Huawei Mate 20 Pro review: you’ll fall in love with this phone like I did

Huawei Mate 20 Pro 11

Rating: 8.7/10

Yay:

  • Great set of triple cameras
  • Superb display
  • Stupendous battery life
  • Fast charging that is faster than Dash Charge
  • Insane gaming performance

Nay

  • Wireless reverse charging is a gimmick you’ll never use
  • Should’ve included a Nano Memory card in the box 

Introduction to the Huawei Mate 20 Pro

How do I even begin talking about the Huawei Mate 20 Pro? At least in the world of geeks, this phone has created so much chatter around it that it becomes difficult to not be swayed by opinions. From throwing everything and a reverse wireless charging feature in the phone, the Mate 20 Pro has wowed everyone with its extensive laundry list of features on offer.

But the point here is – do all these features on Huawei’s marquee flagship smartphone come together in a cohesive manner? That’s what I am going to find out in this review. 

Photos of the Mate 20 Pro in this review were shot by Nitesh Guleria. 

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Huawei Mate 20 Pro design: superlative and seductive engineering

For the Mate 20 Pro, Huawei has taken inspiration from Samsung’s curved glass approach for its Galaxy S series. The Mate 20 Pro’s front and back glass – presumably protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 5 – is curved around the sides and meets the thin metal frame at the center. The metal frame feels sturdy and rigid but like JerryRigEverything’s video shows, the curved glass can break easily with a little bit of flex. So, I’d suggest you use a case with the phone. Also, in my testing period I ended up scratching the display and that’s because I don’t think Corning’s Gorilla Glass solution is very scratch proof. 

Anyway, our Mate 20 Pro review unit is the Twilight variant that is a gradient colour, which was made popular by the P20 Pro early this year. It does look attractive. But my favourite colour is undoubtedly the Emerald Green one because it not only looks sexy, Huawei has also added a hyper optical panel that is textured on the rear. What this does is adds to the grip of the phone, and protects the phone from smudges and scratches as well. In comparison, the Twilight variant picks up fingerprints easily.  I would recommend you to pick up the Emerald Green colour variant in case you are considering the Mate 20 Pro.

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Thanks to the curved glass, the phone is extremely tall and the width is very low too. Ergonomically, I think the phone is slightly top heavy and therefore if you hold it lightly from the bottom there is a chance that it might topple out of your hand. Moreover, there is no chance in hell that your thumb will be able to reach the top of the display with ease. But that’s the case for most flagship phones these days anyway. However, what baffles me is how Huawei has managed to control the girth and weight of the phone despite including a large 4200mAh battery. A great engineering feat, no doubt!

Moving on, on the rear, you also get the now iconic triple camera setup with a flash sitting inside a square-shaped module. The module has a raised metal frame running along the edges that protect the glass covering the camera lenses. This is a very thoughtful design. Apparently, this module has been designed after the headlights on certain Porsche cars. Is it a coincidence then that there is a Porsche model of the phone also exists? Say what you want about the design, I will be forever indebted to Huawei and the internet for making this meme. 

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There are some other design quirks that Huawei has introduced in the Mate 20 Pro. For example, the speaker sits inside the USB Type-C port and you get the SIM card tray to its right. Now, this is a unique SIM card tray that accepts a single Nano SIM card and a Nano Memory card on the other side. This is Huawei’s new technology where the company has shrunk the microSD card’s size to the size of a Nano SIM. 

While it is great, because it can make for smaller SIM card trays and occupying less space, I think the company should have bundled one in the box to democratize it. You can choose to ignore this completely and use that slot for a second Nano SIM card instead. 

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For the first time in a long time, the Mate 20 Pro comes with an Infrared sensor on the top. It is great if you want to control electronic appliances in the house. Oh, by the way, it comes with IP68 certification, which makes the phone waterproof for up to 1.5 meters underwater for 30 minutes. Huawei also offers a special underwater case for the phone, in case you are interested in deep sea diving or are into adventure sports of that sort.

Overall, the Mate 20 Pro’s design is classy and eccentric, both at the same time. This phone is definitely a conversation starter. 

Huawei Mate 20 Pro in-display fingerprint scanner and display: futuristic but there are issues

Finally, Huawei has decided to go for a 2K display on its flagship smartphone. The Mate 20 Pro offers a display resolution of 1440×3120 pixels on its 6.39-inch AMOLED panel. The first thing that everyone must be concerned about is the weird display bleeding being reported on some social platforms by users. My unit had the issue as well. 

