[Review] Huawei Mate 20 Pro – Triple Camera Delight takes Flight

[Review] Huawei Mate 20 Pro – Triple Camera Delight takes Flight

Huawei’s latest trio of smartphones the Mate 20, Mate 20 Pro and Mate 20 X are almost triplets with a similar processor and storage configurations save for a number of subtle changes including display sizes and the type of display they use. The Mate 20 Pro edges out on account of its crisper AMOLED display and more powerful rear triple camera array as well as a number of other interesting tricks under the hood.

Externally, our test unit of the Mate 20 Pro comes with a metallic gradient Twilight finish that veers from blue to a deep shade of purple depending on how you hold it up to the light. In keeping with its status as Huawei’s best phone in their line-up, the Mate 20 Pro looks and feels the business with a reassuringly hefty feel about it on account of its sturdy metal frame sandwiched between slabs of mirrored glass. This also naturally renders it a fingerprint magnet.

Symmetrical edges taper into rounded curves all around to lend it a smooth tactility as well as minimising chances of it snagging in your pocket by accident. This seamlessly curved aesthetic is continued up front where the phone hosts a curved AMOLED 1440p display with a notch up top and almost nonexistent bezels on the sides save for a tiny sliver at the base of the phone. If all this sounds familiar, and it should, it looks like a spitting image of a Galaxy S9+ when viewed from the front, albeit embellished with Huawei’s own unique refinements including a notched display.

This notch on the Mate 20 Pro is bigger than the Mate 20’s tiny dewdrop shaped notch and for good reason as it hosts a 24-MP selfie camera, an IR camera to unlock the phone with your mug and half of a stereo speaker set-up with the other speaker at the base of the phone, quaintly enough emplaced within the USB Type C port.

The left side of the phone is otherwise bare with the top packing an infrared blaster along with a pair of subtle antenna bands. The right side of the phone hosts a power button and volume rocker.

The buttons are hewn of metal though they lack any knurling but muscle memory ought to allow you to figure out which button is which by touch after some practice. The base sports a USB Type C port and a hybrid SIM tray that allows you to cram in two SIM cards or alternatively, their new proprietary storage format memory card dubbed the Nano Memory card. It’s shaped like a nanoSIM card in size and shape, which allows it to neatly fit in the Mate 20 Pro’s secondary SIM slot. No other manufacturer supports this new format at the moment and they’re not exactly common yet which leads to its own set of logistical complications sourcing one.

The rear comes with a distinctive two by two triple camera array with one corner taken up by an LED flash. Unfortunately, this setup also makes it look like an electric induction cooking hob. Unlike the cheaper Mate 20, the Mate 20 Pro has a significantly upgunned camera array and also ditches the rear fingerprint reader. Where has it gone you ask? In the case of the Mate 20 Pro, it’s actually under the display as it uses an in-glass fingerprint reader.

Unfortunately, one of the downsides of its slim form factor is that they’ve ditched the 3.5mm audio jack though in consolation they’ve provided a Type C adaptor to 3.5mm adaptor and the bundled pair of earbuds also has a Type-C connector at the end so you can start using it out of the box. On the bright side, the chassis is rated IP68 for water and dust resistance. This time around, at least for units sold in Malaysia, Huawei has also tossed in a free soft TPU casing to protect your new acquisition out of the box, alongside the obligatory charging cable and USB charger. As far as bundled accessories and design go, the Mate 20 Pro scores high marks in terms of what free goodies they’ve bundled in the box and the phone itself is up to snuff with  build quality and design befitting a flagship phone.

 

Huawei Mate 20 Pro Specifications and Performance

 

Befitting its status as Huawei’s most powerful phone for 2018, the Mate 20 Pro is armed for bear. Up front, its 6.39-inch notched AMOLED display has a razor sharp 3,120 x 1,440 pixel resolution, is HDR ready and has a 19.5:19 aspect ratio and a very impressive 87.9% screen-to-body ratio. It also has an Always On mode that offers notifications without having to turn the whole display on. 

