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Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: more camera than phone?

Huawei Mate 20 Pro

If one thing becomes obvious from this Huawei Mate 20 Pro review, it should be this: it’s a phenomenal camera. Phone, I mean phone. If you don’t give a monkey’s rice cracker about taking pictures, then you’re wasting your money.

It’s a brilliant phone too, but I’d point you in the direction of its stylish sibling Huawei Mate 20 Lite or the Asus ZenFone 5 instead. You can thank me by sending the £500-odd difference in an unmarked envelope.

BTQ: Brief Tech Questions

Hit me: how much is it?£900. Pre-order before the 26th and you get a smartwatch
How fast is it?You know Lewis Hamilton? Well, not quite that fast, but certainly a big jump in performance compared to your current phone
How much storage?128GB for the launch version, but a 256GB version will be sold too. Note you can only expand using Huawei’s own nano SD cards (by up to 256GB)
What about the Huawei Mate 20?There is a cheaper version of the Mate 20 Pro that has a lesser camera. We’ll review that when we can get our grubby mitts on it
Does the camera have a zoom?Yes, but not like you may be thinking. There’s a three-lens arrangement on the back, and one of those lenses acts as a telephoto lens – so, in the software, you can use an “optical zoom” of 5x
What’s battery life like?Pretty damn good. I’m typically getting two days out of it if I kill greedy apps (looking at you Garmin)
Do you like it?Yes, I like it a lot. And as you’ll see, it’s packed with features

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: The camera

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

If your prime reason for buying a new phone is that you want a brilliant camera then I can save you time: buy the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. The trio of lenses on its rear isn’t a gimmick, but makes a genuine difference in everyday use.

As touched upon above, the key advantage is a zoom. This isn’t unique to Huawei, but it’s beautifully implemented: getting closer to your target subject is a simple matter of pinching in. If anything, it’s more practical than the compact digital cameras of yore, because there’s no wait and no annoying motor noise.

The camera even works well in low light conditions, to the extent that if I had the Mate 20 Pro in my pocket then I wouldn’t lug my high-end hybrid camera to trade shows anymore. On 99% of occasions, this device will do the job, and that’s good enough for a (very) amateur photographer like me.

The Mate 20 Pro has a couple of other neat camera tricks tucked away. The third lens allows you to take wide-angle shots, even if distortion is quite obvious at the edges. Plus, it now has an excellent macro mode.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: video camera

Then there are its video talents. Huawei makes much of the artificial intelligence built into its Kirin 980 chipset, which we lavished with due praise when it was launched at tech trade show IFA in September.

This isn’t idle waffle. Click on the magic wand logo when in video mode and you can choose a number of real-time effects, with the most impressive being its AI colour offering. This will detect your human subject and display them in colour while making everything else black and white.

I’ve included an example video below, which also illustrates how close your subject needs to be before the filter will kick in.

Note: audio is muted in the above video

Why would you want to create such a video? Well, yes, that’s a good question. But even if this becomes a hackneyed party trick in years to come, it’s an indication of the power inside this camera. Phone, I mean phone.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: prince of power

I can’t get overly excited about benchmark scores. The truth is that the Mate 20 Pro is, like any phone that costs over £300, plenty powerful enough for the next couple of years. In fact, I’m not even going to insult your eyeballs with a graph. If you’re interested, its benchmark results are at the foot of this review. It’s fast. Pretty much the fastest Android smartphone you can buy.

Where things get a little more interesting is its gaming capabilities. Huawei “launched” a 7.2in Mate 20 X at the same time as the Mate 20 Pro, and is even creating a gamepad for it, but the X is initially only going to be released in China.

The 7.2in Mate 20 X supports Huawei’s M-Pen and turns you into a beautiful lady

The reason I mention the Mate 20 X is that it’s designed to handle any Android game out there at silly frame rates, and the Mate 20 Pro has almost exactly the same hardware inside. If you enjoy PUBG and its ilk, you’ll like this phone. Again, benchmark results are included at the end along with links to outdoor attractions you really should be more interested in.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: in the flesh

Occasionally, I just reach out and pick up the Mate 20 Pro. It’s not because I’m weird. It just feels so nice. It’s heavy, but in a reassuringly solid way, and its rounded corners tell me that all is well in the world.

It’s currently available in four colours – black, blue, green (not shown) and “twilight” – and the latter is the one to choose if you can find it. When it catches the light, it looks spectacular.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review

Another nice design touch is the red power button. This sits below the volume up/down rocker, and visually it just works. It also makes it obvious where the power button is.

Naturally, the screen fills almost all of the available space at the front, and that’s the thing you’ll notice first. Turn it over, though, and there’s a glassy, elegant rear. It picks up fingerprints, but in most light conditions you hopefully won’t notice them.

All that said, if you’re the type of person who needs to shine their stainless steel toaster every morning, don’t buy the Mate 20 Pro. If fingerprints aggravate you, you’ll be aggravated.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: fingerprint reader

Which brings me to the fingerprint reader, which is New&Exciting™ because it sits under the screen. Welcome to the future, right?

Well, I’d say this feature is exciting for approximately two seconds. Sure, it’s handy to have a fingerprint reader located on the front of the phone rather than the rear, but this feels like a first-generation attempt.

