Huawei is having a stellar year and there's no signs of the Chinese brand slowing down. It is shifting the way it approaches phone releases, though, as the surprise announcement of the Mate 20 Lite goes to show (and its speedy on-sale date of September 5).

There's no Mate 20 proper just yet – we're expecting it in October – giving the Lite a moment to breathe in an already bustling market. But with the impressive Honor Play already out there for less money, and the obvious higher expectations of the full-on Mate 20, does a Lite version of this otherwise premium phone series even make sense?

Design & Display

  • 6.3-inch LTPS LCD display with notch, 81% screen-to-body ratio
  • 19.5:9 aspect ratio with Full HD+ resolution (1080 x 2340)
  • Glass body with gradient design, 2.5D glass screen
  • 158.3 x 75.3 x 7.6mm; 172g

It might say 'Lite' in its name, but there's nothing lightweight about the design and build quality of this phone. The Mate 20 Lite a large glass body device, dressed in black, with rounded corners and minimal bezel around the screen. If anything it's a subtle design that lacks an extra lick of colour to make it more widely appealing than just plain ol' black; take a look at Twilight on the P20 Pro, for example.

Pocket-lintHuawei Mate 20 Lite review image 2

The Mate series has always been about going large, and the Mate 20 Lite doesn't disappoint here. Its 6.3-inch screen is an expansive view onto your apps and content, but as the panel has a 19.5:9 aspect ratio it's tall rather than wide, so it's not difficult to hold in one hand.

It's the era of the notch – that's the black-out 'dip' to the top of the screen – and, like the P20 Pro, the Mate 20 Lite follows a similar path. It's not as distracting as it sounds, plus it's becoming the norm for Android and Apple devices of late. Within the software it's possible to hide the notch anyway, should you prefer.

Pocket-lintHuawei Mate 20 Lite review image 9

Being the Lite version, the screen is LCD rather than OLED, we suspect the latter will be reserved for the top-spec Mate 20 to offer richer colours and deeper blacks. Still, there's nothing wrong with the Lite's display; it's got the scale, resolution and brightness on point for a phone at this level.

Hardware & Software

  • Kirin 710 processor (2.2GHz & 1.7GHz), 4GB RAM
  • 3750mah battery, USB-C fast charging
  • 64GB storage with microSD expansion
  • EMUI 8.2 skin over Android 8.1

At the very same time as announcing the latest top-spec Kirin 980 processor at IFA 2018 in Berlin, Huawei also unveiled this very phone. But the two don't go together: instead the Mate 20 Lite has Kirin 710 under the hood, which is a lighter variation for Huawei's mid-tier devices. We don't know much about it, because there's not been official information released.

Pocket-lintHuawei Mate 20 Lite review image 3

What we do know for sure is that the Mate 20 Lite's 3750mAh battery offers stacks of power for long-time usage. This is no surprise in a range that's always gone big on battery life and succeeded. And paired with that lighter processor setup and 4GB RAM, we're of the belief that this phone will easily power through a full day and beyond. There's USB-C fast-charging for rapid top-ups too.

The only Lite setup comes with 64GB on-board storage, but as the dual SIM tray offers a microSD card slot (in place of the second SIM), it's easy to expand this as you please. Although dual SIM has its benefits, especially with Huawei's App Twin feature allowing for duplication of apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp and more, which can be useful for business and personal account division.

Speaking of software, the Mate 20 Lite runs Huawei's EMUI (that's 'Emotion User Interface') in its 8.2 guise. While some bemoan this software, over time the similarities between it and where Google is heading with Android proper continue to increase. We've been using 8.2 in the Honor Play for weeks and it's a stable and easy-to-use system in our view, with few quirks beyond some duplicate apps being pre-installed.

Pocket-lintHuawei Mate 20 Lite review image 6

Huawei has another new trick it's pushing in all its latest devices: GPU Turbo. This is used to rebalance CPU and GPU usage to deliver lower power consumption and a steadier gaming experience. It's only compatible with PUBG Mobile and Mobile Legends at present, both games receiving a minor frame-rate uplift. We're talking like an extra fps, though, and this Huawei screen isn't high-refresh like the panel you'll find in the Razer Phone, so we wouldn't call it a gaming phone.

Cameras

  • Four cameras: dual rear, dual front
  • Rear: 20MP RGB with f/1.8 aperture  & 2MP depth sensor
  • Front: 24MP RGB & 2MP depth sensor
  • AI Master with 22 auto-selectable scene modes

Huawei has become the surprise brand to beat in the camera stakes, with the P20 Pro leading the way with its four-piece camera setup. The Mate 20 Lite doesn't hit the same level – there's no zoom lens or Leica partnership here, which we expect the flagship version to bring – but it does have four cameras: a pair on the rear and a pair on the front.

Pocket-lintHuawei Mate 20 Lite review image 7

The focus of each pair is to deliver a high-resolution sensor paired with a lower-resolution depth sensor. This data can be used to create a blurred backgrounds or lighting effects via software intervention. It's something Huawei has been doing for a while and its offering continues to get more refined. Having the same idea on the front of the phone is great for selfie fans, too.

The other big deal with Huawei is its lead in artificial intelligence (AI). There are 22 scene modes that the camera can utilise by automatically detecting the content in the scene. This helps it adjust for colour, saturation, contrast, HDR (high dynamic range) to enhance shots on the fly, without you needing to do anything.

Pocket-lintHuawei Mate 20 Lite Review image 12

In the P20 we've found AI camera to be great for some situations, but overbearing in others. The Blue Sky and Greenery selections, for example, are far too saturated and don't look right at all. Whether the Mate 20 Lite will adjust for this we're yet to see; a short time shooting in dim evening light wasn't enough to deduce.

First Impressions

The Huawei Mate 20 Lite works on a number of levels: it's an interesting glimpse at the yet-to-be-announced Mate 20 proper and all the goodness that will bring; it's also a large-screen and long-lasting device in its own right for a sensible price.

At the same time, the Mate 20 Lite shoots itself in the foot for a number of reasons: the Honor Play is a very similar device, with more power and design verve, for £100 less; and the Mate series has always been about super power and longevity – the Mate 10 Pro is a superb phone, for example – the former which this particular Mate can't fully deliver upon.

That's the take-away sentiment: the Mate 20 Lite is well designed and well built, but we struggle to see who it's actually designed for. A solid yet superfluous phone, really. Now bring on the Mate 20 proper, because that will likely be a class-leading phone in every department.

Price when reviewed:
£379