 

The Mate 20 Pro’s display is crisp, bright, and colourful. The colours pop at you, the viewing angles are not too bad, and the sunlight legibility is superb too. But, the display has the screen bleeding issue as reported by many users. My unit definitely had that problem and when you use the phone in the dark, the greenish tint is super annoying. Looks like a lot of Mate 20 Pro displays are plagued with this problem but Huawei has promised a fix for it. If you face the same issue in your phone, you should take it to a Huawei service centre immediately to get it checked. 

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This display also offers an always-on display option but the options are very limited. Currently, you can only see the date, the time, and the battery percentage. There is no support for third-party apps yet. And the fingerprint scanner sits under the display, like the OnePlus 6T and the Vivo Nex. It is fairly fast and accurate, and the animation feels very reassuring too. The notch that cuts out the top portion of the display has a few sensors to enhance the face recognition tech to work in 3D. I noticed that the Face Unlock was super fast on the Mate 20 Pro and it worked very well in the dark as well. Also, you can switch off the notch if you wish. 

Since the display is curved, a question I get often is what about the palm rejection? Don’t worry, Huawei has got it sorted. The phone didn’t register any ghost touches and it was a trouble-free experience mostly.  

Huawei Mate 20 Pro software: EMUI has improved drastically

It is no surprise that Huawei has created a whole new EMUI experience for the Mate 20 Pro. The phone runs on the latest EMUI 9.0 skin on top of Android Pie 9.0. Before I move on to list the features I like and don’t like about EMUI 9.0, Huawei doesn’t allow for bootloader unlocking and that could be a concern for folks wanting to root their phones. Also, while Project Treble is supported the phone doesn’t support Seamless Updates. This was actually expected considering Huawei makes its own skins anyway. So now that that’s out of the way, let’s break down the stuff I like and don’t like about EMUI 9.0:

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Stuff I like about EMUI 9.0

  • I like the fact that Huawei has actually taken user feedback and reduced the menu options from 940 to 843. 
  • Also, Huawei has genuinely improved the performance at a core level. Now, EMUI 9.0 has much faster performance across the board and is noticeably faster with loading apps as well. In fact, Huawei claims that the phone will retain 95% of its original UI and UX performance capabilities even after 18 months of usage. Those are tall claims but if true, very, very impressive. 
  • I am in love with the Dark mode in the Mate 20 Pro. The shade of black that Huawei has chosen for the dark mode makes the whole UI look sexy. System apps like Messages and Calendar just look stunning! I really wish that there’d be some way to add a dark mode to even third-party apps. 

    Huawei Mate 20 Pro 18 Huawei Mate 20 Pro 17 Huawei Mate 20 Pro 16

  • The gestures on the Mate 20 Pro are done well. While I did find that Material Design for apps got in the way of swiping from the left to the right, there is an option to swipe from right to left to go back as well. The software also sings well with the hardware to give you a haptic feedback to register the back function. Huawei and Xiaomi have definitely nailed gestures on their skins. 
  • I have to talk about Huawei Share. I know it is not a new feature but it is pretty awesome. Especially for someone like me uses a Mac for work. Transferring files using the cable is a pain because Android’s File Transfer app for Mac is very poorly optimised. With Huawei Share, you can create a network that can be easily accessed from a PC or a Mac. Huawei Share also includes the Projection mode that can project your screen on to a Wireless Projector. Basically, the Desktop Mode now works wirelessly thanks to the more powerful processor. 
  • Digital Balance is an interesting workaround to Google’s Digital Wellbeing feature. It lets you keep a check on your smartphone usage if you feel you are addicted. Unfortunately, I can’t cut down on my smartphone usage. It is my job after all. 
  • I still find it amusing that you can use your knuckles to knock on the screen to take a screenshot or record the screen.

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Stuff I don’t like about EMUI 9.0

  • Huawei bundles way too many third-party apps and there are duplicate apps as well. 
  • You can choose to have an app drawer if you don’t want all apps on the home screen, which I hate by the way. But invoking the app drawer means you have to press the massive circular icon, which is a complete misfit with the gestures. And looks pretty meh too.
  • I sincerely hope that Huawei improves the design of its first-party icons and a few other UI elements because they look very iOS-inspired. Just one more level of refinement and we are good to go. 

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Actually, you might have noticed that there are very few things that I am not a fan of in EMUI now. This is because the software has evolved beautifully over the years. On the Mate 20 Pro, you get the best version of EMUI yet. 

