Huawei Mate 20 Hands-on Review

Huawei Mate 20 Hands-on Review

With its latest phones, Huawei has given us something of a dilemma: The Mate 20 Pro is ultra-desirable, but the Mate 20 also puts forward a very strong case for itself, meaning you have two great new Huawei phones to choose from. The most striking difference between them is the screen and its tiny, and dare we say it, attractive, notch. That’s right, as notches go, it’s a beauty, but what about the rest of the phone? We’ve spent some time with it to find out what it’s like.

Full-screen experience

Huawei has done an astonishing job of minimizing the bezels on the Mate 20, which gives a full-screen experience we haven’t seen much of outside of the Oppo Find X. After dealing with the Pixel 3 XL’s cavernous notch, the little teardrop on the Mate 20 seems positively petite. While there is still a chin bezel, it’s very small and hardly noticeable.

This is one super looking phone. With the device nestled in your palm, the Mate 20’s expanse of screen provides a wonderful window into your media. We loved zooming in on photos, just to see them fill up the entirety of the display.

However, it’s not the same experience as looking at the Mate 20 Pro. The Mate 20 has a flat 6.53-inch, 2,240 x 1,080 pixel RGBW LCD screen, and not the curved 6.4-inch, 3,120 x 1,440 pixel OLED screen on the Pro. It’s not as bright, the viewing angles aren’t as good, and it doesn’t have quite the same luster and shine. Put alongside the Pro, it looks downright flat. After a longer test, we’ll be better able to assess it against others in its class, but for now, the screen is both its big benefit, and a slight weakness.

Camera and video

The Mate 20 has a three-lens camera on the back, set inside an unusual square-shaped module. At first it’s an odd look, but we grew to love it, particularly the way the edges curve at the same angle as the edges of the phone, giving it a softer, more coherent look. Huawei has clearly learned from partnering with Porsche Design on the Mate RS that symmetrical design is the best kind of design.

Huawei has employed its artificial intelligence to enhance video, and there are some very cool modes to play with.

While the cameras look the same on the outside, there are some differences inside. The Mate 20’s main camera has 12 megapixels and the wide-angle has 16 megapixels, both of which are lower than the 40-megapixel and 20-megapixel lenses on the Pro. The 8-megapixel telephoto lens is the same on both cameras. Briefly using the cameras back-to-back did show some differences, and while the Mate 20 Pro’s camera will obviously take superior shots in some situations, the Mate 20 is no slouch.

The new wide-angle lens works brilliantly in conjunction with Huawei’s artificial intelligence system, driven by the Kirin 980 processor. The camera understands what it sees, and recommends switching to a wide-angle view if it thinks the photo would be improved. Crucially, it just offers up a button, rather than forcing a change, giving you the choice. Switching between lenses without this AI prompt is cumbersome and confusing, though, and we’d prefer a more consistent process.

Shooting across the London skyline, the wide-angle shots looked excellent, with blue skies, fluffy clouds, and detailed buildings. However, it did wash parts of the sky out more than the Mate 20 Pro, showing there are more differences deep inside. On the version we tried, there was only a 2x optical zoom, rather than going up to 5x zoom like the Mate 20 Pro. It’s not clear whether this will come with the final version of the software, as we were using a pre-production unit.

Huawei Mate 20
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Huawei has also employed its artificial intelligence to enhance video, and there are some very cool A.I. Cinema modes to play with, like changing the background in real-time while shooting. The most noticeable effect comes when it isolates a person and keeps them in color, while making the background black and white. The A.I. looks for people and faces, rather than objects, so it doesn’t just highlight a single color like Motorola’s Spot Color mode, for example. Other modes are for portraits, and cinematic effects along the same lines as LG’s video tools.

EMUI 9 and Android 9 Pie

The Mate 20 comes with Android 9.0 Pie and the latest EMUI 9.0 user interface, which is now faster, smoother, and more responsive. The settings menus have been distilled down to fewer, more logical options. Huawei has added its own Digital Wellbeing system, and the other major change are new gesture-based controls.

The Huawei Mate 20 sports a 4,000mAh battery with fast charging.

Like Apple’s iOS, you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to return to the main home screen, swipe up and pause for the open app menu, and gently swipe on the side of the screen to go back a step. A cute, springy arrow animation confirms successful gestures, though it sometimes seemed a little jerky for us.

The thinner, taller Mate 20 Pro makes these gestures more comfortable compared to the more traditionally phone-shaped Mate 20. However, the gesture controls show promise, aren’t overly complicated, and also aren’t mandatory: You can still use traditional Android controls. They’re a good start.

Mate 20 Pro differences

The Mate 20 has a 4,000mAh battery inside with fast charging using the proprietary Huawei SuperCharge system for almost 60 percent charge in 30 minutes. Paired with the efficient Kirin 980 processor, a full charge means three days of battery life, which is very special by today’s standards.

Huawei Mate 20
The huawei Mate 20 (left) and Mate 20 Pro. Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

However, it does lack the wireless charging capability seen on the Mate 20 Pro, and the body only has an IP54 rating, not the Mate 20 Pro’s IP68 rating, meaning weaker resistance to water and dust resistance. It doesn’t have the depth-sensing front facing camera, or the Mate 20 Pro’s in-screen fingerprint sensor, which has been replaced by a sensor on the back.

So which Mate 20 should you buy? We need more information. Only E.U. pricing has been released so far, and the Mate 20 starts at 799 Euros (roughly $930), compared to the 1049 Euro (roughly $1,220) Mate 20 Pro.  But you’re unlikely to feel short changed if you skip the Pro. The standard phone packs the same power, shares some of the best features, looks great, and feels expensive. However, if the camera is significantly better, the Pro will be hard to resist, especially when all the other differences are taken into consideration.

Huawei Mate 20 Compared To

It’s amazing how far the Mate series has come. Just a year ago, the Mate was only of interest to big-screen lovers who could forgive the lack of character and charm. The Mate 10 Pro managed to break free of the tedium, and now both the Mate 20 phones are desirable enough that we can’t wait to use them both for a longer period of time. The brilliant P20 Pro might even be left to gather dust in the shadow of this phone.

If that doesn’t show excitement over a new smartphone, we don’t know what does.

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