By default, it comes with a Smart resolution mode that juggles between HD+, FHD+ and WQHD+ resolution to offer more battery life though you can disable this and force it to run at WQHD+ resolution only which proved gratifyingly pleasant to behold.

When dialled up to its highest resolution, the Mate 20 Pro’s panel offered up punchy hues and details were exceptionally crisp onscreen with excellent visibility even under sunlight with HDR content served up with richer hues and higher contrast as well as beautifully deep blacks, making it one of the best displays in Huawei’s current line-up.  If the notch proves irksome, you can optionally remove it via software settings to give it a cleaner look.

Under the hood, the Mate 20 Pro is equipped with Huawei’s latest processor, the Kirin 980 octacore that is built on a 7nm process and which, on paper, offers about 75% better performance and 58% more power efficiency than its immediate predecessor the Kirin 970. The architecture of the Kirin 980 is interesting indeed as uses a triple cluster design –  it integrates a pair of 2.6GHz “Big” cores for heavy intensive work, a pair of A76 1.92GHz “Middle” cores for most general duties and four A55 1.7GHz cores to handle basic background tasks. Added to this are a pair of neural network processing cores, an enhanced Image Signal Processor with better imaging performance and the ARM Mali G76 GPU for pixel crunching duties.


On the software side, it runs EMUI 9.0 with Android Pie 9.0 after undergoing several updates. Getting about is an intuitive affair thanks to their EMUI interface and old hands at Huawei’s prior phones will take to it like a duck to water. Unfortunately, they haven’t quite resolved one of the biggest annoyances – bloatware – with the latest update foisting a quartet of games with dubious provenance on you without your say-so. Get the obligatory update and you end up with Puzzle Pets, a Mickey mouse game and a dodgy side-scrolling Spiderman platformer forcibly installed on your phone.

Of note with the Mate 20 Pro is its support for what it calls GPU Turbo 2.0, which ensures that games run at optimum settings though only a selected titles enjoy this benefit including League of Legends and PUBG. If you’re a more eclectic gamer this feature is a bit of a white elephant until they expand support to other games in general rather than being title-specific. There is also a Performance mode that maxes out performance but finding it is a bit of an obtuse process as it lacks a direct shortcut leading to it.

The Mate 20 Pro’s overall performance, as expected, is excellent when subjected to synthetic benchmarks. With Performance mode disabled, the Mate 20 Pro served up some respectable scores. In Antutu 3D it got a score of 202,683 points. In 3D Mark’s Sling Shot Extreme OpenGL ES 3.1 test, it got 3,523 points while in Sling Shot Extreme – Vulkan it got a score of 2,314 points. In Geekbench 4.0, it got a single-core score of 3,250 points and a multi-core score of 9,820 points. In PCMark, which tests work performance, it got a score of 7,430 points. This is quite an improvement over last year’s Kirin 970 processor in almost every aspect.

With Performance mode turned on, it was markedly better in almost every benchmark though leaving it on will impact on battery life. In Geekbench, it got a single-core score of 3,389 and a multi-core score of 10,139. In PCMark, it got a better score of 9,124 points. In 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme OpenGL ES 3.1 test, it got 4,272  points while in Sling Shot Extreme – Vulkan it got a score of 4,249 points. In Antutu 3D, it got a significantly better score of 295,748 points.

Under practical scenarios, the Mate 20 Pro is fast and responsive on the draw, tackling work and gaming alike with deft aplomb with Performance mode off. Demanding games like PUBG were handled at High settings along with Asphalt 9 and other similarly demanding games even without Performance mode activated. On paper, Performance mode is supposed to offer swifter performance across the board though it wasn’t immediately discernible under normal usage conditions; the biggest differences observed were in the benchmarks.

What makes the Mate 20 Pro stand out is its unusual desktop mode that lets you hook it up to a monitor to get a Windows-like desktop layout with your choice of either a HDMI to USB Type C output cable or wirelessly via  DLNA compatible monitor.