For a start, it takes way too long to recognise all your fingerprint. About a minute of putting your finger just-so, and then just-so-but-at-an-angle. But it also doesn’t work as well as a “real” fingerprint reader. There were times when it worked first time, and others when it wouldn’t recognise my print even after three goes.

The good news is that the face recognition works so well that this almost becomes academic. And besides, you can always enter your six-digit PIN if you get desperate.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: The screen and the notch

I’d far rather Huawei had found a way to hide the camera behind the screen and dump the notch, because it’s front and centre here. This is an aesthetic issue rather than a practical one, because information icons such as battery life are small enough that you still can see everything you need to at a glance.

Then we come to the OLED screen itself, which follows the Samsung-led trend of curved edges. While I’ve already admitted to being a fan of how this makes the phone feel in the hand, it does mean the edge of the screen can look a bit distorted. I could live without it.

Naturally, the quality of the screen itself is pretty damn awesome. Again, I won’t sully this review with meaningless figures or graphs that essentially say “the quality of the screen itself is pretty damn awesome”. It’s nice. Photos look amazing. You can read it in all light conditions. Move along.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: battery stuff

There’s a big battery inside the Mate 20 Pro. About 20% bigger than most phone batteries, and coupled with various bits of clever technology (thanks to the latest version of Android, it can learn which apps etc you use and switch off the ones you don’t need) that means it will probably last you a day and a half between charges.

But what I love is how quickly it recharges. Using the supplied charger and cable, it went from 8% to 58% in 20 minutes. Crazy. My only caveat is that it’s fussy about chargers and cables, refusing to play with my perfectly nice Anker USB-C cables and an old iPhone charger.

Huawei also inserted a bit of magic that means it can wirelessly charge, but that isn’t included in the box. Even more magically, it can wirelessly charge other phones that support wireless charging: just put them back to back. Cheekily, one of Huawei’s presentation slides at the launch showed it doing precisely that to an iPhone Xs.

Who says huge Chinese corporations don’t know how to have fun?

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: other things I should say

Time for a bullet list of good things and bad things.

Good things!

  • You can swim with this, take underwater shots, power hose it for all I care – it will survive in depths of 2m for up to half an hour
  • You can also scan toys and turn them into living things using the AR mode in the camera. It’s kind of cool
  • Huawei is selling a couple of cute cover accessories that you can see below
  • I’m not sure this really counts as a good thing, but if you have £1,500 or so to spare you can buy a Porsche Design version with a two-tone leather design

Bad things!

  • Huawei has a made a terrible choice about expandable memory. Rather than offering a microSD card slot like a normal phone, it’s pushing its own nano SD technology that a) isn’t available to buy yet and b) will probably cost loads more because it’s proprietary
  • It doesn’t run pure Android, so if you want instant access to updates then you’re better off with the Google Pixel 3
  • No 3.5mm audio jack. Huawei includes a USB-C adapter and a pair of USB-C earphones, but of course that means you can’t plug them in and charge the phone at the same time
  • The price!

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: specifications

  • 190g, 72.3 x 8.6 x 158mm (width, depth, height)
  • 6.39in OLED display, 1,440 x 3,120 resolution
  • Kirin 980 processor (two 2.6GHz cores, two 1.92GHz, four 1.8GHz)
  • 6GB RAM, 128GB ROM, nano SD slot up to 256GB
  • 4,200mAh battery
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5
  • 40MP (f/1.8) rear camera, plus 20MP (f/2.2) wide angle lens plus 8MP (f/2.4) telephoto lens
  • 24MP (f/2.0) front camera with 3D depth sensing
  • Android 9 with Huawei’s EMUI 9 interface

Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: test results

Speed tests
Geekbench 4 single-core/multi-core3,353/9,665
Geekbench 4 in Performance mode3,395/10,106
GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 on-screen/off @1080p48/50fps
Manhattan 3.1 in Performance mode48/54fps
Screen tests
sRGB gamut coverage95%
Maximum brightness470cd/m2
Better things to do with your life than look at benchmark results
Thorpe Park, Climb Ben Nevis, Giants Causeway

Huawei Mate 20 Pro: How much is it and should you buy it

It’s £900 from Amazon, which frankly is a relief: Huawei’s press release said 1,049 Euros, and I expected that to translate to £1,000. So actually you’re saving money.

In reality, you could save money if you hang on. Huawei phones aren’t like Apple’s: once the launch excitement dies down, prices tend to drop too. I expect it won’t be long before the P20 Pro is available for less than £700.

Huawei naturally wants you to buy right now, sweetening the deal by throwing in a Qi wireless charger and its new smartwatch. That offer is set to end on 25 October, though, so if you’re tempted then you’ll have to hurry.

Personally, I’d play the waiting game and see how the price settles. This is a brilliant camera – phone, dammit, I mean phone – and other than the stupid nano SD card Huawei doesn’t make any real mistakes.

Besides, maybe you can trade in that DSLR to help pay for it.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro
  • Build quality
  • Photo quality
  • Speed & battery

Summary

If a brilliant camera tops your priority list, you should buy this phone

Overall
4.8

About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis. Email tim@bigtechquestion.com

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