Last year, Huawei unveiled the Mate 10 Pro which had not only the new Kirin 970 processor but also a noticeably different design from the Mate 9 which preceded it. The Mate 20 Pro continues that trend with another completely new design, a next-gen CPU and the camera setup everyone wants: standard, wide angle and telephoto.
Huawei has obviously listened to our wishes, ditched the monochrome camera and replaced it with an ultra-wide angle colour camera which means you can now go from an effective 0.6x zoom right the way through to a 5x hybrid zoom.
With other new features such as the innovative in-screen fingerprint sensor, 3D face scanning unlock and reverse wireless charging, this looks to be a very tempting 2018 flagship to add to your shortlist.
Mate 20 Pro: Price & availability
Mate 20 Pro: Design and build
And if the Galaxy S9+ had a notched screen, the Mate 20 Pro would be a dead ringer for it. That’s because Huawei has used similar curved edges, both back and front, so the phone is thinner on its sides than at the top and bottom.
It looks and feels fantastic in the hand, though as with any glass-sandwich phone, you’ll have a constant fear of dropping it and smashing the front, back or both.
Huawei provides a clear silicone case in the box, just as with other Mate phones, but there’s no screen protector this time around, possibly because of the curved screen. So you’ll have to take extra care not to scratch it.
Although the Twilight gradient finish (above) makes a welcome return, there’s a new glass finish. It’s akin to a vinyl record with fine lines running diagonally across the back of the phone and adding a tactile finish which is both resistant to fingerprints and a bit grippier than standard glass. You can just about make out the lines in the photo below.
The ‘hyper optical’ pattern is only available with the Midnight Blue and new Emerald Green (far left, above), but the latter is the one we’d pick: it looks unusual and with the quadrangle camera arrangement, it’s certainly distinctive.
Your other two colour options are Black and Pink Gold.
Water resistance gets a bump from IP67 on the Mate 10 Pro to IP68. This means you can leave the new phone submerged at a depth of 1.5m for 30 minutes, and there’s a new underwater camera mode.
Since the sides are much thinner, the SIM tray has been relocated to the bottom edge next to the USB-C port. There are tiny holes on the top and bottom which emit surprisingly loud stereo sound.
Volume and power buttons are on the right-hand side and the power button is a fetching red colour on all models.The 6.39in screen takes up the entire front of the phone with a sizeable notch that houses the face unlock camera, the selfie camera and the earpiece for phone calls.
Mate 20 Pro: Specs and features
- Reverse wireless charging
- In-screen fingerprint scanner
- 3D face unlock
It isn’t the first phone to have an in-screen fingerprint scanner, but it’s likely to be your first one. Since it’s impossible to see where the scanner is located, a fingerprint icon appears on the lock screen and whenever the scanner can be used so you know where to press.
Registering a finger is no different to a normal scanner, although it seemed we had to press a little harder to get it to accept the edges of a finger.
We’re not quite sure why the fingerprint scanner is necessary at all because you can unlock the Mate 20 Pro using the new 3D face scanner. This does the job in a fraction of a second when you pick up the phone. Enrollment is exactly the same as on an iPhone X: you roll your head around so it can scan around it.
We’ve not yet tried it in complete darkness, but in low- and good light it worked quickly and reliably.
- 6.39in OLED
- 3120×1440 pixels, 537ppi
- HDR: DCI-P3
Love it or hate it, the screen has a notch in the top edge. As you might expect, the screen is OLED just as with the Mate 10 Pro. It has a resolution of 3120×1440 which is a decent increase over the Mate 10 Pro and gives it an aspect ratio of 19.5:9, close to the cinema standard of 21:9. It supports HDR, and covers the DCI-P3 gamut.
Huawei hasn’t give any figures for brightness or contrast, but to our eyes, it looks similar to the Mate 10 Pro and P20 Pro’s screens. It certainly has the same vibrant colours, wide viewing angles and high brightness.
It’s disabled by default, but delve into the settings and you can enable the always-on display which shows the time, date and notifications when the phone is in standby.
We’re big fans of the new curved sides. Just as on the Samsung Galaxy S9, content appears to wrap around the edges when you scroll. But there are no ‘edge’ features in EMUI 9.0 as you’ll find on the Galaxy, so they’re not useful per se.
Processor, memory and storage (includes benchmarks)
Powering the Mate 20 Pro is the Kirin 980, paired with 6GB of RAM. The new chip was announced a while back, but the Mate 20 Pro is the first phone to get it.
Compared to the Kirin 970 in the P20 Pro and Mate 10 Pro it’s claimed to be 20 percent faster overall and 40 percent more power efficient. That’s largely down to the new 7nm manufacturing process, the same as Apple uses for the A12 Bionic in the iPhone XS.
In Geekbench 4, the Mate 10 Pro managed 1920 and 6725 for single- and multicore tests. The P20 Pro’s scores were virtually identical as it has the same processor.
