past two weeks, I’ve found the face detection unlocks the phone before you can try to register your fingerprint and combined, they represent one of the most complete biometric solutions on a smartphone.

Turn the Mate 20 Pro over and you’ll get a familiar, yet unique experience. The Mate 20 Pro features a very similar twilight gradient as the Morpho Aurora P20 Pro with a gradient shift from blue to black. Let me just say this — this is an incredibly beautiful smartphone, especially when the color shifts depending on how the light hits it.

The twilight gradient shifts in the light and makes for one of the most beautiful smartphones ever.

The design has been slightly updated from the P20 Pro with the addition of a matching gradient pattern to the metal trim, and the symmetry and curves make it incredibly ergonomic and comfortable to use. There’s also a new Hyper Optic Patterned version of the Mate 20 which drops the gradient for a subtle patterned etched into the surface. This version provides extra grip and also detracts from fingerprints, but I think the twilight version is the one you’ll want to buy.


Everything you could want

Huawei Mate 20 Pro Battery and Charging

If you’ve used Huawei’s Mate series in the past, you’ll be familiar with the premise of the Mate 20 Pro’s battery; a big cell and software optimizations result in excellent battery life. Due to nature of pre-release software, I’ve experienced screen-on times ranging from three hours to six, but Alex averages around six hours of screen-on time.

Using the camera heavily proves to be quite taxing on the battery, too, and on days when I’ve taken lots of photos and videos, I’ve found it can drain much faster, but only once in almost two weeks have I had to top it up before the end of the day. More often than not, the battery lasts for at least a day and a half, if not more.

It’s fast and efficient and I wish every phone had Huawei’s 40W supercharging.

The Mate 20 Pro adds Qi wireless charging, making it a breeze to top up overnight. I’ve been using the Pixel Stand to charge it overnight and it works just as well as you’d expect. And in case you forget, the in-box Supercharge 2.0 adapter adds 40 watt charging. By way of comparison, the regular Mate 20 and previous Mate devices offer 22W charging, but this updated SuperCharger can add up to 70% battery in just 30 minutes. It’s fast, efficient and I wish every phone had it.


Triple the cameras, triple the fun

Huawei Mate 20 Pro Camera

Since the P20 Pro was announced, I used it as my daily driver — until it met an untimely death in a river — for one reason: its amazing triple camera. The P20 Pro made taking photos fun again, and the Mate 20 Pro does this but with one key difference; it drops the monochrome sensor in favor of a a regular sensor with an ultra-wide lens, and it’s proven to be an excellent decision.

This means you have the excellent standard and zoomed shots of the P20 Pro but with the addition of an amazing ultra-wide option. Both Alex and I agree that the ultra-wide is the best we’ve ever seen in a smartphone, as it has autofocus meaning it’s more versatile and you can use it to take macro shots.

I’ve never had this much fun with a smartphone camera

I used the Mate 20 Pro camera over the course of a few days in London, as well as at the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Austin last weekend, and I can safely say I’ve never had this much fun with a smartphone camera. Between the ultra-wide camera — which the software reports as 0.6x focal length — and the 5x hybrid zoom, there’s so much you can do with it as you can see from the four images below (0.6x, 1x, 3x and 5x zoom):

Or focusing on the race track itself:

The ultra-wide camera can take some simply breathtaking images and while we’ve seen some issues with the software processing across all of the cameras, we’re going to reserve our final judgement on the camera until the final software update.

The camera brings the excellent handheld long exposure mode from the P20 Pro but it’s now supported across all of the cameras, included the 3X and 5X zoom modes offering a lot of versatility. For the ultra-wide angle camera, it provides a great counter to the fact the lens doesn’t let in as much light as the main sensor, so it isn’t quite as capable in full-auto mode.

There are some software quirks in the camera right now, including the phone being slow to switch between the three lenses, and taking a noticeable amount of time for the camera to stabilize in the 3x and 5x zoom modes. However, we’re reserving final judgement until the upcoming update which is expected to solve many of these issues and improve overall performance. In the meantime, here’s some more images we’ve taken on the Mate 20 Pro:



A very promising start

Huawei Mate 20 Pro Initial Conclusion

It’s hard to pass full judgement on a phone when we’re waiting for a software update that will fix some of the quirks we’ve noticed, so we’re not really digging into the software right now. However, I will say that EMUI 9 is vastly improved and, having just used a Pixel 3 for a couple of weeks, it offers a very familiar experience. It takes the best of Android 9 Pie, and brings a few changes.

To enhance the full-display experience, Huawei has added a new gesture navigation that is slick and well-animated, but needs a little work. Rather than the three button nav at the bottom of the screen, the gesture nav lets you swipe in from either side to go back, swipe up from the bottom to go home and swipe up and hold from the bottom to access recent apps. However, I’ve been using the regular three button nav (with the addition of a button to easily drop the notification drawer) mainly because the gesture nav isn’t quite as polished as I’d like. It breaks the picture-in-picture on YouTube and doesn’t let you swipe in to access the hamburger menu in apps, and these are two features I use frequently. The option is there if you’d rather use it, but I’ll likely be sticking with the regular navigation for the foreseeable future.

Overall, our first couple of weeks with the Mate 20 Pro have been very promising, Huawei has taken one of the most exciting cameras on a smartphone, and improved it, while also offering a range of features we weren’t expecting on a flagship until next year. We’ll wait for the final software to give you our final verdict but I’ll say this – the Mate 20 Pro is a very promising phone, and potentially one of the best phones of 2018.

See at Amazon UK

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