Huawei has unveiled the 2018 updates to last year's 5.9-inch Mate 10 and 6.0-inch Mate 10 Pro smartphones. There are no surprises with the naming of the two new handsets, the Mate 20 and the Mate 20 Pro, which are targeted at what Huawei calls 'new entrepreneurs' -- typically, the denizens of startups in tech hubs such as the venue for the company's London pre-brief last week.
"That's the audience that really resonates with the Mate family," said Peter Gauden, Huawei's global senior product marketing manager, at the pre-brief: "High achievers who understand technology as a tool, and how it advances what they can do."
The flagship smartphone market is as competitive as ever, with vendors typically pursuing ever more on-device AI and better camera performance, among other things. Huawei has certainly been holding its own up to now, leapfrogging over Apple to take second spot in IDC's Q2 2018 worldwide ranking, for example. In the second quarter, Huawei shipped 54.2 million phones to Apple's 41.3m -- an impressive year-on-year growth rate of 40.9 percent. So, how can the new Mate handsets help to maintain the company's elevated position?
Underpinning the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro is Huawei's latest HiSilicon Kirin 980 chipset, announced at the end of August. The first commercial SoC manufactured using TSMC's 7-nanometer process, the Kirin 980 delivers 20 percent better performance and 40 percent better power efficiency over the SoC than the previous 10nm Kirin 970, says Huawei.
The Kirin 980 uses four Cortex-A76 cores (two 'super-big' and two 'big') and four 'little' Cortex-A55 cores to handle workloads, ranging from intensive and power-hungry to sustained and power efficient, in a flexible manner. The GPU is the Mali-G76, which can intelligently identify gaming workloads and adjust resource allocation accordingly. There are also two Neural Processing Units (NPUs), targeted at different types of AI/ML task -- relatively straightforward object recognition versus more complex natural language processing, for example. Other Kirin 980 features include a fourth-generation Image Signal Processor (ISP) and a modem with LTE Cat.21 support (peak download speed 1.4Gbps).
Here are the key specifications for the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro:
Huawei Mate 20
Huawei Mate 20 Pro
6.53 inches, RGBW LCD, 2,244 x 1,080 pixels (381ppi), 18.7:9 aspect ratio
6.39, OLED, 3,120 x 1,440 pixels (538ppi), 19.5:9 aspect ratio
The junior member of the Mate 20 family, the mid-range 6.3-inch Mate 20 Lite, is already available at £379 in the UK (see ZDNet's review).
In line with current smartphone trends, the Mate 20 and Mate 20 Pro both have bigger screens than their 2017 counterparts -- 6.53 and 6.39 inches versus 5.9 and 6.0 inches respectively. The split between LCD on the standard model and OLED on the Pro version remains, while pixel densities are boosted. As before, the standard model (Mate 20) has a 3.5mm headphone jack and no IP dust/water resistance rating, while the Mate 20 Pro uses USB-C for charging and headphone connection and is IP68-rated (up from IP67 in the Mate 10 Pro).
There's no MicroSD slot on either handset. Instead, external storage is catered for by a new form factor: the Nano Memory Card (NMC), which can fit into the handset's second SIM slot. NMC cards only go up to 256GB, though.
Other design differences include a wider 'notch' on the 19.5:9 aspect ratio Mate 20 Pro, to accommodate an expanded front camera array, and a 'hyper-optical' pattern on the glass back, somewhat reminiscent of vinyl grooves, that helps with grip and minimises unsightly fingerprints. The 2018 Mate handsets will come in five colours: Midnight Blue and Emerald Green with the hyper-optical pattern, plus Black, Pink Gold and Twilight (a two-tone scheme).
