Huawei released our favourite phone of 2018 in the P20 Pro. Which means its bigger-screen cousin, the Mate 20 Pro, has all eyes fixed in its general direction to see if it can do the seemingly impossible: be even better still.
Having handled the new Huawei Mate 20 Pro a week ahead of the official unveil, initial impressions are very strong indeed. It's got the latest processor smarts, the largest battery capacity we've ever seen in any Huawei phone, a bunch of future-facing features, and a design that's immediately stunning (well, from the front anyway).
Here's why the Huawei Mate 20 Pro could be the 2018 dark horse for best flagship phone.
Design & Display
- 6.39in OLED display with curved glass edges, 19.5:9 aspect ratio, 3120 x 1440 resolution, full notch
- Colours: Pink Gold, Midnight Blue, Emerald Green, Twilight, Black
- Glass body design, curved edges on every side
- No 3.5mm jack (USB-C headphones included)
- In-screen fingerprint scanner
At first glance and, well, it's all rather Samsung Galaxy S9+, isn't it? The expression goes 'imitation is the greatest form of flattery', but the Huawei manages to hold its own distinctive design cues: you won't see a physical fingerprint scanner anywhere (more on that in a moment); both the finish and colour palette are far more exciting than the Samsung's in our view; and there's the addition of a screen notch (that black-out dip to the top of the display).
Those three points above actually make the Huawei device that much more future-facing than its Samsung competitor. The Mate 20 Pro has a curved OLED screen, which has a subtle and symmetrical fold to every single edge of the device - both front and back - that makes it very comfortable to hold. The whole product looks and feels top-end in its finish.
The addition of a notch to the screen isn't something that concerns us either. With a 6.39-inch panel of this height - it's taller than the S9+ and has additional resolution that caters for this - there's a huge amount of display space to dominate your point of view. And it's OLED so it looks great, with deep blacks and popping colours.
Flip the Mate 20 Pro around and its rear - available in a variety of colours, including the delectable Twilight - has some points of interest. In blue and green finishes there's a so-called 'Hyper Optical Pattern' design, where diagonal lines are etched into the screen. They're very subtle, however, so you'll need to run a fingernail over them to feel the texture - but this additional tactility adds grippiness, while the subtle dark colour hides some fingerprint smearing (not totally though).
Disappointingly, the cameras are arranged in a square-shaped oddity to the rear centre. We don't think this design choice is remotely pretty and it's a real shame Huawei has ditched the almost iconic trio of lenses in vertical form, as per P20 Pro. That said, the Mate 20 Pro's design looks like less of a dog's dinner than the S9+ and its scatter of sensors. If there's a silver lining then that's it.
As we've mentioned, there's no physical fingerprint scanner to be seen anywhere. That's because, like the Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS that came before it, the Mate 20 Pro has opted for an in-screen fingerprint scanner. Which made us rather nervous at first because, frankly, none of these scanners work that well (the Vivo NEX S is another culprit). Praise where it's due though: the Mate 20 Pro's in-screen fingerprint scanner is the most responsive yet, to the point that it succeeds in replacing a physical one, thanks to a very detailed setup that requires a lot of fingerprint reads for increased accuracy.
At our initial briefing we queried Huawei if the in-screen scanner would have the same issues as its Porsche Design Mate RS equivalent, i.e. that it won't work for every possible instance. Although the company said this would be the case, it's not: upon our second time with the Mate 20 Pro we signed into our AMEX UK app and assigned fingerprint login successfully, the same with Google Pay. Which is great news as it's the first time we've seen an in-screen fingerprint scanner that can be used just like a physical one, it seems. We'll be reviewing this more thoroughly as we live with the phone to see if there are any foibles.
If you don't want to use the fingerprint scanner then there's 3D Face Unlock. This is the company's most advanced version thanks to a series of sensors: proximity, dot projector, illuminator, IR camera and main 24MP camera. That's what's hiding in that there notch!
Performance & Battery Life
- Kirin 980 octa-core processor (2x 2.6GHz, 2x 1.92GHz, 4x 1.8GHz), 6GB RAM
- Qi wireless charging (bonus: charge other devices from the phone itself)
- 4200mAh battery capacity, SuperCharge fast-charging (at 40W)
With its glass design, the Mate 20 Pro finally opens the door for Qi wireless charging - something we've been waiting to see in a Huawei phone for some time.
It comes with an additional benefit too: the ability to charge-up other Qi devices direct from the phone. We put an iPhone X back-to-back with the Mate 20 Pro and the iPhone was able to pull extra juice from the Huawei. That might not be its greatest use though: think wireless earphones and this feature, which is activated manually within the settings, could be a great addition.
Wireless charging isn't the fastest way to juice the battery though. And as the Mate 20 Pro has the most capacious cell we've ever seen in a Huawei phone, at 4,200mAh, the speedier way to refill is via the USB-C cable. Because with SuperCharge fast-charging at 40W, the Mate 20 Pro can go from dead to 70 per cent full in 30 minutes. That kind of speed is only secondary to the Super VOOC charging (50W) of the Lamborghini Oppo Find X.
On the performance front the Mate 20 Pro is the first device to feature Huawei's Kirin 980 processor. This is Huawei's competitor for Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845, the former focusing on a different division of cores - arranged in 'big, medium, little' to share the workload - and dual so-called 'NPU' (Neural Processing Units) to act as the phone's brain and take the AI (artificial intelligence) a step further, dividing the workload for different tasks. All of this is ultimately designed with efficiency in mind, in addition to the power.