Huawei Mate 20 Pro camera: immediately impressive

Let’s come to the piece de resistance of the Mate 20 Pro, the triple camera setup on the rear. The Mate 20 Pro carries forward the storied legacy of the P20 Pro, which by the way had logged the highest DxOMark score yet and continues to stay on top. On the Mate 20 Pro’s triple camera setup, Huawei has made a slight change. It has switched the monochrome lens for a wide-angle camera now. The Leica-branding and tuning continue to exist. So now, you get a 40MP sensor attached to a f/1.8 lens, 20MP wide-angle camera with a f/2.2 aperture, and an 8MP telephoto camera, with a lens that has a focal length of 80mm and an aperture of f/2.4. The telephoto camera can let you shoot images at 3X optical zoom and 5X hybrid zoom. There’s also a 24MP camera on the front for selfies. 

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Starting off with the app, for a phone with such a kickass camera setup, the layout has some inconsistencies. For example, a simple task like switching on the HDR mode has been placed inside more options. And, you don’t have the option to switch off the AI directly. You have to go into the Settings menu to do so. Furthermore, there are separate Portrait and Aperture modes that always end up confusing me. 

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As for the image quality of the cameras, allow me to break it down in easy-to-understand points of the individual features for you:

  1. The Mate 20 Pro’s primary shooter is actually a large 40MP sensor. By default, the phone shoots 10MP images. And that is better because it helps mask the lens artifacts with software and make it look cleaner and crisper. 


    Huawei Mate 20 Pro 26

    Regular

    Huawei Mate 20 Pro 27

    Wide angle

  2. As for the image quality, I wanted to talk about something weird. With Master AI switched off, in certain lighting conditions I noticed that the Mate 20 Pro tends to add exposure. Almost like it wants to choose the wrong shutter speed and ISO or something. The situation immediately changes with all settings in Auto using the Pro mode. You can look at the samples below. You can immediately see a far better dynamic range and a better colour tone of the face. On close inspection, I noticed that the Pro mode’s shots had a slightly larger file size. The other parameters like shutter speed and ISO were largely unchanged. 
Huawei Mate 20 Pro 22

Master AI on

  1. In regular daylight shots, the phone offers very close to natural colours with Master AI switched off. With Master AI switched on, in scenes like Food and Flower, the algorithm boosts the saturation. I really prefer using the camera with Master AI switched off. That said, the pictures are supremely detailed and there is no softness around the edges either. I noticed that the Mate 20 Pro’s algorithm tends to favour boosting the details in the highlights over the shadows by default. I think the new Super HDR feature in-built captures multiple frames at once and fuses them together to create a brighter shot than normal. In certain situations, it looks good, but the dynamic range takes a hit sometimes. I still think the Pixel 3 XL has the best dynamic range on any smartphone. But the Mate 20 Pro’s images look closer to natural compared to the ones captured by the Pixel or the iPhone. 
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Master AI off

  1. While I am not a fan of the Master AI in general, I like the fact that thanks to the whole camera setup the Mate 20 Pro can go really close to a subject in Super Macro mode. I captured some stunning shots using this mode. 
  2. In low light situations, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro does a great job of capturing colours, details, and dynamic range. There is also a dedicated Night Mode that also allows you to control the shutter speed and the ISO. And, you might want to take manual control of this mode primarily because most of the times the Automatic setting is a hit and a miss. It is very inconsistent. Regardless, Google’s Night Sight is brighter and over-saturated. I also noticed that noise creeps in only when the camera chooses high ISO settings above ISO 3200. The Mate 20 Pro is undoubtedly one of the better cameras when it comes to low light photography, second only to the Google Pixel 3. 

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Huawei Mate 20 Pro night mode off (left) and on (right). 

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Google Pixel 3 XL night mode off (left) and on (right). 

  1. Now, talking about the depth effect in Portrait mode. It was a hit and a miss. I prefer the iPhone XS’ Portrait effect. Use the Aperture mode on the phone instead. That’s better. But note that it goes closer to a subject at 2x optical zoom.
  2. I think the Wide Angle camera on the Mate 20 Pro is the best wide-angle implementation on a smartphone yet. You get to pick your focus point and the quality is great too. 


