With in-display fingerprint and 3D face scanning, triple camera and long battery life, Huawei has pulled off something special
Huawei has made really good phones for years, but the Mate 20 Pro is the Chinese firm’s first truly cutting-edge device with a triple camera, 3D face unlock and an in-screen fingerprint sensor.
The Mate series of phones has always delivered one thing above all else – battery life. This year Huawei has gone out of its way to deliver even more.
The Mate 20 Pro is the best feeling, most premium device the Chinese firm has made. It’s incredibly solid, smooth and well built, but at 189g is still surprisingly light and manageable compared to the 208g iPhone XS Max and 201g Samsung Galaxy Note 9.
It looks like the lovechild of an iPhone XS Max and a Galaxy S9+. The Huawei has the curved edges and metal band of the Galaxy, with the all-screen design and wide but shallow notch of the iPhone. The result is a striking phone that squeezes an enormous, beautiful and crisp 6.39in display into a manageable device that is narrower and easier to handle than any of its rivals.
The Mate 20 Pro is no small phone by anyone’s yardstick, but it doesn’t feel too big in your hand. You can use the phone one-handed, and I never felt like I was going to drop it.
Part of that is vinyl-like grooves in the glass back making what Huawei calls a “hyper-optical pattern”. It still feels smooth, almost silk-like to the touch, but run your nail over it and it sounds like a record. It gives the glass back a nice shine, but it also masks fingerprints and makes it considerably less slippery. It’s still glass, of course, so if you drop it it will still smash.
The bottom of the phone has the sim slot and a USB-C port, but no visible speaker, because the sound comes out of the USB-C port. It’s weird, but effective.
- Screen: 6.39in QHD+ OLED (538ppi)
- Processor: octa-core Huawei Kirin 980
- RAM: 6 or 8GB of RAM
- Storage: 128 or 256GB plus nano memory card
- Operating system: EMUI 9 based on Android 9 Pie
- Camera: Triple rear camera 40MP, 20MP ultra-wide angle, 8MP telephoto, 24MP front-facing camera + 3D depth sensing camera
- Connectivity: LTE, Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 5 and GPS (dual-sim available in some regions)
- Water resistance: IP68
- Dimensions: 157.8 x 72.3 x 8.6 mm
- Weight: 189g
Top performance and battery life
The Mate 20 Pro is the first device to use Huawei’s new Kirin 980 processor, which the company says is a significant improvement on last year’s Kirin 970, and is one of the first chips produced using 7nm processes.
Performance was excellent throughout, matching rivals running Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 such as the OnePlus 6 or Google’s Pixel 3 XL. Launching apps and switching between them was rapid with no noticeable lag anywhere during general use. Gaming performance was excellent too, both in smooth frame rates and in battery efficiency, with a 30 minute bout of Shadowgun Legends consuming around 9% battery and staying cool throughout.
Even with Huawei’s gaming mode active, which turns up the processor to maximum, battery consumption and heat weren’t much higher. Performance should be even better for games that support the firm’s GPU Turbo system.
Battery life was excellent too. With heavy usage it lasted about 35 hours between charges, meaning it would make it all the way from 7am on day one until 6pm on day two. That was with hundreds of emails, messages and push notifications, lots of browsing, five hours of Spotify via Bluetooth headphones, watching 60 minutes of Netflix, 30 minutes of gaming and shooting about 10 photos a day.
With lighter general usage the Mate 20 Pro got closer to 48 hours between charges, and will last far longer with one of Huawei’s power saving or ultra power saving modes. If you needed the phone to last for three days it genuinely could – maybe even longer.
A full charge took under an hour via cable with the included 40W charger, hitting 30% in 13 minutes. The Mate 20 Pro can charge up to 15W wirelessly too, and with the flip of a switch, can wirelessly charge other devices, including other phones and headphones. You have been able to do similar via USB-C cable for a while, but back-to-back wireless charging of another phone is certainly a novelty.
Huawei’s smartphones run a customised version of Android called EMUI, here based on the latest Android 9 Pie.
Some will love it, others will hate it. EMUI 9 is the most polished version yet, with more refined animations and actions, but it still has some odd quirks.
It uses an old-school button for the app drawer, for instance, but has complete theming support, so it’s easy to change the look of icons, colours and the wallpaper.
It’s also got Huawei’s version of Google Lens called HiVision, which does image and product recognition using Amazon, a load of knuckle-based gestures for things such as screenshots and opening apps, plus a mini-display mode which shrinks what’s on screen into the bottom right or left corner so it’s easier to reach.
EMUI 9 still has the standard Android navigation buttons that Google ditched for the Pixel 3, but it also has a weird floating navigation dock-come-joystick thing and full swipe gestures as options. The swipe from the left or right edge of the screen to go back is a nice idea.
Huawei also has its own version of Google’s digital wellbeing tools showing you how long you use your phone, which apps, how many times you unlock it and with the ability to set limits.
There are a lot of options throughout, but it doesn’t feel overbearing. One area that is strangely lacking in customisation options is the status bar. The notch in the screen is quite wide, leaving little room for icons. If you have the phone set to vibrate only, you can only fit the battery, time and vibrate symbol in the right side. With two sims and wifi connected, there’s only room for the Bluetooth icon, which is replaced when a mail or similar notification pops up. It would be good to be able to prune back the status bar icons for more room.