Now, we've used the Mate 20 Lite for some weeks, which operates on a different Kirin architecture, and haven't found it very good. By comparison the Mate 20 Pro seems far superior, even just from a cursory play with the device - its camera loads faster, navigation doesn't hang at any point, and we even installed South Park: Phone Destroyer on our personal account, which ran smoothly.
There's also the addition of GPU Turbo, to unlock some additional graphics support for certain games (not everything is compatible, it's down to developers to get on board).
Overall the Mate 20 Pro looks primed to deliver a strong day-to-day performance - whether that involves work, play or a combination of both - with efficiency and longevity. That capacious battery has a lot of features and hardware to support, and during our 90 minute session we did find the handset getting hot, but if these telltale signs are anything to go by then we suspect the Mate series will be a long-lasting phone - a feature for which it's renowned.
- EMUI 9.0 at launch (over Android 9.0)
The Mate 20 Pro also sees the advent of Huawei's EMUI 9.0 software, which appears over the top of Android Pie (9.0). The whole EMUI debate has often split the crowd - is it more fussy than standard Android? - but Huawei continues to plug it, citing improvements over Android's stock file system, performance longevity, unlocking GPU aspects, and introducing features not available elsewhere (many of which end up in stock Google later down the line in one form or other anyway).
Specifically new to EMUI 9.0 are various features, the main ones being: HiTouch, which is a bit like Google Lens, allowing for a double-thumb press-and-hold on the screen to generate a query which, based on the image captured, will be contextually answered; HiVision, found within the camera app or search bar, which uses the camera to auto recognise landmarks, artworks, calorie content in food, and access shopping; and a cleaner and neater user interface with fewer settings than before. Oh, you can also use Desktop Mode via MirrorCast for a wireless desktop on an additional screen (the phone acts as a mouse/touchpad).
HiVision doesn't appear to be the finished article yet, however, as the UK version we've seen ahead of launch has QR code, Shopping, Identify and Translate sections. The last of which is built around the Microsoft app and works very well to live translate words. Identify, at present, is rough around the edges: we pointed it at an orange which is called a 'moon'. Thinking that might make sense on the table on which the fruit sat, we opted for a banana instead. The result? Eclipse. Oh dear.
Now, EMUI 8.2 in the Mate 20 Lite proved unstable in our use, so we're hoping that EMUI 9.0 will be a silky smooth transition for a true flagship experience. Having used the Mate 20 Pro briefly it seems just fine, but we'll see how it pans out over a longer period of use in our forthcoming review.
- Triple rear Leica cameras (all colour, no mono): 40MP wide-angle f/1.8, 20MP ultrawide-angle f/2.2, 8MP tele f/2.4
- Single 24MP front-facing camera (used with sensors for 3D Face Unlock)
- Super macro mode (2.5cm from lens focus)
- Master AI (artificial intelligence) modes
- 4K video capture
The final - and major! - part of the Mate 20 Pro experience is its camera setup (which is the same as the standard Mate 20, but far superior to the Mate 20 Lite).
Sure, that rear square arrangement isn't the greatest looking, and we do wish the Huawei had opted for the more iconic vertical camera arrangement. A series of separate lenses just looks far more camera-like in our view. Still, it is what it is, and in terms of features the latest Mate may be the one to beat.
Those three cameras aren't the same as found in the P20 Pro, despite all being co-engineered by Leica. The Mate ditches any monochrome sensor, citing the overall pixel count as more than enough to derive all the information required for any of its special features. We could argue that the loss of the monochrome is a big shift change that undermines many of the points in having it in the first place - but without actual images to show you here, side-by-side, any such comparisons will have to wait.
Principal to the Mate 20 Pro's setup is three different focal lengths. There's a wide-angle lens, used as standard, which is 40-megapixels. There's a 20-megapixel ultra-wide lens too, which is 0.6x that of the wide lens, for ever broader views onto the world. And then there's the familiar 8-megapixel tele lens for zoom without degradation (to 3x optically, up to 5x with digital, right through to 10x if you're willing to accept cropped images and some quality degradation).
Having that ultra-wide lens makes a difference for sure: not only for wide open scenes, but for its super macro mode, which kicks in if the lens is up to 25mm from a close-up object - it can still focus, which is something few phone cameras can manage.
With the P20 Pro, Huawei pushed its Master AI (artificial intelligence) mode. This can auto-recognise scenes and adjust the settings accordingly. In the Mate 20 Pro it's back and has a wider capacity than ever before - but it still has some of the foibles present before, namely the overzealous processing in many modes (Greenery, Blue Sky) and its sometimes inability to correctly distinguish a subject (when pointed at the floor during our preview session, it was adamant that 'Fish' was the correct setting for concrete, hmm).
With heaps of core power, the Mate 20 Pro also offers many shooting features. There's Portrait which offers software-adjusted lighting and aperture options for blurred background effect, plus a variety of filters (which can be used real-time in movie capture, including live background blur or colour selection).
We suspect the Mate 20 Pro's camera will have a handful of quirks, just like the P20 Pro does, but with the ultra-wide lens on board the palette of what's achievable widens once more, giving this Mate a strong chance of having the best camera setup in the business. More info as we get to use the device over coming weeks.
By combining the highest quality design, arguably the best cameras in any smartphone, and future-facing features such as an in-screen fingerprint scanner, the Mate 20 Pro asserts its position among 2018's topflagship phones.
That said, divisive software, that weird-looking camera panel on the rear, and overzealous artificial intelligence camera features are its nit-pick letdowns. Whether the battery longevity and new camera setup will be up to its billing are questions that will linger until we've tested the phone as our own.
As things look, however, Huawei has come out swinging with the the Mate 20 Pro. It's the 2018 flagship friend you'll want to know.