The Huawei Mate series has become a defining handset for the Chinese brand. Indeed, its Mate 10 Pro has been one of our favourite long-lasting, large-screen handsets. And it's certainly whetted our appetite for the forthcoming Mate 20 Pro (expected mid October 2018).
However, in a somewhat confusing move, Huawei decided to announce and launch the Huawei Mate 20 Lite - yes, 'light' - at the tail-end of August, offering a glimpse of the forthcoming ultimate handset, but in a watered-down and, we feel, misplaced move.
Sure, the Mate 20 Lite has got some design pointers perfectly right, but it's almost like the antithesis to what the Mate series is all about: power. Wth the impressive Honor Play already out there for less money, does a Lite version of Huawei's otherwise premium phone series make any 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
- Fingerprint scanner to the rear
- 158.3 x 75.3 x 7.6mm; 172g
- 3.5mm headphone jack
It might say 'Lite' in its name, but there's nothing lightweight about the design and build quality of this phone. This is where the Mate 20 Lite gets things most right thanks to a large glass body device with rounded corners and minimal bezel around the screen.
The Mate series has always been about going large, and the Mate 20 Lite doesn't disappoint here either. 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.
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.
Oh, there's a 3.5mm headphone jack on board too. So no complaining there. Proves that a thin and well-designed device doesn't need to lose this port.
Hardware, Software & Battery Life
- 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 it announced the latest top-spec Kirin 980 processor at IFA 2018 in Berlin, Huawei also unveiled the Mate 20 Lite. 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.
It's not a chipset that the company is talking about much, and probably for good reason: Kirin 710 isn't that powerful. Indeed, it causes some bumps in performance, with apps sometimes pausing, the user interface sometimes clunking, and games not always running that smoothly (too many characters on screen in South Park: Phone Destroyer and the frame-rate drops through the floor, which makes it hard to play). Even Huawei's GPU Turbo can't save the day.
Which doesn't feel much like a Mate phone performance at all. For the first time in a number of iterations we've had issues with the software, too. Huawei runs EMUI 8.1 on the Mate 20 Lite over the top of Android. Some elements - such as App Twin, allowing for duplication of apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp and more - are beneficial. But stability is not this software's strong point: we've frequently had apps crash, or fail to load without the phone being restarted (payments apps such as AMEX and PayPal in particular).
To add to the Mate 20 Lite's pain, the cheaper and more powerful Honor Play runs a more stable version of the software. Which makes that phone better in every regard. Thus, Huawei - which owns Honor anyway - has let its marketing eye slip with this Lite device. It's wrought with issues in a series that simply isn't meant to be 'light'.
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.
Where the Mate 20 Lite does succeed in being a Mate proper is in the battery life department. The 3750mAh cell offers stacks of power for long-time usage. We've been getting a full day's worth of heavy use out of the phone no problems, clocking in 16 hours use before hitting the 20 per cent marker. If you're not as heavy a user than you'll see a full 24 hours of use, easily making this a one-and-a-half day phone.
There's USB-C fast-charging for rapid top-ups too, but no wireless charging (not that we expected it, but the Mate 20 proper will likely offer this).
- 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 (in a different setup): a pair on the rear and a pair on the front.
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, although seems (harmlessly) misplaced in the Mate brand.
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. We've found this to be sometimes great and sometimes overbearing: the Blue Sky and Greenery auto-selects, for example, are far too saturated and don't look right at all.
Operationally the Mate 20 Lite's cameras are fairly decent. No, the app isn't that fast to load, but once there the autofocus is capable and the various options are easy to use. The Aperture setting, in particular, will be a favourite: this can be used to select between f/0.95-f/16, the smaller the number being the more blurred the background becomes (via software, so it's not always perfect around subject edges with the blur, but it's reasonable enough).
In terms of quality, the Mate 20 Lite captures images with colours that pop, while detail in good light is strong (but a bit oversharpened, which can over busy things). Low-light conditions are more challenging, however, which is when processing smoothes things out to excess, not delivering the same high degree of quality you'll find from the P20 Pro.
The short take: the Mate 20 Lite's cameras are capable, but not up there with the P20 Pro by any means, while AI can be overbearing in a number of scenarios.
One look at the Mate 20 Lite's neat and tidy exterior design would suggest it's a great phone. But it's let down by context: the Honor Play is £100 cheaper and that phone is far more powerful and stable. Plus the whole idea of the Mate series is for powerful, top-end devices, thus the Lite is a contradiction to that very premise.
We've had issues with our Mate 20 Lite's performance too. Apps haved crashed or failed to open frequently, the mid-level processor has limits that can be seen and felt in use, and the software has functioned less deftly than any Huawei setup we've seen for a couple of years.
On face value the Mate 20 Lite is a perfectly acceptable mid-tier phone. Dig a bit deeper, however, and a series of small issues chip away at its initial impression. It's a perplexing product in an obscure launch cycle: one we hope will be pushed to the back of people's minds because, frankly, we expect the Mate 20 proper to be one of the year's best phones. So wait for that and see what Mate can really mean.
The best mid-price phone on the planet. And we mean that. This big-screen delight has a more adept chipset than the Mate, lasts for an age, costs far less, and is a whole lot more stable.