In desktop mode, you can hook up a wireless keyboard and mouse to the Mate 20 Pro to use it as a PC of sorts with access to the Google Play store. In a pinch, you can still use the phone’s touchscreen as both a touchpad and a virtual keyboard. It’s serviceable when you need a larger display but it doesn’t seem as well executed as Samsung’s DeX mode with odd lags when opening and closing apps along with a user interface that lacks polish.

One particular quibble with the Mate 20 Pro is that it has an unorthodox setup for its stereo speakers with one set where the earpiece is and the other emplaced within the USB Type C port at the base, presumably as an echo chamber and to ensure it retains its IP68 water resistance.

On paper, this is academically sound though in practice, it’s a bit short of the mark. Audio quality is fair for its external speakers with moderate loudness and fair amounts of detail though bass is lacking and it sounds tinny when dialled to maximum. Unfortunately, plugging in anything into the Type C port ends up muffling one of the speakers, leading to an aurally uneven setup which is an odd oversight indeed. 

Mate 20 Pro Camera

The Mate 20 Pro certainly has the most unusual rear triple camera array design in recent memory. Unlike prior Huawei devices, the Mate 20 Pro ditches a mono camera sensor but the effect can still be simulated via a filter. Arranged in a two-by-two configuration along with its LED flash, the Mate 20 Pro comes with a primary 40-MP F/1.8 camera that handles most of the grunt work emplaced in the upper right corner of the array.

The lower right camera has a 20-MP sensor with an F/2.2 aperture for ultra wide angle shots while the lower left is an 8-MP telephoto lens with an F/2.4 aperture, 3x optical zoom and OIS. Bar the 8-MP telephoto lens, the other two cameras only rely on Artificial Intelligence Stabilisation (AIS), which means using the NPU to recognise objects and ensuring they stay consistent from frame to frame when taking shots and video.  The front hosts a single 24-MP selfie camera along with the ability to turn the display white as an ersatz flash in low light situations.


By default, the primary camera is set to capture 10-MP snaps with your choice of a 4:3 or  7-MP 16:9 aspect ratio. In this mode, you’re able to take advantage of 3X optical zoom or its wide angle mode by dialing a vertical slider back and forth along with the other Leica-branded filters and Pro mode. Unfortunately, if you ramp it up to its full 40-MP resolution, you can’t zoom in or out at all.

Like many other phones of recent vintage, the Mate 20 Pro flaunts the inclusion of AI in taking shots thanks to its built-in NPU. On top of AIS, the camera has a Master AI setting that can help identify objects in shots and then tweak settings for best results. The Master AI is spot-on for the most part and unlike many other competing devices flaunting AI is rather specific with what it IDs. In one case it managed to accurately identify a stage performance and tweaked settings accordingly though there were a few cases of false positives as well such as a serving of curry chicken being considered as autumn leaves.

For the purposes of our tests, we defaulted to the stock 10-MP in 4:3 aspect ratio with Master AI on and auto mode. For the most part, the phone proved very competent in capturing the vast majority of photographic scenarios that most users would encounter in daily life.

0.6X zoom on the Mate 20 Pro

1X zoom on Mate 20 Pro

1X zoom on Mate 20 Pro

3X optical zoom on Mate 20 Pro

3X optical zoom on Mate 20 Pro

5X hybrid zoom on Mate 20 Pro

5X hybrid zoom on Mate 20 Pro

Shots in daylight turned out exceptionally well with excellent levels of detail, pretty accurate colours and good dynamic range across its 0.6x wide angle mode and in its standard 10-MP mode all up the way up to 3x zoom. This time around, images of greenery and skies are markedly less vividly coloured which is an appreciable improvement over prior Huawei camphones. For portraiture, the Mate 20 Pro proved to be exceptionally capable with excellent subject separation from the background and a selection of portrait lighting filters for aesthetic punch.

When dialled out to 3x zoom, shots still maintain a fair level of detail but noise and grain start appearing from then on in, so you’ll need to get close to subjects for best results.