The main camera advance is on the Mate 20 Pro which, like the P20 Pro released and reviewed earlier this year, has a three-camera setup with 40MP, 8MP and 20MP sensors. The 40MP and 8MP cameras have wide-angle and telephoto lenses, as before, but the 20MP camera is now an RGB unit with an ultra-wide-angle lens supporting macro images. On the P20, the 20MP camera had a mono sensor for adding extra detail to images -- now deemed unnecessary due to improvements in the Mate 20 Pro's main 40MP sensor.
The three Leica lenses, plus the two-tone flash unit, are arranged in a rectangle in the middle of the back of the Mate 20 Pro, with the curvature of the corners exactly matching that of the chassis. No other smartphone on the market has this distinctive layout. The Mate 20 has a similar camera arrangement, with lower-resolution wide-angle (12MP) and ultra-wide-angle (16MP) sensors.
The dual-NPU Kirin 980 chipset brings photography advances such as improved object and scene recognition -- some 1,500 different scenarios compared to 500 with the previous-generation system -- and 4D predictive focus, which recognises moving objects and maintains focus on the video's subject. A new AI Cinema Mode effectively does 'post-processing' in real time, supporting eye-catching features like AI Portrait Color where the subject is in colour and the background is monochrome.
Huawei handsets usually have high-capacity batteries, and the Mate 20 series is no exception. The Mate 20 has a 4,000mAh battery (as did the Mate 10), while the Mate 20 Pro moves up to 4,200mAh -- only massive handsets like the 6.9-inch Xiaomi Mi Max 3 with 5,500mAh exceed this battery capacity. Rapid charging, which Huawei calls SuperCharge, is improved on the Mate 20 Pro, which can reach 70 percent charge in 30 minutes. The Mate 20, by contrast, can reach 58 percent charge in the same time.
Wireless charging is also supported for the first time on Huawei mass-market devices, and at 15W it operates at almost twice the speed of the industry standard, the company says. The Mate 20 Pro also debuts 'reverse wireless charging' -- the ability to use the 4,200mAh handset to power up another wireless-charging-capable device.
The Mate 20 Pro supports 3D face unlock via a 3D facial mapping system built into the front camera array (hence the wider notch on this handset). You can also use your face biometrics to lock apps or files on the device.
The Mate 20 Pro includes an in-screen fingerprint reader -- an improved version of the technology seen earlier this year in the upmarket Porsche Design Mate RS. That means a cleaner design at the back compared to the Mate 10 Pro.
Elsewhere, a new password vault lets you store login information for third-party apps and services, accessible via face or fingerprint biometrics, while backup options now extend to NAS systems.
OS and UI overlay
User interface overlays for Android can be a love-hate thing, but over the years various elements of the company's EMUI system have made their way into the mobile OS itself.
The latest version, EMUI 9.0, attempts to simplify the user experience -- consolidating multiple entry points for tweaking the wallpaper down to a single screen, for example. You can also instantly print to nearby wi-fi or Bluetooth printers using a single tap, via Huawei Share. Finally, Huawei's desktop mode, previously enabled via a USB-C connection to an external monitor, now gets wireless support via Miracast.
Two more things...
In classic Apple style, Huawei sprung not 'one more thing' but two extra phones beyond those described at last week's pre-brief. The 7.2-inch OLED-screen Mate 20 X has stylus support (Huawei M-Pen), a 5,000mAh battery and a 'vapour chamber' cooling system. Aimed at gamers, the Mate 20X offers a gamepad attachment and comes in blue and silver colours.
The second phone was the premium Porsche Design Mate 20 RS, with sports-car-style red or black leather trim at the back and a price tag to match (see below). Stay tuned for more on these phones.
Pricing and availability
The Mate 20 will be available from 16 October at €799 with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, and €849 with 6GB of RAM. The Mate 20 Pro, also available from 16 October, will cost €1,049 with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage.
The 7.2-inch Mate 20 X will be available from 26 October at €899 with 6GB RAM and 128GB of internal storage. You'll have to wait until 16 November for the Porsche Design Mate 20 RS, which will cost €1,695 (8GB/256GB) or €2,095 (8GB/512GB).