    Huawei Mate 20 Pro 23

    1x

    Huawei Mate 20 Pro 24

    3x

    Huawei Mate 20 Pro 25

    5x

  3. Using the telephoto camera, you can do 3x optical zoom and 5x hybrid zoom on the Mate 20 Pro. Honestly, you are going to be surprised by the details and clarity on offer. But, note that you need a pair of very stable hands to capture zoomed in shots without any blur. 
  4. As far as video recording goes, in 4K 30fps recording mode, Huawei’s AI stabilisation kicks in. I saw this very weird jellying effect that looked super annoying. It is a pity that a phone as powerful as the Mate 20 Pro cannot record 4K 60fps footage. But it can do 1080p 60fps footage at a weird close crop. There’s also a Super Slow motion mode that kicks in when a box in the camera app detects any sort of motion. It is super silly and useless. Flagship phones should lose this camera feature asap. Improve the image quality of the regular slow motion video first. That said, the one feature that I loved showing off was the really cool AI Pop mode. In this mode, the camera separates the subject from the background in the video. Only the colour of the subject stays put and the background goes black. It looks pretty cool in action and could’ve been possible only a on phone like the Mate 20 Pro that has a powerful Kirin 980 SoC.
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Regular mode

Pro mode with auto adjustments

  1. The 24MP camera takes great, detailed selfies in regular light and low light. No complaints really. 
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Selfie

Overall, the camera on the Mate 20 Pro is Huawei taking things to the next level. It is feature-packed and produces some great images. But, you will need to work around the settings to find what works best for this phone phone. Just one word of advice, don’t waste the prowess of such a great sensor on the Master AI, except for when you are going very close to the subject.

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For full resolution images and more samples head to this link. 

Huawei Mate 20 Pro performance: the big bully of Android

One of the reasons why I am particularly excited about the Mate 20 Pro is the Kirin 980 SoC. Evidently, Qualcomm has a lot of catching up to do but Apple has nothing to worry about.

I achieved an AnTuTu benchmark score — in FHD+ resolution — of approximately 265012. Compare this number to the OnePlus 6T (296873) and the iPhone XS Max’s (339661) scores, it is definitely lower. But I prefer Geekbench over AnTuTu for SoC performance and that’s where you can see the difference. The Mate 20 Pro scored 3311 in single-core and 9753 in multi-core performance. These numbers are higher than what the SD845 achieved and lower than the iPhone XS Max. 

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In my Gamebench test where I play PUBG for 20 minutes in Smooth and Extreme FPS setting with Anti-Aliasing on, the Mate 20 Pro had a median FPS of 60. The FPS stability was 97%. This is on par with what the iPhone XS Max achieved. It reached a low of 57 fps during gameplay. Gamebench shows that the Mate 20 Pro reached a temperature of 42-degrees and I must say that the top portion got hot after 20 minutes of gaming. 

My concern after looking at these near-identical scores is that Android games are still not pushing the limits of the graphical capabilities of the Mate 20 Pro that not only includes a great hardware but also a dedicated software level optimisation for gaming called GPU Turbo 2.0. 

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Moving on, before I forget, the phone comes in only one variant which has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. And the RAM is enough for a solid, dependable, and blazingly fast performance across the UI. The Wi-Fi performance on the Mate 20 Pro is stellar as it comes with an option to create a Wi-Fi bridge. 

I didn’t face any call drops or had any problem with the quality either. In typical Huawei fashion, the sound in calls was stunning. I used an Airtel SIM with the phone and it supports VoLTE. 

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Huawei Mate 20 Pro multimedia: great experience except for one flaw

The Mate 20 Pro is one of the best phones to watch Netflix on the move for sure. The AMOLED display is crisp and bright. And, it has support for HDR 10 and Dolby Vision, that guarantees a better dynamic range in videos. Oh yeah, it also comes with the Widevine L1 certification. It is a flagship phone after all.

Furthermore, you get a stereo speaker setup as well. The main speaker sits inside the USB Type-C port and the other speaker is the earpiece. In my testing, I found that the right channel was louder than the left one. Also, in my testing, I found out that the loudness levels of the main speaker were reduced after you connect a charger to the Type-C port. 

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The bundled earphones sound good for a bundled pair. Nothing too fancy. And, the sound quality of my 1More Triple Drivers connected to the phone using the bundled USB Type-C to 3.5mm jack was up to snuff. But the LG G7+ ThinQ’s Quad-DAC setup is still pretty unbeatable when it comes to pure sound quality for audiophiles. 

