Huawei Mate 20 Pro Review: Flagship smartphone of 2018

In the high-end spectrum of smartphones, you tend to find names like Samsung, Apple or Google. Very rarely has any other brand posed a serious threat to these manufacturers. But Huawei’s persistence over the years has made it a formidable mention. And with this year’s Mate 20 Pro flagship, it may have delivered a product capable of not only matching but surpassing the competition.

Design and build

Glass builds have become the trend for high-end smartphones. And with the Mate 20 Pro, that is certainly the case. The phone is 8.6mm thin and weighs 189g but in the hand, it feels very sleek. The back of the phone has a faint texture to it for additional grip and an addicting sound when scratched.

The accented red power button is a nice touch from Huawei

A concern for many including us is the type of glass Huawei uses on its flagship. While it is a variant of Gorilla Glass, we are not sure which version it is. Over using the phone, I have had the glass scratch easier than usual and even crack when it suffered a fall from waist height. The included case out of the box is something I would definitely recommend using and even a screen protector granted it is a thin one so that it does not affect the performance of the in-screen fingerprint scanner.

IP68 water and dust resistance becomes a must in the sandy conditions of Dubai

Around the phone, the sense of premium stays consistent with a metal frame. At the bottom, you find Huawei’s new speaker system embedded into the USB-C charging port which is incredibly neat. The right edge houses the volume rockers and the power button whereas the top is where you find an infra-red (IR) blaster. In all honesty, the IR blaster doesn’t provide sufficient use in day to day activity and instead of this, I would have preferred the phone to have a 3.5mm headphone jack. Otherwise, the phone is designed very well and the added IP68 water and dust resistance is the cherry on top.

Display

Looking at the phone front on, there is a admirable slenderness to it. The curved edges of the display help keep the form factor manageable and the near bezel-less design is quite a feat. But of course, I would have preferred it without that huge notch. As for the fingerprint scanner, the in-display scanner is good. It is not as fast as a conventional scanner but having that choice is what makes the difference. It works by pressing on a designated spot on the screen which triggers the light sensor within the AMOLED display to scan your fingerprint.

OLED technology allows Huawei to integrate the fingerprint scanner into the display

Speaking of the display, it comes in at 6.39-inches and a resolution of 1440 x 3120 pixels. Using it outdoors at 70% brightness is more than adequate and viewing angles at extremes are also good. With 538 pixels per inch, it is very sharp and great for multimedia consumption with its HDR10 certification and DCI-P3 color range. With the dual stereo speakers though, sound is not quite full. They sound a bit tiny and are not as loud as other flagships.

Watching multimedia content is immersive with the near bezel-less curved screen design

One growing issue with the display on the Mate 20 Pro is the purported green hue issue. This makes the edges illuminate green when displaying dark content on the phone. While the reasoning for this is unclear and may have to do with the display manufacturer for the phone, the two units we have do not face this issue. In the UAE, there have been a couple of cases reported about the issue but thanks to Huawei’s VIP service, customers have gotten

User experience

What defines a user experience is the combination of hardware and software on any phone. Hardware wise, the Mate 20 Pro comes with the new 7nm Kirin 980 octa-core processor, 6GB RAM and 128GB storage. Uniquely, the on-board storage can be expanded via Nano Memory up to 256GB. Otherwise, this slot can be used for a secondary SIM card. These impressive internals combine with Huawei’s new EMUI 9.0 software based on Android 9.0 Pie. The software has seen a revamp for a more streamline experience. Many stock applications now share a similar user interface making them easier to use and understand. A gesture based navigation feature is also in tow here to replace the traditional on-screen navigation buttons.

A revamped EMUI 9.0 is still far from my favorite Android skin

But in all honesty, the user interface is considerably different from stock Android. And for someone who prefers this, using EMUI 9.0 long term is not a very pleasant experience. I can live with hints of it in the notification panel or in the settings but the launcher itself is obtrusive. In the long run, I changed to Nova launcher and used a Google custom icon pack which made me enjoy the phone more. RAM management remained impressive and so did gaming with minimal dropped frames. Browsing through content never made the phone stutter or lag and the experience remained consistent.

3D facial recognition is fast and reliable

Using Huawei’s 3D face ID feature was also impressive. It is extremely fast to recognize your face in varying scenarios. And that is why the notch above the Mate 20 Pro is bigger than its predecessor. It worked so well I rarely had to use the in-screen fingerprint scanner through my usage. And for a more secure experience and authentication for payments, the in-screen scanner gave me choice.

Battery life

Traditionally, Huawei has always been in the forefront when it comes to battery technology. With the Mate 20 Pro’s 4200mAh cell, the phone boasts the largest battery capacity for a flagship. But instead of just being capacity for namesake, the phone actually delivers a very solid experience. Two-day battery life is what we strive for on flagships and this phone comes the closest we have seen. There was not a time when the phone had to be recharged during the day even when browsing on mobile data through the day. Impressively, Huawei’s built on its Supercharging technology from last year too. The Mate 20 Pro now goes from 0 per cent to 70 per cent battery capacity in just 30 minutes. To ensure safety, the process remains certified by TUV Rhineland just like how it was last year.

Huawei’s Supercharging is a feature you cannot live without once you get used to it

Over the years, we have constantly seen Huawei dismiss wireless charging for its smartphones. But this year, we also see the feature supported by the Mate 20 Pro. It is great to see it here but there is a unique aspect to it. With the technology, you can reverse wireless charge other smartphones that are supported by using the Mate 20 Pro’s battery. The feature works incredibly well and is sure to get a few looks of curiosity in public.

Camera

In a phone that offers incredible value, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro also brings with a versatile camera experience. Harnessing to power of artificial intelligence (AI) and its dual-NPU technology, almost every picture you take comes out looking good. With scene detection features, the camera can recognize what it is seeing and make adjustments in contrast, saturation and white balance to take the perfect picture. And for those looking for more intricate control, the phone also offers a fully fledged manual mode.

The new 0.6x wide-angle lens allows for more detail coverage into the frame

The 40, 20 and 8MP trio of cameras is similar to the P20 Pro from earlier this year. However aside from the software enhancements, the Mate 20 Pro ditches the monochrome sensor in favor of a new wide-angle lens. This allows you to capture super macro shots of objects or more detail in a picture of the skyline for example.

Huawei’s night mode feature for photography in low light also sees an improvement. With it, photos taken have considerably more detail and dynamic range. But because there is no monochrome sensor on the Mate 20 Pro anymore, the photos look a bit softer and washed out. In comparison, the P20 Pro produced photos with greater sharpness. For video capture, the phone sees an improved 4K video recording experience with stable video footage thanks to optical image stabilization and AI working together. The AI can also bring about some unique scenes where a moving subject can stay in color while the background is black and white. Head on over to our video review to see this in action.

Conclusion

When it comes to a holistic smartphone experience, you cannot beat this. The Huawei Mate 20 Pro gets a lot of things right. Its camera, processing power and battery are unparalleled and challenge phones from its direct competitors like Apple’s iPhone XS Max, Google’s Pixel 3XL or Samsung’s Galaxy Note9. But more importantly, the phone is priced at Dh3,299 in the local market. This combination of high-end and incredible value for money will make the phone a popular choice. As for myself, I cannot be more certain in calling this phone the phone to beat in 2018.