Under low light conditions, the rear camera offers pretty decent results and delivers shots that retain a surprisingly good level of colour and a fair amount of detail even in dim street lighting though they are a tad over sharpened; it’s still more than sufficient for social media posts and the odd holiday print or two.

Unfortunately, resorting to optical zoom or wide angle mode under low light requires you to compensate somewhat as it needs a couple of seconds to capture the shot. Shots under these conditions are very shareworthy though details are still a bit soft if you peep at the pixels up close.

If you need to take especially good night shots, you’ll have to default to a separate Night mode that takes a long five-second exposure for best results. This means that it works best in situations where you get time to compose a shot.

Up front, the fixed focus selfie camera is serviceable if you are within the sweet spot. It also has similar portrait lighting effects as the rear camera which is a pleasant bonus. Captured 4K video proved decent if unremarkable and it can also capture 960fps slow-mo videos at 720p though clips are capped at 10 seconds max.

In general, it’s capable of excellent shots under most lighting conditions and great ones too under low light with some care, which ought to suit most casual users.

Mate 20 Pro Price, Battery Life and Conclusion

In terms of endurance, the Mate 20 Pro’s 4,200mAh battery offers more than a day’s worth of decent battery life with Performance mode turned off. With data on from dawn to dusk, constant use of social media, emails, texts a few hours of web browsing, a couple of hours of gaming and streaming video, it still had more than enough juice to make the commute home with more than enough to spare.

Things get a bit more dicey if you’re wont to leave Performance mode on as it drains battery life like starving diners mobbing the lobsters at an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. With Performance Mode on, you’re reckoning at about a day’s worth or less of active run time with a late evening top-up slated somewhere down the line.

Where it one-ups the competition is that it comes with Huawei’s new SuperCharge tech that charges the battery in a faster and safer fashion; just don’t lose the charger and cable that came with the phone. From dead zero, the Mate 20 Pro hooked up to its proprietary 40W  charger was able to hit 70% charge in about 30 minutes which is quite nippy indeed.

Where the Mate 20 Pro really stands out is that it also has reverse wireless Qi charging – if another phone supports Qi wireless charging, you can pair it up and juice it by simply placing both phones together. It’s not a feature that will likely see much use beyond emergencies but it is nonetheless an impressive feat of engineering.

As it stands, the Mate 20 Pro is an impressive offering that outperforms its predecessor the Mate 10 Pro as well as this year’s P20 Pro by a significant margin in almost every way though this comes with some compromises. It has IP68 water resistance but ditches an audio jack and has rather wonky stereo speaker placement. Most telling of all is its implementation of a new proprietary expandable storage format; no other vendors at this point in time are adopting their new NM card format as yet.

On its own merits, the Mate 20 Pro is a bold step forward for Huawei; bar the aforementioned unusual quirks in its design, it’s an otherwise sound flagship phone with a decent rear triple camera, good battery life and contemporary design though its price point puts it head to head with other flagship phones. If you’re looking for a straight up upgrade from last year’s Mate series phones or even the P20 series from Huawei, this is an excellent proposition.

What we liked Good triple camera, great battery life, novel desktop mode, IP68 water resistance, stereo speakers
What we didn’t Uses proprietary NM card storage format, lacks a 3.5mm audio jack, lots of bloatware with updates, stereo speaker gets muffled as its in the USB port
We say A good looking phone with IP68 water resistance, a solid rear triple camera array paired up with a powerful processor and some novel features like reverse wireless charging and a wireless desktop mode though it falls short of greatness on account of a few minor niggles in its features and design.

Specifications
Price RM3,599
Display 6.39-inch AMOLED, 1,440 x3,120 pixels
Processor Kirin 980
Memory 6GB RAM/128GB storage + Huawei NM card
Camera 40-MP F/1.8 + 20-MP F/2.2 (ultrawide) + 8-MP F/2.4 (telephoto) (rear) / 24-MP F/2.0 (front)
Battery 4,200mAh
Size/Weight 157.8 x 72.3 x 8.6 mm / 189g
*Review unit courtesy of Huawei Malaysia

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