The Mate 20 Pro scored 3320 and 9862, which is considerably more than 20 percent quicker. It’s actually 73 percent faster for the single-core test and 47 percent quicker in the multicore test. We’ve seen even faster results for the Kirin 980 leak online, breaking the 10,000 barrier. This makes it the fastest chip in an Android phone yet, but not by a huge margin. The Snapdragon 845 isn’t too far behind.
More importantly though, just as with the A12 Bionic, the Neural Processing Unit has been given a significant boost in the Kirin 980. There are now effectively two NPUs, with one dedicated to regular tasks such as image and scene recognition. The other deals with real-time natural language processing and real-time video processing.
Huawei says it’s 134 percent faster compared to the NPU in the Kirin 970 and 88 percent more power efficient. It can scan through your photo library at 4500 images per minute, identifying faces, objects and more. It’s also used to create highlight reels from your videos. Tap on a person’s face and you’ll get an auto-generated video featuring the person you chose.
The GPU hasn’t been overlooked: the Mali G76 is said to be almost 50 percent faster than the G71 in the Kirin 970. It’s also about twice as power-efficient, so you should be able to game for longer.
We’re not reporting the scores we saw in GFXbench here as they were slower than the Mate 10 Pro’s results. As we’re sure this can’t be down to the higher screen resolution (the tests are run at 2340×1080 pixels, which isn’t much higher than the Mate 10 Pro’s resolution), we will wait until we can get final software before making any comparisons.
Internal storage is 128GB, and we applaud Huawei for continuing to put a decent amount of storage in the flagship model rather than forcing people to pay more if they want more than 64GB. Although there’s no 256GB model, you can insert a ‘nano memory card’ to add an extra 256GB). These cards are new to us, and we’re unsure when they will go on sale: they’re certainly not around yet, and such a card will occupy one of the two SIM slots in the tray.
Connectivity and audio
The Kirin 980 is the first chip to build in Cat 21 LTE, for theoretical download speeds of up to 1.4Gb/s. Of course, this will remain theoretical at least in the UK where no mobile operator can yet offer such speeds.
As far as we know, there’s no support for 5G, which means the Mate 20 Pro won’t be able to take advantage of the new tech when it launches later in 2019 (but neither will any of its rivals apart from possibly the Galaxy S10).
You’ll find the SIM tray in the bottom edge. It will accept a nano SIM on each side, but as we mentioned, you’ll forfeit one of these if you use a nano memory card.
There’s Wave 2 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC built in. And, as mentioned, the speakers are arranged like the Mate 10 Pro’s which has one front-firing and one bottom-firing speaker.
Yet again, the balance isn’t quite spot on, with the bottom speaker being louder than the top one. It doesn’t sound bad, but it’s not quite on a par with the iPhone XS.
USB-C headphones are provided in the box, but Huawei tells us that there won’t be a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box, which is a shame.
- Main camera: 40Mp wide-angle, f/1.8
- Telephoto: 8Mp, f/2.4 with OIS (effective 3x optical zoom)
- Ultra-wide-angle camera: 20Mp, f/2.2
Despite Huawei pitching the Mate series at young entrepreneurs and saying that that the cameras aren’t as important as they are on the P Series phones, we all know that the cameras are important on any phone.
From our initial shots, the Mate 20 Pro’s snappers are very impressive indeed. Even indoors in dim light, we were able to capture sharp photos of people with good colours and minimal noise.
Noise is certainly evident when you use the telephoto camera in low light, but using the main camera you have access to the incredible Night mode which allows you to shoot long exposures without a tripod and get surprisingly good results. The images below were taken in very low light, yet you wouldn’t know it.
The ultra-wide lens can also be used for macro, allowing you to get as close as 2.5cm. This is great for insects and flowers.
The photos below, all taken from the same place, illustrate the difference between the 0.6x ultra-wide lens, the standard, 3x and 5x zooms, with the latter being a combination of optical and digital zoom (there’s no interpolation because the extra pixels in the 40Mp sensor are used).
It’s impressive stuff, and it makes the Mate 20 Pro very versatile. It’s a slight shame the telephoto lens is paired with an 8Mp sensor rather than 12Mp, which would have offered more detail.
All the images here were shot with Master A.I. enabled, and it looks like Huawei has toned down the oversaturation for more natural-looking pictures.
We’re also impressed by the depth sensing, which leads to more accurate subject isolation and therefore more realistic looking bokeh in portrait photos.
Here’s the difference between a standard and a portrait photo. Note that Master A.I. automatically enables portrait mode when it sees a person’s head and shoulders in the frame. But unlike the AI on LG’s phones, it won’t automatically switch to the ultra-wide camera if it detects a landscape.