Huawei’s biggest change to Android is in power saving features. The system is much more aggressive at blocking apps from running in the background than Google’s battery systems. This is fine for the most part, but you might have to whitelist some apps such as Strava to make sure they work correctly.
The Mate 20 Pro comes with two cutting-edge biometric options. The first is a 3D IR face scanning system very similar to that used in the iPhone XS. It projects 30,000 dots onto your face to detect its contours and securely recognise you.
With raise-to-wake and the option to skip the lockscreen when you’re recognised, it is so fast you could be forgiven for thinking it was broken. You can also get it to unlock but not go straight to the home screen, and only reveal notification contents when you’re recognised, like Apple’s Face ID system.
The second is an optical fingerprint sensor embedded directly into the screen about a third of the way up. A patch lights up to show you where to put your thumb. You have to be a bit more precise with your finger placement, and it isn’t as quick as Huawei’s recent capacitive fingerprint scanners, but it still works great.
In fact the two work really well in conjunction. The facial recognition works brilliantly for unlocking the phone, but can’t be used for apps that are expecting a fingerprint, which is where the fingerprint scanner comes in.
Huawei’s triple camera returns for the Mate 20 Pro, this time with the monochrome camera from the P20 Pro swapped for a ultra-wide angle camera.
The main camera is 40 megapixels, the ultra-wide is 20-megapixels and there’s a third eight-megapixel telephoto camera. The trio work in conjunction to shoot 10-megapixel images by default that can go from 0.6 to 5x hybrid zoom then out to 10x with digital zoom on top.
It’s a very potent combination. I used the ultra-wide angle camera at 0.6x zoom more than I thought I would, and 1x, 3x and 5x zoom levels were very good and got you a lot closer to the action than a standard 2x zoom. The super macro mode is also excellent, which gets you far closer to an object than you normally good and still focus. Anyone who likes taking macro shots will love it.
General images were very similar to the excellent P20 Pro, with a superb amount of detail and colour accuracy. It doesn’t quite have the same dynamic range in challenging lighting conditions as the Pixel 3, but its low-light performance was great and it’s dedicated night mode is very impressive.
The Master AI is also improved from the P20 Pro, but it still occasionally suggests tweaks to photos that tend to over saturate some elements giving it an Instagrammed look. You can cancel the changes with a little toast notification that pops up on the screen, but only before you’ve shot the photo.
The 24-megapixel front-facing selfie takes images that are relatively soft in detail without activating the face-thinning mode or skin smoothing. There’s also 3D live emojis using the front-facing camera to mimic your expressions in cutesy characters just like Apple’s Animoji.
- Bluetooth connectivity to a set of wireless earbuds was excellent
- 4G performance was far better than some rivals, holding onto usable signal in more places without draining the battery
- The twilight colour does not have the hyper optical pattern on the glass back
- The phone supports new nano memory cards, not microSD cards, which might prove difficult to buy
- Huawei’s haptics are greatly improved, although not quite on a par with Apple’s
- It is not available to buy in the US following Huawei’s effective ban by the Trump administration
The Huawei Mate 20 Pro costs £900 with 128GB of storage.
For comparison, the Huawei P20 Pro costs £799 with 128GB storage, the Google Pixel 3 XL costs £869 with 64GB, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 costs £899 with 128GB, the OnePlus 6 costs £469 with 64GB and the iPhone XS Max costs £1,099 with 64GB.
Huawei has pulled off something quite remarkable with the Mate 20 Pro. Normally devices with this many cutting-edge new technologies end up as spec-monsters but poor experiences.
But the Mate 20 Pro is anything but a poor experience. It’s a refined, beautiful piece of hardware that manages to squeeze what reads like a tech enthusiast’s ultimate wishlist into a truly impressive phone. You’ve got the in-display fingerprint sensor, 3D face recognition, a powerful processor, fantastic screen, wireless charging and even the ability to wirelessly charge other devices.
Then there are is the excellent triple camera system on the back and a monster battery that’ll last well into a second day, possibly even longer, which charges super fast too. It’s even relatively easy to grip and use given the huge 6.39in display.
Huawei’s EMUI 9 certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, and it doesn’t quite raise the bar the way the Android version on Google’s Pixel 3 has, but it is well optimised and smooth in operation and most of it can be customised if you don’t like the way it works or looks.
The Mate 20 Pro is certainly not cheap at £900, but you get a hell of a lot of phone for your money, and a quality experience with it. This may be the best phone of the year.
Pros: long battery life, 3D face recognition, in-display fingerprint scanner, wireless charging, reverse wireless charging, brilliant camera, fantastic screen, good processor
Cons: EMUI not to everyone’s taste, nano memory not microSD, expensive, no headphone socket, Master AI can be overbearing at times
- Google Pixel 3 XL review: big is still beautiful
- Samsung Galaxy Note 9 review: the do-everything phone
- iPhone XS Max review: Apple’s supersized smartphone
- Apple iPhone XS review: two steps forward, one step back
- Huawei P20 Pro review – the three-camera iPhone killer
- OnePlus 6 review: top-end smartphone for half cost of iPhone X
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