Huawei Mate 20 Pro battery: class-leading by a big margin

The Huawei Mate 20 Pro has a 4200mAh battery, which is the largest one on any flagship smartphone. This battery lasts very long! I easily got 5 hours and 45 minutes of screen-on-time with QHD+ resolution and always-on display on. This is awesome. You can easily squeeze out 7 hours of SoT if you can live with FHD+ resolution, which is the default screen resolution on the phone anyway. 

But that’s not it, the Mate 20 Pro comes with a 40W wireless charger in the box. This charger is just crazy powerful! I completely charged the phone from 0 to 100 percent in 1 hour and 6 minutes every single time. This consistency and speed is something I have never experienced with any other phone. Mind you, it is a 4200mAh battery. It’s plain nuts what Huawei has managed to achieve. Also, every time you insert the charger in the phone the animation will mesmerise you because the phone literally changes charge percent in real time. 

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Coming to the cool reverse charging feature, the Mate 20 Pro can wirelessly reverse charge supported devices. It looks fancy and amuses everyone every time I show it but it is a gimmick. I am sure you aren’t going to use it. I set the Google Pixel 3 XL to charge wirelessly on the Mate 20 Pro. The Mate 20 Pro managed to charge the Pixel 3 XL from 23% to 30% in 35 minutes. But in the process, the Mate 20 Pro also lost 13% charge. Therefore, charging other phones like this is going to be counter-intuitive. 

All in all, though, I think the Mate 20 Pro is the only flagship in the market currently that is setting a standard and leading by example when it comes to battery performance. All the other flagships have dropped the ball in this regard. 

Should you buy the Huawei Mate 20 Pro?

The Mate 20 Pro is undoubtedly Huawei’s best smartphone yet and for many folks, it could very well be the best Android phone of 2018. I absolutely loved my time with the phone and would recommend it to anyone looking for the best flagship Android experience. In fact, I even think that Huawei India has done a smart job by not over-pricing the phone. The Rs 69,990 price tag of the Mate 20 Pro is completely justified for all that the Mate 20 Pro offers. 

Let’s compare the Mate 20 Pro to the other great flagship phones out there. 

Samsung Galaxy Note 9

Starting off with the Galaxy Note 9-  the only thing missing in the Mate 20 Pro is Samsung’s excellent S-Pen and the brand value in India at the moment. In every other aspect, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is on par and sometimes even better than the Note 9. If you are considering picking up from one of these two phones, I’d suggest defining your use case and figuring out if you need that S-Pen so badly. The Mate 20 Pro could be a better bet otherwise. 

Google Pixel 3 XL

When it comes to the Pixel 3 XL, there are many things wrong with Google’s latest flagship. But the one thing that Google nails, is the experience of using the camera and all the machine learning algorithm that it uses to capture stunning photographs. I still firmly believe that the Pixel 3 XL is the best phone for photography but it beats the Mate 20 Pro only by a very, very slight margin. But for an overall cohesive smartphone experience, the Mate 20 Pro is the better option. 

Google asks for regular security updates

Apple iPhone XS Max

Coming to Apple’s latest and greatest – the iPhone XS Max – the first thing that I want to compare is the 7nm fabrication process for the SoCs on the A12 Bionic inside the iPhone XS Max and Kirin 980 inside the Mate 20 Pro. Honestly, in daily usage, you cannot make out any difference whatsoever. And, games run equally well too. Therefore, performance-wise both the phones are on par. But, there are many reasons why the Mate 20 Pro is leagues ahead of the XS Max. The one most important reason is the battery life and the charging speed. And let’s not forget that the XS Max is still prohibitively expensive. The Mate 20 Pro is the same level of premium as the XS Max provided you can live with EMUI, which I know a lot of people do not fancy. 

iPhone XS Max 7

It is a pity that the Mate 20 Pro missed the deadline for the Mr. Phone Awards 2018. Because, in all honesty, the Mate 20 Pro would’ve been a frontrunner in the Best Flagship Phone category, which I am a 100 percent sure of. Regardless, I am glad that Huawei India decided to bring the phone to our country because I am sure that there are many folks who would like this phone beyond measure. 

Or, even fall in love with it as I did. 

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After using the Mate 20 Pro, I didn’t miss using the Pixel 3 XL nor the iPhone XS Max. And that is saying a lot about the phone that elevates itself from the status of a flagship to a super flagship. Or, you know, makes it the “King of Smartphones” as Huawei would have you believe. 

Ershad Kaleebullah

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?