It is more advanced now, able to recognise 1500 scenes and it can track the important objects in a scene, such as a child’s face, and will help to ensure your photo is in focus when you take it.
There’s one camera on the front, the same 24Mp selfie camera we’ve seen before on Huawei phones. It does a great job as you can see below, and there’s plenty of detail if you turn off the Beauty mode which is on by default and which smooths out skin. There was clearly an issue with the early software on our test phone because we couldn’t get the portrait mode to blur the background at all, but the feature is there.
Video still tops out at 4K at 30fps, but the big change is that there’s stabilisation at all resolutions. There’s no longer a tick-box to turn it on and off: it’s on all the time. Huawei calls it AIS, or AI Stabilisation because it uses the NPU to analyse and smooth out the jerkiness.
There’s a noticeable difference between 4K video shot on the Mate 20 Pro and the P20 Pro / Mate 10 Pro. The latter two were almost unusable with no stabilisation, but that’s not the case now.
The new NPU is also put to use with the AI cinema mode which lets you add filters to your video in real-time. One new mode detects skin tones and will keep your subject – including their clothes – in full colour while making the background black and white.
One thing we’ve not yet been able to test fully is the Mate 20 Pro’s battery life. Huawei has increased capacity to 4200mAh, which is the biggest we’ve seen in one of its phones.
To alleviate fears over the safety of packing such capacity into a thin device (and no doubt a reference to Samsung’s woes with the Galaxy Note 7) the entire charging system is TÜV certified from the charger to the cable to the battery.
And unlike Apple which bundles a basic, slow charger with the iPhone XS, Huawei includes a new 40W Super Charger which provides a 70 percent charge in 30 mins to an empty battery.
For the first time, there’s support for wireless charging, 15W wireless charging in fact. That’s twice the wattage and twice the speed of many wireless charging systems in phones.
But while that’s good news, there’s another new feature. Reverse wireless charging allows you to charge your friend’s phone, so long as it supports the Qi standard. Once enabled in the settings, you simply place the other phone back to back with the Mate 20 Pro and it will charge it up. Ideal when your friend’s phone is running low, but you have plenty to spare.
We’re sure the Mate 20 Pro will last a good two days with normal use, but we’ll update this review when we’ve tested and verified this.
Software and apps
It’s no surprise that Mate 20 Pro runs Android 9 Pie out of the box. It would be disappointing if it didn’t. Of course, you also get Huawei’s EMUI interface as well, now on version 9 to match Android.
Overall, this looks no different to previous versions, but it has been streamlined. There are now 10 percent fewer settings items, with some being combined into one setting or menu to reduce the bloat.
As there’s no home button or visible fingerprint scanner you can use full-screen gestures to navigate, just as Google has done with the Pixel 3.
Huawei says much work has been done to improve responsiveness and speed, so the built-in apps now launch over 50 percent faster than on the Mate 10 Pro, and there’s a faster response when you tap on something in an app. This certainly rang true using the Mate 20 Pro: it’s as slick as you’d expect the latest flagship to be.
One new feature is HiTouch. This is like Google Lens: if you press two fingers on screen, you’ll get information about anything on the screen that is recognised. Similarly, HiVision uses the camera to recognise what it sees and provide more information.
The on-board database has details on landmarks in 15 countries and 10M artworks. You can even point the camera at food to get an estimate of the calories, and it can tell the difference between, say, a large and a small apple or a whole or half-eaten pizza.
In shopping mode, show the phone an item of clothing and it can direct you to buy the product on Amazon, Debenhams, Harrods or Harvey Nichols.
HiAI can process photos of screens taken at an angle, straighten them and use OCR to convert them to an editable PowerPoint presentation. Not useful to everyone, but a nifty feature nonetheless.
As with the Mate 10, there’s a built-in Desktop mode. Except now no cable is needed. You can connect your Mate 20 Pro to any screen with Miracast support. This gives you a Windows-like environment which can be useful for working, but is handy if you need to make a presentation. It’s been improved in a few ways including the fact that the on-screen touchpad now lets you highlight portions of the screen being projected.
Finally, there a new app called Digital Balance. This is pretty much a carbon copy of Apple’s Screen Time, and gives you a dashboard where you can see how much you’re using your phone. You can set time limits for certain apps, and a ‘Wind down’ option minimises interruptions before you go to bed and turns the screen monochrome.
Initial impressions are almost entirely positive. We still need to fully test battery life, but have no reason to suspect it won’t be the longest-lasting Huawei phone yet, and should comfortably outlast the competition.
Cameras are also great, and the mere fact that all three are now useful means it’s instantly better than the P20 Pro. Add the power of the Kirin 980 into the mix and you’ve not only got a very fast device in your hands, but it can finally stabilise video at 4K, though it’s a slight shame that it can’t quite manage 60fps.
The screen is great, and innovations such as the in-screen fingerprint scanner add interest.